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Behind Composing A City 

Exhibit Description

Composing a City consists of selected pieces from the Teachers College Archive. These pieces taken from the Dow, Ziegfeld, and Frederico Castellon collections, depict scenes of urban life.


Composing A City developed from the simple task of finding a theme amongst three different collections,  Federico Castellon, Ziegfeld, and Dow Collections from Teachers College’s (TC) Art Archive. This task require sifting through about 300 works of art to find a theme for the Offit Gallery for the summer.


We digitally sifted through the collections on Pocket Knowledge and created about four quick theme ideas prior to physically going through the archives. Most of the theme ideas involved celebrating Professor Arthur Dow’s, a former professor of the Arts Department at TC.

Arthur Dow’s is best known for his theory of composition where finding harmony requires balancing line, mass, and color , highlighted in his book Composition. The artworks were organized per wall based on color, artistic style, and themes. His theory of composition was celebrated through a collection of his students’ artwork at Teacher College from 1914 to 1916.


After physically going to the archives, it was realized only certain pieces were framed for the Dow collection, requiring us to go back to developing a theme that would work with framed selected artworks.

The process of developing the theme required sifting through the three collections twice. After sifting through a second time, we realized that we could still apply Dow’s compositional theory of harmony with the selected artworks.

After going through each collection two times, there was a commonality of various landscapes and city life across the collections. Once the theme of landscapes and city life emerged, we went through the collections a third time to take pictures of all artworks that fit under the theme. The selected works that fit theme was scanned a few times to make a cohesive final selection and then the exhibit was digitally arranged per wall.

Entrance Wall Contrast

The first two works show the physical and representational layers that develop culture (reality) for a society and composition (art practice) for a landscape. They were chosen for the entrance based on mass, color, and character. The first two were balanced in finding harmony by using a monochrome artwork contrasting it with a eye catching  yellow.

Wall 1

The first wall was organized based on color and people being included in the composition. The wall explores the different perspectives people can exist within a urban space, or community,  from traditional, futuristic, market, and leisure viewpoints.

Wall 2

Often when thinking about movement we think about people doing or creating, but what about how movement adds to the spaces of habitation. The second wall balances different tones of color landscapes with the sky. All of the artworks include a sky that adds to the character of the composition.There are different interpretations of a sky within a landscape including tropical, industrial, and rural, iterations of landscapes and environments of habitation. Ways of living can include tropical, cluttered, spacious, or simple.   Also, most of artworks contain a sweeping motion alluding to wind and movement in the sky.

Wall 3

The third wall includes vegetation and nature, involving artworks that show vegetation as either isolated, spread out, or cohabited with animals.  Artistically, the compositional balance occurred with balancing black and white, variations of green with negative space, and colorful geometric abstractions with recognizable shapes.

Wall 4

The fourth wall addresses desert landscapes depicting landscapes of the earth  (rock, clay, or dust) and the impact of process ( human and natural) over time (clay homes or sedimentary rocks). Also the color is limited on this wall mostly consisting of a spectrum of off whites to browns. Other colors were used to balance the artwork and center the eye.  

Engagement Activity 

To make the exhibit more engaging we included a process for people to sift through the images as well to find the artwork that was most harmonious to the viewer. People are able to take a sticker and place it under the artwork(s) they choose.


The engagement activity remained simple due to the short period of working time. Althgouth simple, the activity can be considered impactful because it gives a physical representation of subjectivity when looking art and thinking about  harmony. The activity also requires people to engage with most to all of the works because they have to choose their favorite out of the selected 16 artworks.

Developing Design Theme

All of the exhibit content contains bars/lines to the design, addressing the multiple layers often used to build a landscape or build a culture and a community. Also, the lines symbolize  how urban cities often exist on a grid of some sort.


This process brought out  the importance of organization, looking more than once, and finding harmony amongst things that are loosely connected. Line, mass, and color were also qualities that were important in Composing A City exhibit. Also, as artists translating what I see into design was important. For example understanding how a landscape is composed across art mediums was important when developing the design theme for the exhibition.


Also, the data that would be collected over the summer about which artworks were the most harmonious to people will also provides quantitative data about who was on the third floor and what their perception of harmony and style entail. This data could inform another project or it could built upon.


The observation of  impact is ongoing but while installing, and after, people have stopped to digest the images and ask questions about the work. In addition to people’s interest, the collaborative effort of others engaging may provoke those less likely to engage to contribute too. It seems that it makes someone's trip to the third floor bathrooms a quest to operationalize harmony for themselves. And that short quest may inform them of what type of space, or artistic style, is conducive to maintaining harmony within the physical and metaphorical layers of a city.

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