Every two years, faculty members of the Department of Art are invited to select an artwork to exhibit at the Johnson Museum. What is the visitor to make of this exhibition? The curatorial touch is intentionally very light: “Cornell Art Faculty” is not a critical curatorial frame by any standard, unless of course the professional practice is paired reflexively to a pedagogical method. Clearly—since the student work is not here—this is not the principal intent of this recurring tradition.
This is an insider show for interested outsiders. The mission of this exhibition, and its great value, is to remind us of the extraordinary challenge faced by any student seeking a voice in the arts, for to enter this room is analogous to entering the discipline of art making itself. Unlike in many exhibitions, there is no easy comfort in this space. No taxonomy of genres is mapped out, no hierarchy of means is implied, no subject matter is privileged, even the assumed and protected site of the artwork is critiqued (be careful where you walk) and then reasserted (note the presence of a pedestal). This small show encapsulates a great deal of difficult terrain. Most dauntingly, in the compressed space of a single gallery, one is confronted with a discipline that systematically upends the fundamental relationship between problem and solution. For in the arts, the “solution” is to problematize experience, to make palpable a condition that is otherwise opaque to perception. The notion that the work of art exists to enable escape into a state of aesthetic disinterest is obviously contested territory.
If you leave this space asking yourself many questions about the arts, you have probably profited from, and taken with you, the principal gift of this exhibition. For those willing to join these accomplished artists and contribute new questions, you have always held my highest admiration.
Gale and Ira Drukier Dean, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning