March of Miniatures exhibition enters realm of virtual reality

By Noah Jennings, Staff Reporter

The March of Miniatures exhibition through ShopColumbia allows viewers to place themselves in a virtual universe. Screenshot/Noah Jennings

Visiting art exhibitions has proven difficult during the pandemic. But when it comes to ShopColumbia’s latest exhibition, visitors can walk around the gallery freely from the comfort of their own home, and the commute is reduced to simply opening an app.

ShopColumbia’s annual March of Miniatures exhibition is back with a twist as viewers can now roam the halls of artwork virtually.

“We learned what worked [and] what didn’t work, and I’m excited at this new process with uploading and being able to virtually go through a gallery,” said Tracey Drobot Brouwer, operations coordinator at ShopColumbia.

The exhibition is an opportunity for current Columbia students, alumni, faculty and staff to showcase and sell prints of their work. The only requirement is that the submitted work be 8-by-8 inches or smaller.

The exhibition runs through March 31, and 8-by-8 inch prints and 3-by-3 inch stickers of all the art featured can be purchased on ShopColumbia’s website.

Immediately upon entering the virtual world, the viewer is placed in front of a 3D-rendered building and is guided to walk through the automatic sliding glass door into the exhibition.

From there, the viewer can decide to take a guided tour that gives information about the artist behind each piece, or roam freely around the exhibition.

The exhibition features 36 artists, including junior illustration major Jamar Etienne, who contributed cartoons “Agaricus Muscarius” and “Hygrophoropsis Aurantica.” Etienne said he enjoys the virtual reality component for students who prefer not to speak in front of people about their work.

“It’s easier to just upload it to a website and forget about it and maybe get into a show,” Etienne said.

Drobot Brouwer started using virtual reality for ShopColumbia exhibitions beginning with Manifest in May 2020. She is considering keeping the virtual exhibit around even in a post-pandemic world so friends and family of artists not living in Chicago can experience visiting the exhibition.

In previous years, artists were expected to cover the costs of printing their work. But because the exhibition is completely digital this year, Drobot Brouwer said she decided to cover those costs.

“For this, we wanted to do a little something extra for our artists, because I knew we weren’t going to be able to have a physical exhibition,” Drobot Brouwer said. “What we wanted to offer is that the shop would take the cost of printing digital prints of all of the accepted works as part of the exhibition … but the artists still receive their consignment rate.”

Columbia students, alumni, faculty and staff have the opportunity to showcase their art in a gallery setting, although virtually. Screenshot/Noah Jennings 

Nik Brecht, a junior illustration major, who has his portraits “Aphrodite” and “Apollo” on display, said he hopes viewers can walk away from the exhibition recognizing the level of work artists dedicated to their pieces.

“Hopefully [viewers have] an appreciation for how hard it is to really put on something like this in a pandemic, because we’ve never had to necessarily do this before,” Brecht said. “And the fact that it all kind of pulled through and [we] still made it happen is pretty awesome if you ask me.”

Drobot Brouwer said the variety of the art included in the exhibition is what stood out to her the most.

“I’m continuously impressed by Columbia students,” Drobot Brouwer said. “I do feel we have some really talented artists. And if you go through the exhibition, you can really see the variety of subject matter, color palette [and] technique used in all of the submissions in the exhibition.”

The vast variety of work can be seen through pieces from Brecht and Etienne. Brecht’s portraits of Greek gods showcase Aphrodite and Apollo with a “dream-like aesthetic,” while Etienne’s cartoons aim to make the viewer laugh at the world around them, specifically with anthropomorphic, smiling mushrooms.

Unfortunately, the site for the virtual exhibition is temporarily down as of publication on March 11 due to a fire at the OVH Data Center in Strasbourg, France. Thousands of websites hosted by OVHcloud, including Artsteps, the website where the exhibition is located, currently cannot be accessed as a result.

In a Facebook post, Artsteps confirmed that its data is secure and the company is working to be live again as soon as possible. OVH founder Octave Klaba said in a tweet the company plans to begin restarting servers on Monday, March 15.

Etienne said the exhibition is a representation of the Columbia community’s work ethic.

“We’re trying our hardest to make the best of the situation [and] keep turning out work so that people don’t feel so gloomy and depressed all the time,” Etienne said. “It’s a gnarly situation outside, but we can always make the situation better [for] ourselves.”