and it classifies the classifier....See the full quote at the end of this post.
I recalled these words of Pierre Bourdieu as I read an article recently about the permanent collection of Harvard (not to be confused with that of the Fogg Art Museum). The basis of the article is this alarming statistic: "Of the approximately 750 oil portraits that grace the libraries, dining commons, and undergraduate residences of the nation’s oldest university, roughly 690 were of white men, as of a 2002 inventory by the curator of the university’s portrait collection." The article further posits that "only two portraits, commissioned in the 1980s and ’90s, were of minorities. The remaining portraits were of white women — Radcliffe professors, benefactors’ family members, presidents’ wives." What of our very own permanent collection--how does it compare? We do not have a wealth of portraits. We have several (close to 20) portraits of former presidents of the college. We also display busts of esteemed educators and donors (for example, the bust of J. J. Rucker, the faculty member who led the efforts to integrate female students into the population thus making GC co-ed.)
In contrast to Harvard, at GC, we do not have funds to actively commission works of art for our college's permanent collection. But we are fortunate to receive donations of works of art and, in some cases, add works to the collection as the result of a collaboration or project (such as the series of portraits of students, faculty and staff for a curatorial project entitled Me, Myself, and Art as well as a series of photos of the GC campus, London, and Dublin by GC alum, Hannah Davis.) Would the large banners that bedeck several campus buildings, including the Wilson Fine Arts Building, serve as portraits in our collection? If so, to what ends?
According to Sandra Grindlay, former curator of Harvard's portrait collection, “People tend to think, ‘Oh, the portraits. Nobody looks at them.’ But they do have the power to represent the institution, insofar as when some students look at them, they think, ‘If this is Harvard, what am I doing here?’’’ The thought of changing the face of the collection -- literally, by adding portraits to show the complexion of the college community is an interesting one.
I pose the question to blog followers, then:
- Who would you nominate to be depicted as a portrait to serve as a representation of our institution?
- And, secondly, in what ways do you think that the art on the walls (however narrowly or broadly defined) classifies the institution?