If one were to enter the John A. Day Gallery before Oct. 1, they might notice some pieces typical of a gallery space such as the lithographs lining the walls or the large mural on the back wall depicting a river and bridge.
They might also notice the sailboat suspended from the rafters, the sounds of waves crashing against the shore, or the video of shipwright and professor of educational psychology Harry Freeman sailing the very same sailboat projected on the left wall.
The exhibition, titled “Fair Winds and Following Seas,” is an installation piece created by Freeman, gallery director Amy Fill and gallery assistant Courtney LaVallie.
Freeman said the creation of the exhibition was serendipitous. While he was building the boat, Fill and LaVallie were searching USD’s collection of art prints to create their next exhibition, which centered around water. LaVallie, who works with Freeman’s wife, saw him rigging the boat one day, prompting her and Fill to ask Freeman if they could include it in their exhibition.
Freeman has sailed the boat and will continue to sail it after the exhibition is over, though for now, he said it’s a good fit for the exhibition as it was built for the Missouri river channel and acts as a living object.
“Wooden boats especially just come with their own life, you know, the wood’s living, it’s moving, it just has a whole different kind of sensory experience than something made of artificial materials like fiberglass,” Freeman said. “It almost feels like you could be in that space.”
The mural, which covers the entirety of the gallery’s back wall and was painted by LaVallie, was inspired by one of the prints at the exhibition and serves to bring the feeling of being on the river into the gallery.
“We were trying to think of ways to activate the space and activate the atmosphere in the prints… and so that’s how we came to doing the mural,” LaVallie said. “After we got the boat in here, it kind of makes the space feel more open, as if you’re out on the river.”
Many of the lithographs and etchings on the walls are WPA (Works Progress Administration) era pieces from the 1930s, Fill said. Works like these, she said, were created by patients at the Yankton State Hospital (now the Human Services Center and Dakota Territorial Museum) to be sold to finance the purchase of prints from Associated American Artists, a gallery in New York City.
Fill said each of the elements adds to the exhibition’s immersive experience. She said in her research with museums and galleries, she’s noticing people want more-tangible experiences with art, and that installations give people opportunities to engage with art in new ways.
“Now, in the art world… there’s a lot more community-engaged works, and more outreach, and more participatory experiences in museums and galleries, so we’re kind of trying to tap into those kinds of contemporary ideas with the way we install works,” Fill said.
“Fair Winds and Following Seas” is open until Oct. 1—extended from its original closing date of Sept. 24—with a reception on Sept. 24 from 5-7 p.m.