Juried exhibition prompts students to consider home as a concept

“Home Sweet Home” is an annual juried exhibition at the Anderson gallery. It prompts student artists to consider whether home is a place, a fantasy or something in between. Photo by Jon Mirador

Walter Chidozie Anyanwu, Contributing Writer

The Anderson debuted its annual Undergraduate Juried Exhibition titled “Home Sweet Home” March 15, with entries from more than 30 students all working in various mediums to answer one question — what is home?

In the past, the annual exhibition was a “best of” showcase, with entries from more than 100 students. But since Anderson Director Chase Westfall took over the exhibition, it’s become themed and featured significantly fewer entries.

Westfall said this was done in an effort to “give the students an experience that would more accurately model what professional practice would be like for them.”

The event featured juror Rebecca Matalon, a curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, who also provided the exhibition’s theme.

“It’s always really exciting to participate and see what students are doing. [It’s] an opportunity to visit an academic institution to share what I’m working on and see what students are working on,” Matalon said. “It’s fantastic. It’s part of what my job is as a curator.”

The call for submissions was centered around a quote from James Baldwin’s 1956 novel “Giovanni’s Room.” — “Perhaps home is not a place but an irrevocable condition.”

The exhibition is seeking to reconsider cultural assumptions about the idea of home, by trying to answer questions like, “Is home a real place, a fantasy, or something in between?” And, “Is it about safeguarding the past, sustaining the present or shaping the future?”

Matalon had a particular interest in these queries, as she has worked on exhibitions with the same sort of message.

“The theme, ‘Home Sweet Home,’ comes out of my own interest and my own commitment to, and curiosity around, daily life and domesticity,” Matalon said. “The ways in which it doesn’t mean a single thing, and its meanings are multiple. That it’s also always a constructed ideal.”

A lecture from Matalon preceded the opening reception, as well as remarks from VCUarts Dean Shawn Brixey. A brief awards ceremony followed, during which 10 students were recognized for their work.

VCU junior Shana Cave won the Craft and Material Studies Award for “Daydream,” a head cage adorned with flowers. She said she made the piece last semester before she learned about the exhibition, and her work happened to fit the theme.

“My head cage was pretty much about this idea of me being lost in my daydreams and eternally wanting to escape with

VCU junior Shana Cave won the Craft and Material Studies Award for “Daydream,” a head cage adorned with little white flowers. Photo by Jon Mirador

daydreams,” Cave said. “So I kind of connected those ideas of feeling comfortable and being at home within my own thoughts and my daydreams.”

Her work, she said, is reminiscent of the balconies she visited in Spain and France last summer. She spent a lot of time wishing she could be back in Europe and materialized that constant longing with her head cage.

Peter Rylander, a senior in the painting and printmaking department, won the Dean’s Award –– an award for artists of all disciplines –– for his untitled piece, which was two perfect halves of an eggshell carved into walls across from each other.

“It’s untitled, but I’ve just been calling it ‘egg,’” Rylander said.

He likened an egg to a home and its common aspects like breakfast, for example. He also drew much inspiration from the egg itself.

“An egg is so incredibly strong when there’s pressure around all sides of it, but it’s the most fragile thing ever. It’s a shell, a protective layer, a barrier against the outside world,” Rylander said. “What it encases is [life], allowing for nurturing and growth … until it hatches. And with the two halves positioned across from each other in the room, the immediate space [becomes] a space of nurturing.”

Most of the attendees were VCUarts students, along with their friends and family.

“I think a lot of people feel alienated by art,” Matalon said, “because they think they don’t understand something when in actuality, they really do.”

But arts education is about asking questions, she said, referencing the “visual thinking strategies” used in the field.

“If we can build in more direct participation opportunities and other kinds of things of that nature,” Westfall said, “I think [that] will be the secret [to] unlocking that other spectrum of broader engagement.”  

“Home Sweet Home” will be on display at the Anderson (907 1/2 W. Franklin St.) until March 28.

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