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The Art of Display at Santa Monica College Gallery

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By Lookout Staff

December 1, 2021 -- Two artists have turned window display cases into mini art exhibitions as part of the Santa Monica College (SMC) Pete & Susan Barrett Art Gallery's efforts to expand art beyond its walls.

Artists Cole M. James and Michelle Carla Handel were invited to initiate the "Barrett Boxes" located in the Art Complex on the main SMC campus.

Mini exhibition by Michelle Carla Handel
Mini exhibition by Michelle Carla Handel (Images courtesy SMC Pete & Susan Barrett Art Gallery)

The works -- which will be on display through January -- were conceived to "question our relationship to what is a vitrine?" said Emily Silver, SMC Professor and the gallery's co-director.

"How do we look at work? How close can we get to the work? And ultimately, what experience are we dictating to a viewer?

"Typically, these vitrines have housed objects with inherent distance through glass panes, begging the viewer to stop, gaze through, and have a singular, yet collaborative, collective view of works so carefully and 'safely' displayed," Silver said.

James and Handel "have taken vastly different approaches to create a new relationship between object, performance, display, and the gaze," Silver added.

An interdisciplinary artist, James' work uses both figurative and abstract images, sound, and scent to amplify the subtle ways perception can collapse and expand time.

"Cross Dimensional Travel," a photomontage by Cole M. James
"Cross Dimensional Travel," a photomontage by Cole M. James

“I make work as a negotiator, navigating the African Diaspora, circling the expanse of queerness, and traversing through womanhood," said James, who is a racial equity and climate justice activist.

"I am interested in the intersections between digital production and the analog collecting of lived experiences."

Handel, who lives and works in Los Angeles, creates unusual sculptures that have been exhibited at numerous venues, including Five Car Garage in Santa Monica, which recently hosted a solo show.

"I consider my sculptures to be curious, but unsolvable arrangements where there is room for the viewer to be an active participant," Handel said.

"I look for material ways to describe extra verbal understanding and the way our minds process the world around us."

Silver said both artists "have taken vastly different approaches to create a new relationship between object, performance, display, and the gaze.

"They shift the role of a vitrine, and ask you to take in the entire structure, moving your body and gaze in, around, and under," Silver said.

Additional details about the artists, along with complete artists' statements, are posted online at the "Barrett Boxes" link at

The Barrett Boxes will present new installations throughout the year. More information is available by calling 310-434-3434.

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