By: Victoria Kerins, Follow South Jersey Intern
GLASSBORO, N.J. — The Rowan University Art Gallery and Museum, formerly known as the Westby Gallery, showcases a variety of professional pieces via the installation of rotating exhibitions throughout the year. Located at the 301 West High Street Gallery, the current exhibition, Virginia Maksymowicz’ The Lightness of Bearing, opened on September 5, 2023, and is on view until October 28, 2023.
First, a brief history of the Rowan University Art Gallery.
“Rowan University Art Gallery was established in 2009,” recalls Mary Salvante, the director and chief curator at the Rowan University Art Gallery and Museum. “Prior to that it was referred to as Westby Gallery as it was in the process of embedding in the art department. Changing the name was a shift in its focus to be a contemporary professional art gallery that would serve the entire university, not just the art department. In 2016 the 301 High Street location opened and the primary programming of the gallery moved there. The space in the Westby became The Center for Art and Social Engagement where we present work from our permanent collection of historic women’s art from the 1970s and 80s.”
As the director and chief curator of the Rowan University Art Gallery and Museum, Salvante’s role encompasses a multitude of vital responsibilities and decisions.
“As a curator I am responsible for determining the exhibitions for the year and conducting the research needed to find the artists that will be in the exhibitions,” explained Salvante. “I then will work with the selected artists to determine what works will be included in the show and how the layout of the show is designed.”
Established in 2009, the Rowan University Art Gallery has hosted numerous permanent and rotating exhibitions, with the mission to make art accessible, allowing it to spark curiosity, passion, conversation, and contemplation amongst its visitors, whether they be artists, students, faculty, or the general public.
The current exhibition on display, Virginia Maksymowicz’ The Lightness of Bearing, exceeds this goal.
“My artwork in recent years has followed a complex journey through architecture and figurative elements,” remarks Maksymowicz in her Artist Statement on the Rowan University Art Gallery website. “I am interested in the metaphorical implications of the female body, especially when tied to place: buildings, fountains and other structures. The Erechtheion caryatids and the cult of Demeter, with their legacy in architectural ornamentation, continue to symbolically undergird the material and social character of human society, and the role women play in it. I do not aim to ‘prove’ the connections I make through historical methodology. Instead, as a visual artist, I want to give them tangible form so that they can literally be seen from a new perspective.”
“The title of this exhibition, The Lightness of Bearing, was chosen specifically because of its play on words, which references feminist interpretations of architecture – in particular the Erechtheion caryatids,” continues Maksymowicz in her Artist Statement. “Although these female figures function as weight-bearing columns, they appear to perform their eternal duty without effort. This architectural form is a perfect metaphor for addressing the significance and power of women as structural supports for society.”
For visitors planning to view The Lightness of Bearing, the Rowan University Art Gallery website provides a brief summary of the exhibition to highlight its main focuses.
According to the website, “The Lightness of Bearing is a selection of works by Virginia Maksymowicz that considers the symbolic resilience and strength of the female figure in art and architecture by blending the mythology of caryatids, (architectural columns of women effortlessly bearing the weight of massive architectural structures) with images of women from indigenous and ethnic cultures bearing the weight of ritualistic traditions.”
The Rowan University Art Gallery website also provides a helpful Gallery Guide, which provides a more in-depth look at the collection. The guide also provides a comprehensive overview of the collection.
“The Lightness of Bearing is a selection of works by Virginia Maksymowicz that considers the symbolic resilience and strength of the female figure in art and architecture,” according to the online Gallery Guide. “Pulling from antiquity, Virginia blends the mythology of caryatids, architectural columns of women effortlessly bearing the weight of massive architectural structures, with contemporary imagery of women from indigenous and ethnic cultures bearing the weight of ritualistic traditions. Included are two new pieces that respond to historically significant spaces now occupied by Rowan University, in a nod to its centennial celebration. One work honors the Lenni-Lenape who were native to the land. The other is an installation inspired by Hollybush mansion and its mistress, Josephine Allen Whitney, wife of Thomas Whitney, whose factory gave Glassboro its name.”
The exhibition encompasses an array of works made from a multitude of different mediums, such as Inkjet print on silk, hydrostone, and fiberglass/resin, marble chips, and graphite and charcoal pencil on rag paper, among many others.
Although the collection is substantial, Maksymowicz breaks down each of them in the Gallery Guide. For example, the piece titled Panis Angelicus.
“Panis Angelicus blends the tangible with the ineffable, the material with the spiritual, and the architectural with the metaphorical,” explains Maksymowicz in the Gallery Guide. Comparisons, which comprises several works within a larger collection, is also broken down in the guide.
“In Comparisons, seven sets of paired images interleave architectural details with the bodies of women from a variety of ethnic traditions,” Maksymowicz further details in the guide.
Further, just as a careful eye and great detail and attention are needed on the part of the artist to produce meaningful work for their collections, so are great thought, consideration, and organization on the part of the director and chief curator in choosing work for the exhibitions on display at the Rowan University Art Gallery and Museum.
“I have been familiar with Virginia’s work for many years and was waiting for the right opportunity to do a show with her,” remarks Salvante when asked about how/why Virginia Maksymowicz’ The Lightness of Bearing was chosen for the current exhibition. “I was inspired by the Rowan centennial and began to think about how we could participate in the celebration art. Virginia is inspired by classical architecture and how it intersects with the female form. I thought she might find the Holly Bush mansion an interesting subject for creating new work for the show. What we decided was to find a solution that considered the land that is now occupied by rowan – as a sort of lead up to rowan. As a result, she created two new pieces one is based on the Lenni Lenape Native Americans that lived in the area originally and are still here and the other piece is called Memory of Architecture.
A unique opportunity and experience to meet Maksymowicz, the 301 West High Street Gallery held an Opening Reception and Artist Talk on September 14, 2023.
“The talk was essentially a walk through with the artist where she would describe her thinking and process for creating each piece,” recalled Salvante. “It was very well presented, not surprisingly since Virginia was also a professor. We made an audio recording of it which is in the process right now of being converted into a slide show, which we will post to YouTube shortly.”
Moreover, as with observing art in any form – for both returning visitors and newcomers – there are some important tips, such as coming with an open mind and willingness to consider new and different perspectives, that are essential to fully and effectively experiencing the exhibition.
“For any exhibition I encourage visitors to come with an open mind without any preconceived perspectives or biases and to let yourself explore the work so that you are free to come to your own conclusions about what the artist is hoping to convey,” recommends Salvante. “This way you will discover perhaps a new way or different way of thinking about the position the artist is sharing through the work. Ultimately as the viewer you finish the work by applying what you think the work means or what the work means to you. This I believe is how all art should be approached regardless of the artist or the type of work it is.”
The Rowan University Art Gallery is an excellent establishment for learning, conversing, and thinking about art in various forms, and Maksymowicz’ The Lightness of Bearing is no exception.
“The Rowan University Art Gallery & Museum’s mission is to present diverse forms of contemporary art by professional artists with content that is thought provoking, relevant, and timely,” according to the Gallery website. “With our exhibitions, collections, and programming we seek to engender curiosity and a passion for contemporary art, enrich the quality of life for area residents, and serve as a vibrant cultural destination for South Jersey, the Rowan community, and surrounding region. We are committed to cultivating an inclusive, accessible, and just environment that encourages dialogue and collaboration between artists, students, faculty, and the general public through the presentation of interdisciplinary, contemporary art exhibitions, artist talks and other public programming.”
Virginia Maksymowicz’ The Lightness of Bearing, among many other permanent and rotating exhibitions, can be found at the Rowan University Art Gallery and Museum’s 301 West High Street Gallery building, located at 301 West High Street, First Floor, Glassboro, NJ 08028. For more information, gallery hours, guides, and event schedules, visit the gallery website at https://sites.rowan.edu/artgallery/ or call (856) 256-4521.
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