Uptown Meets Downtown in Curatorial Collaborative

Haley Pierce, a master’s candidate at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts (IFA), was drawn to the work of artists Anna Marchisello and Phoebe Louise Randall, both seniors in Steinhardt’s studio art BFA program.

Marchisello’s and Randall’s work gave Pierce the opportunity to juxtapose two different styles and personalities, while also finding common threads like the concepts of chance, recycled materials, and the similar desire to produce a unique experience in the viewer.

Pierce, Marchisello, and Randall are part of a unique NYU partnership that pairs art history graduate students from the IFA with Steinhardt studio art undergraduates, culminating in a series of student-produced exhibitions.

Now in its third year, the NYU Curatorial Collaborative (NYUCC) gives the IFA – traditionally known for its expertise in conservation and art history – direct access to working contemporary artists.

“Only at NYU do you have a world-class art history program and a vibrant undergraduate studio art program working hand in hand like this,” said Jesse Bransford, chair of Steinhardt’s Department of Art and Art Professions.

Way Out/ Away Out at 80WSE Gallery featured works by Anna Marchisello and Phoebe Louise Randall and was curated by Haley S. Pierce. The February exhibition was part of NYU’s Curatorial Collaborative.

Through the partnership, IFA students gain experience curating a show with living, contemporary artists – perhaps many years before they would have an opportunity to curate their own exhibition in New York City’s thriving yet competitive museum and gallery scene. And for BFA students, working with a budding curator can give them new perspective on their work.

“For me as an artist, this experience forced me to see my work differently – as something being exhibited for people other than artists,” said Randall.

The Curatorial Collaborative dovetails with a new honors program (established by Bransford in 2014) for select BFA seniors, who are chosen to conceive of and realize two-person exhibitions curated by the IFA students. The student-driven collaboration spans the better part of a year, with curators visiting the artists’ studios to develop a relationship and ultimately, their exhibitions.

Unlike other studio art programs, where professors curate student shows, the Curatorial Collaborative puts the onus on the students to bring the exhibitions to life. The curators work one-on-one with the artists, while faculty and administrators play a supporting role.

This spring, six exhibitions resulted from the partnership — five two-person projects at Steinhardt’s 80WSE Gallery and a larger, thematic group show in the Barney Building. The shows are documented in a series of printed publications with essays written by the IFA curators and contextualized with reproductions of the artists’ work. One exhibition at 80WSE, curated by IFA’s Pierce, featured the work of Steinhardt’s Marchisello and Randall.

The exhibition, titled Way Out / Away Out, filled the small gallery facing Washington Square Park, and included all new works created for the show. Randall created an interactive painting; ambient sounds emitted from the piece using the materials of the painting as the speaker to create an atmospheric quality. Marchisello’s work investigates movement through video and performance. The dynamic show changed daily, with artifacts added over time to the space.

“The work – whether it be Phoebe’s painting or the performance – is only activated by someone being in the space. Someone interacting with it is an integral part of it,” Marchisello said.

“The project, from the beginning, was something that was very much alive. It’s not about how things are going to be placed and how they’re going to look throughout the week, but how they’ll change,” Randall said.

“I wanted it to be a collaboration between all of us, which is what I think it has successfully turned out to be,” said Pierce, who is also a curatorial intern at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In addition to the exhibitions, throughout the spring semester, a series of panel discussions and symposia are held to celebrate the exhibitions and foster a dialogue about the work. The events – which take place at IFA’s Upper East Side home at the James B. Duke House as well as the Einstein Auditorium in Steinhardt’s Department of Art and Art Professions in the East Village – are designed to create an exchange of both ideas and people.

“The classical rift in the art world between curator and artist often resides in the valley between theory and practice, and the NYUCC initiative geographically and figuratively connects uptown with downtown and downtown with uptown,” said Ian Cooper, senior studio program coordinator at NYU Steinhardt.