Student-curated exhibit ‘Out of the Vault’ on view at Fine Arts Gallery

Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things,” an exhibition curated by Vanderbilt students that explores the dynamic relationships among objects, individuals and communities, is currently on view through Sept. 9 at Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery.

Objects in museum collections often were created decades, centuries or millennia before visitors come into contact with them. “Out of the Vault” investigates the journeys of 12 works of art across space and time, as well as the meanings attached to them by the people with whom they have come into contact. The exhibit demonstrates that objects have agency and can have stories of creation, life, death and rebirth as complex and diverse as our own.

"Eagle Pendant," ca. 600 B.C.E.-1600 C.E., Western Panama/Costa Rica, gold; gift of Douglas P. and Cynthia A. Sandell, in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Donald J. Erickson

These pieces, ranging in origin from ancient Mesoamerica to contemporary Nashville, are featured from the Fine Arts Gallery collection.

While the objects differ in material and original purpose as much as in current functionality and provenance, the students have reflected on some of the universals in their essays for an online catalog created to accompany the exhibition. The catalog is available on an interactive interface in the gallery to allow visitors to delve deeper into the ideas behind the exhibit, the students’ scholarship and more.

Sophomore Vivian Saxon, in writing about a headrest from the Sepik River valley in Papua New Guinea says, “The power of things extends ideologically — similar objects reflect similar ideals. … This object has twofold utility: It is both a headrest and a window. A headrest for the Sepik dreamer … and a window for the rest of us, those who come with curiosity to admire a culture we have never encountered.”

"Head of St. John the Baptist on a Platter" by Juan Alonzo Villabrille y Rom (Spanish, 1663–1728), ca. early 17th century, wood with traces of polychrome; Vanderbilt Art Association Acquisition Fund Purchase

Similarly, senior Rebekah Smith reflects on how technological change has affected the purpose of Revolutions per Minute: The Art Record, writing that when published in 1982, it was “unique in its ability to transcend the physical confines of the art gallery, but in the age of internet, this is now taken for granted.” Most of these objects carry stories of the cultures in which they were created and insight into the similarities and differences of the modern era in which they are displayed.

Included in the exhibition are:

  • Pre-Columbian gold pendants
  • Carved wood sculpture from Baroque Spain
  • Carved wood objects from China
  • Sculpture with Christian religious symbolism
  • Everyday objects including a lamp, headrest, and carved wooden cassone chest
  • Bronze sculpture
  • A contemporary ceramic water-carrier
  • A compilation of sound art piece

“Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things” is the third in a partnership between the Department of History of Art and the Fine Arts Gallery resulting in a student-curated exhibition. This year’s class — Exhibiting Historical Art: What Is This Thing? — was taught by Mireille Lee, assistant professor of history of art and assistant professor of classics.

"Smashing Beauty," by Thomas Shannon (American, born 1947), from "Revolutions per Minute (The Art Record), 1982, photolithograph; Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Collection

The class benefited tremendously from a guest lecture by Erica Kelly, senior exhibit developer at the San Diego Natural History Museum. The exhibition is supported, in part, by the Department of History of Art and the Ewers Gift for Fine Art and was conceived and developed by seniors Sophia Jorasch, Rebekah Smith, Clancy Taylor and Daniel Weitz; sophomores Gabrielle Levitt, Edward McElwreath, Sarah Robinson and Vivian Saxon; and freshmen Haley Bowse, Lilia Briskin, Joe Eilbert and Lauren Linquest.

Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery is located in Cohen Memorial Hall, 1220 21st Ave. S, on the western edge of the Peabody College campus. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. The gallery is closed Sunday and Monday. Beginning Aug. 24, 2016, the gallery will resume academic year hours: Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Contact: Joseph Mella, director of the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery, at (615) 343-1704