“To be at home in all lands and all ages” is more than just a familiar mantra to Bowdoin students—it introduces a promise to members of the College community upon their entry here. On Thursday, November 5, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art opened its newest exhibit to the public, “To Count Art an Intimate Friend,” which brings the promise in William Dewitt Hyde’s 1906 Offer of the College to life. Through expository, dynamic and exciting works from the Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibit both honors and analyzes this mission statement by which we are intended to live, forcing viewers to think deeply about the Offer’s presence on campus. 

Curated by Joachim Homann, the exhibition centers on the College’s core values, according to the Offer: sense of place, celebration of nature, appreciation of others’ work, uninhibited creative expression and working toward the common good. 

“It’s a really wonderful guide through our collections, because for many years, people here at the Museum have been collecting art to benefit the campus,” said Homann. “So they of course reflect different perspectives and learning goals that are characteristics of the Bowdoin education.”

The curatorial staff worked quickly and deftly to bring the plans to fruition in order “to welcome a new president to the college, and many new members of the administration, as well as a whole new generation of students,” according to Homann. The gestation period for exhibits at the Museum is typically one year at minimum. However, plans for this installation first materialized early this summer. 

The installation showcases a range of works, drawing from the Museum’s Old Master collection of drawings and paintings as well as more contemporary, multimedia pieces and photographs. 

“It is a great joy to bring out pieces from the Museum’s permanent collection, which is global in scope and goes back 3,000, 4,000 years,” said Museum Co-Director Frank Goodyear. “It’s great to then put them in different thematic groupings to see how works from across time and many different renditions can intersect with one another.”

As each gallery conveys a different theme from the Offer, the exhibit easily conveys the diversity of the permanent collection. While the Halford Gallery explores nature and human relationships to nature, the next, Center Gallery, displays artistic expressions of social, economic and political differences as a means of challenging standards.

Among these pieces include a drawing by contemporary New Haven artist Titus Kaphar, who has rendered four different portraits of racially-biased police brutality victims Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown as one. 

“[Titus Kaphar’s piece] is hopefully going to be at the center of a larger discussion about race and diversity here at Bowdoin but obviously beyond as well,” said Goodyear. 
According to Homann, viewers are drawn to the works in this exhibit because “they are painted in a strange way that seems to go beyond what we immediately recognize.” 
Homann, who first proposed the idea for this exhibit, values that “it’s not a show that is unifying or glossing over differences,” but rather “respecting each other’s backgrounds and perspectives and finding shared goals.” 

Among the works in the final gallery of the show are different interpretations, some more contentious than others, of the American flag, demonstrating in the Offer urging students “to cooperate with others for common ends.”

“This show gives us an opportunity to test the ways in which art can enable us to engage conversations about sensitive and important topics both near and far,” said Museum Co-Director Anne Goodyear. “It reflects back on Bowdoin’s history, but also gives us the tools to think far beyond Bowdoin with respect to foreign lands and even questions of political activism."

Since coming to Bowdoin in 2010, Homann has worked on two other exhibits, “Printmaking ABC” and “The Object Show,” that he deems similar to this one in that they also utilized the permanent collection to celebrate the College and the value it places on community, academic inquiry and art.  

“One of the things that I find most moving about Bowdoin College is that art has literally always been at the center of a Bowdoin education,” said Anne Goodyear. “Art represents one of those portals onto the great big world around us, which is why we think education is so important. It gives us the tools and the resources to not only engage with our immediate community but to recognize how our immediate community might be a microcosm for a much wider world.”

“To Count Art an Intimate Friend: Highlights from Bowdoin Collections 1794 to Present” will be on display through June 5, 2016.