Williams College's WALLS program connects students, fine art


Photo Gallery: WCMA WALLS program

Related story: Is that a Cezanne hanging on your dorm room wall?

WILLIAMSTOWN - The Williams College Museum of Art's WALLS program -- Williams Art Loan for Living Spaces -- is giving students the chance to hang work from the galleries in their personal spaces and live with the work for a semester.

The museum made 90 works available on a first-come-first-serve basis to interested undergraduates with the hopes that the everyday intimacy of the art will add to the students' experiences and also give them an extended period to contemplate the work, an opportunity they'd never have visiting the museum.

After the first week with their new two-dimensional roommates, five participating students shared their experiences and impressions of the works hanging in their rooms:

‘Equitable Building as a Pencil Sharpener'

Senior year psychology major Ania Lau is fascinated by pop art. With no Warhol available, she chose Claes Oldenburg's "Equitable Building as a Pencil Sharpener."

"You have to get closer to it to appreciate it," she said. "It's not until you take the time to really look at it and read it that it clicks for most people. It's kind of like a delayed chuckle that comes."

Lau loves pop art because it takes consumer products or celebrities and, as she puts it, "makes you look at something you see all the time in a different way and it elevates it to art." And, she points out, it's often a happy, humorous form.

"I wanted something that would make me smile while it's here," said Lau.

As part of her casual, everyday visual experience, encounters accrue in her subconscious, offering something larger than the actual

"Every time I look at it, those brief moments come together in a way that has allowed me to know it better."

‘La Creation'

Native of South Korea and third-year economics major Rakdong Lim (pictured above) knew he wanted Marc Chagall's "La Creation" after an earlier visit to WCMA to see the 90 pieces of art being offered.

"I'm a Christian and it was one of the very few pieces there that pertained to the topic of Christianity," he said. "I just wanted to reflect on it to deepen my spirituality if possible throughout the semester."

It was a gut reaction for Lim and an introduction to Chagall.

"I had no idea who Chagall is or what his intentions were when he was doing the painting, or anything like that, when I first saw it," said Lim.

"La Creation" is the only thing hanging in Lim's room, right next to his desk, but he doesn't feel like he's had the time to properly contemplate it. That comes next, with a plan to study Chagall more formally.

"I think that really contributes to the appreciation of art," Lim said, "and I'm really hoping to do that next week after I'm done with all my assignments."


Second-year English and philosophy major Harrison Gatlin went into the experience with the plan to choose a painting he didn't understand at first glance, something that challenged him.

"I'll have it for an entire semester, so I'll have time to work with it or think about it," Gatlin said.

The Texas native was attracted to an untitled modernist piece by Wifredo Lam, which sits above his desk in prime placement for occasional contemplation.

"I take some time to lean back in my chair and look at it when I'm taking a break from reading or writing," he said.

Gatlin immediately noted the abstract, geometrical creatures in the painting, including "one that looks like a pregnant bird," and time has allowed him to study it further.

"I notice ways of orienting yourself in the picture, different shapes that start to pop out from inside smaller shapes," said Gatlin.

One visitor took it off the wall and rotated it sideways 90 degrees.

"It really changed the feel of the painting," Gatlin said. "It felt like gravity was weighing down the figures in a different way after that."

Gatlin was attracted to its colors, but the painting also has a dark side.

"I get a really unsure feeling about it when I look at the painting," he said. "It's not just mysterious, but also a little disconcerting. Some of these figures, I've never seen anything like them before and it takes me off guard. It's not the kind of thing that would get under my skin or cause me distress because there's a weird feeling associated with it. I don't know. We'll have to see come mid-May how I feel."

‘La Toilette'

Undeclared freshman Madeline Seidman has her eye on an arts major. Her choice, Pierre Gatier's "La Toilette," is an unfinished work from 1911, with a female figure in paint and the rest of her boudoir in sketch form.

"It's very girlie. I liked all the little details," Seidman said. "It seems to have a flapper kind of feel to it."

The 19-year-old Connecticut native says the piece fit into her room very well -- she already had a few postcards of paintings and has since added to those with the Gatier piece being the anchor with photographs of Paris now in the mix.

This opportunity has made Seidman look beyond this semester as well, a chance to experiment with what kind of art suits her everyday life best when the next opportunity to borrow a painting comes around.

"I'll probably mix it up. There was one that was very modern looking that had a bunch of gourds that I definitely had my eye on."


Sam Steakley, a freshman who plans to major in physics, went into WCMA looking for something large.

"It seems silly, but it makes a big difference to have something that takes up a large chunk of your wall," he said. "Part of the experience is not spending so much time staring at the minute details, but just living with it as an ambient feature."

Steakley chose Pia Fries' 2007 abstract "Rake," which allows him to absorb a work of art in a way he has always wanted to.

"I came in there with the perspective of the bewildered observer who doesn't pretend to have much knowledge about the art itself, but is nonetheless fascinated," Steakley said.

Steakley has made distinct observations about the painting, especially the way the figures on it interact on the canvas and process it maps out.

"The important thing is that clearly if I have all these thoughts going on in my head then it's something I've thought about a lot and that's just interesting," said Steakley. "I don't know if what I have to say has any value to anybody, but I think it's cool that I got those ideas by looking at it."


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