Amy Galpin's office, perched over the entrance to the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the Rollins College campus, overflows with art, books and papers. High windows let in Florida's cloudy afternoon. "I'm so lucky," Galpin says about the office, which is reached by a tiny spiral stair. "This was Jeannette Genius McKean's art studio, and it still reeks of her creativity."
McKean, the Winter Park philanthropist, artist, Rollins trustee and founder of the Morse Museum, would approve of the current goings-on. From this office, Amy Galpin has put forth some of the most stimulating visual art experiences in the area – particularly in 2017, when she expanded her reach beyond CFAM. This fall, Galpin installed three exhibits in Orlando: Time and Thought: Art of the United States at the Mennello Museum; Steady Observation: The Intersection of Scientific Inquiry, Art, and Life, the inaugural show at the STEAM gallery inside the Orlando Science Center; and the Cornell's Time as Landscape: Inquiries of Art and Science.
"Overall, time is the theme," she says of the three shows. "I want the audience to take something meaningful away, but they are all united by a sense of time passing, whether an artist captures a few seconds or an era. ... Time forms a central part of human experience."
At the Mennello Museum, Galpin's scholarly presentation commented on histories of destruction and preservation. She paired Rocky Mountain School landscape artists Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, popular in the 1860s, with Robert Henri, a turn-of-the-century portraitist, and Ed Ruscha, progenitor of the West Coast Pop Art movement, to show how the focus of American art evolved over time. These achingly beautiful landscapes would, today, be cluttered with signage and development; they invoke a sense of time passing.
At the Orlando Science Center, her curation focused on a more intimate series of objects and images. Andy Goldsworthy photographed beach sand after shuffling his feet through it; the striking pattern was captured during its brief existence before wind and water swept it away. Galpin contrasted Goldsworthy with other artists who, she felt, were "drawn to obscurities and secrecies found and produced in diverse environments." Images in this exhibit, like artist Trevor Paglen's "The Last Pictures (The Narbona Panel; Humans Seen Through a Predator Drone)" reveal a few terrible seconds of cold secrecy in our unreal times.
Finally, back in her home space at Rollins, Galpin's triumph this fall was the exhibit Time as Landscape, which she co-curated with Abigail Ross Goodman. Time flows through this exhibit, eddying and pooling in corners. I stared at Tomas Saraceno's "Hybrid Dark ..." a spider's tiny architecture floating in space, for a full 15 minutes; but rushed past Yinka Shonibare's "The American Library Collection (Historians)" only to wish I had spent more time lovingly reading the authors' names imprinted on colorful African textiles, contemplating Galpin's thoughts on how the artwork testifies to the power of the written word.
Besides working on shows year-round at CFAM, Galpin leads tours of the parts of CFAM's art collection hanging at the nearby Alfond Inn. While this kind of schedule would be debilitating to anyone else, Galpin clearly thrives on a feast of art. A New Jersey native, she came to Rollins from the San Diego Museum of Art. She earned a master's degree in Latin American Studies while in San Diego, and she had an eye on neighboring Tijuana while curating exhibits there. In between stints in San Diego, she finished her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois-Chicago, focusing on Mexican muralists. This powerful narrative art form led her to unusual corners of Mexico, developing her eye for the narrative of this rich and unique culture told through its art.
"I am inspired by Ena Heller," Galpin says, referring to the Cornell's Director. As the region's only teaching museum, Heller's oversight integrates the museum's continuum of art from history. Galpin takes the case of contemporary art, with both of them agreeing that the contemporary artist must be an agent of change.
Galpin brought a much-needed new vision to Central Florida when she arrived in 2013, curating shows with political threads such as 2016's Displacement and 2015's Fractured Narratives. In particular, her 2015 Cornell exhibit Jess T. Dugan – Every Breath We Drew broke barriers. With this show exploring transgender identity, Galpin embodied on Rollins' sometimes-conservative campus a deeper niche of acceptance, tolerance and diversity.
Having come to CFAM from the San Diego Museum of Art, Galpin sees some similarities between the two cities. "Orlando and San Diego are distinctive places that both accentuate tourism," she observes. This does not mean we have to avoid what is happening in the rest of the world; more now than ever, it comes to us. By presenting the work of artists who are documenting current events, Galpin helps us students and viewers engage in the questions of the day.
"I want many audiences to be welcome," she says about her shows, "but I also refuse to ignore what is happening all around me." A new exhibit, Ruptures and Remnants, will bring her critical eye to the Cornell Museum's permanent collection in January, and later in 2018 she will present work by significant and timely artists: Jamilah Sabur, Trong Gia Nguyen and the photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. Galpin's influence on the Central Florida art scene is already strong, and getting stronger. Finding the right tone, and asking the right questions, she brings us work that needs to be seen in order to help us make sense of our rapidly changing times.