Alumna curates exhibition in Wagner College Gallery

Alumna curates exhibition in Wagner College Gallery

Clockwise, from upper left: Samuel Levy, ‘Trophy’ — William Reed, ‘White Pyre’ — Nathan Mullins, ‘Birth of Venus’ — Sirena LaBurn, ‘Wheel of Fortune (Day)’

Please join us at the Wagner College Gallery for “Amor Fati,” an exhibition of paintings curated by Wagner alumna Sirena LaBurn ’09 that also includes three of her graduate school colleagues: Samuel Levy, Nathan Mullins and William Reed. The paintings, which explore certain death, are on display from Thursday, Nov. 7 through Friday, Jan. 10.

A gallery reception will be held on Saturday, Nov. 9 from 2 to 5 p.m.

The reception and the exhibition are both free and open to the public.

The gallery is located in the Union Building on the Wagner College campus at 631 Howard Ave., Staten Island.

The Wagner College Gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Thursday until 9 p.m.


Sirena LaBurn

Exhibition curator Sirena LaBurn is a 2009 graduate of Wagner College.

“I am originally from Texas,” she said, “and lived in Germany after graduating from Wagner, except when I returned to do my MFA at the New York Studio School in Manhattan. I have recently returned to Houston, where I am currently a visiting instructor at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

“Over the years, [Wagner College art professor] Jenny [Toth] and I have always kept up, and I have returned to Wagner on a few occasions to present my work to Jenny’s class and gain teaching experience.”

LaBurn was one of the three arts alumni who returned to campus in 2014 for a seminar with current arts students, “Wagner Artists, After Wagner,” to discuss the ins and outs of their lives as working artists.

“Although I wasn’t a studio art major, my time at Wagner was certainly important to my development as an artist,” LaBurn said. “I vividly remember my first drawing class with Bill Murphy, working hard on papers for Dr. Laura Morowitz’s art history courses, and the support I had from Jenny, who rightly felt that I might secretly be harboring desires to be an artist — not to mention the valuable internships I pursued while studying, and the many trips to art museums.”

LaBurn was one of the two Wagner student artists featured in an April 2009 exhibition in the Horrmann Library’s Spotlight Gallery, “All Their Engines,” funded by the Robert Gaffney Memorial Grant.


“Amor Fati” broadens the definition of traditional memento mori to explore themes of life, death and rebirth in paintings by Sirena LaBurn, Samuel Levy, Nathan Mullins and William Reed at Wagner College’s Union Gallery. The four artists’ works, each exhibiting individual interests and styles, converse about the hopes and fears inherent in our limited human experience, keeping an eye toward the certainty we all face and welcoming that death as necessary.

LaBurn, Levy, Mullins and Reed first met while studying for their master of fine arts degrees at the New York Studio School. LaBurn, Levy and Reed completed their MFAs at NYSS; Mullins transferred after his first year, finishing his MFA at American University.

The wheel shapes in Sirena LaBurn’s (b. 1986, B.S. 2009, M.F.A. 2014) paintings reflect the cyclical nature of life and the circumstances in which we are born and will die. Drawing from her experience of motherhood, LaBurn creates images that speak to the wishes and fears she has for her daughter’s future, including skeletons that dance in the deserts of the artist’s home state of Texas, laughing at our attempts to make sense of it all.

The dichotomy of life and death is blurred in Samuel Levy’s (b. 1980, B.F.A. 2003, M.F.A. 2009) observational paintings as stags and ducks seem to breathe before the viewer realizes that the animals are taxidermy stand-ins. This reversal of the original reading offers a chance to reflect on the line that separates the quick and the dead.

Figures both mythological and commonplace combine in the paintings of Nathan Mullins (b. 1989, B.F.A. 2012, M.F.A. 2015), finding equal footing to explore symbols of rebirth. The destructive and life-giving duality of water is a central theme present in these paintings that range in topic from the birth of Venus to rising ocean levels.

William Reed’s (b. 1981, B.A. 2003, M.F.A. 2009) pyre paintings, a series begun some years ago, are visual meditations that deal with chance, death and renewal. The flowers, gathered from spaces personally meaningful to the artist, lay scattered across floors in decay, but are revived with life and beauty by their arrangement as painting motifs.

For more information about the artists contributing to this show, use these links to visit their websites:

For more information about the Wagner College Gallery, contact gallery director Jenny Toth at jtoth@wagner.edu.