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Contemporary Visual Culture – Collecting and Display Class. Photo courtesy of CAMD faculty Sam Adams.

This semester, CAMD faculty Sam Adams, Art + Design, is teaching a graduate course, Contemporary Visual Culture – Collecting and Display (ARTH 5400), that addresses a range of artistic practices premised on the use and re-use of pre-existing materials in one’s own artwork. Students are encouraged to incorporate into their projects materials ranging from souvenirs to digital files to flea market finds to artworks gifted by peers. Primarily aimed at MFA students in the Interdisciplinary Arts program (as well as Architecture students), the course’s final project will present the students’ work in a pop-up exhibition at The Distillery Gallery in South Boston, emphasizing the semester’s themes of institutional critique, appropriation, anthropological display, fetishism, authorship, and collaboration.

Lavish collections of objects from around the world called Wunderkammern (“cabinets of curiosity”) emerged in the European Renaissance as a way for wealthy individuals to display power and knowledge. These early attempts at encyclopedic collecting developed into a new type of institution in the 19th century, the museum. The 11 MFA students’ projects, according to Professor Adams, will form a “collaborative cabinet of curiosities” by gathering personal objects in an affective network that “critiques historical museum and ethnographic display methods.”

The reach of the students’ work does not stop at The Distillery Gallery. The process of adapting pre-existing materials (objects, film clips, texts) and re-contextualizing them in various display formats will be documented and narrated by the students and submitted to Big Red & Shiny, Boston’s leading contemporary art magazine.

Professor Adams emphasizes the practical, career-oriented goals of the course, which will provide students with installation shots of their work for their portfolio, a gallery exhibition and a publication line on their resumes.

“My students now have first-hand experiences staging this sort of intervention,” explained Professor Adams. “Throughout the course of planning, they have met with curators, artists, gallery directors, and other figures who support critical artistic efforts in Boston, and so they leave the seminar with some key professional contacts in the area.”

The students’ work will be displayed in The Distillery Gallery for one night only, Friday, November 17th, and will include several original performance pieces staged for an invited audience, although the exhibition and event are free and open to the public.