MIT List Visual Arts Center

25 October 2013 recently met with curator at MIT List Visual Arts Center, Alise Upitis, and discussed the center's public art and architecture, the innovative MIT audio guide, and the educational and awareness programs offered by the Center.

Can you briefly describe the MIT List visual arts Center and your role in it?

Just as MIT pushes at the frontiers of scientific inquiry, it is the mission of the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the contemporary art museum of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to explore challenging, intellectually inquisitive, contemporary art making in all media. The List is best known for annually presenting five to eight changing exhibitions and accompanying catalogs, the List Visual Arts Center is active in many areas. The List is responsible for MIT's extensive public art collection, which includes over 50 major works sited publicly throughout the MIT campus, including works by Jennifer Bartlett, Alexander Calder, Petah Coyne, Dan Graham, Cai Guo-Qiang, Sol LeWitt, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, Kenneth Noland, Beverly Pepper, Pablo Picasso, Matthew Ritchie, Tony Smith, Sarah Sze, and Lawrence Weiner. The List is also responsible for the MIT Percent-for-Art, which allocates a portion of the budget for new building projects or major renovations to art for public space. Recent additions through this program include works by Anne Collier, Annette Kelm, Lisa Oppenheim, Sara VanDerBeek, and James Welling. This program is developing at an extraordinary rate, and under this program there are current four active new commissions on campus. The List also develops and maintains a permanent collection that includes thousands of paintings, prints, and photographs located throughout the MIT campus, including works by leading artists of the 20th century such as Jennifer Bartlett, Mel Bochner, Helen Frankenthaler, Joseph Kosuth, Barry Le Va, Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Jules Olitski, Robert Ryman, and Terry Winters, as well as a major collection of photographs by Berenice Abbott. In addition, each year more than 500 drawings, prints, and photographs are borrowed by MIT students through our highly popular Student Loan Art Program. We add approximately 15 new works a year to this collection, and recent acquisitions include works by Trisha Donnelly, Alex Hubbard, Rosalind Nashashibi, Sarah Morris, Olivier Mosset, Matt Mullican, Eileen Quinlan, and Walid Raad.

My role incorporates curatorial responsibilities in all of the List's areas: exhibitions and related publications and public programming, public art and the Percent-for-Art program, as well as the permanent and student loan art collections.

Can you tell us a few words about your recent launch of an audio guide to include 51 works of public art and architecture?

Beginning July 2013, visitors to the campus of MIT can now learn more about MIT's many notable works of public art and architecture thanks to the development of a new audio guide. The guide offers commentary by artists, architects, scholars, and curators, focusing on 51 works of art and architecture located throughout the campus. MIT's public art and architecture has signage with a number to call to listen, and audio can also be accessed through QR codes. For those unable to visit campus, audio is also available on the List website: These multiple distribution platforms will ensure users have a great degree of flexibility in creating their own customized self-guided tours.

The audio guide also includes an introduction to MIT's public art collection by actor, film director, and photographer Leonard Nimoy. A Boston native, Nimoy is best known for his portrayal of Spock in the original Star Trek series. Nimoy and his wife Susan have long been friends of MIT and the List and over the years the List received several awards through the Nimoy Foundation for a number of exciting artist residency projects which brought contemporary artists and their practices directly to MIT campus communities. Nimoy has an added connection to MIT in that his brother received his master's degree in engineering from the Institute.

How long is the walk at the MIT campus, and what highlights would you select?

It would probably take over 5 hours to visit all the publicly sited works on the MIT campus. For a more manageable experience, I would suggest a loop that begins at the List's building (MIT Building E15), which features a landmark art-in-architecture collaboration by artists Scott Burton, Richard Fleischner, Kenneth Noland, and architect IM Pei. I would then proceed to our Louise Nevelson, Alexander Calder , Sol LeWitt, and finish with our Anish Kapoor and Mark di Suvero, the latter two sited in relation to MIT's Stata Center by architect Frank Gehry. This loop will take about an hour, and each of these works are featured on our audio guide.

What other educational and outreach program does the Center offer to the public?

At the List, our outreach and education programs engage both the MIT community and the Boston/Cambridge communities. This ranges from more curatorial programming such as panel discussions , film screenings, tours, and talks the draw out aspects of and perspectives on our current exhibitions, to events geared towards introducing the MIT and local communities to contemporary art, such as Thursday@the List for MIT grad students and Family Day for visitors with young children. We've also just launched a new concert series with MIT's radio station, WMBR, that draws visitors perhaps more often inclined towards contemporary music into the contemporary visual arts.

In which ways are you pushing the arts frontier at MIT? What should we expect to see next from you?

The List is the contemporary art museum at MIT, and is in the privileged position of working with visual artists whose productions are thinking through of the most salient issues--political, economic, social, technological, ethical--of contemporary existence. Upcoming major exhibitions include the first US survey exhibition of the work of renowned filmmaker and artist Chris Marker. In February 2014, we will open the sound installation Hourly directional sound recording, Mâta Atlantica, Brazil (2012) by Helen Mirra and Ernst Karel, which will be accompanied by a collaboration with the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. The List is also responsible for MIT's very active program of commissioning new public works by artists. We currently have 4 such projects underway, with artists to be announced soon.

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