The Ralph Arnold Gallery Pivots in 2020-2021
Like many other areas of life, the COVID-19 Pandemic has hit art, culture, and community harshly. However, as is seen throughout many eras of humanity, art has the unique ability to become more important and relevant the tougher the climate. When Loyola University Chicago shut its doors last March, exhibitions and programming at the Ralph Arnold Gallery became uncertain, since the gallery would no longer be open to the Loyola community or the public. But, art perseveres, as art always does. In this interview, Ralph Arnold Co-Directors Betsy Odom and the newly appointed Lisa Armstrong give insight to the pandemic’s effects on art and art culture, as well as what it was like to curate Pivot: an exhibition that speaks to the complicated climate we are currently navigating.
|Lisa Armstrong||Betsy Odom|
Congratulations on your new role at the Ralph Arnold Gallery, Lisa! What do you hope to bring to your new role as Co-Director?
Lisa Armstrong: I would hope for the gallery to be a platform that reflects our time and the challenges our society is facing. Our aim this year has been to work with artists who seek to “make the invisible visible,” inspiring much-needed reflection and conversation in this moment.
What is your favorite piece from Pivot- and why?
Lisa: I love the dense layering and bold colors of Nicole Marroquin’s work. They require you to spend some time picking apart the pieces to reconstruct the history.
Betsy Odom: I really like Jonathan Castillo’s Martha's Unisex, Chicago (Cicero)- the photograph has a sense of vibrancy and sadness to it at the same time.
Can you give any insight into what it was like to curate Pivot?
Lisa: I’ll admit, the school shutting down complicated the curation process and there were uncertainties as far as what we would be permitted to do in the space (if at all.) I’m just grateful for an opportunity to connect with other artists and collaborate with Betsy during this time. It’s one of the things that’s kept me motivated over the past few months.
Betsy: We were focused on showcasing artworks that speak to our current climate in terms of both our social and economic troubles and of our need to showcase underrepresented viewpoints. Pivot is visible both virtually and physically through the large windows of the gallery. In this way we have created a conversation between the work and the nearby community.
Do you think the pandemic will leave lasting changes on art and art culture? In what ways?
Lisa: Absolutely. From the ways we consume culture to how we interact with each other socially in space, I’m not sure any of that will be quite the same again. It’s presented many challenges like access to spaces, mobility, and limiting our physical contact with one another. However, opportunities have also presented themselves as far as being able to reach a broader, more distant audience, whether it be through virtual programming and social media. I’m interested to see what happens in the next 5 or so years.
Betsy: With social restrictions, artists are having to work in a vacuum more than ever. There is plenty of access to content and community online, but the process of physically exhibiting and visiting work will be much slower for a while. I think artists will be making work that is more personal thanks to the conditions of the pandemic.
Why do you think it’s important to continue to exhibit art- even if it can’t be seen in traditional ways?
Lisa: We need art more than ever right now to process and express our hopes and frustrations with the current circumstances. Images are powerful and regardless of whether you’re viewing them on screen or in a physical space, they have the potential to create real and tangible change.
Betsy: I believe that art is an especially good way to communicate in times that are as inexplicable as these. The information around us is so difficult to discern right now—artists have the ability to utilize different forms of communication to speak to larger truths.
How has the process of curating an exhibit changed due to the pandemic?
Betsy: I think the biggest change that curating during the pandemic has been the level of adjustment we’ve had to make all around, from figuring out how to let people see our shows, what to do if people can’t physically enter the gallery, and shifting the priorities of our exhibitions to suit these unprecedented times.
Pivot is on view through the gallery windows on Sheridan Rd. and Broadway through October 24, 2020.
The Ralph Arnold Gallery is an extension of the Fine Arts Program in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Loyola University Chicago. Its goal is to foster conversations about contemporary art between local artists, our student population, and the community at large. The gallery offers lectures by selected artists and curators working in the Midwest and Chicago. All events are free and open to the public.A big thank you to Lisa and Betsy for their time and for their commitment to allowing art to teach us and show us different perspectives. You can find a virtual showing of Pivot on our website: https://www.luc.edu/ralpharnoldgallery/.