Aliza Shvarts’ ’08 controversial senior art project may have dominated talk about the Art Department this past week. But today, 20 other senior art majors will unveil their final projects — with or without her.
The themes and ideas behind the seniors’ work are profoundly diverse, and the show will feature pieces from each of the four concentrations in the art major: painting/printmaking, sculpture, photography and graphic design. And while no other student’s work bears remote similarity to Shvarts’ — who claims she repeatedly inseminated herself over a nine-month period and deliberately induced miscarriages to create her project — fellow majors predict that the specter of the Shvarts media uproar will certainly influence the show.
“It’s a tough situation,” said Cara Bonewitz ’08, a painting concentrator whose artwork is in the show. “You have one person’s work that has impacted 20 other students.”
The specific nature of this impact remains to be seen. If Shvarts’ work is actually displayed in the show, questions such as the physical placement of artwork — whether Shvarts’ work will share a room with other students’ pieces — will become crucial, Bonewitz said. And regardless of whether Shvarts’ work is displayed, public reaction and attendance at the show may be affected.
But all this does not concern Bonewitz.
“If your work is in the show,” she said, “your friends will come and look at it regardless of what’s going on.”
Some even said they think the Shvarts controversy will boost attendance at Green Hall today.
The increased hype could draw interest, both from supporters and detractors of Shvarts. And as a culmination of the media frenzy, today’s reception might become a popular campus destination — even, and perhaps especially, for those who might not have otherwise known about it.
“I don’t think the media attention will negatively affect the show,” Sharon Madanes ’08 wrote in an e-mail. “If anything, it will probably draw people who otherwise wouldn’t have come to see the show, and in my opinion the more people who come, the better.”
Madanes, a painting concentrator whose work will be displayed in the gallery, also emphasized the distinctiveness of each senior’s artwork. The public reaction to Shvarts’ work should, theoretically, have no impact on anyone else’s, she said.
“While it is a group show, it is in no way conceptually coherent,” Madanes said. “I think each senior’s work will still be received individually.”
Many of the senior art students — and professors — have tried to distance themselves from the Shvarts debate this week. Henk Van Assen, the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Art department, declined to comment.
The exasperation among students may stem from the fact that they had been discussing Shvarts’ work for weeks before news of it was released to the media. In their senior project seminar, the students have spent at least a semester critiquing each other’s work. According to Bonewitz, many of these seniors are tired of debating Shvarts’ art, hoping that all the media controversy will “just fizzle out.”
Ali Van ’08, a painting concentrator whose work will also be displayed in the gallery, criticized both Shvarts’ method of publicizing her artwork and the impassioned media response.
“I feel as though the media’s involvement in pursuing Aliza’s request for follow-ups, in conjunction with her continued determination to pre-expose an affecting idea to the wider public, are both slightly irresponsible,” Van wrote in an e-mail. “Aliza’s piece can indulge in a novel artistic dialogue and inspirational political/feminist debate without being overtly sensationalist.”
Van emphasized that, despite this criticism, she and her peers respect Shvarts as an artist and a student. And, in many ways, the media response to Shvarts’ work has been constructive in furthering an ongoing artistic debate.
“To have been able to observe and experience an explosion of information about a young thriving artist from a familiar environment has been exciting, anxiety-ridden and compulsive,” Van said.
And although none of the other pieces in the show are likely to incite this kind of controversy, all of them bear intense and deliberate significance for the artists. Bonewitz said she has spent the year painting images of man-made geometric structures, in which she has found meaning.
“I’ve been starting with scaffolding or other annoying nuisances and abstracting them to expose the human imperfection in creating them,” Bonewitz said.
Other artists have dealt with different issues entirely. Madanes’ series of paintings explore issues of violence, mock-violence, playfulness, youth and death, among others. She has spent the spring semester “living in her studio,” sometimes working up to 16 hours a day. On the whole, she has found the experience exhilarating.
“It has totally consumed me, and I love it,” she said. “I don’t really think about it as a required project, but more as an opportunity to actually devote my time to working on something.”