A site-specific exhibit at Teachers College is carrying on the intellectual legacy of Columbia professor, philosopher, and intellectual John Dewey.
“Doing and Undergoing” displays an array of thought-provoking artwork meant to reflect the attitude toward art Dewey advocated. The installations, conceived by professor of art and art education Richard Jochum and curated by New York-based writer and artist Robert Gero, unify Dewey’s philosophy with a celebration of Teachers College’s 125th anniversary.
After receiving 200 artist applications, organizers chose 22 pieces—from video to photo to scent pieces—by 25 different artists that are installed across five floors of four buildings at Teachers College.
“We thought it would be beautiful to have an exhibition not only at Teachers College, but with Teachers College as its canvas,” Jochum said.
Dewey’s legacy at Columbia is part of what made Jochum choose to center it around his philosophy.
“I think it has to do with the fact that John Dewey is still in a way such a seminal person for this school,” he said. “Teachers College actually was a Dewey school so he has a huge impact on the legacy of this college.”
Dewey’s ideas about education also had a big influence on Jochum’s focus on the thinker.
“He was a philosopher of education and his contribution really was that learning is experiential, and we don’t just learn by people standing in front of us and talking at us, we learn by getting involved,” he said. “That’s Dewey—he stood for progressive education in a sense, and Teachers College was always at the forefront of that.”
Since Teachers College can be somewhat mazelike, as Jochum put it, visitors are given an audio-visual guide to direct them. The 30-minute tour can be accessed on museum devices or on a smartphone. Following the footsteps of a mischievous girl dressed in period costume, a narrator addresses each piece of art with questions that prompt the visitor to think about what it means to her.
This deeper interaction with art as an active experience is what reflects Dewey’s ideas. As you wander through the buildings, you find art in unexpected spaces.
The exhibit manages to make an impression without disrupting the day-to-day operations of Teachers College. Some of the first pieces are full-length prints of vibrant roses that lie tucked into a nook on the first floor, while the basement beanstalk garden blends art and sustainable technology to elicit thoughts about our environmental impact.
A trip up a narrow spiral staircase leads to three Everlast punching bags with philosophical quotes printed on them, as well as a projection of dancers moving in fluid, spontaneous motion. Each piece of art seamlessly blends historical references with modern art and technology. The tour is so immersive that time flies by all too quickly.
“Doing and Undergoing” is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Teachers College until Dec. 15.