Opening, Tuesday, Feb 27, 7 – 9pm

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.

Because of the depth and breadth works owned by the college, the exhibition will evolve. It opens with arrangements determined by the fall 2017 class. In the spring, a new class conducts a second round of research, transforming the show with additional artworks and themes. An informal “catalog” of research documents, many from the Crossett Library archives, gives background on artists and donors, highlighting when possible how artworks entered the Bennington holdings. Like the show itself, this compendium will grow as students continue exploring the vault contents. A closing event marks the collaboration between the two classes, whose research joins a growing database of information about college-owned artworks.

Related artworks outside the gallery

The “Unpacking the Vault” class is taught by Usdan Gallery Director and Curator Anne Thompson, with vault manager Erin McKenny.

Participating students, fall 2017: Blair Blumberg, Jenna Brewer, Grace Bullock, Irene (Susie) Dole, Sophia Gasparro, Owen Gerber-Hatem, Clark Glennon, Phoebe Grace, Trevor Harrington, Drew Lucia, Thomas Ludacer, Addie Marfogliam James McBride, Fiona Murphy

Artists in phase one of “Unpacking the Vault” are Kenneth Anger, Tadashi Asoma, Ben Benn, Douglas Brown, David Burliuk, Mary Callery, Sir Anthony Caro, Chryssa, Jim Dine, Stanley William Hayter, Stefan Hirsch, Hans Hofmann, Ralph Humphries, Mel Hunter, Wolf Kahn, Karl Knaths, Kione Kochi, Isabella Lee, Lucy Lee, Alexander Lieberman, Richard Lindner, Marisol, Agnes Martin, Emily Mason, Hans Moller, Kenneth Noland, Park, Larry Poons, Anne Poor, Diego Rivera, Lorna Simpson, Robert O. Skemp, David Smith, Kiki Smith, Tony Smith, Holland Taylor, Anne Truitt, Barbara Valenta, and Gloria Vanderbilt. Also included are several objects of incomplete provenance.