The fourth floor of Devlin, which usually smells of fresh paint emanating from the works of studio art classes, was transformed into a cultural exhibition space for the Wunderkammer Exhibit on Wednesday evening. The exhibit, featuring the works of students from classes taught by professors Sheila Gallagher and Rev. Jeremy Clarke, S.J., was a joint effort-sponsored by the fine arts department, the Art Club, the history department, Boston College Libraries, and the ILA China Watching Seminar Series. This is the third collaboration between the fine arts and history departments organized by Clarke.
Each student took a creative approach to creating his or her own Wunderkammers, also known as Cabinets of Curiosities, which began to appear in Europe in the late 16th century and consist of a collection of objects from all around the globe. The objects, which could include anything from flora and fauna to religious artifacts and hand-made creations, were meant to inspire awe-their creators attempted to merge objects from the natural world and those from the artistic sphere, leaving no distinction between the two. Wunderkammers continued to inspire artists throughout the 20th century, and prompted artists and historians alike to ask questions about the cultural implications behind each collection.
With this background knowledge in mind, students from Gallagher’s Issues and Approaches to Studio Art and Clarke’s Asia in the World II: 1800 to the Present were assigned with the task of creating their own Wunderkammers, integrating lessons from the courses but also using considerable creative range. Alex Madronal, a student in Clarke’s class and A&S ’16, explained the details of the assignment, which involved the collection of 12 objects from different areas of the world, some with Asian influence, along with reasoning for how they fit together as a collection and the way in which they showcase cross-cultural exchange.
Madronal’s piece in particular exemplified the broad range of possibilities students had with the assignment-for his Wunderkammer, called “Top International Football Team,” he chose soccer players from all around the world to compose his own world’s best International Manchester United Football Club team. His interpretation of a “Cabinet of Wonders,” he explained, was a Nike shoebox, and photos of the players were displayed hanging across the wall.
Students explored a common theme within their own collections-such as dolls, clothing, and even live musical performances. A jury was even present to award certain students with notable distinctions, and at the end of the opening reception students were encouraged to submit their own votes for the best Wunderkammer. Andrea Frank, the curator of visual resources in the fine arts department, and Anne Bernard Kearney, a faculty member in the romance language department, judged each piece according to certain criteria, such as theme, invention, wonder, craftsmanship, and how well they interpreted the function of a Wunderkammer. They awarded Julia Calvino’s “Plant Talk,” which incorporated the natural world into the piece, with the “best in show.”
Some students placed more emphasis on the physical aspect of the collection, such as Ryan Burns, A&S ’15, who assembled various weapons from around the globe in his “Worldwide Weaponry” piece. Others, such as Deryn Thomas, A&S ’14, showcased artistic capabilities, with her piece, “An Entomologist’s Anthology.” The display box held several origami butterflies with poems printed on the paper-a beautiful and delicate way of uniting cultural exchange and thematic cohesion.
The opening of the exhibit also allowed students from both classes to see the work of their peers for the first time and engage in discourse with faculty members, resulting in a fairly crowded hallway as guests navigated through the collections, satisfying their own curiosities.