Undergraduate Seniors Move Annual Thesis Exhibition Online in Light of Pandemic

BY Audrey Deng, May 8, 2020

This year, undergraduate seniors studying visual arts will have their annual thesis exhibition online. The exhibition, which ordinarily features work from graduating seniors in a one-day show at the LeRoy Neiman Gallery at Dodge Hall, will run online from May 7 through June 15 but will be available long afterward. For the show, each student has created their own page on the exhibition site and contributed to a physical catalog that will be mailed out soon. Ordinarily, this would be an in-person celebration of seniors’ last four years at the university.

Having an online exhibition in lieu of a physical show is unprecedented; students have had to plan, execute, and promote their exhibition while also completing the pieces featured. Additionally, many students’ artworks remain unfinished, left behind in inaccessible studios that had to be vacated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these difficult circumstances, the students have been able to adapt.

In a comment to the university, senior Roland Chen said, “The exhibition is for the undergraduate senior thesis class, who have spent the last year creating their own artistic practice. This is the culmination of a year's worth of work, learning, and experimentation.”

Chen added, “I also think there is beauty in this kind of adaptation. We are in a time of transition, and this is a unique experience for us.”

Said senior Isabella Norris, “When Covid-19 was ramping up, students were quite consumed with the uncertainty of our livelihood on campus. I think very few people were concerned with documenting the work that was being produced or had the foresight to think we’d lose access to our facilities. My guess is that much of the work in the show will have been made in a non-studio or non-shop environment. The website is a good solution for the situation we’re in. I think it's important that the show is still on because those of us in art classes continued to make work when classes went online too. We haven’t stopped and we have work to show still. As far as I’m aware, nothing like this has ever happened in the history of the department and that alone is worth something.”

Accompanied by the transition online is a freedom to innovate. While the loss of physical space is invaluable, having the exhibition online also gave some students more autonomy and control over their work, and in some cases even expanded their individual practices.

Norris said, “The move online doesn’t necessarily change what I’m working on in my thesis, but it's given me license to have some more freedom. For example, creating a splash page for my portion of the website, I animated some small lion heads I made last week. It looks pretty different to anything I was immediately working on in the studio. So that’s just one example of how the situation has disrupted not only what we thought the semester was going to look like but challenged too what we thought we’d be making by now. But, I’m working on welcoming that spontaneity.”

In conjunction with the website, there will also be a catalog, which allows students the option to contribute their works to designs both digital and physical. Unlike the website, which gives each student the freedom to design their own page, the catalog’s design is more curated. Senior Mike Morgan said, “I think this was the smart move because we're all senior art majors, so we each have a lot of creative capital to contribute to either the website or the catalog...The designers took more control [with the catalog], curating the images and layout for the student's page.”

The online portion of the show will be here year round, and the Facebook event page has all the most up-to-date information.