Over seven weeks in fall 2017, students delved into the Bennington College art-storage space known as “the vault.” They researched objects familiar and unknown, seeking narrative strains connecting artworks to the college and to each other. The resulting exhibition, “Unpacking the Vault,” is the first of college art holdings curated by a Bennington class. It reveals and honors the eclectic nature of a collection that, known for mid-century abstraction, also contains numerous surprises from within and beyond that art-historical moment. More broadly, “Unpacking the Vault” identifies core themes and agents in the making, distribution, and acquisition of art.
Organized in thematic clusters, objects play a “six degrees of separation” game of individuals, institutions and modes of collecting. This strategy resists hierarchy and celebrates the miscellaneous, finding common ground for a range of styles, time periods, and artists alongside the modernist painting so famously associated with the college. “Unpacking the Vault” also engages Bennington history by transforming Usdan Gallery into a hybrid gallery/classroom, symbolically fulfilling original design plans from the 1960s envisioning a dedicated space, under the gallery and adjacent to the vault, for studying the art collection.