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Artist Daniel Buren Brings Dazzling Color to Hunter Skyways

Traveling from the East Campus to the West has gotten much more colorful. On March 24th, a long-planned site-specific installation project was completed, turning the glass halls of Hunter’s skyways into a kaleidoscopic rainbow. The visionary behind these large, bright prisms is internationally acclaimed artist Daniel Buren, famous for his provocative, illuminating installations and for his use of boldly colored stripes. Buren is world renowned and particularly prolific in his native France, but  rarely creates work in the United States; he comes to Hunter through Professor Joachim Pissarro, Bershad Professor of Art History at Hunter College and Director of the Hunter College Galleries. The skyway installation is a signature Buren piece, a large, audacious transformation of public space that re-contextualizes the audience’s experience of the space – and of art itself.

This installation, which spans both the 3rd and 7th floor skyways, will remain for six months. The brightly colored, translucent stripes – with periodic gaps leaving clear window space – are made of thin vinyl and attached to the glass with a sticker-like backing. They give the skyway interior a rainbow-tinted glow by day and turn it luminescent by night, visible to onlookers from the street. Literally changing the lens through which we view the world, the exhibit asks students to engage with its very existence. What does it do? Why is it happening? How does this new filter alter and enliven their experience of their campus and their city? Professor Pissarro says he hopes the skyway project will “lead to some good and hearty conversations.”

Already, it’s doing just that. A Facebook post announcing the installation has almost 500 reactions and a long string of comments – some exuberant, some perplexed. “I think this is interesting,” one student writes. Another is excited to take portraits with the stripes: “Photographers get your cameras ready!” Other responders have qualms about the disruption of their accustomed view – and that is exactly what Buren’s art intends: a change in accepted reality, and the awakening that inspires. Says Howard Singerman, Phyllis and Joseph Caroff Chair of the Department of Art and Art History: “It reconfigures the relationship of inside and outside; it syncopates the passage of figures as they cross the bridge; and given how responsive it is to light--whether functioning like stained glass inside when the sun is bright, casting color into the space, or like a lighthouse at night, shining color into the street--it asks the Hunter community to pause and notice and to play with the environment.”

The skyway installation is part of a larger group of exhibits across the Hunter campus and galleries with similar goals. “Buren, Mosset, Parmentier, Toroni,” curated by Joachim Pissarro and Director of the Galleries, and Associate Curator Annie Wischmeyer, offers a critical examination of the BMPT Group, a small collective of painters that formed in 1967 to challenge existing conventions of art and art-making. The group, comprised of Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michael Parmentier, and Niele Toroni, staged four events they termed “Manifestations,” performative, politically provocative happenings at various Parisian locales.

The Group disbanded after only one year, but their legacy is examined – for the first time ever – in an exhibit at Hunter’s 205 Hudson Street Gallery. This exhibition showcases and investigates the Manifestations, providing a comprehensive portrait of their meaning and significance. For broader context, visitors can head upstairs for “Critical Gestures and Contested Spaces: Art in France in the 1960s, which presents a political and cultural narrative of the creative tumult of 1960s Paris. This supplementary exhibit was heavily researched and produced by Hunter MA and MFA students as part of the inaugural course in Hunter’s new Curatorial Certificate Program, taught by Professor Joachim Pissarro. Through the complementary experiences of the coursework and curatorial practicum, students were able to engage with all facets of exhibition planning and execution, from conception to selection to research to actually hanging things on walls.

Also on view as part of the constellation of exhibitions is another site-specific work created for Hunter by a BMPT Group member, this one by Olivier Mosset. After touring the Hunter campuses, Mosset selected the Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Art Gallery for his new installation.  Featuring customized motorcycles, large monochrome paintings, and a wall mural, Mosset brings three concentrations of his recent work into conversation – what is it to bring functional objects into a gallery space? Like Buren, Mosset, too, asks the audience to reexamine their inherent perceptions of objects and themselves in space, to look with new eyes on the substance and context of the world around them.

These are questions with which Hunter community members are going to grapple for the next six months, as they travel Buren’s newly vibrant skyways. As students move to and from classes, pause to eat lunch, or stand to peer out at the changed view, they will engage differently with their own routines. It's not often you find a rainbow, but this spring at Hunter, you can walk through one every day: a hallway that lights up the sky.

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