WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Ever wonder what it would be like to have a Cezanne hanging over the couch? A Winslow Homer in the hallway? A Christo in the kitchen?
A new Williams College Museum of Art program is experimenting with the relationships between people and art: Rather than viewing a number of pieces of art in a gallery setting for an hour or two, how would a person feel about a piece hanging in their home for several months?
According to Sonnet Coggins, associate director for academic and public engagement at WCMA, the idea resulted largely from a desire on the part of the new museum director, Christina Olsen, to stretch the role of art in students’ lives and to “get outside the walls.
“Learning about art takes place in different contexts,” Coggins noted. “And we knew we wanted to reach students outside of the art department. We’re really interested in what reflections and responses people have over time with these art works.”
The general concept has been done in one form or another at a couple of other schools, such as MIT and Overland College, but it was still intriguing enough to attract the attention of a donor, who stepped up and purchased 90 pieces identified by a committee.
The committee consisted of faculty, students and administrators. The pieces were procured and hung in a gallery space at the Williams College Museum of Art. Then 90 student volunteers were signed up to take part in the program, known as Williams Art Loan for Living Spaces. They were brought in to see the art, evaluate it, and decide which pieces they would like to see hanging in their dormitory rooms.
The framed paintings, etchings and drawings – a Cezanne, Homer and Christo among them – were distributed on Feb. 16.
The program is supported by the Fulkerson Fund for Leadership in the Arts and by Williams College alumnus Fenner Milton.
Williams College senior Zoe Grueskin was there with a couple of friends. They set up a tent at 3 a.m. the night before outside the door of Williams College Museum of Art. They were the first ones there. But others started forming in line behind them at about 4 a.m.
“Other people came in hot on our tails,” she recalled. “It was cold. When the time came, they let us in one or two at a time and gave about two minutes to choose a piece of art.”
Grueskin chose “Airing Birds in a Magnolia Grove” by contemporary Chinese artist Zhou Jumin. She chose this piece because she likes it, but also because after she graduates this spring, she’s off to Shanghai, China, for a year of teaching.
She is pleased with her choice.
“I didn’t anticipate how well it fits with my room,” she said.
Over the long term, Grueskin expects she will associate the piece with her senior year in college and everything that entails.
“Once you understand that there can be this alchemy between a person and an object, you are open to experience that in different settings, and the same is true with art,” Coggins said. “It can catalyze new ways of thinking about a specific piece or art in general.”
Once the semester is over, the 90 pieces will be collected for distribution to other students for the fall semester.
Coggins said they are interested in seeing the variety of responses they get over time from different students after prolonged co-habitation with the same work of art.