A Trip to the Art Show, From the Comfort of Your Phone

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COURTESY OF BENJAMIN COOK

Benjamin Cook was inspired to create the gallery when he knew his own students at the Art Academy of Cincinnati would be deprived of a physical gallery to display their work.

By KEVIN STOLL, Staff Writer

Amid arguably the biggest medical and cultural crisis of this generation, there have been a few “heroes” that have found a way to stand against the worldwide fear of coronavirus. Some of those heroes are local restaurant owners who have now begun offering a complimentary roll of toilet paper with every takeout order. Others are renowned musical artists and singers who have chosen to livestream their performances through YouTube and social media. And one of those heroes is Benjamin Cook, a seemingly ordinary painter who decided to look on the bright side of this crisis. 

When universities around the world, including Fordham, declared that their campuses were suspending in-person activities for the remainder of the spring semester, art majors were left without a venue to publicly display their work. Many of them began to question whether or not their work would ever be appreciated by anyone other than themselves. However, their answer came in the form of an adjunct professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati who knew that this pandemic wasn’t going to prevent students from sharing their work with others. 

Cook, whose own pieces have been featured in various blogs and media outlets such as Maake Magazine and Booooooom.com, wanted to create a social media account for Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) students to exhibit their theses shows to not just their friends, family, classmates and professors, but to the rest of the world as well. 

“My studio practice explores painting and image dissemination. I make physical paintings, photograph them, and use the digital images as content for dissemination-based projects, ultimately exploring the blended space of digital and physical,” Cook said. “I thought that my studio practice could be a good way to help the students, and further explore my research. Since (the Art Academy of Cincinnati) wasn’t the only (university) that had to close, I thought the Social Distance Gallery could act as a platform for artists from around the world to show their thesis work.” 

Cook’s Instagram account has already received over 17,000 followers after he initially announced the project on March 13. User feedback on the announcement ranged from “Such a great idea. Thank you. We appreciate it,” to “IM A GRADUATING SENIOR THIS CANCELLATION IS AFFECTING US ALL!! THANKS TO YOU I CAN STILL SHOW MY WORK TO THE WORLD!!” 

The pieces currently being displayed on the account’s feed are from students enrolled at institutions in New York, such as Queens College, Cornell University and more. So many students have submitted their work to Cook that it has become difficult for him to commend everyone’s talent. 

There has been a lot of really great work, but to be honest, I don’t have the time to really sit and look at most of them. I am also teaching classes remotely, so my time is spread pretty thin,” Cook said. “With that said, the number of artists, faculty members and random people that have reached out to say how much this project means to them or someone they care about has been really wonderful.

“I don’t think there has ever been such an expansive catalog of graduating seniors and MFA candidates from all around the world, so it will be interesting to see if people form their own networks through this.” 

No students from Fordham’s visual arts program are currently displaying work on the account. “I usually ask that students work with their peers to submit everyone’s work from a given program at one time,” said Cook. “I haven’t received any submissions from Fordham students yet, but I hope they gather the information and send it to me as soon as they can!” 

Annie Dreyer, Fordham College at Lincoln Center ’20, is looking forward to submitting her work to the account. “I was scheduled for the last senior thesis show spot, so I’m still working on the photo sequence, the artist statement, etc.” Dreyer said. “But I will probably submit it once all of that has been figured out!” 

Students can send submissions to Cook through a link on the account page. At the end of the day, people want to show the world what they’ve poured their passion into. Especially in a time of self-isolation, sometimes the most human experience can be found within the most artificial landscape.