Now/Then: A Journey in Collecting Contemporary Art at Wake Forest University

Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing Gallery

A collection of contemporary art developed entirely by students seems at first like a radical idea. But this concept, hatched in 1962 by students and faculty at Wake Forest University, led to the formation of a significant and wide-ranging collection that captures the important trends and developments in contemporary art over the last half-century.

Every four years since 1963, a small group of Wake Forest students has visited New York to purchase art. Supervised by an art department faculty member, the students spend several months prior to the trip researching the contemporary American art scene. In New York, they visit galleries and studios and devote hours to debating the merits of the pieces under consideration. Then they make their selections. The result is the Wake Forest University Student Union Collection of Contemporary Art. Now the University’s premier collection, numbering over 150 pieces by over one hundred different artists, the collection includes paintings, prints, drawings, photography, and sculpture by such notable artists as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Alex Katz, Milton Avery, Kiki Smith, Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Ellsworth Kelly, Adolph Gottlieb, Ben Shahn, Richard Diebenkorn, Collier Schorr, and Do-Ho Suh.

Now/Then showcases the breadth and importance of the Student Union Collection by presenting four different models of organizing a collection:  “Collecting Names,” highlighting the best-known artists in the collection; “Collecting Styles,” examining the tension between abstract and representational art since the 1960s; “Collecting History,” focusing on the 1969 buying trip; and “Collecting Stories,” documenting the memories of the student collectors.

Now/Then is co-curated by Allison Slaby, Reynolda House Managing Curator, and Jay Curley, Wake Forest University Assistant Professor of Art.

The Student Union Collection of Contemporary Art is one of several University art collections. Learn more by visiting the University Art Collections website.


Reynolda House received support for this exhibition from lead sponsor, Excalibur Enterprises, Inc., in honor and memory of Mark H. Reece (’49), founder of the Student Union Collection of Contemporary Art. 

Additional support received from exhibition partners Nenetta, Steve and Stephen (’05) Tatum; and Wachovia Bank, a Wells Fargo Company.