Amid pandemic, NAU bachelor of fine arts graduates find new ways to exhibit their art


Like many studio art majors before her, Olivia Zachs spent her senior capstone project thinking a lot about how she would exhibit the art that would make up her bachelor of fine arts (BFA) gallery.

“My work aims to broadcast the truth about life, that it is anything but normal,” she said of the pieces in her capstone project.

But her work, which humorously manipulates pop culture images from the recent American past, didn’t end up in an assigned portion of the Beasley Art Gallery on NAU campus.

Instead, it was photographed and placed in a special virtual exhibition, something that has been done for the past two classes of BFA visual art graduates at NAU.

For Zachs, the unique conditions seem suitable.

“I think that in a way it is ironic but fitting that this work is also shown in a non-traditional format,” she said.

“Historically, the BFA Exhibition in the Beasley Gallery gives students the opportunity to work with each other in the professional practice of installing a show,” said gallery director Christopher Taylor.

But this year, that experience would lack one major ingredient—an audience.

“If we did a traditional exhibition in the Beasley Gallery, the likelihood is that not many would see the exhibition due to current concerns about the pandemic,” said Vaughan Judge, director of the School of Art. “So, having an online exhibition recognizes the students’ talent and hard work.”

“Exhibiting work is an irreplaceable part of a Bachelor of Fine Arts education in visual art,” said professor Del Zartner who helped build the virtual BFA galleries. “Virtual shows allow students to continue to gain the invaluable practical experience of designing and mounting an exhibition.”

The exhibition has removed restrictions of Beasley’s physical space and the limitation of who can visit while also allowing student work to be shown in a time where gathering in a gallery is extremely limited.

“The virtual exhibition is also a more open-ended experience for visitors. They can view the artwork from anywhere at any time and in any order,” Zartner said.

Olivia Zachs
Graduate Olivia Zachs

Zachs has mixed feelings about having to take her work online. She said it was hard to capture three-dimensional elements and oddly-shaped pieces in a way that felt like it fully replicated the gallery experience. So, she took advantage of the tools offered by photography in this online gallery.

“Photographing my work did allow me to fix any little imperfections in the editing process which is not an option of course with an in-person show.”

Taking a show online offered students a chance to blend a relatively new medium with a classic form of art.

“For me, photography is a medium for which a blend of art and technology is fundamental,” said Judge, who helped establish the Fine Art Photographic Program at the Glasgow School of Art before coming to NAU. “It can stand alone or have syngeneic relationships with other media, such as printmaking, painting, sculpture and installation.”

And taking that work online is, in its own way, a practice that teaches students about the way art is increasingly being presented to audiences in the modern world.

“In a larger context, it is the new normal for most artists to take photos of their work and post to Instagram. It is how we can keep connected to a larger idea of what is happening in art today,” Taylor said. He believes this accessibility can also lead to a new level of understanding for the viewer. “It means we can quickly see similarities of the work created, open a new tab, go look at artwork in the Museum of Modern Art, then jump back, look at our phone, screenshot it, text it to a friend, like it, share it and do it again.”

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Zachary Ziegler | College of Arts & Letters

NAU Communications