“I’m looking through you. Where did you go? I thought I knew you. What did I know?”
It’s just a Beatles song to most, but Caitlin Roberts ’08 links this excerpt from “I’m Looking Through You” with visual arts in her exhibit entitled “The Eye of the Beheld,” which she presented with a gallery talk at the Hood Museum of Art on Tuesday. The project is the 36th iteration of “A Space for Dialogue,” a program sponsored by the Class of 1948 that allows museum interns to plan, design and curate their own art shows with selections from the Hood’s collections. Roberts managed everything from wall and vinyl color to writing the brochure. Most importantly, she had to lay out the exhibit according to a central theme or pattern.
She chose five diverse pieces that demonstrate the power of making eye contact with artwork that seems to stare back.
“There’s something inspiring about a piece of art that can practically say, ‘I’m looking through you,'” Roberts said. “My show was designed around the idea that eye contact does not need to be between two flesh-and-blood people in order for it to be powerful.”
She first encountered her favorite piece in the exhibit — a 2,500-year-old granite statue called “Head of a God” — while writing an art history paper during her freshman year.
“On the outside of the glass partition, I looked the statue straight in the eye. I was in no way prepared for what happened next: the statue looked back,” Roberts recalled. “It looked like the statue was about to raise one of his artificially augmented eyebrows and laugh at me, which you can imagine was very unsettling.”
She first heard about the Spaces For Dialogue program two years later while listening to “I’m Looking Through You.”
“I remembered the eye contact, I heard the Beatles and within a period of minutes my theme had come together,” she said.
“Instead of bringing works of art together by time or culture, I think it is important to bring works of art together that identify a universal human experience,” Roberts explained. The driving question behind her unique theme became, “How can the sight of a piece of art animate it and connect it to you?”
The other works in “The Eye of the Beheld” include two black-and-white but surprisingly lifelike photographs, a painting of a new bride with sadly gleaming eyes and an image of a modern man with an eerily piercing gaze.
Roberts’ exhibit brochure claims that the power of eye contact “can overcome barriers of time, space and medium.” Indeed, the subjects of all five pieces seem truly animated when one looks directly at them. The show is displayed in the front foyer of the Hood and will remain open until spring break, when the next “Space” exhibit will be installed.
Roberts is excited to curate her own exhibit so early in her career. “It was great for me to work with lots of different people,” she said. “I was very much in control of the entire project the entire time.”
She was also impressed with the staff at the Hood who helped her at various stages of the project. “They take [the program] very seriously. It’s an amazing experience,” she said. “Everyone at the Hood was really great. They were supportive but not patronizing.”
Roberts was quick to clarify that the production process was by no means easy or smooth.
“The greatest challenges were timelines,” she said. “You’re working for a museum but you’re also a student.” The key to creating a successful exhibit, she said, is to reconcile the two roles and meet deadlines.
Despite the challenges, Roberts feels that “The Eye of the Beheld” emerged as a successful exhibit.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt the kind of pride I felt when I saw this come together for the first time,” she said. “I’ll always remember that art, with the help of the Beatles, can be universal as well as distinct.”