New Hood Museum exhibit excites imaginations of viewers

by Mounisha Anumolu | 2/4/20 2:05am

Source: Alison Palizzolo/Courtesy of the Hood Museum

Visitors to the Hood Museum can now see studio art professor Colleen Randall’s work featured in a new, two-room exhibit. “In the Midst of Something Splendid” will be on display until May 31.

This body of work, which can be found up the stairs of the Hood and on the right-hand side, is titled based on a line of a Russell Edson prose poem called “The Taxi.” Randall, who has been teaching at Dartmouth for over 30 years now, said she chose to use this particular quote as the title of her exhibit in order to reflect some of the central themes she hopes to convey.

“[Edson] takes this imaginative journey, and at some point he says, ‘I realize I was in the midst of something splendid,’” Randall said. “Even though he is doing a different thing in his work than I am doing in mine, it’s celebrating the sacred space of the imagination and how important that is for all of us to respect and practice in our lives in order to stay human.”

The importance of artistic creativity and its applications to everyday life is something Randall emphasizes in this exhibit. Randall said she hopes that visitors to the Hood Museum will sit or stand with her paintings for some time, in order to truly uncover what sentiments the works specifically invoke for them. Rather than looking for something particular in each painting, Randall encourages viewers to try to find an experience that’s personally transformative for them.

“In the space and time of working with something, you experience all kinds of psychic and emotional realites,” Randall said. “Sometimes you feel turbulence, and sometimes you feel calm, and I realize that’s what is intriguing about a personality and a person — that they have many dimensions. So, I was trying to reconcile all these and unify in some way all these different attributes or experiences.” 

The exhibit was co-curated by Katherine Hart, the Hood’s senior curator of collection and a curator of academic programming. Both long-standing members of the Dartmouth community, Hart has known Randall for over 30 years, and she said she finds strong emotion within Randall’s work.

“I often think of Colleen’s work as sort of an expression of states of being through the visual, through paint,” Hart said. “They’re not necessarily descriptive, but they are more evocative and associative. They stimulate memory, emotion, thought and sensory experience.”

Like Randall, Hart also encourages viewers to spend time with each of the works. The exhibit was designed in collaboration between Randall and curators at the Hood, including Hart, and was specifically set up in a way that all parties felt best displayed Randall’s message.

“Colleen is our partner in this, and she is, in a way, also a curator,” Hart said. “It was a matter of talking through what particular paintings, paintings on paper or canvas, that she would like to show and thinking about how they fit into the space. It was an ongoing discussion. We talk about wall color. We talk about interpretation.”

Each aspect of the exhibit was constructed in such a way that allowed for the paintings and the experience of looking at the paintings to be the sole focus of the viewer’s attention. This includes features such as spacing, wall color, light levels and more. 

“I wanted to leave a lot of space between the paintings so you can see them without being visually interrupted, from afar or with a different expression,” Randall said. “They feel at the boundaries of vision. They all have an expansive energy, so they are not just contained. I wanted them to have the space for the color to resonate.”

Studio art professor Enrico Riley said he found that the message of creativity and imagination was conveyed powerfully by Randall’s work.

“There is a temperament to the whole show and subpersonalities to each painting,” Riley said. “They all fall under this idea of the ‘splendid’ in the sense that they’re enjoyable and give an energy to the viewer. It is a positive energy that is transmitted through the color and light of the painting.”

Part of the effectiveness for Riley is the interaction between the physical space of the Hood Museum and Randall’s body of work.

“The paintings activate the architecture and the space,” Riley said. “It’s really a testament to having institutions like museums that are dedicated to interacting and observing work in a controlled way. It’s also a testament to the strength of Colleen’s paintings that they can push back against the architecture and actually affect it.”

Another important choice that was made in the design of this exhibit was the decision to exclude captions for each painting. Although a few explanatory sentences usually accompany each work in the Hood Museum, Randall’s paintings are captioned with only their titles. Similar to the title of the whole exhibit, the titles of individual works are also related to lines of poetry. Randall named specific paintings with some help from her husband Jeff Friedman, drawing inspiration from lines in his own poetry.

The introduction panel of the exhibit also features a line written by Friedman, taken from a poem entitled “Nothing.” Randall chose to feature this poem in order to help viewers begin to engage with some of the deeper aspects of her work.

“I think the title ‘Nothing’ opens the discussion right away because the paintings are really about space, consciousness, movement, density and experiences that are less tangible than things and objects,” Randall said. “His poem reinforces that and opens up those doors.”   For Hart, the lack of captions for each painting and intentional use of poetry adds an important element to the exhibit as a whole.

“The visual arts and poetry are not something that are empirically descriptive in their use of language,” Randall said. “It is more a sense of using language to be evocative. It’s not using everyday structures of senses to be descriptive but more having experiences that are outside of words, in many ways.”

Randall has used literary references for past painting titles, including some that reference Emily Dickinson. In this exhibit, Randall also has a collection of paintings whose titles include the term “Syncope.” These works draw their title from Catherine Clément’s book “Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture,” a novel that inspired Randall to think deeply about creativity as an imaginative process that allows for new spaces of consciousness and transformation. It is a similar sort of introspection regarding imagination, creativity, experience and emotion that Randall hopes to invoke in viewers of her work.