Emerson Contemporary debuts new blog, fall exhibit amid pandemic

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Media: Lizzie Heintz

The Media Art Gallery opened an exhibition for the first time since Covid-19 forced the school’s closure in March.

By Karissa Schaefer

Six months after the pandemic shuttered its operations, Emerson Contemporary, the college’s visual arts platform, is back with a new blog and in-person exhibit. Emerson Contemporary’s fall theme is art and activism. 

The program’s daily online publication aims to feature interviews of artists talking about their showcases. The blog also hosts webinar events on its website that are free to the public.

Leonie Bradbury, chair of contemporary art and distinguished curator-in-residence at Emerson, created Emerson Contemporary a little over a year ago as a platform for visual arts. As part of her curating contemporary art class, student curators organized the “What’s Next: Art for Tomorrow” fall showcase. Students came from Emerson and other Boston schools, like Tufts. 

“I wanted to establish a new identity for the gallery,” Bradbury said. “I wanted to create an umbrella term that would provide a single brand identity for those different contemporary art activities that we were responsible for.”

Bina Perino, the marketing coordinator for Emerson Contemporary, explained how the goal of  “What’s Next: Art for Tomorrow” was to accumulate different Boston artists and get a variety of expressions. 

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“Specifically emerging artists, so artists who don’t have a ton of experience in galleries or are usually still in school, typically,” Perino said. “They’re still getting their degrees, and within their degrees, they need experience showing either for their thesis or their resume. It’s a way for Emerson to help the art community in Boston.” 

The blog posts a new Q&A approximately every other week, with four more coming this semester. On Oct. 14, they hosted a panel discussing the removal of public monuments. And on Oct. 28, there will be a discussion with New Jersey-based artist Nyugen Smith on art and healing, a series that will include two discussions this semester, followed by two more in the spring. 

Bradbury said after the temporary closure of the Media Art Gallery earlier this year, she had to reevaluate what options she had to continue showcasing art.

“We had to really stop everything we were doing,” Bradbury said. “It took us a little bit to figure out how we could still showcase art and continue supporting the artists in our community.”

Emerson Contemporary has two venues: the Media Art Gallery at 25 Avery St., next to the Equipment Distribution Center, and the Huret & Spector Gallery, which lies on the seventh floor of the Tufte building. In addition, Emerson Contemporary is responsible for art initiatives on campus, like murals, as well as off-campus art events.

One of the first projects Emerson Contemporary devoted their time to during the start of the pandemic was the OneEmerson projection created for commencement last spring.

“I worked really hard commissioning and securing artwork for the outdoor projection on the Little Building,” Bradbury said. 

Emerson Contemporary also participated in an international light festival where they lit windows. Landmarks and hotels across the world participated by illuminating windows to show support for the effort of essential workers during the pandemic. 

“We projected Emerson faculty, student, and alumni art on the windows to honor the essential workers and also the artists, showing a commitment to continuing to show artwork and creating opportunities for artists to remain visible in a time where everything has shut down,” Bradbury said. 

The Contemporary typically has one exhibit per semester, but the pandemic derailed their plans. Perino said “Art for Tomorrow” is a slightly lesser version of what was intended for the spring.  

“This is an unusual semester because they’re doing two exhibits in one,” Perino said. “In the spring they were supposed to do ‘What’s Next: Art for Tomorrow’ that is currently up. But because of the lockdown in March, they started to install stuff and it fell through. From what it was supposed to be in the spring, it’s a lot smaller because of how COVID impacted installation.” 

At this point, there are nine artists on display. 

One of the artists originally supposed to be featured last semester is Georden West ‘18, a MFA graduate student from Emerson who now teaches cinematography. Their thesis and Student Academy Award-winning experimental film “Patron Saint” is currently on display in the Media Art gallery. 

West’s feature with Emerson Contemporary launched on Oct. 12 and can be found on the Contemporary’s blog.

“They did a digital show to meet the demands of COVID-19 with the campus being shut down,” West said. “They curated it online and now they moved it into its public space this fall, so the timeline’s been extended. I think they did a lovely job of meeting a crisis in the spring and adapting around it.” 

West praised the Emerson Contemporary students’ and Bradbury’s hard work utilizing the digital media tools and adapting to changing times.

“For a film that now exists in public space, there’s a weird dynamic at play because I think in a lot of ways, we’re instructed that success looks like a multitude of people gathered around the screen viewing your work and really, that sort of gathering isn’t an option at this point,” West said. “The media’s become largely more individualized in its viewing experience.”

West described their film as having a life of its own. Not only is their art displayed for Emerson Contemporary, but it is also being shown at their undergraduate school.

“It’s really interesting to have these two institutions that were very formative in my education, for better or worse, be home to the culmination of my academic endeavors at the same time,” West said.