Kingsborough Community College is one of the few CUNY junior colleges that has access to a 2100 square foot venue with a 20 feet ceiling—not just a room— dedicated to showcasing artwork. Unfortunately, the Art Gallery might as well be invisible to most students that attend the school. When they are inside of it, it’s with their heads down, hands on their backpack straps and feet shuffling, using it as a shortcut to make it to their classes.
“I had class right there in front of it, so I just walked through a few times,” Jean Uel, a student in his last semester at Kingsborough said. “Some of the stuff there is really nice. I just don’t think they spread the word around the buildings as much; that we actually have it there.”
The Art Gallery, which opened up in 1976 with a faculty art exhibition, begins each exhibition season by upholding that tradition with the Annual Art Faculty Exhibition and ends the season with the greatly anticipated Student Art Exhibition. In between these two exhibitions are three to four shows from outside artists.
Brian E. Hack, the current director of the Art Gallery, who took over from Peter Malone in the Fall of 2014, aims to take the gallery in a different, more progressive direction; Increasing the diversity of the artists on view.
“While women artists have been well represented lately—half of the shows I’ve curated since 2014 have featured women artists, and two additional exhibitions have been or will be guest-curated by women—there remains a need to expand the boundaries of culture, race and gender identity,” Hack said. “Kingsborough is one of the most diverse campuses in the nation—we would like the gallery to reflect and respect that diversity.”
Although he is still fresh-faced as the Art Gallery’s Art Director with only eight exhibitions under his belt, Hack is primed to introduce brand new types of installations and challenge the way students normally view art.
Hack plans to introduce an improved LED lighting system and ceiling-mounted projectors for video art and other interactive forms of art. Last Spring, the gallery has presented an exhibit on 3-D printing (Ashley Zelinskie: Return to Tomorrow) and is currently showcasing Sui Park’s Garden of Humans.
This new approach has begun to pique the students interest, as the current show resulted in a spike in traffic, filling the gallery with a greater number of curious students.
“Many visitors have been drawn into the current show, Sui Park: Garden of Humans, because the art itself is so visually striking and inviting,” Hack said. “Sui Park creates these large, cell-like, biological forms using nothing but cable ties. So we have an artist using simple materials—plastic cable ties available at any dollar store—that she, though remarkable insight and skill—transforms into art that speaks to our relationship with Nature in our ever-changing world of modern, globalized industrialization.”
As Hack spurs the Art Gallery forward with fresh and inventive exhibitions, he still finds time and space for the more traditional art forms. At heart, a self-proclaimed “nineteenth-century person”, the recent exhibit of nineteenth-century drawings from the Art Students League of New York was a favorite for him—the Fine Arts and Graphic Design students were particularly impressed too and hopefully inspired.
As all students at Kingsborough should be— in addition to showcasing art from outside artists, the annual Student Art exhibition and the Faculty Art Exhibition remain as two of the Art Gallery’s most popular events.
“I think the faculty needs to show what they’re doing because that also affects how students view them,” Janine Coyne, an Adjunct Professor at Kingsborough since 1977 and in the Art Department since 1986, said. “If you like a certain person’s style you may be more inclined to take a class with them.”
With plenty of her students showcased in the Student Art exhibition, Coyne is still thrilled when it comes around.
“I think it’s the gallery’s best showcase,” Coyne said. “It’s overwhelmingly beautiful. The walls are filled from waist high to five feet above your height. It’s just covered with work, so you get to see everybody.”
Students having their artwork exhibited is an amazing accomplishment, and it often serves as the launching pad for a lot of their careers. Kingsborough has produced a number of art students that have gone on to work as successful independent artists and special effects artists for films and televisions.
With a gallery director in Hack who isn’t content with remaining stagnant by diversifying the artists on view and introducing new forms of art, and two annual exhibitions showcasing the best of Kingsborough’s faculty and students, the Art Gallery should be filled to brim with students.
Fortunately, Hack is aware of Art Gallery’s lacking presence among the students and is already taking the initiative to increase its reputation.
“We’ve been promoting the exhibitions in ways that weren’t done previously,” Hack said. “Exhibition banners are displayed outside the campus gate and above the entrance to the S Building; flyers and postcards are distributed around campus. The Art Gallery has a Facebook page, which announces upcoming exhibitions and events. Again, increasing our visibility on campus as a cultural space, like the Performing Arts building or the Playhouse, is a top priority. There is still much work to be done on this front.”
According to Hack, it’s integral to get students who aren’t normally interested in the arts to visit the gallery, as students who are taking classes within the many art departments at Kingsborough will naturally be inclined to visit.
“Let me assure every Kingsborough student that not only are they allowed to enter, they are encouraged to enter—because the Art Gallery exists for them,” Hack said. “There is always something on view to make you smile, something to make you think–hopefully both. See you there.”
Photos by Aleksandar Nikodin