The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center recently unveiled “What Now? (Or Not Yet),” an exhibition that explores loans and artifacts spanning from Vassar’s founding through the present as a way to examine art’s role in shaping the past, present or future. “What Now? (Or Not Yet)” encourages critical reflection on our preconceptions of time, as well as how collections transform over the course of history. In order to emphasize this theme of transformation, the exhibition will be shown in two iterations. The second iteration will be rebuilt by a group of Vassar students, who will re-conceptualize the layout, design and theme of the current exhibition. This second phase will be available for public viewing in May.
The current exhibition is displayed in three rooms, each focusing on either the past, present or future. The first room examines works that were donated earlier in Vassar’s history and how modern artists work with and against these legacies. Many of the pieces in this room can easily be compared and contrasted with one another, demonstrating the idea that modern artists must grapple with the legacies of those who came before them. For example, “Chocrua Lake and Mountain” (1855) by Aaron Draper Shattuck is displayed next to “Anti-Retro” (2018) by Andrea Carlson. According to the piece’s caption, written by Ian Shelley ‘22, Draper Shattuck was a member of the 19th-century White Mountain School, which, like other schools of art at the time, displayed the American natural world as picturesque and free of conflict. However, this mindset ignores and obscures the blood that was spilled due to colonialism in many of these so-called serene locations. On the other hand, “Anti-Retro,” Carlson, as cited by John P. Murphy on her work’s label, states, “‘Anti-Retro is about ‘reframing the past’ and a reminder that ‘landscapes are political.’”” By displaying these works together, “What Now? (Or Not Yet)” display how artistic messages communicate with one another through time, as well as how the legacies left behind by past artists affect the art we make today.
The second room of the exhibition focuses on the present. The exhibit wall explains, “Past and future meet in the embodied present, in the ongoing struggles around representation.” This room features many different works, exploring the concept of identity in the face of present-day oppression. One wall is covered by Andrea Geyer’s “Revolt, They Said” (2015 to ongoing). This piece is a wall-sized diagram tracing the histories and connections of 850 women in American modernism. It seeks to reimagine the concept of history as being based on personal friendships, alliances and solidarities. Visitors can take home a print of the diagram. These prints also include information about how to contact the artist if you have an idea of another figure to add to the network, as the piece’s creation is still ongoing.
The exhibition’s third and final room examines the concept of the future. It features several pieces that highlight the power that text has in affecting the future, such as Jenny Holzer’s “Inflammatory Essays,” which is a series of 100-word panels that passionately interrogate viewers. The centerpiece of this section, following along with the theme of the power of text, is Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ work “WHAT NOW?” This piece is a video installation featuring different snippets of text surrounding the question: What happens now? The video encourages viewers to rethink our ideas of what we should be doing. It asks viewers why we always seem to be thinking about what happens next—as opposed to giving in to the possibility of oblivion. The text emphasizes, “End the madness./ End the mindlessness./ End the discussion about the madness./ Shut everyone up.” It culminates by proclaiming, “Only one problem remains:/ How to put future oblivion into words./ How to package it,/ Present it,/ Promote it,/ And televise it.” As a whole, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries encourages us to rethink our relationship with the future, or rather, our desire to have a future in the first place.
The Loeb’s “What Now? (Or Not Yet)” is well worth a visit. It offers an exciting way to analyze how art can force us to reconceptualize our ideas of the past, present and future. This exhibition is also special because of how it focuses specifically on the lasting legacies of art that Vassar has possessed throughout its history. The exhibition will be open to the public until May.