Earlier this month, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art received 320 pieces from the legendary collection of Dorothy Vogel, a donation that—in the words of Colby art museum curator Diana Tuite—“catapults [the Museum] into a whole other league.” A former librarian, Vogel collected almost 5,000 works of art with her late husband Herb, a postal clerk, gathering it in their rent-stabilized, one-bedroom apartment in New York City. Their donation marks a 33 percent increase in the museum’s contemporary art collection and adds work from modern and postmodern artists such as Richard Tuttle and Julian Schnabel. With this addition, the Vogels—long-time friends of Museum co-directors Anne and Frank Goodyear—have furthered the Museum’s developing reputation as an artistic heavyweight. Since the renovated art museum reopened in 2007, it has attracted record-breaking crowds and national attention with Edward Hopper, William Wegman and Maurice Prendergast exhibits.
Bowdoin’s art world is inarguably in the public eye, and with the September opening of the Robert H. and Blythe Bickel Edwards Center for Art and Dance, art has moved closer to the nucleus of student life. Apart from this academic building, the Ramp Gallery opened in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library last semester, creating a forum dedicated to student-curated and created art. Meanwhile, the Art Society’s inaugural interactive exhibit in Ladd House succeeded in turning traditionally social spaces into artistic venues. We applaud these efforts and want to see the trend continue. Why not put artwork in other high-traffic areas like the dining halls or classrooms? By largely confining art to the Museum, the Visual Arts Center and the Edwards Center, the College limits its exposure to people already engaged in Bowdoin’s artistic circles.
Some colleges have taken bold steps in their attempts to integrate visual art into student life. Oberlin College rents artwork to students and faculty, including pieces by Picasso and Dali, for $5 per semester. Bowdoin’s Museum has over 20,000 pieces in its collections, the vast majority of them in storage. It could consider rentals, not only to better take advantage of its incredible quantity of works, but also to expose students to their beauty. The benefit to students is obvious: an original Winslow Homer painting would make a nice alternative to an Animal House poster in your Coles Tower bedroom next year. Another option is designating a public space—like Pomona College’s Walker Wall—where students could create art. These sorts of public projects can be marred by crude expressions, but we believe that Bowdoin students would rise to the challenge.
Art has the power to elevate both aesthetics and attitudes. In 2008, residents of Quinby House partnered with students from Professor Mark Wethli’s public art course to redecorate a basement room frequented by urinating revelers, according to a 2008 Orient article. Designed by Sara Griffin ’09 and Cami Osorno ’10, the “European Portrait Gallery” continues to be appreciated, not defaced. Transformations like this one remind us that we can remake our campus spaces and reimagine the ways in which we interact with art both in and outside of the Museum.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Erica Berry, Nora Biette-Timmons, Garrett Casey, Ron Cervantes, Marisa McGarry, Sam Miller and Kate Witteman.