"Dead Ringer" Exhibit is a True Collaboration

RWU alumni, faculty, visiting artists, and others combined their talents to create the Bristol Art Museum's compelling installation that encourages viewers to take a closer look.

People discussing art in exhibit.
Julia Rubin

BRISTOL, R.I. – Take a quick stroll through the Bristol Art Museum’s Dead Ringer exhibit and you might think it’s simply a collection of beautiful art – paintings of jewel-toned flowers by former RWU Professor of Art Joy Garnett, ocean-themed glass sculptures by RWU visiting artist Shari Mendelson and a collection of peach-colored garments made from textured fabric by RWU visiting artist Anna McNeary.  

But look more closely and you’ll see those flowers are not flowers – they are patterns from military explosions. The vases are not made of glass, but discarded plastic. Those pretty clothes on the rack are printed with tiny repeated lines of text, like “my pleasure” and “it’s nothing.” 

Garments with printed text hanging on rack.
In this interactive piece by Anna McNeary, visitors can dress themselves in these garments. 

The exhibit, partially funded by the RWU School of Humanities, Arts, and Education, was named Dead Ringer to express that things are not always as they appear to be. 

“Things are much more complex if you take the time to look more deeply,” said RWU Professor of Visual Arts Elizabeth Duffy.

As curator of this exhibit and others, both on and off-campus, Duffy brings this message and her artistic expertise to the classroom.  

“I look at art all the time,” she said “I’m passionate about it and I’ve done that for thirty years. So I’m going to see things very differently than a student who is just being introduced to something. I like figuring out – how do I communicate to [my students] how incredibly interesting this is? That’s one of the reasons I love teaching and curating.” 

People looking at art in exhibit.
Traci Williams `17 (MA) and Professor of Art Elizabeth Duffy discuss artist Shari Mendelson's pieces. 

Having the insight of a professional artist and curator not only promotes critical thinking inside the classroom, but also gives students and alumni unique opportunities to apply their knowledge. 

Take Visual Arts and Architecture alum Yoel Langonas `19, co-curator of Dead Ringer.  Langonas, having just installed his own senior art show in the same space, helped gather the pieces and arrange them to make an even more compelling statement.   

“I try to decipher what the work is addressing, how it relates to other work and how it relates to the space,” said Langonas. “I studied architecture so I have an understanding of how space connects to the art and the audience. It was great working with [Duffy] because she’s a professional and she’s already done this.” 

Putting together such a meaningful show would not have been possible without networking and collaboration amongst RWU faculty, former faculty, visiting artists, and alumni.

People dress in costume, as part of interactive art piece.
Williams, Duffy, and Langonas try out McNeary's interactive, collaborative art piece. 

Traci Williams, who received her Master’s in Art and Architectural History at RWU in 2017 is now the Bristol Art Museum Administrator. She has kept the museum’s connection with RWU going strong, putting together the school’s Visual Arts show two years in a row, hosting Duffy for an artist talk, and now helping to make Dead Ringer a success. 

Williams never could have predicted how large of a role Roger would play in her life after graduation. 

“This is a really good reminder how important it is to have that in-person networking,” said Williams.  “We had been working together for a long time before it built up to this. It’s interesting to see how one opportunity begets another and, really, the importance of collaboration. It was nice to keep finding resources in RWU after I left.” 

With their combined skills and experiences and their ability to work together, Duffy, Langonas, Williams and the talented artists involved, created an impactful show that has sparked conversation around themes like war, climate change, homophobia, and sexism. 

“As artists, we’re always responding to something,” said Langonas. “So, in a sense, we’re responding to conversations people didn’t want to have. The art has a physical presence and is not something you can just push away.” 

Dead Ringer will be at the Bristol Art Museum until Saturday July 14th.