Upon entering the university’s contemporary art museum, you are greeted with soft beige carpets, an open interior, and a warm welcome from the staff. If you’re lucky, you might even spot Loretta Yarlow, curator and director of the museum. When I met her, she was as busy tending to the needs of the unseen works, which lay delicately on the floor of the venue, each ready to be presented in its own meticulously planned place in the museum. Upon meeting me, she immediately extended the offer of a tour, during which I got a passionate behind-the-scenes look at how everything was gearing up for the big day.
With opening remarks from State Senator Jo Comerford, the reception took place in the lobby of the Bromery Center for the Arts, complete with a bar and aperitif table. The crowd of people all had the same respect for contemporary art, as well as the team that made it all possible. Paired with a symposium the very next day, the museum was filled with soft chatter and a warm aura of appreciation and community hard to find in big city museums. This is one of the reasons this place is so unique; its size and almost random placement in the large network of popular art museums across the country makes you wonder how we at all colleges can see in-person installations of previously unseen works by well-known artists such as ‘Andy Warhol.
Yarlow has been chief curator at UMCA since 2005, with previous experience in museums nationwide and around the world.
“Of all the museums I’ve worked at, I’ve always felt that a museum that’s on campus – where I can connect with students, faculty, the research that’s going on, and contemporary artists is always the dream,” Yarlow said.
His words ring true, because the museum is at the center of our lives; Hidden at the edge of the campus pond within the Bromery Center for the Arts, UMCA is a showcase gem, and to think that we as students have it so accessible is inspiring.
As a museum curator, Yarlow expresses herself through the arrangement and selection of her art on a large scale, often having to manage boundaries she cannot control, such as the size of the walls, the length of the paintings themselves. same and even the color of the interior of the building. In the world of Yarlow, everything artistic is also calculated.
“Thinking about what worked with which artists,” Yarlow explained.
“Thinking about the thematic and formal threads that I could weave together in this exhibition. Thematic in terms of art and politics, and time periods with minimal conceptual art. The formal is what young conservatives often do not know how to do. Just thinking about where to position the art, what is shown next, how much space is in between, how to bring visual memory from one place to another,” she continued.
As she continued to speak, I realized how much spatial awareness it takes to populate a museum. It really takes not just an artist’s eye, but also an architectural eye to coordinate the aesthetic. I believe there is beauty in this aspect. The ability to make each work of art shine on its own unique pedestal requires extensive research, talent and self-expression, which Yarlow is brimming with.
Being a curator means that Yarlow had full creative freedom with this exhibit. She really wanted to represent the campus and the community in a way that was relevant to us and our current times, which is what the exhibit was supposed to focus on.
“I wanted to reveal our presence here and let it be known that we have this collection, and this collection belongs to you and me,” Yarlow said. “The goal is to get it out there, get it seen and see what else can be said about it.”
All of the pieces in this collection feel like they have a purpose, although what really strikes me is the part of the museum hidden away in a room below. The artists presented here are less mainstream, but in my opinion, more impactful. In the small room advertised as “We Need to Get Out of This Place – Transportative Art,” curated by UMass graduate students Cecily Hughes and Tirzah Frank, there is art dedicated to feelings of restlessness, fear, and of escape that many of us have felt during the pandemic. Maybe it’s because it’s the first massive historical event I’ve witnessed in its entirety, but it really brought me back to those weird times. I can say with certainty that the unique pieces here by Susan De Beer, Garry Winogrand and others truly fit the description of transportive art which blends well with Yarlow’s chosen themes of politics, photography, conceptual and meditative pop subjects throughout the exhibition. Some pieces even have QR codes paired underneath that take you to lengthy interviews with the artists themselves – a unique feature that makes the experience more interactive.
I almost felt silly asking Yarlow what her favorite piece at the museum was, as she works with the nearly 3,800 pieces in the UMCA collection daily. However, laughing, she immediately took me to see the multiple open plies exhibited by Tauba Auerbach. Stepping out of the 2D art that surrounds it, Auerbach’s work has been featured in major exhibitions at New York’s Musuem of Modern Art, and now at last a small piece sits at UMCA in its colorful glory. Next to it, a small screen shows a video installation of his art closing and opening like a pop-up book. It’s quirky and thought-provoking, and you wonder how many different ways you can present art.
Another piece that Yarlow often likes to show is Tim Rollins’ one that takes up an entire wall. 24 pages of WEB DuBois’ novel “Darkwater” are displayed evenly on a large white wall. This piece is unique because it is a collective piece, each page having been dipped individually in black and gold ink by a student of the Renaissance School of Springfield. It’s supposed to depict a scene from the book itself: DuBois’ birth along a golden river in the Berkshire hills. This piece is particularly interesting when put into context, as you can almost imagine young students meticulously picking out their favorite pages and watering them carefully or not, as they see fit. It’s playful, but also profound, as childhood often is.
After my visit to the museum, as well as my interview with Yarlow, I began to reflect on the importance of art collecting and what it means in today’s society. Art inspires people, making them more productive and happier, which positively impacts the world around them. It’s a subtle domino effect.
“I want people to know that it’s kind of like the food chain – everyone gets fed,” Yarlow said. “For example, we buy a work of art, the artist is paid, we have it in our museum for future research and study. Everyone is fed, the students, the spectators and the galleries.
I’m only scratching the surface of the importance of the art industry, which Yarlow lectured on at his symposium, “The Future of Collecting: Why Collecting Matters.” The symposium will be available for viewing on the UMCA website.
Towards the end of my interview, we moved away from the script and talked more about larger topics, like the future of digital art, as well as unanswered questions like “What is art? ” I started to see how easy it is for art and talking about art to inspire thoughts, ideas and questions that you wouldn’t normally encounter on a daily basis. Even with my limited knowledge of contemporary art, I highly recommend any student to go to UMCA and experience something completely different from what they are used to.
Amelia Wompa can be contacted at [email protected].