Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Nasca constructed these glowing, deep sea worms out of PVC pipe and silicon.

March 18, 2021

Johnson Museum Gives MFA Exhibitions a New Home

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From industrial representations of sea and nightlife to reflections on language in art, Cornell’s MFA student galleries present diverse artistic musings at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art this spring.

At the start of the fall 2020 semester, Cornell Architecture, Art and Planning converted Tjaden Hall’s galleries into studio spaces to allow for social distancing as students worked on their pieces. According to Morgan Evans-Weiler grad, hopeful student curators didn’t know if their concepts would ever become a reality. 

“The Johnson stepped in, which has been a blessing,” he said. “They allowed us to do shows there last semester and this semester, because we don’t actually have [Tjaden Hall] galleries to use.”

The Johnson Museum provided two galleries for MFA and BFA student shows, in which project managers created concepts for exhibits and curated pieces from artists they bring onboard. The Johnson’s collaboration allowed student exhibitions to proceed from the latter part of the fall semester through the spring.

“An Anthropology of Everything” was Evans-Weiler’s first show. He expressed a new sense of responsibility to displaying other artists’ work and gained a strong appreciation for collaborative projects after curating his first gallery and highlighting other artists’ work.

“Doing this has really made me want to be even more particular, more pointed and more contextual about what I would curate in the future,” Evans-Weiler said. “It makes me want to be more hyper specific, because I think this show was kind of broad in the way it brought together language, cultural study and research.”

Three stool-like sculptures occupy the first room of “Midnight Zone.” Curator David Nasca said, “These are like three weird drag queens or scene kids who are hanging out in the corner of the nightclub.”

Evans-Weiler was forced to adopt a new creative process as he worked with all artists remotely, collecting their pieces by mail. David Nasca grad created the majority of his gallery “Midnight Zone” himself, incorporating only an audio file from collaborators.

“It’s been this challenging and fragmented way of getting things together,” said Bonnie Jones, an artist featured in Evans-Weiler’s exhibit.

Nasca lamented the limits on the show and his inability to host a gallery reception due to COVID-related restrictions.

“I would have loved to have a reception that felt more like a party,” he said. He appreciated the Johnson’s helpful staff and advanced facilities, but also expressed that his show might have worked better in a smaller, less formal student gallery.

However, Evans-Weiler and Nasca agreed that curation still allowed for personal growth, and they expressed appreciation for their ability to create during COVID.

“An Anthropology of Everything,” a language-oriented show curated by Evans-Weiler, opened on March 15 and will run through March 20. The glowing, aquatic “Midnight Zone,” created by David Nasca grad, is on display until March 26.

“An Anthropology of Everything” features eight professional artists from across the world and nine pieces discussing personal relationships with language. Inspired by German artist Hanne Darboven, Evans-Weiler encouraged broad and personal interpretations of the topic as the artists created pieces for the gallery.

“It’s all about language and what language can do to help us understand our places in the broader cultural history, especially now,” he said.

Pieces in the gallery range from a set of notes on poetry to a set of three paper cutouts to a video piece on the artists’ personal history.  

Natalie Neumaier’s piece in “An Anthropology of Everything” turns the process of note-taking into art.

Vienna-based artist Natalie Neumaier features a series of 27 drawings and handwritten notes on various texts, including work from Italian poet Biagio Marin. According to Neumaier, it represents the productive uncertainty that comes with the desire to engage with someone else’s text.

“Drawing for me begins with reading,” she wrote in an email to the Sun. “Reading brings me into an in-between zone. A leap that could be both break line and passage. It has to do with uncertainty and not-knowing.”

Bonnie Jones, a writer, musician and poet, featured a video project based on her lack of personal knowledge about her history –– Jones was adopted at a young age by a white American family, and knows little about her Korean heritage. Her work consists of a white cursor on a black background, typing and retyping versions of a personal history.

“It’s an improvisational writing,” she said. “So I’m just sitting down in front of the blank screen, as it were, and writing through a set of ideas. In this case, they were about ideas of being able to more or less make up your origin story, or to invent narratives about yourself.”

3D printed fish innards sit within inflated plastic donuts in the front room of “Midnight Zone,” lit from the bottom with neon rings.

The “Midnight Zone” gallery features a variety of Nasca’s sculptural works, which emulate sea creatures through a variety of commercial materials with the intention of evoking the atmosphere of Nasca’s pre-COVID parties with friends.

“I am really interested in animals, especially deep-sea animals, as metaphors for human queerness and the kind of weird communities as somewhat analogous to queer subcultures,” he said.

The installation “Salps for a Future Generation” spans the floor of the entryway, representing a type of sea creature that chains together with others of its kind.

The first room of the gallery features three furniture pieces and a selection of 3D-printed fish innards in plastic blow-up rings, representing the bar or lounge area of a nightclub. The second contains a set of glowing sea worms made of PVC and silicon, as well as an audio track describing true facts about ocean creatures.

Despite unusual circumstances, the curators enjoyed their gallery-producing experiences and gained artistic lessons from the process.

“I’m not really a curator,” Evans-Weiler said. “I’m just an artist who likes doing things and bringing people together.”

Correction, March 18, 11:13 a.m.: A previous version of this story listed incorrect exhibition run dates. “An Anthropology of Everything” opened March 15 and runs until March 20; “Midnight Zone” runs until March 26. This post has since been updated.