President Faust and the art of Mass Hall

by Simon de Carvalho '14

President Drew Gilpin Faust gazed intently at a painting in a collection on the walls of Massachusetts Hall in the hallway leading to the her office.

She walked up to get a closer look at the large painting -- an oil-on-canvas landscape depicting cotton flower blossoms with a heavy focus on lighting; it looked impressively like a photograph. President Faust asked Julia Moore ’12, the artist, about her inspiration for the piece, about what she is working on currently, and then President Faust moved on to the next work.

The collection, which Faust viewed with the artists on Thursday, Sept. 24, features the work of 10 undergraduates (some of whom graduated in 2011) in a variety of media including drawing, photography, traditional oil-on-canvas, documentary film, animated film, and even one oil-on-Plexiglas piece.

Among the pieces featured is a work by Sally Scopa ’13: an oil-on-canvas painting of a grain silo from a skewed viewpoint that highlights the architectural features of the building without exactly letting on what it is. A collage of images of water passing under several objects—large rock formations and equally large railway bridges—by Jane Chun ’12 hangs immediately outside of the president’s office. Also featured is a large oil-on-unprimed canvas view of an Italian villa by Julia Rooney ’11, who skews the images and focuses on the geometric elements of the landscape, playing with untraditional colors and creating a surprising image.

And Harvard Art Beat’s own Sheema Golbaba ’14 created the short documentary film Greenwood Battle Ground about the little-known Tulsa race riots, which, she says, were not even taught in her high-school history class in Oklahoma.

Although the exhibit is not open to the public, it scheduled to be up "for a while." President Faust says there is no specific time frame; the goal is to always have art lining her halls. This collection will be followed by another, just as it was preceded last year by a collection of architectural sketches from Harvard Graduate School of Design students.

Submissions for the exhibit were collected last spring, and the lucky (and talented) few were chosen from a large pool of applicants.

"There are so many things that have happened over my few years at Harvard that I am proud of," says Moore ’12, "but this is one of the best because it is both an honor to have had my painting hung outside President Faust's office and a sign of the great opportunities Harvard offers student artists."

For her part, President Faust wants this exhibition not only to represent the opportunities Harvard offers artists and the administration’s devotion to the Harvard arts community—there is a simpler purpose.

"We decided that we should be surrounded by beautiful, provocative, creative work," President Faust said, and her goal is to make this the case everywhere on campus. "Art," she continued, "is a great way to lift everyone’s spirits." And the president makes a point of surrounding herself with it. Not only is the hallway outside now home to a student gallery, but the walls on the inside of her office are adorned with art—decorative masks, different tribal walking sticks and a "wonderful Haitian painting," which seemed to be a personal favorite.

For President Faust, art is a big part of her life. And she wants it to be that way for everyone at Harvard. Not all of the featured artists, she pointed out more than once, are VES concentrators. They come from all disciplines.

"Art can be a part of everyone’s life," President Faust said. "You don’t have to make it your entire life to love it."

[Caption: Cotton flower blossoms by Julia Moore '12. ]

[Caption: Video artist Sheema Golbaba '14 talks with President Faust. ]