A honey of an exhibit

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by Jen Roach

March 15, 2016

Tucked into a unique triangular space on the second floor of Wilson Commons is a room filled with hundreds of life-size portraits of bees.

The tiny canvases are the work of Arizona artist Heather Green, whose exhibition, Pinpoints of Perception: 1000 Native Bees, is on display until the end of the week. It’s the latest show featured in the Harnett Gallery, a fully funded student-supported professional art gallery.

“The Hartnett is not only a place for students who are interested in art to look at objects, but also a community center that initiates cultural dialogues through artworks and provides a space for conversations and engagements,” says Claire Chen ’16, adding that many professors have brought their classes into the gallery space to discuss, to dance, and to learn.

Student members of the Hartnett Gallery Committee have brought Arizona artist Heather Green together with Rochester biologist and lecturer Robert Minckley to illustrate, literally and figuratively, the diversity—and the plight—of bees in the American Southwest. The exhibit is on display through March 20.

Chen is president of the Hartnett Gallery Committee, a group of undergraduate student volunteers with a variety of academic interests who have one trait in common—the desire to bring art and dialog to the campus community.

Claire Chen ‘16
Claire Chen ‘16

The gallery, which covers about 1,200 square feet, features five to seven exhibitions each academic year, varying from solo shows to group exhibitions—including local, state, national and international artists. Occasionally, Hartnett also plans exhibitions in conjunction with local institutions such as the Memorial Art Gallery and the Visual Studies Workshop. Each spring, the gallery showcases work by Rochester undergraduates in a juried show.

The committee is involved in every aspect of the gallery—from planning exhibition schedules one year in advance, to meeting with artists and installing shows.

Students on the committee get practical experience in curating, exhibition design, administrative work, and public relations.

The Students’ Association, the College, and the Venture Fund from the Office of the President fund the gallery.

“Hartnett is an invaluable tool for students studying any aspect of art,” says Allen Topoloski, associate professor of art and art history and the gallery’s faculty advisor. “It simultaneously forms a crucial bridge to the broader University as a site that employs contemporary art as a voice to a myriad of disciplines —including science and politics.”

The Pinpoints of Perception exhibit, for example, is inspired by research on native bees by Bob Minckley, a lecturer and adjunct professor in the Department of Biology.

Chen—who is studying math, financial economics and art history—says the exhibitions often reflect voices for awareness from the student body. Other exhibits this year have explored topics such as political tension and cultural diversity (From #Ferguson) and mental health (Refuge), for example.

“In the 2015–16 academic year, the Hartnett is very lucky to have a great diversity in its shows which encourage multidisciplinary discussions,” she says.

“I say the Hartnett Gallery contributes cultural vitality and alternative learning opportunities to the campus community.”

No time to waste for desert bees

by Peter Iglinski

Bees can be, as the saying goes, busy. But they can also be quite selective.

Some species of bees collect pollen from only one or a few plant species, even when there are numerous flowering plants nearby that could serve their purposes nicely. And Robert Minckley is working to find out why.

For nearly the past four decades, Minckley has been studying bees in the deserts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. What makes that region attractive to Minckley is the number of bee species—the highest known concentration of bees in the world.  In a six-square-mile area in the San Bernardino Valley of southeastern Arizona he has found 500 species of bees—the same number of species found in all of New York State.

In 1999 he began to intensively focus on bees just in a small area of San Bernardino Valley. “Since then, I’ve spent most of my research time systematically identifying the bee species in that area—something that had never been done before,” said Minckley.

Agapostemon angelicus, one of the bees studied and featured in Robert Minckley’s research
Agapostemon angelicus, one of the bees studied and featured in Robert Minckley’s research

Determining why some bees ignore numerous plants to pollinate a select few—or one—has been elusive. He’s ruled out factors such as fragrance, flower shape, and nutritional value of the pollen and nectar, concluding that most, if not all other, flowering plants would be just fine for pollination.

But Minckley does have some insight into the reason bees specialize: “You can’t mess around in a desert.”

The bees live most of their lives underground in the desert and come out when it rains. With their hours above ground limited, Minckley suspects the bees can’t waste time going from one plant to another.  Of course, that doesn’t explain why a bee chose one particular plant from the rest—and it’s a question Minckley will continue to pursue.

Learn more about Robert Minckley’s lab, and browse through the lab’s database of bees and bee hosts.

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