These are heady days at the University of Michigan School of Art and Design. For one thing it is no longer the University of Michigan School of Art and Design. It is now the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design, so renamed by Board of Regents in gratitude and recognition of the vision of Penny and E. Roe Stamps. Vision and a $40 million donation. You see, readers and fans, if you want a school at the U-M named after you money alone won’t do it. You gotta have vision. Ms. Stamps is an alumna (BS, Design ’66) and her gift is the most generous in A&D history and, indeed, one of the largest charitable donations to any art school in the United States. With the stroke of a pen the Stamps join such transformative donors at the U-M as Stephen M. Ross (Ross School of Business), Horace and Mary Rackham (Rackham Graduate School) and the beloved A. Alfred Taubman (Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning).
The new dean
Earlier this year A&D welcomed its new Dean, Gunalan Nadarajan. Professor Nadarajan is an international superstar as a curator, author and researcher working at the intersection of the arts, science and technology – exactly what we need for an art school in the 21st century. He is the author of over 100 published works, translated into 12 languages, most recently on the changing role of arts and design research. He has worked to increase collaboration across fields, including communication design at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. He serves as a principal investigator on a National Science Foundation Grant to establish a national Network for Science, Engineering, Art and Design. The obscenities commerce and industry have recently recognized the vital role of art and design, not just to prettify products or for advertizing purposes, and Dean Nadarajan is the right man in the right place at the right time to keep A&D ahead of the curve. It’s part of that vision thing. He has curated international exhibitions in Singapore, Indonesia, Germany, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand and Japan.
In one of his first curatorial gestures here in town, Dean Guna invited each faculty member to submit “an object or thing from your studio or workspace that would constitute an essential part of any meaningful introduction to your work.” The result is First Encounters, showing at Work: Ann Arbor through December 21. This is an all-fun introduction to the inspirations of A&D faculty – you can tell a lot about an artist by his or her workspace, kind of like the way a cook keeps his kitchen. It is also an introduction to Work: Ann Arbor, the exhibition space on Central Campus at 306 State Street, near the State Theater. It’s amazing how many students, townies and visitors walk past it every day and don’t even know it’s there. Open Tuesday through Saturday: Noon to 7pm.
A&D on display
A&D grads are featured now through December 18 in the Chelsea River Gallery Presents: Rackham Centennial Exhibit 1012. It’s showing on the 4th floor of the Rackham Building, an art deco gem inside and out, at 915 East Washington. The exhibitors are working artists who were awarded their Masters in Fine Arts degrees from A&D within the past five years, and they’re coming back from as far away as India. The Rackham building, under the expert guidance of Susan Campos, hosts two exhibitions each year and teams with the River Gallery in charming nearby Chelsea to put the shows together. The River Gallery, by the way, now has an ambitious artist-in-residence program with wild, cutting edge film and performance art presentations. Get on their email list: chelsearivergallery.com.
Best of all, through December 21, is the Undergraduate Juried Exhibition in the Slusser Gallery of the Art and Architecture Building, 2000 Bonisteel Blvd. on North Campus. If you can make it for the Opening Reception on December 4, 4:30 to 5:30, you can meet the artists, their professors, family and friends, and Dean Guna, who will be presenting the cash prizes. A good time will be had by all.