Cooper Union College is hosting its annual exhibition May 22 – June 10, showcasing a year’s worth of work from art, architecture and engineering students. The work fills a total of 10 floors divided between the Foundation Building on 7 East 7th Street and 41 Cooper Square across the street. Admission is free.
The show has earned high praise from professors and critics, with some calling it the best collection of work in over a decade. One student described the excellent response, saying, “I shook so many hands I thought about buying hand sanitizer.”
Cooper Union is among the nation’s most elite colleges with only 900 students and an acceptance rate of 13%. The historic school was formed in 1859 after the construction of the Foundation Building. At the time, the Foundation Building was the tallest structure in Lower Manhattan, and it soon became an epicenter for intellectuals, inventors and political thinkers. Over the years, it’s great hall has been a meeting place for the NAACP, women’s suffrage movement and the Red Cross.
Notable Cooper alumni include Daniel Libeskind, architect of the Freedom Tower, Bob Kane, creator of Batman, and Thomas Edison. It makes the exhibitions especially noteworthy when you consider that among contributing students are the minds that will shape the next generation of art and design: the models on display today may well be tomorrow’s skyscrapers.
Cooper Union offers majors in Art, Engineering and Architecture, but students can take classes in any program they like. This is a crucial part of what makes the Cooper Union exhibition more unique and elaborate than any other show in the city. Below, architecture student Arsalan Afshar used both graphic design and architectural modeling to design buildings that let more sunlight into the street. His dual talents in art and architecture enable him to express the idea in a piece that is both soulful and precise.
Chris Coryat’s work Face to Face Toilets is an example of combining disciplines to create novel artwork. The piece includes two working toilets in a room on wheels. When the Dean of Architecture saw the piece, he was surprised that an art student had made it.
The diverse array of artwork includes painting, sculpture, print making, photos, videos and more. A class that had focused on sound editing played transitory recordings through a pair of headphones on display. Another student created her own one of a kind alphabet after studying calligraphy.
in 41 Cooper Square, Engineers have their inventions on display. Among the standouts is a text to braille translator, a market stand that connects to a bike, and a race car.
Christopher Coryat, a featured artist and assistant exhibition coordinator, described this year’s show as “stronger and more varied than in the past,” and attributed its success to the sheer volume of work that was submitted. Curators had more options to choose from than in previous shows and their selections stressed the individuality of each artist while still taking into account placement and the way neighboring pieces interact.
Most of the Cooper Union art students have had their work accepted into the larger group portions of the show, but this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what students produce. Coryat estimates that he only shows about 5% of his work, “There are 175 painting behind my couch that won’t see the light of day.”
The prints below by artist Michael Prisco contain seven layers of color and were selected from hundreds of similarly themed pieces. A single print can take weeks and cost over $50 to produce.
The huge quantity of work elevates the meaning of what is on display. Coryat explains that art is “more of an understanding of a process and an idea and not just I’m going to make a painting.”
Coryat’s own copper plates (seen below) are a prime example of this. Traditionally, copper plates are used as a tool to make prints and not displayed as art. Coryat said, “I’m tired of making an image through a process and the thing I made to make the image is more gratifying than the product.”
Below are photos of some of my favorite pieces. See the exhibition for yourself before it closes on June 10th.