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BENNINGTON — The Suzanne Lemberg Usdan Gallery will hold an opening reception from 7-9 tonight for the exhibition "Unpacking the Vault," an exploration of the surprising scope of objects and narratives in the art holdings at Bennington College — and the first exhibition of these works co-curated by students.

The exhibition runs from Feb. 27 through April 15. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 1-5 p.m.

Over seven weeks in fall 2017, a class taught by Usdan Gallery Director and Curator Anne Thompson and Erin McKenny, who manages the college's art holdings, delved into the campus art-storage space known as "the vault." Students researched myriad objects by artists renowned, obscure and, occasionally, unknown. The resulting exhibition honors the eclectic nature of Bennington's holdings — dense in some areas, abstract painting in particular, yet rich in surprises from the deeper past to the current moment. At the same time, it identifies core themes and agents in the making, distribution, and acquisition of art.

Arrangements of works in the exhibition play a "six degrees of separation" game via their mutual connections to individuals (for example, a legendary dealer, a radical teacher, or artist/collector) and points of entry into the Bennington collection. This strategy resists hierarchy and instead celebrates the miscellaneous, finding common ground for a variety of artists alongside some of the mid-century modernists so famously associated with Bennington College.

Unpacking the Vault also engages Bennington history by transforming Usdan Gallery into a hybrid gallery/classroom, symbolically fulfilling the original design plans from the 1960s that envisioned a dedicated space, under the gallery and adjacent to the vault, for students to study the art collection. Because of the depth and range of the holdings, this will be an evolving exhibition. It opens with works curated by the fall 2017 class; in the spring, a new class—again working in the gallery with Thompson and McKenny—will conduct a second round of vault research. The spring class will transform and expand the show with additional artworks and themes. A closing event will mark the collaborative effort of the students in these two classes, whose research contributes to a growing database of information about college-owned artworks.

Artists included in the initial installation of Unpacking the Vault are Kenneth Anger, Tadashi Asoma, Ben Benn, Douglas Brown, David Burliuk, Mary Callery, former faculty member Sir Anthony Caro, Chryssa, Jim Dine, Stanley William Hayter, Stefan Hirsch, Hans Hofmann, Ralph Humphries, Mel Hunter, Wolf Kahn, former faculty member Karl Knaths, Kione Kochi '15, Isabella Lee, Lucy Lee, Alexander Lieberman, Richard Lindner, Marisol '05, Agnes Martin, Emily Mason, Hans Moller, former faculty member Kenneth Noland, former faculty member Larry Poons, Anne Poor '39, Diego Rivera, Lorna Simpson, Robert O. Skemp, David Smith, Kiki Smith, Tony Smith, Holland Taylor '64, Anne Truitt, Barbara Valenta, and Gloria Vanderbilt.


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