The Santa Monica College (SMC) Pete & Susan Barrett Art Gallery continues to step beyond its walls with Barrett Boxes, vitrines that have been transformed into mini art exhibitions. The vitrines are located in the Art Complex (in front of Art 124) on the main SMC campus at 1900 Pico Blvd.
To initiate the Barrett Boxes, two artists — Cole M. James and Michelle Carla Handel — were each invited to take on a vitrine as a work of art. Their creations were installed in early November and will be on view through January 2022.

The Barrett Boxes were conceived to “question our relationship to what is a vitrine?” said SMC Professor and Barrett Gallery Co-Director Emily Silver. “How do we look at work? How close can we get to the work? And ultimately, what experience are we dictating to a viewer? Typically, these vitrines have housed objects with inherent distance through glass panes, begging the viewer to stop, gaze through, and have a singular, yet collaborative, collective view of works so carefully and ‘safely’ displayed.”
James and Handel “have taken vastly different approaches to create a new relationship between object, performance, display, and the gaze,” Silver added. “They shift the role of a vitrine, and ask you to take in the entire structure, moving your body and gaze in, around, and under.”

James is an interdisciplinary artist whose work uses both figurative and abstract images, sound, and scent to amplify the subtle ways perception can collapse and expand time. A collaborator with organizations centering on restorative justice and environmental advocacy throughout Los Angeles and abroad, James is a Somatic Communal Consultant who has trained with Resmaa Menakem through the organization Education for Racial Equity, and a Climate Justice Activist connected with the Emergence Network envisioned by Bayo Akomalafe in India. “I make work as a negotiator, navigating the African Diaspora, circling the expanse of queerness, and traversing through womanhood,” said James. “I am interested in the intersections between digital production and the analog collecting of lived experiences.”

Handel, an artist who lives and works in Los Angeles, is the recipient of a 2020 Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant. Her work has been exhibited at venues that include the Wignall Museum, ACME Gallery, Torrance Art Museum, Brand Library, Outside Gallery, JAUS, Tiger Strikes Asteroid LA, WEEKEND, and RAID Projects. Handel’s most recent exhibition was ‘Rubber Mirror’ — a solo show in 2021 at Five Car Garage in Santa Monica — and her recent residencies include Anderson Ranch and Vermont Studio Center. “I consider my sculptures to be curious, but unsolvable arrangements where there is room for the viewer to be an active participant,” said Handel. “I look for material ways to describe extra verbal understanding and the way our minds process the world around us.”
Additional details about the artists, along with complete artists’ statements, are posted online at the “Barrett Boxes” link at

The Barrett Boxes will present new installations throughout the year. More information is available by calling 310-434-3434.

Submitted by Grace Smith