Museum Highlights Alumni Impact
Un/Settled reflects on notions of home, identity and dislocation as expressed by recent RISD graduates and one current graduate student.
Three current exhibitions at the RISD Museum highlight the work of recent RISD graduates and show how work by alumni shapes the museum’s ever-changing collection.
The cornerstone of a group exhibition called Un/Settled—on view through July 8 and reflecting on notions of home, identity and dislocation—is an artist’s book by Tia Blassingame MFA 15 PR titled Settled: African American Sediment or Constant Middle Passage. The beautifully printed, goatskin leather-bound volume is filled with original poems about the horrors of racism, crossing time to remember enslaved people who perished on the Sally in 1765 as well as recent victims of police brutality here in America, including Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.
Un/Settled also includes work by Printmaking alumni Glen Baldridge 99 PR, Hae Min Choi MFA 12 PR, Nabil Gonzalez MFA 16 PR, Sophiya Khwaja MFA 07 PR, Serena Perrone MFA 06 PR and Saman Sajasi MFA 13 PR as well as graduate Painting majors Jagdeep Raina MFA 16 PT and Arghavan Khosravi MFA 18 PT, who is currently in her last year at RISD.
“When adding new works to the collection, one of the things we consider is how they’ll expand on the kinds of stories we’re able to tell,” says Jan Howard, the chief curator of prints, drawings and photographs who conceived Un/Settled. “Acquisitions are also driven by how the collection is used in teaching—especially by RISD faculty and students.”
Howard and her colleagues pay close attention to the work alumni go on to create after graduation. “We’re committed to supporting the careers of our alumni,” says Museum Director John Smith, “in part because artists who studied at RISD are generally able to wed complex ideas with a thorough understanding of the mediums in which they’re working.”
As Dominic Molon, the museum's Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art, notes, “the work of RISD alumni is imbued with a profound appreciation of craft and skill, even when that might not be the primary focus of an artist’s practice.”
In curating Stranger than Paradise, another current exhibition that includes alumni work, Molon sought to juxtapose “works of different styles, sensibilities and eras, suggesting how human perspectives on the natural world have shifted over the centuries.”
A dark, dense oil painting by early 20th-century artist Arthur Bowen Davies inspired by modern dancers of his day, for example, hangs across the gallery from ostensibly lighter but incredibly complex needlework narratives made by recent graduate Sophia Narrett MFA 14 PT. The label accompanying An Origin of Dolls (2013–14) points out that its “embroidered construction lends it an amorphous and tactile quality, allowing the embroidery’s material sensuality to accentuate the pictorial content.”
“My colleagues in the museum world are often surprised by how many successful contemporary artists are RISD graduates,” says Howard. “I’m always eager to see RISD’s graduate thesis show in the spring so that we can try to acquire work by some of these talented artists before it gets priced beyond our means.”
Another current exhibition—called Elegy—features beautifully composed color photographs by alumnus Justin Kimball 85 PH that reveal the grim reality of America’s most recent economic recession in 2008 and the years that followed. With titles like Coal Street and West Frack Street, these unblinking views of small eastern towns paint a powerful picture of dashed hopes and hard times.
“Our photography collection is distinguished by the rich representation of artists associated with RISD,” notes Howard. “In the relatively short history of the medium there have been many important photographers connected to RISD—both alumni and faculty.”
Molon says the same is true of RISD alumni working in almost every medium and admits to tracking their careers more closely than those of other artists. “RISD alumni have steered the course of recent art history,” he contends, “and the RISD Museum has a special role to play in providing a tangible and lasting record of their influence on the shape of art past, present and future.”
Photographer Nicole Buchanan 15 PH returns to RISD to talk about her compelling series now on view at the RISD Museum.
Textiles major Anna Pederson 18 TX builds on her studio education through an apprenticeship in the RISD Museum’s contemporary art collection.
Museum Fellow Edith Young 16 PH helps curator Kate Irvin care for historically significant fashions and fabrics.