The National Gallery of Art and various Smithsonian institutions flourish in Washington, D.C., as popular tourist sites. With parents, family members, friends and beloved ones all gathering in the District for commencement weekend, these museums attract the Hilltop’s visitors and guests. Without going to the National Mall, however, they can visit the Mario & Alberto de la Cruz Gallery in Georgetown, located on the first floor of the Edmund A. Walsh Building.
This contemporary art exhibition space opened Aug. 27 after a yearlong delay. Since opening, it has provided students and other members of the Georgetown community the chance to engage with leading contemporary artists through talks, lectures and programs in addition to exhibits.
The de la Cruz Gallery aims to bring in more professional and international artists, according to Katie Clausen, curatorial assistant to the gallery. Following its mission, it has exhibited Jeffrey Gibson’s “DON’T MAKE ME OVER” and Glenn Ligon’s “To be a Negro in this country is really never to be looked at.” Both contemporary artists represent diverse interests, exploring conceptions of race and sexuality in America.
Along with the opportunity to engage with professional artists, the de la Cruz Gallery strives to establish a close connection to the university by representing its core values and community, according to Al Acres, chair of the art and art history department.
The department of art and art history hosts an annual showcase for senior art majors to exhibit their work. This year, on April 25, the “Senior Art Majors Exhibition” took place in the de la Cruz Gallery for the first time. In previous years, the exhibit was hosted in the Lucille M. and Richard F.X. Spagnuolo Art Gallery. The transition to a larger gallery space reflects the department’s hope to increase awareness about student visual artists, according to Acres.
This year’s graduating artists include four seniors: Layla Gorgoni (COL ’19), Mark Keffer (COL ’19), Edson Martinez (COL ’19) and Jessica Yang (COL ’19). These dynamic visual artists share their passion for art in distinct ways through diversity in medium, technique and style.
Despite the small number of art majors in her graduating class, Gorgoni feels that her artistic opportunities were enhanced by the intimate community formed by her professors and peers.
“I’m so grateful to have met so many wonderful friends and mentors through the arts program at Georgetown. We are incredibly small but we are tight-knit and supportive,” Gorgoni wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Gorgoni, a double major in psychology and studio art with a concentration in painting, uses oil paint to experiment with bright colors, thick textures and abstracted backgrounds. She transforms ordinary portraits into bold, expressive statements by using unconventional colors to depict skintones, such as blue.
In addition to her aesthetic drive and color study, Gorgoni tackles personal advocacy and feminism, using her art to confront the political and social climate regarding women.
“In order to honor their strength and dignity during such demoralizing times, I’ve chosen to exhibit portraits of women whom I love,” Gorgoni wrote in the exhibition pamphlet.
Like Gorgoni, Keffer’s primary medium is oil paint. Keffer also studies psychology, which he draws upon to inspire his art. His work explores the thematic question of humanity’s relationship to nature, ranging from the kinetic motion of fresh, cool waves to the solitary confinement and stillness of a forest.
His technique involves a mixture of thinly and thickly applied paint to create multiple dimensions and textures in his work, according to Keffer. He also pays mind to the individual psyche and challenges conventional ideas about reality.
“My paintings incorporate the use of both realism and abstraction to bring familiarity to the viewer while pushing the boundaries of accurate perception,” Keffer wrote in the pamphlet.
Martinez is also passionate about the natural world and uses art as a way of interpreting and engaging deeply with nature. He, however, seeks to internalize art as a means of personal discovery. He draws upon his cultural roots from Mexico, employing symbols from his ancestral past in his portraits, masks and sculptures.
“For me, art is not a commercial pursuit. It serves as a means of getting to know oneself through the process of questioning identity, culture, and the many ideas that have contributed in the shaping of it,” Martinez wrote in the pamphlet.
Martinez’s work incorporates a variety of material, including limestone, plaster and linocut. His sculptures in particular are interesting for their distorted qualities. The figures convey motion by blending the material to form biomorphic shapes.
While Martinez explores the abstracted, internal world, Yang observes the effects of atmosphere in the external world, both locally and internationally. Drawing upon her photographic travel diary, she works with palette knives and oil to depict outdoor scenes on Georgetown’s M St., as well as in Prague and Croatia.
Yang’s technique is impressionistic, using thick layers of pigment to evoke the richness and depth of the memories. She illustrates how light changes in these settings, ranging from a warm sunset in Croatia to a misty, hazy street in Prague.
In contrast to the series of outdoor paintings, Yang’s etchings and aquatint prints illuminate the home of her family. By capturing moments like her grandpa’s birthday, Yang hopes to commemorate those special to her life.
“The unifying thread in my paintings and prints is intention: I intend to display affection and intimacy with every heavy stroke or meticulous tint,” Yang wrote in the pamphlet.
These four graduating seniors creatively approach art through diverse means and purposes. Yet, arranged together in the de la Cruz Gallery, their works produce a unified vision of art as a liberating, empowering form of expression.
The galleries are not the only way, however, that students can participate in artistic opportunities at Georgetown. In addition to registering for art courses, extracurricular activities provide the space for artists to meet one another, according to Gorgoni.
“Through making friends in my art classes and on-campus organizations like Bossier Magazine, I have personally witnessed the immense wealth of talent we have on this campus, despite that fact that it is often hidden or not emphasized in daily life,” Gorgoni wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Despite finding community in a group with similar interests, Gorgoni finds limited resources for student artists to convene on the Hilltop.
“As an artist at Georgetown, my biggest challenge has been accessing artistic communities and spaces. I love our school–trust me–but it’s not secret that it lacks a focus on the arts in favor of more pre-professional areas. As a result, I have often found myself yearning to encounter peers whose passions and goals mirror my own outside of designated artistic spaces,” Gorgoni wrote.
Georgetown’s pre-professional emphasis, with many students joining finance and consulting clubs, adds pressure to aspiring artists because of their low chances of success in a competitive job market.
“Although I’ve always known I wanted to work in the arts in an ideal world, making that decision in my actual life was very difficult because of how unstable the art industry is: out of 100 talented people, only a small percentage will actually be successful and make enough money to support themselves,” Gorgoni wrote.
However, making the decision to pursue art does not always have to conflict with career opportunities, according to Gorgoni.
“At the end of the day, I’ve realized that I want my entire life–including my professional one–to be as meaningful as it could possibly be,” Gorgoni wrote. “I would never forgive myself if I didn’t try to pursue art, even if it’s a more risky track.”
“Senior Art Majors Exhibition 2019” runs from April 25 to May 17.
The Maria & Alberto de la Cruz Art Gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It is located on 3535 Prospect St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007; admission is always free.