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As Kibel Gallery Turns 20, a Look Behind Exhibits That Inspired
Photos courtesy of the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
When empty, the serene space of whitewashed concrete and steel on the ground floor of the University of Maryland’s Architecture Building is a bright, blank canvas—but it’s rarely empty. Over the years, the Kibel Gallery has showcased world-renowned architects and emerging young talent; fostered conversations on topics like housing equity and memorials; and challenged visitors to ask questions and rethink past perceptions.
Twenty years ago last month, the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation rededicated the Architecture Building’s long-running exhibition gallery; funded by a gift from the family foundation of Charles Kibel M.Arch. ’90, the newly renovated space launched a fresh direction for the gallery’s programming through original installations and visiting exhibitions.
Under the leadership of Founding Director Professor Ronit Eisenbach, the Kibel Gallery—one of five galleries on the UMD campus—grew from a supporting role within the school into a leading character, advancing the school’s mission, building new partnerships and uniting different disciplines around the challenges, complexity and beauty of the built environment.
The Kibel has hosted over 60 exhibitions, many curated and designed by Eisenbach or co-designed with students and faculty, and all paired with lectures, gallery talks or symposia; roughly half highlighted the achievements of women and people of color. While MAPP is not the only design school to host a gallery, one aspect sets the Kibel Gallery apart: it’s open to the public.
While Eisenbach has designed shows for big names like mid-century designer Ruth Adler Schnee and original exhibits like last year’s Making the Holodomor Memorial: Context & Questions, above all, the gallery is for the students, whether as a learning laboratory, a place for quiet contemplation or a spark of inspiration.
“It’s the same space, but each exhibit we create looks and feels so radically different,” said Eisenbach, who stepped down as director in December. “We’re a school that thinks through making, and the Kibel Gallery is a special place to do that.”
On the Kibel Gallery’s 20th anniversary, Eisenbach looks back on five exhibitions that stand out:
“Places of Refuge: The Dresser Trunk Project” (2009): While the Kibel Gallery debuted dozens of original exhibitions over the years, it also featured traveling and borrowed ones. One was the “Dresser Trunk Project,” a multimedia show that depicted the stories, memories and places of refuge for Black travelers in a segregated South. Curated by architect and professor William Williams, the exhibit featured 11 “trunks” created by 10 young Black architects, each marking a different place of refuge along the Southern Crescent Railway Line, a major migration pathway North. “It challenged people to think more deeply about our built environment—who created it, who it is for, who it ignores,” Eisenbach said.
“Ruth Adler Schnee: A Passion for Color & Design” (2009): This MAPP-curated exhibition of Detroit-based textile designer and architect Ruth Adler Shnee (who died in January) was paired with a lecture by Schnee and an early screening of Terri Sarris and Eisenbach’s film, “The Radiant Sun: Designer Ruth Adler Schnee,” documenting her life and contributions to the mid-century modern movement. Jessica Green Quijano M.Arch ’08 spent three weeks scanning hundreds of Schnee’s sketches to share the iterative process of bringing a design to life. One of the gallery’s most popular exhibits, the show traveled to Venice’s Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo and helped catapult Schnee into the national spotlight.
“Lina Bo Bardi: To Teach Is to Construct” (2015): Born before World War II in Italy and later moving to Brazil to practice and teach, Bo Bardi was a successful graphic designer, architect and teacher despite the immense obstacles she faced in a male-dominated discipline. “No one on the faculty had ever heard of her, but she had designed groundbreaking buildings, objects and exhibits,” said Eisenbach. “When I was in school, architectural education just didn’t feature women architects.” The exhibit, curated and designed by Eisenbach, Russell Holstine M.Arch. ’16, Brazilian architect Denise Hochbaum and Professors Zeuler R. Lima and Cathrine Veikos, displayed Bardi’s treatise on architecture education—the first written by a woman—as well as a timeline of her prolific work and a series of floating displays of her often-whimsical drawings.
“MAPP at 50” (2018): By the end of the Kibel’s second decade, exhibitions began migrating beyond the confines of the gallery. Among them were “The Chamber,” a gigantic anechoic spherical capsule installed in the Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building atrium and “#nothingisordinary: photos by Cindy Frank” M.Arch. ’87, posted on the Architecture Building’s concrete columns. But it was the school’s 50th anniversary that prompted an exhibit that went beyond marking its past. The gallery team and Artistic Director of Dance Exchange Cassie Meador emblazoned 10 questioning statements on large fabric banners, a reflection of faculty, staff and students’ hopes and a charge for the next half-century.
“Sustenance and Sustainability: Sparking Dialogue, Shifting Culture” (2019): After a planned exhibit was unexpectedly canceled and faculty learned that students were feeling particularly stressed, Eisenbach, alongside clinical faculty Andrew Linn and Julie Gabrielli and gallery assistants Heather Summers M.Arch. ’19 and Eric Bos M.Arch. ’19, transformed the gallery into a refuge and an immersive teaching space about sustainability. Lin’s and Gabrielli’s classes were taught among individual cocoon hammocks hung from gallery trusses, with walls serving as whiteboards for iterative sketching and ideas around sustainability. “We realized we had people in different classrooms talking about these issues but had no idea what anyone else was saying,” Eisenbach said. “The idea was to position the gallery as a place not just for looking, but for collecting materials around a topic and activating conversations.”
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