The Department of Art History has a lot to be excited about these days: a renovated gallery space, a new exhibition, an ambitious archival project and ties to a major international conference happening in April.
The revamped Department of Art History Gallery recently opened in the O’Shaughnessy Education Center lobby. For decades, the area has housed a handful of display cases for art works, but they were spread out across the lobby and space was limited.
“It was a really hard space to do exhibits in,” department chair Victoria Young said. “Nobody could pick up what the space was because we weren’t telling them what it was. So now we are.”
The renovation includes a dedicated art space for exhibitions and related programming, including a main gallery area decked out with signage, a clear entrance and museum-quality lighting. The revitalized lobby also has new chairs, tables and couches.
“Preserving the Present: The Voorsanger Architects Archive at the University of St. Thomas” recently opened in the new space and runs through June 22. It highlights the work of New York City-based firm Voorsanger Architects, led by principal and founder Bartholomew Voorsanger.
“Bart’s got this level of excellence that I don’t normally see in design,” said Young, an architectural historian. “It’s across the board in everything he does. He’s well known for [his work on] the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. But once everyone sees the show, I think people will be pretty floored.”
Young met Voorsanger through their mutual involvement in the Society of Architectural Historians. While Young was on sabbatical doing research in New Orleans a few years ago, Voorsanger asked her to write about the National WWII Museum. Impressed by his work, she agreed.
Young and Voorsanger have teamed up once again to curate an archive of his firm’s work, consisting of digital material, oral histories and physical objects. Marria Thompson, the department’s collections and program manager, also serves as the gallery’s curator.
“Visually it’s so striking,” Thompson said of the exhibition. “It really pulls you into the interior of that gallery space because there’s so much going on. Even if you don’t know a lot about architecture, you can look at it and see it’s a quality product. We hope to embody all of that and give the viewer the basics, then drive them to the archive website where they can learn even more.”
The digital archive and website will be celebrated April 17 at a Department of Art History Gallery reception for the exhibition. That same week, the Society of Architectural Historians is holding its international conference in St. Paul. Young is one of the society’s vice presidents, and the university’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Art History are sponsors of the conference, which runs from April 18-22.
Young said students were involved in many aspects of the Voorsanger archival project, from working on the database and website to helping with the physical collection and exhibition. The archive has even inspired student research projects, she said.
“Getting exposed to practitioners in the field is really important for the students,” Young said. “They hear me talk about Bart, they’ll look at an exhibition, they’ll read the book on him, but when he comes in the room and sits down with them and they can ask really pointed questions because they have prepared and done all this background research – it’s magical to see that sort of thing. Anytime we can do something that’s taking us out of our classroom – something that has a world focus, where we can engage with the broader community – I think it’s really great for everybody.”