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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rose Art Museum has director of many talents

Published: March 21, 2008
Section: Features

the_hoot_3-21-08final_page_06_image_0001.jpgClimbing into a dumpster to insert smoke machines for an art exhibit? Some might call this supporting artistic vision. Others would say, are you crazy? For Roy Dawes, Assistant Director for Operations at Brandeis’ Rose Art Museum, it’s all in a day’s work. This August will mark Dawes’ fifth year at the Rose Art Museum.

A master of fine arts and a painter himself, Dawes was always well-suited for a career as a painter, but ran into the perpetual artist’s challenge. “It’s very difficult to make a living as a painter,” so Dawes decided to do art on the side. He started off overseeing the gallery in the ICA in Boston, earning the chance to “work with some fabulous artists.” Dawes next worked as a consultant for a corporate art program, later deciding to return to graduate school with the goal of becoming an art teacher.

And teach he did, at both Wellesley College and the University of Massachusetts. But Dawes soon found that teaching was “taking away from [his] ability to be in the studio,” whereas his current job at the Rose allows him the opportunity to live the best of both worlds of art as both spectator and artist.

“Even though this is a very full time position, I still feel like I can get in the studio a little bit more than I could with teaching,” and Dawes finds that now he has “more enthusiasm for being in the studio than I did when I was teaching…I love the combination of the fact that I’m still in the university setting and I can do critiques with students on occasion, but it’s not Professor Dawes, it’s just Roy from the museum. So it’s a much more casual thing.”

Dawes “oversee[s] the day to day operations of the museum which includes the facility as well as the care of the artwork” and assists with staff and guides. With the aid of the Registrar, he also oversees conservation issues and helps with the transporting, care, and installation of artwork in the exhibitions. He “oversee[s] the care of the work as it travels” and helps to design exhibits.

Dawes is also able to share his experience with student workers interested in future careers in art. Andrew Giordano ’08, a student tour guide, said, “one thing that I’ve learned specifically from Roy is that you always need to have your eyes and ears attuned to what’s going on on the museum floor. Even though he’s stationed [in the back offices], Roy knows the condition and the quality of every piece and every exhibition on display as well as every piece and every exhibition that is not on display located in the vault and storage.”

“Because of his own history as an artist, he’s acutely aware of the condition and the maintenance of every piece located on the museum floor,” Giordano said. “When he sees a piece that’s not working, he’ll draw on his own experience as an artist and then use that history to fix the piece.” Giordano added, “as an artist, he knows how he would want his own work displayed.”

For the Rose’s current Normopath exhibit, Dawes placed two video projectors outside of the room to obtain a larger image. It “was a really unique approach to set up this video display and I honestly do not believe that without his artistic eye and background, he would have been able to come up with that.”

“A lot of us that help out or work there are artists as well, and as Roy is also, I think it gives us another common bond and a unique perspective on being around more prominent works of art all the time,” Jenna Weiss, Visitor Services Coordinator of the Rose Art Museum, wrote in an email. She added, “Roy always takes interest in [which] students are working with him and has been able to [help] past students really learn what working behind the scenes in a museum is like…Getting to work with him has definitely been one of the highlights of my time at the Rose.”

At the Rose, Dawes said he and his fellow staff members have a “lot of freedom to experiment with the kind of exhibitions we do.”

“One of my favorite aspects is that we do unique exhibitions here and we have an international point of view,” he said. Having worked with past curators from around the world has helped Dawes to appreciate this international aspect of art. At the Rose, they often say they’re “looking to shake things up a bit and do something that’s exciting for both people coming in from Boston and elsewhere, but also the students themselves…[we’re] trying to push the edges of the envelope a little bit,” Dawes described.

Site-specific work, where artists are brought in and allowed to create in the museum itself, excites Dawes.

“That can be very challenging, but it can be very gratifying as well, so it’s fun to let them kind of take over the space and do what they want with it and get inspired by the actual architecture of the building,” he said.

Dawes recently experimented with painting Lotus flowers. Drawing his initial inspiration from the lotus flowers his wife, a landscape designer, planted in their water garden, Dawes “distilled those drawings down to their simplest forms.” Discussing his “idea of the natural order of things and the designed order of things,” Dawes pulls out his graduate school thesis titled “Natural Order and Designed Order: Seeking a Balance.” For his lotus paintings, he believes that paintings such as his lotus ones can “ebb and flow within the confines of space as they need to.”

“He really has a firm grasp on the history of the Rose’s ability to display art and also the community which utilizes the Rose Art Museum, and that experience enables him to take the history of the museum and directly transfer that into the present exhibition and know how to display the work,” Giordano said.

Of the past exhibits, Dawes said, “one of the most challenging, but one of my favorites was Barry McGee. He’s an artist [who’s] the real deal, it’s coming out of his pores 24/7 and it’s not a forced thing, it’s just a natural thing for him. He challenged us to do some extraordinary things.” The galleries during this exhibit boasted smoke machines and overturned trucks. “It was a cacophony of sound, it was amazing.”

Being in close proximity to some of the Rose’s prized pieces, Dawes is afforded the opportunity to delve deep into the symbolism behind the art. Of his favorite Decunning painting, Dawes “see[s] something different in it every time I look at it.”

The Rose, like art itself, is here at Brandeis for a reason: to be seen. The Rose is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

“The doors are open, please come,” Dawes said, adding “we love to have the students here.” Recently having visited for the first time, I must say I was quite impressed with the Rose’s exhibits, yet many students underutilize the Rose’s presence.

“I know when I was an art student, you often felt like people would look up at you and wonder why you were there, like ‘what are you doing in our gallery?’ That’s the sense that I got,” Dawes said. “And I just want people to know that there’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s just artwork. We’re here so that people can come in and enjoy the fabulous collection that Brandeis owns, so I would hope to encourage that.”