Magazine Feature

Student curators join artists for book-focused exhibit at Myhren Gallery

Students work on book sculptures for Sandy Skoglund’s installation. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Curatorial studies students at the University of Denver are helping to welcome the Anderson Academic Commons to campus in an unusual way, collaborating with two internationally known artists on a pair of installations that address the role of the library in 2013. Inspired by the debate over the number of books returning to the stacks and the building’s mix of social and study spaces, students worked with the artists to create exhibits that reflect the diminishing importance of physical books.

“Part of the really exciting aspect of the course was the fact that it was so current,” says junior museum studies major Eric Nord, a student in Dan Jacobs’ Curatorial Practicum. “We came across an article in the New York Times about the 42nd Street Library struggling with similar issues, and there was an article in the New Yorker, called ‘The Art of Browsing,’ about the changing role of the library. It seems to be a topic that a lot of people are concerned about or discussing right now. When you’re involved in something that’s kind of on the cutting edge, it’s exciting and gives you a lot of energy and inspiration.”

Nord is part of a team working with data-driven artist Tim Schwartz to build an exhibit that comments on the relationship between physical books and e-books. The installation includes a representative sample of titles checked out from Penrose Library over the past few years, as well as a bar-code scanner that lets visitors get more information about their browsing selections. A collection of pages from e-books will demonstrate what can be lost in the transformation from the physical to the digital.

“I think a lot of people, when they approach technology, they think, ‘Oh, this will solve all our problems for the future,’ when in fact it may solve some problems but then it creates new problems,” Nord says. “It’s a continuing conversation and a continuing exploration, and I think Tim feels that it’s important to look back on what our habits are as far as reading a physical book and experiencing a library in a more physical way.”

Another team in the class is working with conceptual artist Sandy Skoglund — creator of the red-hued “Fox Games” exhibit at the Denver Art Museum — on an installation depicting a “disrupted” library space. Students have been working the past few weeks to build mini “book sculptures,” made with colorful pipe cleaners, that will inhabit the space.

“It’s been a really cool experience being able to get to know the artist, especially within a classroom setting,” says dual-degree student Alaina Rook. “I didn’t realize in curatorial practice that you had so much influence and control. Sandy is letting us take so much control over the project and work so integrally to form it that we almost feel like we’re part of the art process.”

That’s the point, says Jacobs, who reached out to the artists before the class started with the idea of an exhibit about modern libraries.

“Part of modern curatorial practice is collaboration,” he says. “It breaks down walls between the artists, the curators, students, volunteers — part of Sandy’s process is to really get people to make decisions, express preferences, express themselves through the project.”

Sandy Skoglund’s “Book Marks” opens April 11, with an artist performance at 5 p.m. and a reception and artist talk from 5:30–7:30 p.m. Tim Schwartz’s “Materials on Reserve” opens April 18, with a reception and artist talk from 5–7 p.m. In conjunction with the exhibit, the gallery will host lectures by DU faculty members on topics of personal interest on Thursday nights through May 2. Exhibits are in the Victoria Myhren Gallery in the Shwayder Art Building, open noon-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and noon-4 p.m. Friday-Sunday.

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