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Behind the scenes with the student curators of the Class of 2021 exhibition, “Sincerely Yours,”

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Monday, May 10th, 2021

As part of an exhibition and curating internship, five members of PCA&D’s Class of 2021 collectively produced this year’s senior exhibition, featuring one work from each member of their graduating class. 

We asked the co-curators — Nicole Denzler, Photography & Video; Mandi Hall, Fine Art; Alexis Lebesco, Illustration; Regina Marie Mehaffey, Graphic Design; and Rachel Stork, Fine Art — to share a little about the process and their experience making Sincerely Yours,. 

Can you share a little more about curating? 

Alexis Lebesco: When it comes to curating, the world that you enter is so much more than just placing artwork. There is a dedication to the art of curating and it is, in itself, an art. So many rules and principles apply as they do in any other creative piece of work. Color theory should apply, composition, what mood does it emit? Does it make sense? Does the viewer understand what is happening? There is a ton of research that goes into curating, and there are many references used. Questions have to be asked like, “Has this show been done before? If so, how?” or, “How can our show be different from all the shows that have been done before?” It takes an artist to understand how to display the art. 

Rachel Stork: There is a lot more than just putting art up on the wall where you want it. You have to consider the position, height, complements with work around it, where it is in the relation of the space, and the list goes on. You want to make sure there is purpose in every decision. There is also a large variety in how this is done or arranged. Depending on what themes you are dealing with and what the exhibition’s purpose and curatorial statement is, the pieces may change order ad infinitum. The role of the curator can also entail creating a unique space for the art to thrive in, whether that be choosing accents or displaying the art in a unique space. The role also requires you to write and create all of the content necessary with the exhibition including but not limited to statements, labels, essays, or whatever else might be necessary. Curating is vital and full of intention. As Hans Ulrich Obrist said, “the act of curating is to create junctions, pollinate, connect cultures, or a form of map-making where the map opens new routes through a city, people, and world.” 

Mandi Hall: I feel overall the role of a curator is even more than I ever expected it to be; it’s something that goes deeper than just having an eye for art. As a curator an artist is putting their trust in you to portray their vision in the most accurate way possible and to also keep their art safe. As an artist, I know how important that is and how critical it is to have trust in the person you are handing your art over to. As I continue to combine these two roles into one, I remind myself that the artist is the most important piece to my job as curator and that their happiness is what makes the whole experience worthwhile. 

Can you share something that you learned about curating from this experience? 

Alexis Lebesco: Just how intense the exhibition process is. Before curating the senior exhibition, I hadn’t a clue as to what goes into curating. To me it was just  making the artwork look nice in a gallery. After weeks of reading, understanding, studies, and picking apart other exhibitions, I have learned the rigorous process of curating. It’s more than just placement, it’s understanding where the artwork is coming, it’s caring for the artwork and making sure each piece has its own spotlight. It’s a beautiful process. 

Rachel Stork: The history and evolution of curating was the number one thing I learned that I had no inkling of beforehand. It was interesting and very important going into our own curation. Knowing who paved the way for us and what led to the curatorial scene today is valuable information any artist could benefit from.

Mandi Hall: I didn’t realize the amount of involvement the curator had when considering the layout of the space as well as paint colors, themes and even branding. So the entire internship has been a learning experience.

Nicole Denzler: There is more that goes into it than just hanging work and that is something I already knew going into this internship but doing the job was a whole new experience!

HEADSHOTS OF SINCERELY YOURS CO-CURATORS

Photo credits: Nicole Denzler (Mandi Hall, Alexis Lebesco, Regina Marie Mehaffey, Rachel Stork); Brianna Linwood (Nicole Denzler).

 

You had many readings on Hans Ulrich Obrist, who is very much considered one of the most important curators of our time. What is one concept you would like to share from your exploration of Obrist’s work? 

Alexis Lebesco: Hans Ulrich Obrist was a brilliant curator to say the least. A lot that his work touched upon was bringing different cultures and people together. In curation, you bring the illustrator, the designer, the museum, and the work together. He often brings forth the idea of, “being different is good because everyone has something to bring to the table.” Obrist once stated, “we have to engage constantly in a global dialogue that actually produces differences rather than annilates them.” Artists always strive to be different from other artists, which is a magnificent thing because then those differences can be brought together to create a remarkable thing. Sort of like this little group of curators we have, we all are different and we’ve all come together to bring something new to the school.

Rachel Stork: I love that Obrist’s work started at such humble but impressive beginnings in a kitchen. It really inspired and solidified my drive to do things myself and create my own opportunities in the future. His way of talking about curation makes things clear and beautiful.

A survey went out to the Class of 2021 asking them what they would title the exhibition, and what one word they thought might convey the essence of the Class of 2021. From that survey, you as co-curators juried their responses and came up with a title for this exhibit. Could you tell us a little more about that process? 

Alexis Lebesco: This process was a lot of fun in its own little way. We basically took the ideas from our creative classmates and made a list. We then joined together as a group and picked out some of the ones that were working (including the funny ones) and then pushed aside the ones that weren’t working as much. We then picked out some of the things that were repetitive. From there, we came up with “Resilience.” The only issues we had was that there were many other shows that had gone by “Resilience.” So we played around with the title a bit. After about an hour of brainstorming, Mandi (Meranda Hall) said “What if we did something like ‘Sincerely Yours’ from “The Breakfast Club”, since we are all different and this year should be a year of remembrance?” Instantly, it was brilliant so we continued off of that. We had them come up with the idea to include “signatures” like how “The Breakfast Club” characters sign their names at the end. (the princess, the outcast, etc.) So we picked some more words from the list and came up with “Sincerely Yours, the Resilient, the Perseverant, The Tenacious, the Tired, & the Determined.” Five signatures for five majors. 

Rachel Stork: Much like the entire exhibition we wanted to pick a title that felt right for our class but also one we thought everyone would like. Mandi brought it up as we were brainstorming and it snowballed from there. I personally loved the idea of this exhibition being the end of a letter, both for the seniors and written by the seniors. “The Breakfast Club” is one of the few school movies that feels real and relatable in a way that most movies don’t capture. It clicked as soon as we talked through it.

Nicole Denzler: We all sat in a meeting and narrowed down the title which came to “Sincerely Yours,” That title stuck because this senior class loves the ’80s style, so I think it fit for this class. 

What was something that you learned from this opportunity that you might not have expected to learn? 

Alexis Lebesco: The entire process was a learning experience in and of itself. Going into this internship, I knew very little about curating, so to spend six weeks learning about how curating works, diving into other exhibitions, reading the history of curating, and taking all of this knowledge into building an actual exhibit was absolutely life-changing. I have a new found love for curating. There is so much to learn and know before even thinking about how the show is going to look. One of the key things was making sure that our exhibit wasn’t like other exhibitions or too close to last year’s. However, we also graduated during a pandemic that has been around for a year so we had to prepare for that in the very beginning. An exhibition is not the same as it would be without a global pandemic and that was something we had to learn and focus on as well.

Nicole Denzler: I learned so much. Having a great mentor (and teacher) in the field is important. Also, I learned about the importance of leading without dictating through observing Prof. (Alana) Coates (the College’s Director of Exhibitions). 

Rachel Stork: It’s hard to just pick one, but the creative collaboration was definitely one of the top ones. I obviously knew this would be an element but it was amazing to bounce ideas off and feel like we had a similar vision. I think we would’ve renovated the entire gallery top to bottom if they gave us the time and budget. I learned that when you get the right minds together you can really create some amazing things you could have never imagined on your own.

Mandi Hall: I think I learned that curation is more than just about the art, it’s about the environment and the artist’s intentions. Overall this experience has taught so much about working at a gallery and the knowledge and effort that is needed to bring together the entire exhibition. 

As curators, what are you hoping to achieve by this exhibition?

Mandi Hall: I think the most important thing is to achieve a cohesive theme and staying true to the artist’s intentions that really highlights the amount of work we’ve all put in.  

Nicole Denzler: I am grateful for this experience. I would like to start my own gallery. 

Alexis Lebesco: This year for everyone (students, professors, administration, and the outside world) has been a learning experience. We had an entire year engulfed into this pandemic that separated families and made this year difficult. With this exhibition, we were hoping to shed some light onto better times. Everybody loves nostalgia, so we wanted to bring that warm feeling into the school and into the artwork. So we’ve created this ’80s- ’90s-themed exhibition to bring joy back into people’s lives. We wanted the artwork to shine and to be displayed in a way that might have not been thought of before, so with the top gallery we have created a store sort of layout to help promote the sales of the students’ artworks as well, because not only has the pandemic impacted us mentally and physically, but also financially. 

Rachel Stork: I hope it can be a love letter to the seniors. It has by no means been easy this past year, so I hope this can be something special for us all to be a part of and create a space for all of the seniors’ hard work to come to fruition. It can’t replace what we’ve lost but it can grow into something new to celebrate.

ABOUT THE CO-CURATORS 

Nicole Denzler

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, b. 1999

Photography & Video, BFA & Art History Minor

Influenced by Gregory Crewdson and Erwin Olaf, portrait and fashion photographer Nicole Denzler incorporates cinematic lighting and narrative to add dramatic layers to her work. After growing up in an environment that was unsupportive of women, Denzler focused her senior thesis project on showcasing the beauty of strong women through her craft. During her time at PCA&D, she represented the Photography & Video Department as co-curator for the 2021 Senior exhibition in the Main Gallery, completed a mentorship with photographer Bobby Sax, participated in Lux, and exhibited her work at the Lancaster Museum of Art. Following graduation, she plans to continue building her photography business.  

Photo of Nicole Denzler by Brianna Linwood

 

Mandi Hall

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, b. 1998

Fine Art, BFA & Art History Minor

Mandi Hall uses heirlooms, fibers, and vintage elements to excavate the past. Using oils to explore portraiture and fabric to create installations, much of Hall’s work intertwines family and tradition, often employing feminist themes. For her senior thesis project, Hall created installations using furniture and textiles to explore the way traditions are sewn into generations. During her time at PCA&D, Hall was a Curatorial Board Member of the PCA&D CORE Gallery (where she also served as treasurer), and she was a co-curator for the senior exhibition in the Main Gallery. She exhibited at the Lancaster Museum of Art and CORE Gallery, where she also participated in Artist Talks and Panel Discussions. 

Photo of Mandi Hall by Nicole Denzler

 

Alexis Lebesco

Levittown, Pennsylvania, b. 1999

Illustration, BFA

From patterns, to logos, to book illustrations, Alexis Lebesco’s work is moody in a comforting way. Working primarily in digital media, she also enjoys oil and acrylic paints and graphite. Her senior thesis project consists of four pattern collections, an online shop, and DIY embroidery kits. During her time at PCA&D, Lebesco represented the Illustration Department as co-curator for the 2021 Senior Exhibition in the Main Gallery and completed a mentorship with artist Kayla Bryer. Following graduation, she plans to work in licensing and surface design.

Photo of Alexis Lebesco by Nicole Denzler

 

Regina Marie Mehaffey  

Ephrata, Pennsylvania, b. 1998

Graphic Design, BFA & Art History Minor

Graphic designer Regina Marie Mehaffey draws inspiration from Grunge and Gothic styles. Her work features organic patterns, textures, and shapes along with monochromatic and undiluted color schemes. Mehaffey’s senior thesis project is branding for a comedy club that teaches young adults the craft of humor. During her time at PCA&D, she represented the Graphic Design Department as co-curator for the 2021 Senior Exhibition in the Main Gallery and served as treasurer for the local American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Chapter. Mehaffey completed an internship with A Frame of Mind, helping them to redesign their website. Following graduation, she plans to go into the packaging design and advertising industry. 

Photo of Regina Marie Mehaffey by Nicole Denzler

 

Rachel Stork

Christiana, Pennsylvania, b. 1996

Fine Art, BFA

Working with oils, cut-paper, and other multimedia materials, Stork’s work explores the human experience through the representation of figures and existential concepts. Her senior thesis project explores the many facets and irrationalities of love. During her time at PCA&D, Stork was the inaugural recipient of the PCA&D Mary Colleen Heil Presidential Scholarship, exhibited work at the Lancaster Museum of Art, and served as secretary of the PCA&D CORE Gallery’s Curatorial Board, where she organized dynamic exhibitions and programming. 

Photo of Rachel Stork by Nicole Denzler

Sincerely Yours, The Resilient, The Perseverant, The Tenacious, The Tired, & The Determined is on display at the Main Gallery at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, 204 N. Prince St., Lancaster, on Gallery Row through July 17, 2021. Reservations to visit the exhibit in person are required and can be made online. And for those who are unable to visit the campus, the exhibition is also available online at PCAD.edu/Gallery. 

TOP: “SINCERELY YOURS,” BRANDING DESIGNED BY KELLY PHAN ’22, GRAPHIC DESIGN

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