Tufts Art Gallery debuts two new exhibitions this spring

A student watches a slideshow of Tseng Kwong Chi's photographs in the Aidekman Art Gallery on Feb. 9. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

Tufts University Art Gallery opened two new exhibitions, displaying paintings, photographs and multi-medium installations by three artists this spring.

The first exhibition, located upstairs in the Tisch Family Gallery, is the first major retrospective show of the artist Tseng Kwong Chi. Titled “Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera,” the show features more than 80 works by the artist who lived a short yet fulfilling life, after dying from AIDS at the age of 39. He also achieved fame and notoriety in the 1980s art scene.

Tseng’s photographs are witty, playful and sometimes political. In his 1979 series “Easts Meets West,” Tseng wears a uniform resembling a “Mao suit” and takes self portraits in front of famous landmarks. The series juxtaposes many opposing concepts of Eastern and Western culture, democracy and dictatorship, capitalism and communism, as well as self and national identity.

In addition to the “East Meets West” series, the exhibition features various other works of the photographer. The artist’s collaboration with Keith Haring and dancer/choreographer Bill T. Jones is particularly eye-catching. The prints feature Jones stretching his body to form different positions. Jones’ body is painted with patterns resembling Haring’s signature subway drawings. Haring himself is seen in one of the prints with a paintbrush in his hand, while wearing a tank top of  his own design. Other notable works in the exhibition include portraits of iconic artists such as Andy Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. These artists were all in Tseng Kwong Chi’s circle and were his collaborators and muses. In a way, “Performing for the Camera” celebrates the art scene of the ’80s as much as it commemorates Tseng Kwong Chi.

The second exhibition, titled “Upheaval,” has a theme that is subtly similar to Tseng Kwong Chi’s pieces. Located downstairs in Koppelman Family Gallery, this exhibition features more recent works by two acclaimed artists, Marcelo Brodsky and Jorge Tacla, whose work pay homage to political activism  in this case, in their hometowns in Chile and Argentine. Merging photography, sound and text, Brodsky’s installations are experiential. Tacla’s choice of medium is predominately paint, but the exhibition includes some of his ink and graphite drawings.

For “Upheaval,” Brodsky goes beyond South America and explores social justice in regions of North America, Europe and Japan. Tacla’s work is based on Chile and the Pinochet regime. Political topics such as exile, revolution, resistance, freedom and social change are evident in the works of both artists.

Around 300 people attended the opening night reception for the exhibitions on Jan. 21. ’80s music was playing in the background at the reception, complementing the Tseng Kwong Chi exhibition. Lissa Cramer, the gallery’s Exhibitions Coordinator, entertained guests and prompted them to check out the photo booth. Attendance was high, but not unexpected for the reception.

The gallery has been open since 1991, and has featured many notable exhibitions. Just last term, MacArthur fellow Shazia Sikander’s installation “Parallax” was on display. Apart from displaying exhibitions, the gallery hosts many events such as parties, curatorial tours and artist panels. Every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. the gallery organizes CreateDate, little workshops that are often related to the exhibitions displayed. The gallery also works with other departments at Tufts to organize a broad range of activities. Last term, the gallery worked with TSR to organize yoga sessions near Sikander’s installation “Parallax.”

Cramer is responsible for coordinating the gallery’s exhibitions and has held this position for the past two years. In addition to her job at the gallery, Cramer is working towards a M.S. degree in arts administration from Boston University. When asked about the general process of opening a new exhibit at the gallery, Cramer said “exhibitions that are scheduled are planned out two to three years in advance.”

Exhibitions are selected by Director of Galleries and Collections Amy Ingrid Schlegel. Curating a new exhibition can be difficult, especially when a gallery displays works from across a range of different mediums.

“Each exhibition is different,” Cramer said. “I wouldn’t say that there are challenges, but there are certainly different requirements we have to meet for each exhibition … One exhibition could have a lot of complex AV components compared to the next exhibition which could be all photography. One of the perks of working in an art gallery is that the space is always changing. With each new exhibition, there is new artwork, a different gallery design and exciting new programs.”

Students did not have any role in curating the exhibitions. Only graduate assistants were involved in the process. However, any student interested in working with the gallery can apply to curate a show in The Slater Concourse Gallery.

“Normally the exhibitions are curated by a curator,” Cramer said. “However, we have two graduate assistants who work on each exhibition in some capacity. The Slater Concourse Gallery is a community gallery which rotates each month. Students are welcome to apply to curate an exhibition in that space.”

During the opening, the gallery promoted its new Instagram account with a photo booth. In addition to Instagram, Tufts Art Gallery is active on other social media sites, particularly Facebook. CreateDates, Student Advocacy Council (SAC) parties and artist talks are announced through Facebook. For Cramer, by being active on social media the gallery can inform students about its myriad goings-on.

“Social media is a great way for art institutions to connect with its surrounding community. We can advertise our exhibitions and programs, showcase a new acquisition or simply post pictures of people enjoying the gallery,” Cramer said.

Both “Upheaval” and “Tseng Kwon Chi: Performing for the Camera” are on display until May 22. The gallery will also host four Slater Concourse exhibitions over the semester.

Additionally, in accordance with the “Upheaval” exhibition, the gallery has recently announced that they will host a symposium featuring the two artists on Thursday, Mar. 10.