Alumnus Cole Sternberg’s Artwork to Go on Display


Alumnus Cole Sternberg’s new exhibition is called “Thirsty while drowning.”

Katie Reed, News Columnist

On Thursday, Nov. 3, an event was held in the Villanova University Art Gallery to unveil a new, cross-campus art exhibition for the work of conceptual artist and alumnus Cole Sternberg, ’01 VSB. His work is geared toward issues of sustainability and how humans interact with the environment, which this exhibition exemplifies. It is titled “thirsty while drowning,” and according to a press release issued by the University, it “addresses the existential harm of humanity’s interdependence with the environment while simultaneously submitting to the inevitable and inescapable consequences of climate change.”

Sternberg was excited at the prospect of showcasing his work at his alma mater, especially given how much change he has noticed on campus since graduating. 

“It’s really rewarding and enjoyable to be back at Villanova and have old friends here to see how the school has grown,” Sternberg said. “When I went here, I didn’t even know the art gallery existed, so to see it get its own legs and start telling its own story is nice as well.”

Consequently, Sternberg wanted to make sure his work could resonate with students no matter where they were on campus, so his work is also being showcased in Bartley, Vasey and the Jake Nevin Field House. He worked with Jennie Castillo, Gallery Director and Curator of the University Art Collection, spending seven to eight hours walking around campus trying to decide how the pieces would come to life for community members. 

Castillo noted that there are 10,000 works of art in the University’s collection, with her day-to-day responsibilities involving organizing those pieces and setting up exhibitions. She emphasized the importance of trusting artists and staying true to their vision when working with them, prompting her to give Sternberg the freedom to set up the exhibition as he saw fit. 

“I think artists know their work better than I do,” Castillo said. “They have their own vision, and as long as they include me along the way, I trust them to do what they need [and want] to do.”

Regarding the exhibition itself, Sternberg’s process was unique, inspired by his travels on the maiden voyage of a shipping vessel across the Pacific Ocean. While at sea, he threw one of his finished paintings into the water and allowed it to be pulled across the waves by the ship’s motion. He mentioned that “pulling [the painting] out felt like a miracle,” and when his brush strokes were replaced by the patterns created by the water, “suddenly the environment was the composer of the work.”

“I always wanted to travel across the Pacific because that’s the longest crossing where, at the time, you wouldn’t have cell phone coverage for a couple of weeks, you wouldn’t see land, and you wouldn’t see another boat,” Sternberg added. “I wanted the trip to be a part of the process of the work.”

As he perfected his process, Sternberg got to experiment with layers, mixing watercolor and acrylic paint and the method of pulling the paintings behind the ship, thus allowing him to produce the different pieces for the exhibition. 

In addition to making his pieces aesthetically pleasing, Sternberg had larger goals for his work and showcasing it on campus.

“In general, I make these [paintings] to help push us forward and hopefully to inspire other people to make and do things,” Sternberg said. “With Villanova specifically, it’s for the students and exposing the students to artwork that they normally don’t see. I love Villanova, and I loved my time here, but we weren’t really exposed to that much contemporary art on campus.”

The event lasted from 4-6 p.m. and was open to all who wished to attend, so many students, faculty and alumni made their way across the gallery to look at each piece. Both Sternberg and Castillo were pleased with the turnout and the students who came in asking thoughtful questions. Castillo emphasized the importance of learning from artists like Sternberg, given how he graduated from the business school, studied and practiced law in D.C., then moved to L.A to eventually become an artist. 

“When I was in college, I felt a lot of pressure to decide what direction I should go in, and I had a feeling a lot of students feel that way,” Castillo said. “I thought it was important for the students to hear that you don’t always have to do what you went to school for, there’s so many different paths that fall into the areas we’re interested in.”

Sternberg also offered advice to Villanovans no matter what future career path they are on.

“The exposure to different kinds of thinking and visuals helps you grow in your own life and career at the same time,” Sternberg said. “My general advice is just to try to learn as much, see as much and travel as much as you can, and let that knowledge be reflected in your life.”

Sternberg and Castillo expressed their thanks to the Villanova community for its support of the exhibition, especially facilities, who helped set everything amid the Fall Fest preparations. Further, if any students are interested in learning more about the gallery or upcoming exhibitions, make sure to reach out to Castillo, and keep an eye out for Sternberg’s pieces all across campus.