Exploring The Art Gallery with Jennie Castillo

Frank Stella, Had Gadya: Back Cover, 1984 painting in the Connelly Center.

Courtesy of Bailey Quinn

Frank Stella, Had Gadya: Back Cover, 1984 painting in the Connelly Center.

Bailey Quinn, Staff Writer

The gallery on the second floor of the Connelly Center has the energy of a hidden gem in plain sight. The rousing energy of the main seating areas outside and Belle Air Terrace is softened to a dull roar the moment I enter and shake the hand of the brand new Curator of the University Art Collection and Art Director, Jennie Castillo. We are standing in the current show entitled “Modern Masters,”which consists of “Everything [Castillo] enjoyed finding so far in storage that fits into that realm.” While she did not have an opening reception for the current show, Castillo says she wanted to start quickly and give the students something to see from Day one of the Fall 2021 semester.

Castillo is relatively new to campus as of July 2021 and has been filled with ideas and goals since she joined the Villanova community this past summer. She is a graduate of the State University of New York-New Paltz (SUNY – New Paltz) with a B.S. in Art History, and her Masters from the City University of New York – Queens College (CUNY – Queens College) is focused on 17th-century Dutch pendant portraiture. She also has previous curator experience, as an Art Gallery Director in Manhattan, NY, with  a lot of the work featured there being post-war Abstract Expressionism, a very popular area of work. Castillo says that the current show pulls inspiration from the “New York art scene” she left behind. She is hoping to pull some artwork from the galleries in which she worked in New York to have on display in the shows here at Villanova, in addition to pieces created by Villanova alumni and other artists. 

According to Castillo, Villanova has around 10,000 works of art, with pieces in a large variety of locations, including in storage, campus offices, professor’s offices, the Villanova Inn and the Gallery itself. Castillo is in charge of curating works for all of these spaces, even for personal offices on campus, making sure everyone enjoys and draws inspiration from the available pieces to their liking.

Castillo has been absolutely thrilled to dive into the works and is beyond excited for the aspirations she has in store, with visiting artists and collections being a large source of enthusiasm. For instance, in the spring for Easter and St. On Patrick’s Day, Castillo is planning partnerships with departments such as the Irish Studies program, in which an Irish chalice from the Pre-Reformation era will be on display in the gallery. She is also working with the Art History department in formulating new potential coursework and opportunities to interact with the Art Gallery, finding ways to encourage Art History students to explore the pieces available to them.

In regards to visiting artists and their work, Castillo advocates that one of her guiding principles in curating collections with artists is giving, “artistic license,” and “trusting artists to do what they do.” Some artists she is considering for future installations are planning to spread out the installation beyond the gallery, incorporating some of their pieces into outdoor installations on Villanova’s campus, posing as “easter eggs” to lead anyone who happens across them to the gallery. 

As for her plans for the gallery within the Connelly Center, she wants to bring the space to life. Her goals include updating the walls and bringing in new shows, collections and artists. Castillo truly wants this space to be as welcoming to students as possible. When asked what students should know about the gallery space, Castillo responded, “I really just want to get the students in the door… I want to make this space, not like if you bring in a bottle of water and you spill it you’re in a lot of trouble… I just want to make it feel very accessible.” 

Castillo encourages students to come, sit and find some solitude in the space, whether it be to work in an oasis of bright colors and inspiration or to come out of the shadows of fall break for some peace and quiet in the company of Frank Stella, Earl Miller and Matta. She has heard from many students who have apparently “never seen the gallery,” (myself included), which according to her, “just breaks her heart.” She also hopes for faculty and staff to take advantage of the space for solace as well.

When asked what students should know about the gallery space, Castillo responded, “For me this job is very much appealing to the students and getting them to be more involved and being here for [the students] is my big thing… bringing in the community, the outside community.” 

She hopes to be able to incorporate students into the research process of curating the space in the future, offering them the ability to maneuver and navigate the Art World and all that it has to offer them. Above all, Castillo hopes students will take advantage of the space within the Art Gallery to relax, study, take in the solace and ambience of students coming and going in the background and the quiet companionship of the “Modern Masters”covering the walls in all their tangible brilliance and excitement for whatever comes next.

For more information and upcoming events, check out the newly created Villanova Art Gallery Instagram page, @villanovaartgallery.