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Sight Specific

Students study in room with art on walls, photo shot from outside window into room

(Photo: Jeff Watts)

On a wall of the main staircase, lyrical, earth-toned abstractions by American art master Robert Mangold softly glow. Across the way, the exuberant, hard-edged colors of two works by Sol LeWitt introduce a very different aspect of abstraction. This calculated contrast in mood and method is repeated throughout the corridors and larger spaces, where pieces by artists already in the art history books hang with compelling work unfamiliar to all but hard-core art lovers.

As in most small contemporary museums, the art gives an overview of postwar schools and styles: conceptual, mystical, minimalist. Pop and Op. Neo-Expressionist, abstract impressionist, figurative, even digital-experimental. The range of artists represented is also broad: art world “names,” emerging talent, and the accomplished but lesser-known — drawn from the United States, Germany, Japan, Israel, Britain, Spain, and France.

But this collection doesn’t hang in an art institution. Rather, it animates the classrooms, corridors, and other public spaces of the newly expanded Kogod School of Business.

Only a half dozen other business or professional schools — including Harvard, Columbia, and the London School of Economics — can boast their own art collections. Most of these have been selected by committee or accrued over time, thanks to gifts and bequests. Often they’re confined to small galleries within the school building, sequestered from students’ daily lives.

In contrast, the nearly 200 pieces hanging in the Kogod School of Business are the gift of Robert Kogod, Kogod/BS ’62, and his wife, Arlene.

The Kogods’ roots run deep in real estate — she is the daughter of the late Charles E. Smith, founder of the Charles E. Smith real estate empire, and sister of the late Robert H. Smith. A few years after their marriage, Kogod, who was already a developer, joined the Smith family companies and with brother-in-law Robert led the development of Crystal City in northern Virginia, just across the river from D.C. Formerly co-chairman and co-CEO for Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty and Charles E Smith Residential Realty, Kogod is the president of Charles E. Smith Management, a private investment firm, and also serves on the Board of Trustees of Vornado Realty Trust, listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

The couple’s generosity is well known in philanthropic circles, especially those concerned with the creative and performing arts. “Arlene and I realized after we first married that what we put on the floor or the wall mattered,” Kogod recalls, discussing the origin of their interest in the arts, which he credits with being not just educational but “expanding our personal lives.” Reflecting this conviction that fine art exerts a life-enhancing influence, the Kogod school collection is the outgrowth of the couple’s decades-long passion for visual art, and an equally strong commitment to the AU community and the business school that bears their name.


The Birth of a Collection ( Phase One)
The Kogod art program got underway in 2000, a year after the school moved to its present location. The building, previously home to the Washington School of Law, had undergone a complete renovation at the time of the move. While this updated the 60s-era structure, it did little to alleviate the institutional feel of the building.

But where some saw long, empty halls and blank walls, Kogod recognized an opportunity. “Two branches of the path — my interest in art and in the business school — came together,” he says. He saw introducing art into the school as a way to stimulate awareness of, and interest in, other areas, including morality, philosophy, and culture. Business students “are living in a wider world,” he explains. “You should be aware of wider aspects.”

The adage that “every journey begins with a single step” was literally true in the Kogod collection’s case, involving a walk-through of the building with floor plans in hand. According to Stephanie Rachum, former senior curator of modern art at the Israel Museum, who has advised and collaborated with the Kogods on their art initiatives for more than 20 years, “We looked at all the spaces on all the floors,” identifying areas where art could be hung and highlighting them on the plans. She and Robert Kogod paid special attention to focal points such as high walls and open spaces, and to areas outside the classrooms where students congregate.

With a firsthand understanding of the building’s spatial challenges and virtues, Kogod turned his attention to the kind of art that would work best for the audience and the space. “I wanted to appeal to a younger audience and expose students to the highest-quality works possible, by some of the best modern and contemporary artists,” he says. The way to accomplish this within the budget, he decided, was to build a collection of limited edition prints.

Conversations about Robert Kogod with those who have worked with him often touch on his extraordinary grasp of the big picture and the smallest details, his ability to assess the current situation and see long-term implications. These strengths served him well when it came to building this collection. Clear about their mission, in early 2000, Kogod and Rachum made the rounds of Washington galleries and a well-known local print workshop, but soon realized that the available selection would not meet their needs. They decided to expand the search to New York galleries known internationally for their fine-art print expertise. The resulting extensive array of possibilities was whittled down. Kogod negotiated the purchase of their final choices, and he and Rachum oversaw the framing of the 86 prints in this original gift.

Then came the installation process, which was anything but cut and dried. Although Kogod and Rachum approached the task with definite ideas about what should go where, new options emerged when they were on-site and could see how pieces interacted visually. Some ideas became satisfying realities: for example, hanging the Mangold prints high on the stairway wall created the strong visual anchor that they had imagined. “Other installations required repeated attempts at various combinations until we felt that they looked right,” Rachum remembers.

Kogod also felt strongly that art installed in the classrooms should not take away from the “real business” of educating students. “That’s why the pieces are only installed along the back and the periphery,” he explains. “They’re not there to compete.”

Positive comments from students and faculty soon proved the rightness of Kogod’s vision. The art was enlivening spaces and providing a cultural backdrop to the usual routine of classes, study, and just hanging out. There’s no doubt that the collection made a powerful impression in 2005 on one candidate for the dean’s position. “When I came here to interview in 2005 and saw the art I was just blown away. It was phenomenal,” Robert and Arlene Kogod Dean Richard Durand remembers.

Back by Popular Demand (Phase Two)
Despite its 1999 renovation, the new Kogod building soon proved inadequate for the business school’s needs. Many classes still were held in a number of different buildings. An empty theater-in-the-round next door beckoned. Plans began for an expansion that, while retaining the theater’s footprint, would more than double the size of the school.

In 2003 Robert and Arlene Kogod again stepped forward to provide a new naming gift that became key to the success of the project’s capital campaign. (In fact, the 20,000 sq. ft. expansion, completed in 2009, became the first campus building project funded entirely by donations.)

Dean Durand recalls that as construction progressed, many were quietly hopeful that the Kogods might extend the art program into the new building. This hope was answered when, after a construction walk-through, Kogod told Durand that he would like to expand the collection, using the art as an additional way to unite the old and new spaces. “We all were thrilled yet again by his generosity,” Durand says.


New Spaces, New Challenges
For the art program’s second phase, Robert Kogod increased the emphasis on younger generations of artists, such as Jennifer Bartlett and Jonathan Borofsky, and sought out more local and emerging artists. He and Rachum also revisited the existing collection to determine if anything needed “filling in.”

The final selection of 110 new works more than doubled the collection’s size. It also brought new installation challenges. The old building presented few dramatic spaces. But the expanded Kogod school is a place of many transitions: old building into new, upper level to lower, corridor to classroom and break-out room. Forceful pieces were needed to help navigate those transitions and stand up to the larger scale.

This task of transitioning is achieved by some of the collection’s most striking new work. For example, in a small, sunlit passage leading from the old space to the new, the moody blue layers of Malcolm Morley’s myth-inspired Black Rainbow Over Oedipus at Thebes II create a strong exchange with the ironic visual twists of Sigmar Polke’s Presvergleich.

Elsewhere, staircases lead to walls hung with huge Holocaust-haunted prints by Moshe Kupferman and an eerie (and enormous) woodcut by Richard Bosman of a canoe empty and adrift. Other stairs pass by Elizabeth Murray’s brilliantly hued, cartoon-wacky images, and witty, Pop-provocative pieces by Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg. To find work by these renowned artists gracing a stairwell demonstrates how intensely Kogod wanted to surround students with art.

In the new building proper, William Steiger’s images of solitary structures create a minimalist yet mysterious transition to the new Career Center. The center’s reception area pairs three Dan Flavin aquatints, with glowing colors that recall his better-known fluorescent light installations, with three yellow and white woodcuts by Daniel Buren that continue his trademark exploration of the stripe. In the lounge outside, students and recruiters hold discussions whose intensity is echoed by the suite of Gunther Forg etchings on the walls.

And there’s more. Much more.

Equally challenging was the tight time frame for hanging the new work and relocating some of the old. “We had just 48 hours last spring to install 116 pieces,” says Lara Kline, Kogod’s assistant dean of marketing and strategy, and the collection’s unofficial guardian “on the ground” at AU. To prepare for this feat, Kline moved dollhouse-sized images of the prints around a miniature blueprint of the floor plan, experimenting with different configurations. Then, in a move worthy of Extreme Makeover, the building was shut down for a weekend, its doors and windows taped. Volunteers provided extra security as the framed art was distributed throughout the new spaces. “We were working on pure adrenaline,” Kline says, “but it was so worth it, to see the art come together and claim the space.”

As with Phase One, Kogod had the final decision on what should go where. In the process, he solved a number of installation issues, including how to activate and anchor a wall at the end of a long corridor connecting the new and old buildings. The shadowy landscape by April Gornik that originally held the spot was now virtually indistinguishable at a distance. A large Susan Goldman etching of three Roman amphora had the opposite problem: in the corridor’s close quarters, viewers could not stand back far enough to appreciate its impact. Kogod suggested that the two switch places, and suddenly, everything worked. In its new location on the corridor wall, the Gornik rewards up-close scrutiny, while Goldman’s green and gold amphora glow alluringly at the end of the hall.

“The question is,” says Kogod, reflecting on the collection’s ultimate impact, “students are surrounded by art—will that give them a wider frame of reference?” While the answer may not be evident until years after graduation, students clearly appreciate the school’s unique visual environment. “One of the first things we heard after the new building opened was ‘when are we going to get more art?’” Kline says.

Individual pieces have even received the Twitter treatment: “So there is an original Baldessari in Kogod,” went a recent tweet from SOC senior Jeff Mindell about a print by California artist John Baldessari that hangs at the bottom of the staircase leading to the student lounge. “Glad to see it got prime placement,” replied his business fraternity brother and roommate, Kogod junior Kayden Horwitz. Each recognized the image from their separate visits to the Baldessari retrospective, Pure Beauty, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this past summer.

Mindell and Horwitz agree that the collection gets noticed. “Students are generally aware of the art in the building,” says Mindell. “I hear comments about different pieces all the time.” Horwitz characterizes the art more as a backdrop to their everyday lives than something that insists on getting attention, “although it definitely makes the building nicer.”

And on the roommates’ wish list? A program about the collection, so that students could connect even more to individual pieces — something that surely would please the Kogods, inspired as it is by their gift of art.

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A book and Web project are in development.

Lee Fleming is a Washington writer whose articles have appeared in the Washington Post, ARTnews, Discovery, Washingtonian, and the European.