Wake Forest’s premier art collection gets a new name and lots of love

Student on the art-buying trip celebrate in New York in 2017.

The Wake Forest Student Union Collection of Contemporary Art is getting a new name and, with a generous gift, a lot of love as well.

John and Libby Reece have endowed a conservation fund to care for, steward and rename the Student Union Collection of Contemporary Art as the Mark H. Reece Collection of Student-Acquired Contemporary Art in honor of John Reece’s father – the founder of the collection.

Mark Reece with a piece of artArt lovers, help continue to build the conservation fund to $1 million to care for the works for generations to come. Visit the “Celebrate the Mark H. Reece Collection” website to learn more.

In 1963, Wake Forest’s Dean of Men and College Union Adviser Mark Reece had a vision for a student art-buying trip. At the time, there was no art department at Wake Forest. He and then faculty members Ed Wilson and Allen Easley and two students drove to New York City, explored the contemporary art galleries there, and came back with a dozen works of art, selected by the students, for the University.

Every four years since then, with the exception of the pandemic year, a small group of students has traveled to New York City, with University funds, to purchase art for Wake Forest’s Student Union Art Collection – works that reflect the times.

“Growing up, there were a lot of dinners at our house with students, often the conversations were about art,” said John Reece, who graduated from Wake Forest in 1981. “As I thought about my dad, his love for Wake Forest and his love of art, I felt the best way to honor him was to honor his vision of the student art-buying trip by protecting the collection of works he helped build.”

The student art-buying trip is one-of-a-kind in higher education. Students choose works independently, and their purchases do not require University approval of their selections.

“The works students acquire on these trips get people talking and thinking,” said Kayla Amador, assistant director of the Hanes Gallery and a participant in the 2017 art-buying trip. “And as time progresses, the context of each artwork purchased will develop and change. Over six decades, students have chosen works to reflect the times. Ensuring that these works are well-cared for means that conversations will continue to happen as each new generation has an opportunity to experience the art.”

The Student Union Collection, now the Reece Collection, is the University’s premier and most recognizable collection. More than 100 artists are represented in over 160 works. The collection includes pieces by Jasper Johns, Pablo Picasso, Alex Katz and Louise Nevelson. Works purchased during previous trips hide in plain sight in public places around campus, including Reynolda Hall and Benson University Center.

Elaine de Kooning; "Portrait of Eddie #2" -- 1961; Oil on Masonite; 13” H x 9” W; Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.
Louise Nevelson; "Night Zag III" -- 1973; Assemblage; 34 ½” H x 42 ½” W; © 2005 Estate of Louise Nevelson/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Robert Colescott; "Famous Last Words: The Death of a Poet" -- 1988; Acrylic on Cotton Duck; 84” H x 72” W; Copyright retained by ARS.
Glenn Ligon; "Untitled" -- 1992; Soft Ground Etching/Aquatint/Spitbite/Sugarlift; 25” H x 17 ½” W (each); Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.
Christian Marclay; "Memento (Hearing is Believing)" -- 2008; Cyanotype; 51” H x 99” W; © Christian Marclay
Shirin Neshat; "Marjan (Masses)" from The Book of Kings series -- 2012; Silver Gelatin Print; 40” H x 30” W; Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Jennifer Finkel, Acquavella Curator of Collections at Wake Forest, looks forward to a time when the works might be placed together in context and to someday have an area on campus where pieces from the collection can be exhibited together for teaching purposes.

“We are so grateful for John and Libby’s gift that will allow us to conserve, restore and protect the art that has been purchased over the past 60 years. Through the care of these works, students and faculty for generations to come will be able to engage in interdisciplinary teaching and learning around the collection,” Finkel said.

A website celebrating the 60th anniversary of the student art-buying trip and a link to an online catalog of works in the collection can be found here.

The University Art Collection website provides opportunities for direct engagement with original works of art while cultivating an environment that creates dialogue, fosters creativity, and promotes interdisciplinary thinking.

Related Links:

  • Read more about Mark Reece’s legacy here.
  • Read more about the trips and the process for selecting art in Priceless.
  • Art for impact: Students purchase works for WFU to reflect the times (WFU News)

Categories: Arts & Culture, For Alumni, For Parents, Humanities, Top Stories, Wake Forest College