The Hartnett Gallery opened its doors this week with the final remaining works of Professor Elizabeth Cohen, who directed the UR internship program, Art New York, until her death in May 2017.
The UR Studio Art Department honored Cohen by displaying her works in the exhibition, “Departures from Precedent”, from Sept. 5 through Sept. 9.
Cohen, who received her MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, joined the UR Studio Art department in 1997. She taught a variety of production-based courses like Introduction to Sculpture, as well as other sculpture and video courses.
In 2001, she took on her role as director of the Art New York program, in which students take coursework in New York City while working directly with artists or interning in art museums.
Allan Topolski, undergraduate advisor for the Studio Arts department and one of the organizers of the exhibit, was on the committee that hired Cohen. He praised her drive and aspiration, commenting that she excelled at her job, using her connections in New York City to “revise the curriculum and fortify the academic rigor” of the Art New York program. The result, Topolski wrote on a plaque in Hartnett, was the creation of “one of strongest facets of the art department.”
Senior Alana Zakroczemski, an attendant for the Hartnett Gallery and studio art minor, met Cohen when she applied for Art New York. On the exhibit, Zakroczemski said, “I’m not sure what to think of it,” adding that there are no plaque cards with an artist statement, so “it’s hard to see what she envisioned.” Zakroczemski describes the works as interesting, but “ominous.”
“Departures from Precedent” is a collection of three pieces that Cohen worked on with her collaborator and husband, Michael Talley.
Belly Ball, which was undated, is a fiberglass ball painted over with acrylic, composed of mold casts of people’s belly buttons. A 2001 work, Untitled, is composed of a braided carpet hanging on a wall, a motorized scooter made of boat parts and refrigerator parts, and a GPS.
Numbers, also from 2001, is a video of various participants, prompted by Cohen herself, interpreting and signing the numbers from zero to 10 with their entire body.
Topolski said that he admires the simplicity of Numbers, noting that Cohen had a “diverse approach to the idea of exploring the body and soul,” and that the video demonstrates how our ability to interpret is “a blend of conceptual, racial, and geographic identities.” He added that Cohen implored people to “think of [their] bodies in an ajar framework.”
The video’s out-of-the-box nature is emphasized by its wide array of reactions in depicting the requested numbers, ranging from apathetic to enthusiastic and varying in accuracy.
Both Zakroczemski and Topolski said that Untitled is odd. And Topolski found it interesting and bizarre how the carpet on the wall symbolizes a map.
He referred to Belly Ball as “not pretty but engaging.” According to him, the inspiration likely stems from Talley’s time in the Vietnam War, with the piece exploring the idea of phantom limbs and scars.
Studio Manager Michael Leonard, who also helped set up the gallery with Topolski, is in charge of safety courses in Sage. He met Cohen eight years ago when he first arrived. But he only found out about the remaining artwork while helping clear Cohen’s studio. He found her last works to be “typical of her…pleasant, eclectic,” offering a unique way of looking at different things.