Starting in May, the Slater Concourse Gallery in the Tufts University Art Gallery, which is housed in the Aidekman Arts Center, will be featuring a distinctly unique exhibition. Curated by senior Grace Hoyt, the exhibition is entitled “Documenting American Ethos in the 1930s: Photographs by Walker Evans and Arthur Rothstein.” The two 40-foot-tall walls of the gallery will be lined with Depression-era photographs provided by the Tufts University Permanent Art Collection. Hoyt, who is majoring in art history with a minor in mass communications and media studies, applied her passion for art, history and photography in choosing which pieces will be presented. Her preparation and installation of this exhibit will serve as her Senior Independent Project.
Hoyt has previous experience with the Tufts University Art Gallery, as she is a member of its affiliated Student Advocacy Council (SAC), which promotes Tufts University Art Gallery exhibitions and runs art events for the Tufts community. Through her work with SAC, Hoyt met Lissa Cramer, the exhibitions coordinator for the Tufts University Art Gallery, and Laura McDonald, the senior arts collection registrar. In an interview with the Daily, Hoyt described how these two staff members helped her conceptualize an idea for her own exhibit in the Slater Concourse Gallery.
“Laura is how I got involved doing this,” Hoyt said. “I reached out to her because I was curious [as to] what we had in the permanent collection here.”
She then explained that the Tufts University Art Gallery does not yet have its collection of works listed online, so she and McDonald looked through the art together in a computer at the Gallery.
“We saw … these beautiful photographs that I’d studied for years [in class] but didn’t realize were in the collection, and I thought, ‘Wow, it would be really cool to do something with this,’” Hoyt said. “Lissa was there too, and we got talking. I … was able to turn it into a Senior Independent Project, where I’m getting a credit to do the exhibitions research and write the wall text.”
Hoyt also noted that she is collaborating with her academic advisor, Eric Rosenberg, who is assisting in the research and writing aspects of the project.
One of the biggest decisions for Hoyt was picking which pieces to display in the exhibit. This decision was complicated by the limitations of the unique gallery space.
“I think that the fact that [the gallery] is actually a hallway, instead of just a regular gallery space, helped me think about things in terms of flow and presentation,” Hoyt said.
She also noted her desire to show works that would be interesting and educational for Tufts students. This educational component impacted the choice of artwork as well, further narrowing the exhibit’s scope.
“There are so many works in the collection that I would have loved to work with, but I realized that I needed to take a more focused approach, so that meant I had to not use all the artists that I loved,” she added.
Regardless of any limitations with space and exhibition content selection, Hoyt was clearly enthusiastic about her project and the pieces that will be shown in the exhibit. She spoke eagerly about two of her favorite photographs, both of which were taken by famed American photographer Walker Evans. The first, entitled “Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York,” was taken in 1931. Hoyt noted how she appreciated the photograph’s juxtaposition of man-made objects and nature. The second, taken in 1936, is entitled “James Agee, Old Field, Long Island, New York.” It is a portrait of Evans’ friend, writer James Agee, with whom he traveled the country during the Great Depression. Hoyt’s appreciation of the two works, and her choice to display them, was based on their artistic and historical significance, which she feels will add to the exhibit as a whole.
While selection of artwork was an important and instructive part of planning her exhibit, it wasn’t the only educational aspect of the experience. Hoyt noted that preparing the exhibit built her collaborative skills thanks to her positive experience working with Cramer, McDonald and Rosenberg. The feelings appear to be mutual: Cramer discussed Hoyt’s dedication to the project and her excitement for the future exhibit.
“I like that [Hoyt] is using artwork from the Tufts University Permanent Art Collection,” Cramer told the Daily in an email. “The Art Gallery is here as a resource for the students and Grace is using it to her full advantage.”
Hoyt was also assisted in her project by a mentor outside of Tufts, Karen Haas, the Lane curator of photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts. Hoyt interned for Haas during the summer of 2014 and the subsequent fall semester. During that time, the two formed a strong working relationship which significantly influenced Hoyt’s preparation for the exhibit in the Slater Concourse Gallery.
“I’ve had this mentor at the Museum of Fine Arts, who’s been doing this for years, as someone who I can look up to and engage with, and it created a professional dialogue that you don’t usually have as a student,” Hoyt said. “I got to watch what she did … and then try to apply what I found really admirable in her work to my own exhibition.”
Haas spoke to Hoyt’s skills as an intern, an indicator of her abilities as a future curator.
“When the photography project that I had initially hoped Grace would work on was delayed in its start date, she was extremely flexible in switching over to cataloguing fashion and design drawings with the curator of design instead, and basically picking up wherever she could help,” Haas told the Daily in an email.
Haas also commented on Hoyt’s enthusiasm and determination.
“Her work will be invaluable to research and exhibitions I am planning in the near future,” she said.
Hoyt’s clear dedication to her work, whether at Tufts or the Museum of Fine Arts, ensures that the Slater Concourse Gallery will be filled with enthusiasm when the exhibit opens. This is a passion project for her, one that she believes has given her the opportunity to learn in new ways and think creatively outside of the classroom. Hoyt stated that her experience preparing and curating this exhibit has been among her most valuable at Tufts, and she hopes that her peers will follow in her footsteps as a student curator.
“I would really recommend Tufts students … to take advantage of the opportunity to have an exhibition to culminate the studies that you have done,” Hoyt said.
She added that it was one thing to study different artworks in a classroom setting, but quite another to actually present it to classmates and professors.
“It’s really, really a great complement to the studies that I’ve done, and a different type of experience, a different type of research,” Hoyt said.
Not only does Hoyt want future students to take advantage of the opportunities that the Tufts Art Gallery provides, but she also hopes that her own exhibit will make a significant impact on the Tufts community.
“I think more Tufts students would enjoy coming to the gallery, and I think that a student curating an exhibition might pique more interest,” Hoyt said. “I tried to pick photographers who worked during the New Deal and periods of history that might reach … people with different interests and different backgrounds.”
Hoyt’s consideration of content and form will no doubt appeal to students from all majors, even those who may not typically go to see art exhibitions. The senior’s dedication to her craft and passion for the artwork she is presenting can only enhance the exhibit she will curate.
Cramer asserted her belief in Hoyt’s talents, praising Hoyt’s creative nature.
“She has taken the time to create a thoughtful, interesting exhibition,” she said. “I have no doubts that she will do a great job with her Slater Concourse exhibition … Grace did all the hard work. Now we just get to enjoy the finished project.”
“Documenting American Ethos in the 1930s: Photographs by Walker Evans and Arthur Rothstein” will open on May 7 in the Slater Concourse Gallery in the Tufts Gallery in Aidekman Arts Center. The exhibition is open to all Tufts students and faculty. According to Hoyt, the exhibition will run May – August 2015.