“A Very Intimate Process:” Farina ’23 and Chaffee ’00 on curating the Senior Thesis Showcase

Andrew ChatfieldMay 19, 20226min

Gabby Farina ’23, an Art History and English major, was interested in how artists’ work dealt with family, identity, body, grossness, and fleshiness. What she found from her classmates inspired her.

“Everything was very much tied back to this idea of the human form,” Farina said.

Farina is the first Wesleyan student to curate a Senior Thesis Showcase exhibition on her own. The exhibition, “It’s Mutual,” was the first such exhibition in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery since COVID-19 led to the cancellation of a planned showcase in May 2020.

As part of her tutorial, Farina visited the working studio space of each of the thirty thesis students in the graduating class of 2022 from the Department of Art and Art History’s Art Studio Program over the course of seven weeks. “After I had met with maybe 25, or the majority of [the artists], then we started thinking about, you know, what does it mean to situate everyone’s art within the gallery?” said Farina.

“The studio visits are a really important component of the curatorial process,” said Associate Director of Visual Arts and Adjunct Instructor in Art Benjamin Chaffee ’00, who worked closely with Farina as she curated the exhibition. “I think [the curating] starts with those conversations, because it’s [really] important to be able to speak with an artist when the work is not finished and is still in the making. And that’s also an opportunity for the student curator to learn a little bit about what the senior thesis student is thinking that they’re making, which may differ from what they end up presenting.”

Chaffee said the viewer’s experience might be totally different from what the artist thinks the work is about. “I think the [studio visit] conversations are a really crucial part…they’re one on one conversations, they’re not a public kind of experience,” Chaffee said.

Artists’ studios tend to be safe spaces, Chaffee explained, and part of what Farina was learning was how to navigate the often-delicate process of building trust and establishing the basis for a fruitful partnership.

“It was a very intimate process of going into people’s studios,” said Farina. “Spending an entire year creating these artworks is a big, emotional journey that happens, so to get such access to people’s thoughts and experiences and conceptions behind their artworks was really helpful with the whole process.”

“It could be emotional, it could be something about their past, it could be just the challenge of making something to begin with … Some people are very free with it, and others won’t show you something that’s not ready to be shown,” Chaffee said.

During the five weeks of Senior Thesis Exhibitions in March and April, Farina attended each opening reception, and went through the process of communicating with each artist, letting them know what she was interested in taking from their individual exhibitions, and what they were interested in showing in the Senior Thesis Showcase. Then she worked with Chaffee and Assistant Professor of Art History and American Studies Claire Grace to organize tentative floor plans and think about how to situate everyone’s artwork together.

“It was making sure that the work that’s being shown is representative of their thesis, but also fits within the context of the group show,” said Farina. “There were at least ten different versions of how this was going to look.”

Works shown are in drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, mixed media, and architecture, which took six days to install before the opening earlier this month. “[Art Preparator Paul Theriault] is spectacular and so calm under pressure and was a really great person to work with,” said Farina.

The experience of working with Chaffee, Grace, and the student artists has shown Farina a possible career path. “I’m hoping to do something in the art world after graduating,” said Farina.

 The Senior Thesis Showcase exhibition closes with a reception on Saturday, May 21, 2022 at 3:30pm in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. Farina, Chaffee, and Grace will be in conversation at 4pm. FREE! Masks required.