Genevieve Gaignard – To Whom It May Concern at Rowan

Featured Project with Mary Salvante

Vanilla Ice, 2016, Edition 3 of 3. Chromogenic print, 24 x 36 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles

To Whom It May Concern, the current exhibition featuring an installation and collages by Los Angeles based artist Genevieve Gaignard, raises poignant questions related to nostalgic notions of American history and culture. The work ranges from staged photographs, questioning social stigmas and beauty standards, to a room installation made of found furniture and other objects. The artist says the aim is to “beckon viewers to dig into the imperfect relationship between our inner worlds, public lives, and modern events.” Mary Salvante, the director and chief curator of Rowan University Art Gallery sheds some more light on this show. The show runs through October 29, 2022.

Can you elaborate on your curatorial vision for this solo exhibition

I was interested in curating an exhibition with Genevieive because of her unique perspective and experience as a bi-racial woman. Confronting stereotypes around being bi – racial is not a theme that has been addressed so specifically and with so much agency in my experience. I think it is an important narrative to share with the Rowan community and especially the students at Rowan that may be navigating these same realms.

As a professional art gallery at a university we think of ourselves as an extension of the classroom and so it’s our mission that our exhibitions are relatable and visually accessible to students and the community. We are proactive and intentional about our programming that it represents a diverse audience and a diverse perspective on current relevant issues. This is the vision in general of the gallery as well as curatorially.

Let’s focus on the installation in this show. What will the visitor see, what is the artist’s process and what are the ideas behind the installation?

As you enter the gallery you will see to the left a long wall painted pink with four red arches. Within the arches are 4 self-portrait photographs by the artist. The back wall is also pink with a series of her collages, and to the right are two red walls with a wall paper motif in the center, a red rug on the floor which anchors an installation of a domestic living room. The layout of the gallery was designed by the artist to enhance her themes that confront nostalgic views of race, beauty, and class.

The wall color directly relates to these themes. Genevieve sees the red as symbolizing death, blood, and a feeling of intensity, and it represents a particular American political binary. Pink is an unassuming color that is considered feminine, dainty, and safe. Together they create a tension that is both playful and unsettling.

Gallery View. Courtesy of Rowan University Art Gallery. Photo credit: Constance Mensch

Please walk us through the rest of the show.

The show as a whole functions as a small survey of the artist’s work and represents different moments in her practice. The four self-portraits were created between 2016 – 2018 and are staged environments that resonate as performative and exaggerations of locations that can be either urban or rural. She inserts herself in the scene as a prop surrounded by objects and imagery that push on stereotypes around beauty, race and class. Her collages from 2019 – 2022 build a narrative by using imagery sourced from old lifestyle magazines that depict a nostalgic view of life and family. What was acceptable then, we would no longer be considered appropriate now. For example, in her college Fantasia, she used an advertisement she found for “Wonder Bread” that had a confederate flag stuck to the top of a sandwich. She places it next to a smiling white family to amplify the disconnect that this imagery projects with the reality of the time such as equal rights protests and voter rights. Not so much has changed.

She carries these associative narratives into her installations as well. The installation Black White and Red All Over, for example, was directly inspired by the wallpaper depicting an antebellum setting embracing slavery. When the artist found the paper she thought that it must be really old paper based on the imagery, but it was in fact from the 1970’s. With that knowledge she conceptualized a living room with objects suggesting a type of family that she pictures being comfortable living with this wallpaper.

Essentially, her work mirrors her experience growing up in both a white world and a black one, where she has witnessed that most white people have a narrow perception of Blackness. She feels her work addresses a reality that impacts every community and assumes a level of responsibility of having her art function as a provocation and activism.

Fantasia, (detail) 2020, Mixed media collage on panel, 41.5 x 48 x 1 inches. Courtesy of Rowan University At Gallery. Photo credit: Constance Mensch

Can you share a bit on what is going “behind the scene” in Rowan University Art gallery – what is the process of selecting art, what advice would you give to artists?

As a university art gallery our schedule is very much tied into the academic year. Our season, as I call it, is primarily between September through May. This allows us to produce at least 4 major exhibitions per year with smaller, more local types of programming during the summer, and our second gallery on campus we call the Center For Art And Social Engagement.

Since we have such a small window and narrow schedule, our exhibitions tend to be very specific in terms of themes and artists, so we rarely consider unsolicited submissions. I usually will do the curating thinking about themes that I think will resonate with the Rowan community which usually will project content that is exploring a number of cultural and social issues. We also look at artists that give us an opportunity to collaborate with other academic areas. For example, we did a show with Federico Solmi where we presented new work by him that included animated imagery created using a gaming software. We also presented his first VR art installation and worked with the engineering department to fabricate for the artist 3 digitally printed masks in the characters of his animations. Other collaborations have been with artists and the School of Earth and Environment, the office of social justice, gender studies, African American studies and more.

The advantages of being a university gallery /museum is that we are not motivated by the need to sell artwork so we can be selective with what themes we can present and introduce to the community and what programs we can create around the exhibition which can be panel discussions, lectures and tours. Once I have identified an artist that I would like to work with, it takes about two years for our first meeting until the show actually opens. A best practice for artists to submit unsolicited materials to institution is to be very mindful of the mission and do the research to determine if their work really fits that mission and the types of work being shown.

Black White and Red All Over, 2019, Mixed media installation with vintage found objects and furniture, 288 x 228 x 132 inches, Courtesy of Rowan University Art Gallery. Photo credit: Constance Mensch

Mary Salvante is a visual arts professional with over 30 years of experience as a curator and arts administrator. She is the inaugural Chief Curator and Director of Rowan University Art Gallery established in 2009; and is the founder of the Center for Art and Social Engagement at Rowan where the permanent art collection is presented side by side with innovative community engagement projects that focus on social issues and advocacy. She is on the art advisory committee for The Center for Emerging Visual Artists and is a board member for Philadelphia Sculptors. She also held advisory positions with Art in City Hall,, and The Main Line Art Center. She received her BFA degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and a Master of Science degree in Arts Administration from Drexel University in Philadelphia.

To Whom It May Concern – Genevieve Gaignard at Rowan University Art Gallery September 1 – October 29, 2022