For the first time this academic year, the Corcoran Gallery’s doors burst wide open Wednesday night and revealed to nearly 700 visitors a space reinvented by Corcoran students for their annual thesis exhibition, NEXT
On the right side of the gallery atrium, throngs of visitors crunched through dried foliage coating the floor of senior Whitney Waller’s ligneous installation, “Dasein.”
Amid the celebratory buzz of the packed gallery—complete with a thudding bass from a DJ and the recurrent clink of wine glasses—Ms. Waller’s bucolic oasis offered an idle shelter secured in turquoise walls. Throughout the night, she became a fixture in the piece herself, floating into different conversations with guests like a woodsy nymph, her hair dressed in cracked leaves.
“I’m really excited to see everyone having a personal reaction to a surreal space within a modern setting,” she said.
Senior Whitney Waller with her piece, "Dasein."
Guests craned their necks up at senior Tiph Browne’s “Trans-ish,” a powerful photo series that documents subjects whose identities fall outside of and in between male and female genders. The furthest end of the atrium began a snaking line of 10 galleries that held the rest of the projects—a year’s worth of student work prepared for NEXT.
“We like to think of NEXT as being the capstone of our students’ careers at the Corcoran, but it’s also the beginning of their careers out in the world,” NEXT curator and Corcoran Photography Professor Andy Grundberg said.
NEXT has been a Corcoran tradition since 2011, and this year’s iteration marks the first time students have presented their work as part of the George Washington University. NEXT gives burgeoning designers and artists an opportunity to showcase their work to the general public, providing them the exposure and support to land shows at galleries nationwide.
George Washington President Steven Knapp celebrated alongside NEXT’s 40 undergraduate student presenters, stopping to take a seat on the steel bleachers senior Eliot Hicks installed for his piece, “Versus,” and marveling at the irresistibly lovable figures senior Dong Soh made with a 3-D printer for “Square Dancing with Dragons.”
Corcoran Photography Professor Andy Grundberg and President Steven Knapp tour senior SooHo Cho's installation,"rem-i-nis-cence."
“The fact that we now can count this remarkable event as one of the most exciting parts of the academic year makes us all at GW extremely proud,” Dr. Knapp said.
This year’s NEXT exhibition was particularly poignant because the Corcoran’s Class of 2015 faced a year imbued with a sense of uncertainty. A month-long court petition left the fate of the school unknown until the Corcoran entered into a three-way agreement with the National Gallery of Art and GW. The work in NEXT was created as students adjusted to joining a brand new community at the university.
Additionally, a portion of the Corcoran Gallery’s collection was transferred to the care, custody and possession of the National Gallery of Art, which also represented a significant transition for students accustomed to having the works in the 17th Street building. Senior Nicole Gunning paid homage to the statues that once bookended the opulent main staircase of the Corcoran Gallery by replacing them with life-sized sculptures she created with casts of her own body.
“This is a historically unprecedented exhibition,” Ceramics Professor Bob Devers said. “The whole gallery had been empty, and it felt a little sad and dark. But the students came in and they filled it up with their own work. It’s a beautiful representation of how they rose up.”
Guests admire senior Ashley VanGemeren's "Fluidity and Flexibility: A Story of Healing."
The Corcoran collection’s move to the National Gallery had another effect: It freed exhibition space for NEXT, making it the largest student show in Corcoran history. Alumna Shelly Silva, B.F.A. ’14, went through the NEXT ritual when she graduated and found that this year’s layout seemed “more collaborative and understanding of what artists complemented each other.”
“You go into all these smaller, amazing rooms, and you can really focus on the individual pieces,” she said.
Guests look on as senior Patrick Masterson works clay for his piece, "Impulse."
Past NEXT shows have been notable for pieces that engage the audience. NEXT 2015 boasted the same interactivity in all corners of the gallery: In one room, senior Patrick Masterson stooped inside a pit filled with clay, folding soft masses in his hands as several visitors eyed his work—something he’ll do until the show closes on May 19. Senior Chloe Rubenstein teamed up with the brewery Hellbender and set up a makeshift beer tasting in front of her mural.
Senior Helena Cervantes stood enclosed by a circle of her family members, who—like many families at the opening— were eager to observe final pieces.
“They know I do art work, but they don’t really know what I do,” she said. “Now, they can actually see it and interact with it,” Ms. Cervantes said as her grandmother inched closer to her piece, “Overworld,” lightly grazing the sculpture with one hand from her wheelchair.
Senior Helena Cervantes and her family in front of her installation, "Overworld."
To Dean Ben Vinson of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, NEXT 2015 embodied the vision of the Corcoran School—and it’s one that aligns with the CCAS mission of delivering engaged arts education.
“Tonight, looking at the audience and the hard work and product, we get it. This is something our institution is incredibly proud of,” he said.