If you’ve visited the St. Norbert Art Galleries recently you may have noticed a humble, yet entrancing show tucked away in the Permanent Collection Gallery. This exhibition, Preserving the Landscape, features four photographs taken by former SNC art faculty member James Cagle, but is very special for one other reason as well: the show was curated by SNC sophomore Kasey Pappas.
Pappas curated Preserving the Landscape as a requirement of the Admissions Fellowship in the St. Norbert Art Galleries that she was offered her during freshman year. In the short booklet provided at the exhibition, Pappas explains her process curating the exhibition from entering SNC’s permanent collection storage, to researching Cagle and his work, and finally, deciding what pieces to show.
I won’t delve into too much of what is said in the booklet here as I believe standing in front of the artwork and reading Pappas’ eloquent discourse a rather magical experience that should be given its due, but I am honored to say that I was able to relay some additional questions to Pappas regarding her experience curating her first exhibition. Pappas’ answers reveal the depth of thought and heart that was put behind this show, something I believe that could only have been pulled off by an especially intentioned and hardworking student.
Q: In the booklet you’ve created to go with the exhibition you write very passionately about preserving nature and landscapes no matter their perceived beauty. What relationships have you had with nature in the past that fuel this passion? Are there specific locations or spaces that you feel connected with?
A: I grew up in Spring Green, WI which is a very small town and lived in a home surrounded by pines and oaks so nature was an aspect I came into contact with in my everyday life. The area I grew up in has always been heavily influenced by the surrounding landscape. This interest in landscape also derives from my past experiences working for the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation. I was able to see art through a different perspective and developed a love for art that incorporates nature and learned more than I could ask for while working for that preservation. Since I had lived in Spring Green for over 10 years, the reasoning for choosing Cagle’s work was because I missed the type of influential landscape I had grown up around and his photographs reminded me of those places. I ultimately wanted to curate this show to push for a greater appreciation towards preserving the landscape.
Q: What have you learned from your first experience as a curator? Has it changed the way you perceive art?
A: I learned more than I anticipated while curating this show. Despite the show being relatively small, I was able to conquer a lot of obstacles while curating it. I learned to take my time instead of rushing through finding what information to put in the booklet that is included in the show. I also learned to not shy away from asking for help; I worked with the research center on campus and Shan Bryan-Hanson who worked with me to curate this show. It was a goal of mine to do the best I could do and grow while doing so. Curating this show did alter the way I perceive art; there is so much more that goes into displaying work than just hanging work onto a wall. The way a show is curated and displayed can be what can makes the work more or less attractive and I enjoyed learning how to successfully curate artwork.
Q: Has curating this exhibition influenced your future career goals?
A: Definitely! I was interested in curating a show the moment I applied for the fellowship and saw it as an opportunity to expand as a person and gain better insight to what goes on behind the scenes. I am also appreciative to have been able to experiment and work outside my comfort zone. Since I had never curated anything before, I was doubtful at first but this experience resulted in being able to better how I conduct research. Throughout the research process, being able to collectively put information into a small booklet and design the front and back cover helped me to realize the passion I have for graphic design. Curating this exhibition influenced an even greater interest in design and working with others to display art.
Pappas further elaborates on her appreciation of landscape in the aforementioned booklet and believes Cagle’s black-and-white photographs of scenery around Dartmoor National Park to be exemplary in doing just that: in the absence of color the viewer must turn their eye strictly to the natural form and composition of the land. Cagle’s work in Preserving the Landscape is timeless and reminiscent of a golden age of photography–when everything viewed through the lens was exciting and novel, and brought new appreciation and light to easily overlooked beauty. We owe a debt to both Cagle’s work Pappas’ curation for reminding us in our busy world to stop and enjoy the simple beauty of nature.
To see these works for yourself and to celebrate Pappas’ achievement join us Thursday, January 25 from 5-7p.m. for the first gallery reception of our spring season, and while you’re there, take the chance to view our other current shows: Lightforms: Heather McKenna, Maria Rendon, Paul Simmons, and Nicholas Szymanski, and Rafael Francisco Salas: Ballads of the Middle.
Preserving the Landscape will run from January 22 to February 16 2017.