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Missing out on art museums? Check out Mason Gross' virtual galleries

Mason Gross School of the Arts senior Briana McLaurin's portraiture is just one example of the brilliant works on display at the Mason Gross Galleries' virtual exhibit.  – Photo by Briana McLaurin / Mason Gross Galleries

I’ve always tried to immerse myself in the vibrant arts and culture scene at Rutgers. The Zimmerli Art Museum feels like home to me with its quiet galleries, the cascading staircase topped with George Segal’s “Red Acrobat” and the friendly and familiar faces walking around.

As of now, the Zimmerli at Home website and eMuseum online collection have been good ways to engage with the art museum experience.

From popular European artists like Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, to some of my favorite American artists like Sam Gilliam and Emma Amos, as well as the world’s largest collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art, there’s something for everyone in the Zimmerli’s growing and diverse collection. 

But as much as I know and love this museum-centric part of experiencing celebrated art at Rutgers, I couldn’t help but feeling like I wasn’t exploring student-led work enough.

To address my predicament, I recently decided to explore the virtual Mason Gross Galleries. The Mason Gross Galleries are located at 33 Livingston Ave. in New Brunswick. After getting a sneak-peek into the undergraduate and graduate work exhibited online, I can’t wait to visit the 4,200-square-foot venue when its open in-person. 

Given the pandemic, the art world has adapted its brilliance and beauty and taken on a new meaning and life in the age of the Internet. Art students have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, particularly since they may not have immediate, easy access to studio spaces and art supplies.

There are currently five virtual exhibitions on display (and are on view until May 31): “From Where You Are” and “Things Just Happened,” as well as “Art in Residence,” “Finding Your People” and “Distant Bubbles.”

The exhibitions are organized in a user-friendly manner that give you the space to really take in the diversity of thought processes behind each student’s work. Each artist’s unique, original voice comes together in exquisite and spirited harmony in these stunning online spaces.

By exploring these exhibitions, it became clear to me that the artists exhibiting, most of them graduating seniors, are the exciting future of the art world. Congratulations are in order for the extraordinary young minds in the Class of 2021, who triumphed and produced two remarkable Bachelor of Fine Arts thesis exhibitions.

From Where You Are” features the work of 29 students from the interdisciplinary visual arts program who all explore a variety of themes across media like painting, photography, sculpture, drawing and print in their self-curated exhibits. Scrolling down the exhibitions main page, a single swirling string ties the artists’ works together and guides you through the space.

A description of the exhibition explains that “the title of the exhibition reflects a year of evolving studio practices using remote and hybrid models of making while improvising new ways for audiences to engage with work.”

This exhibition is communicative and evocative in every facet of its storytelling. To me, the tin can telephone intertwined with the logo symbolized the powerful, interconnected resonance of the students’ work. 

Some of my favorite works from this exhibition include the architecturally intimate paintings of senior Tara Mastromihalis, the portraiture of senior Briana McLaurin centered around family and sisterhood and the soft pastel explorations of light by senior Jiaqi Wu.

Things Just Happened” is an innovative and interactive exhibition that explores the work of 36 art students. In a time of increased uncertainty, this collaborative effort presents audiences with a plethora of digital projects that are reflective of the artists’ limitless creativity, curiosity and humanity.

Each artist presents audiences with a question that forces one to look inward and engage with their project. What I loved most about this multifaceted exhibition is that it invited people to participate in the revelatory works. 

For instance, senior Jenna MacNeill’s “To My Future Selftouches on themes of mental health and invites people to write short postcards pondering on life in and after quarantine. Meanwhile, senior Steve Tomori's “Emotional Auroras” translates emotions into dynamic color and movement.

Senior Rabiah Khan’s “A Hundred Voices” provides Pakistani women with a safe forum to share stories of violence, harassment and abuse, while senior Catie Esposito’s mirrored installation “Internal Monologues” is all about self-reflection in a period of great unpredictability. 

Another wonderful display of creative talent is “Art in Residence.” According to a curatorial statement by artists senior Emily Graf, junior Serafina Kennedy and junior Lauren Krasnoff, this show “examines what it means to have a home function as more than just a domestic space … (and) questions the superiority of a traditional white-walled gallery.” This artistic study pushes viewers to survey their quotidian lives and contemplate the places they inhabit. 

There’s so much more to discover at the Mason Gross Virtual Galleries too. Another current show, “Finding Your People,” is a collection of 11 student curated shows from students in the 2021 Seminar in Media.

“Distant Bubbles,” which is the most recently launched show on the site, is a Mason Gross School of the Arts multidisciplinary show featuring the works of 10 current Bachelor of Fine Arts students as well as alumni. 

Junior Celia Sanchez Bachman curated and designed the exposition alongside her friend and colleague junior Daniel Lopez. Bachman was given the chance to put together the show by Mason Gross Galleries’ gallery coordinator Sam Bogner, who oversees the physical galleries as well as helps facilitate web design.

“When (Bogner) gave me the opportunity to make my own show, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to ask other people to show work alongside me … it meant a lot to me to be able to facilitate that sort of environment where people can show what they've been working on," Bachman said.

This new online format has also given artists, like Bachman herself and another “Digital Bubbles” artist sophomore Doris Doku, a space to express themselves with digital artwork, which may have previously been outside of their comfort zones.

"I started getting more interested in digital artwork since I couldn't go to the studio to oil paint," Bachman said. "There's a presence of digital artwork in the show that a more conventional show wouldn't even have … you're not going to see those digital artworks on a wall if you were in a gallery at an in-person Mason Gross show."

Looking to the future with aspirations of organizing more regular shows with in-person and social elements, like launch parties, Bachman notes that the online format provides much more accessibility than before.

When I was clicking around the “Archive” section of the website and looking into past shows, I stumbled upon “The Art of Staying Home,” another awesome self-curated exhibition by students of the Painting 1A class at Mason Gross. Coincidentally, I even learned of a slice-of-life oil on canvas titled “The Daily Targum” by sophomore Abigail Keane, featuring a snippet of our student newspaper in the right-hand corner!

The rich learning experience these virtual galleries provide is further amplified by the fact that many pages have links to artist’s personal websites or Instagram pages where you can learn more about the artists and their processes, and take a look at their larger body of work.

By the end of my few hours making rounds at the virtual galleries, I felt a deep sense of gratitude that the feelings of joy and comfort that come with experiencing thought-provoking art in-person hadn’t changed much in the weird digital world we live in. In many ways, the flexibility and omnipresence of digital platforms are a hidden blessing and have allowed for art to be within the reach of a much wider audience.

If you’re a die-hard art lover or just looking for some cool inspiration, I encourage you to go forth and be inquisitive about the work being created by the next generation of visionary artists learning at Mason Gross.

While I couldn't cover the full extent of every exhibition and exhibiting student’s brilliant work, I hope this inspires you to venture out into student-driven shows and seek out your new personal favorites.

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