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The art of curating: Lohnes brings fresh perspective to exhibitions job



Julie Lohnes is reaching out, thinking big and looking up.

As the new curator of Art Collections and Exhibitions at Union, she’s brimming with ideas on how to make art a greater part of the fabric of campus.

This includes reaching out to students and faculty, “thinking outside the Nott,” for art-friendly spaces beyond the confines of the Mandeville Gallery, and, as part of this larger perspective, literally scanning the skies for new areas to display work.

“Union College is my oyster,” Lohnes said recently, talking from her office on the second floor of Schaffer Library. “I’m thinking about activating some of the really sunny spaces with contemporary artwork. There’s a ton of great air space.”

Spoken like a New Yorker used to thinking up instead of out – which is not surprising, since Lohnes comes to Union from Brooklyn, where she was executive director of the not-for-profit A.I.R. Gallery, the nation’s first women’s artist collective. Previously, she was director of the former DFN Gallery, also in New York, and the Boston-based Chase Gallery, and she managed the Judi Rotenberg Gallery in Boston.

She brings more than 15 years of experience working in contemporary art galleries, in addition to being a sculptor and video installation artist who has exhibited widely and received numerous grants and awards.

At Union, Lohnes has found inspiration in her own work space in Schaffer Library. Come January, she will launch an installation artist series aimed at getting work “out of the gallery and into the public arena.”

Once a year, a contemporary artist will be invited to create and install a piece on the library’s first floor.

“The library is the epicenter of any college experience, a fountain of information and knowledge. Our beautiful new Learning Commons is a hub of activity, and my hope is to have ideas about art percolate there,” Lohnes said.

“Each artist will have a week to complete their work with assistance from Mandeville Gallery work-study students. Everyone who’s walking by will see the creative process as it’s happening. They’ll be able to interact with the artist on an informal basis.”

The week will culminate in a formal artist talk and a reception, and the work will hang in the library for the entire year.

Lohnes would like, eventually, to move art outside, to Library Plaza and other green space. In the meantime, she is creating a Mandeville Gallery schedule through summer 2016 that includes faculty and student exhibits, contemporary artist solo and group shows, and curated exhibitions.

Lohnes also brings to campus a commitment to giving students a greater role as visual arts ambassadors. She is spearheading a student docent and gallery aide program aimed at creating public and campus wide interest and investment in the Mandeville Gallery and the Permanent Collection. The program draws upon her experience at the A.I.R. Gallery, where a rigorous internship program enabled her to mount 31 exhibitions in 11 months.

The student docents may be immersed in everything from hanging shows and programming special events to greeting visitors and supporting social media outreach.

“They will be encouraged to think about and relate to the art and to interact with each visitor,” Lohnes said. “We want to foster empowerment and ownership over Union’s galleries and collections. All of this is theirs while they’re here and afterward, when they are alumni.”

Lohnes also will work with faculty and administrators to integrate Union’s exhibits and art holdings into the curriculum.

“Julie will help tell the story of Union using the permanent art collection and in collaboration with Special Collections,” said College Librarian Frances Maloy, who oversees management of Union’s extensive art collections. 

Lohnes will tap into the current campus wide wellness initiative with the winter term exhibit, “On Being,” which will feature three contemporary figurative artists who explore the concept of well-being through various symbols and iconography.

In 2015, in connection with the College’s special emphasis on the humanities, Lohnes and Exhibition Assistant Sarah Mottalini will mount “Mot Juste,” a celebration of text and language in contemporary visual arts.

Lohnes earned an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and a BFA in painting with a minor in art history from Boston University. In addition to her curatorial and gallery experience, she has taught professional and website development workshops for artists, and volunteered for not-for-profit organizations such as Artcetera, an AIDS action biennial art benefit.

Her own sculptures and multi-media installations have been on exhibit throughout the Northeast, and she is the recipient of a Puffin Foundation Grant and a Vermont Studio Center Residency.

Lohnes succeeds Marie Costello, interim director of the Mandeville Gallery and curator of the Permanent Collection for the past two years. Said Maloy, “We owe Marie many thanks for bringing vibrant and interesting art to campus and for her outstanding work on the exhibit, “The Grand Design: Joseph Ramee’s Designs for Union College Campus.’”

The Mandeville Gallery is now showcasing “A World of Prints: Selections from the Union College Permanent Collection,” featuring work by major figures of the late 1700s-1800s and late 1960s-70s, including Cézanne, Corot, Daumier, Goya, Lichtenstein, Manet, Miró and Stella. It runs through Nov. 17.