At second glance: the process of perfecting an art gallery

Allison Wordes- Staff Writer

As students walk through Dordt College’s Campus Center they eventually pass the glass doors of the art gallery. The gallery is always filled with a display of works, varying from small drawings to loud prints. Yet one must wonder how the works get there. Or, what about the art pod? What treasures are installed beyond the main traffic of classroom building hallway? And then there’s the science building. How do pieces end up there?

Much work goes on behind the scenes in the process of planning and arranging artwork around campus. This task belongs to Professor David Versluis, the man in charge of organizing art galleries. Versluis chooses artists who have a reputation and who have shown artwork in other galleries. He also asks local collectors who own rare pieces of artwork to create a show.

Versluis began the current Corita Kent gallery process by searching online. Because this gallery is made up of a collection of prints, a print company sent the works to Dordt by truck, packaged in boxes and layers of wrapping which will later be repackaged for the return trip. In the case of the Kent show, Versluis had the option to choose from multiple of her works. As with analyzing each artist’s works, Versluis considers size, space and content when choosing art for exhibits and shows.

“I want the best work I can get in the gallery,” Versluis said, emphasizing the need for quality pieces.

Versluis starts planning for potential gallery exhibits and shows two years in advance. If an exhibit exists nearby, such as at Northwestern College, he will visit it and talk to the artist as much as possible before offering the man or woman an invitation to show their work at Dordt. A background check is also part of the process

Versluis is not looking for biblical themes solely when arranging Dordt’s galleries. When searching for artwork, Versluis said the work should be “simply quality work that glorifies God.” He then presents his ideas to members of the art department to receive their approval.

His primary motivation during the selection process is educational: to enhance the environment of the college and community. Sola Scriptura, a Reformation-themed exhibit shown last semester, offered a collection that contained both ancient and modern displays. The Kent gallery, in contrast, is a more modern display of prints with a primary color theme.

Workstudy students or art majors are given the opportunity to help set-up the galleries. This is a great experience, said Versluis, because the valuable training gives students practice for careful handling and an appreciation for the set-up process. However, the professor does enjoy setting up the works in solitude, as well.

Brittney Ryks, a senior art education major, helped set up many galleries last year. She appreciates how meticulous Versluis is in choosing and then displaying artwork, taking great care and time to make sure everything is done correctly. Ryks assisted with the show, “I Am American,” which she liked because of the various ethnic backgrounds represented by the artwork.

“They came in boxes, twenty times wrapped!” Ryks said. A piece could be nestled in packing peanuts, glass or pottery arrived in wooden boxes. She likened the experience to opening a Christmas present. For Ryks, an art gallery is “a space where art is hung up intentionally.”

Alumni artists from Dordt have also returned to campus to present their work. In 2013, the alumni photo exhibition underwent trial by jury and the college then displayed the best 30 photos. In art students’ senior seminar class, Dordt offers these soon-to-be graduates the opportunity to show a compilation of their work in a solo or group show. In addition, this coming October (fall 2017) the faculty will present an art show, an unusual undertaking, for although single members have put on solo shows, the faculty has never collaborated in doing a group show.

Dordt’s art collection is scattered all over campus, and students may view, on a daily basis, over 400 pieces of artwork. Core 160 students, along with those in other introductory classes, have the opportunity to explore locations around campus, as well as the nature of the artwork at Dordt.

Referring to one visitor’s comment made in one show’s guest book, Versluis said that the art gallery is “the most peaceful place on campus.” The Campus Center’s gallery shows artwork for only a month at a time, and the current Kent show will be in the art gallery until February 12.

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