Alumni Exhibit Touches on Coeducation and Material Culture

In her piece, “Victorious Secret,” artist Angela Lorenz ’83 uses nine mosaic panels based on ancient depictions of women as athletic competitors in an effort to restore the image of women as elite athletes and not “dancing bikini girls.”

Lorenz was one of eight alumni artists whose work was featured in the collective exhibit “What Artists Study.” Their pieces were organized around four major themes: Material Culture, Nature, Dystopia and Allegory.

The exhibition was coordinated by the Coed@40 committee to celebrate 40 years of coeducation at Andover. According to a booklet distributed to visitors, the exhibition was intended to serve as “a type of classroom or backdrop for discussions in art and coeducation.”

“Prior to the merger of the two schools, boys from Phillips Academy ventured down the hill to the Abbot Campus for specific art classes not offered at PA. These exchanges may be viewed as early attempts at coeducational opportunities in the arts. After the two schools merged, the visual arts department was enhanced with the addition of teachers coming from Abbot to teach their disciplines in a newly configured visual arts program,” said Peg Harrigan, Instructor in Art.

Lorenz’s belief that a “work’s meaning is in its materials” led her to concentrate her piece on Material Culture.

“[These women] are not musicians or just practicing sports as some archeologists have said more recently. They’re victorious champions,” said Lorenz. “For me, it was important to overturn [the] focus on what they’re wearing — the sexy titillating aspect of their clothing — as opposed to focusing on their athletic instruments, [their] equipment and their prizes.

Lorenz created the nine mosaic panels with hundreds of carefully placed plastic buttons clipped into squares, attached by hairpins to faux cement panels.

“I wanted to use materials that we associate with beauty and décor,” said Lorenz. “Thus, I used buttons and hair pins to create the image because that works with the theme that they are famous for what they’re wearing, not what they are doing.”

Another artist, Chris Fitch ’83, addressed nature in his pieces. Fitch, who grew up in a household with a travelling puppet theater, used his background in “making stuff” to display his pieces that explore the mechanics and engineering found in nature.

“I tend to make art that moves,” said Fitch. “There is something inherently satisfying about being able to visually follow the transformation of the simple circular motion of a crank or a motor into the articulated grasping motion of a bird’s claw or the choreography of a fish leaping to catch a bug.”

Fitch obtained inspiration by taking walks in forests. With the simple visual of an unfurling fern, he was able to build his favorite piece, “Spring.” The arduous process took two years and five prototypes.

With just the pull of a lever, Fitch’s machine automatically went from a perfectly curled position to a completely straight position and back to the original curled position. This mechanical abstraction is the same unfurling action that occurs in fiddleheads during springtime.

“[The] gesture of a fiddlehead fern groping its way out of the cold earth towards the sunlight is something I really wanted to capture in mechanical terms. It’s kind of a combination of nature and man-made technologies,” said Fitch.

Artist Daniel Wheeler ’79 portrayed a dystopia with underwater images from a Southern California pool.

With an intensity of color, Wheeler’s photograph makes the viewer feel like they have been inserted underwater alongside Wheeler. Shadows of blurred trees outline the bottom corners while disparate splotches fill the rest of the landscape.

“The peculiar garden that is urban Southern California would not exist without water,” wrote Wheeler in the booklet. “Here it is viewed through [a] chlorinated lens. Descending into water, my movement, and the exhalation of my breath, causes distortion of the surface. The water is clear, but distorts; the landscape can be intuited but the perspective is indeterminate. The resulting cognitive dissonance forces viewers to sense, rather than read, the images.”

The exhibition will be on display in Steinbach Lobby through Reunion Weekend 2014.