Tony Shu


Mary Sherwood
Mnemosyne, 1988
Gift of Dana Friis-Hansen


 What were some things you looked for in a piece while you were making your choices from the collection?

At this point in time my place was only half furnished, so I was really looking for something to guide future design decisions. There wasn’t a specific checklist, just a vaguely defined emotional assessment: I had to really want it. I strolled through the gallery three times before making a decision. Part of the fun was busily obsessing over all the details.

What drew you to this particular piece?

I’ve always been a softie for nostalgia, a sense of vastness, etc. For me, the strongest idea from the painting is passage of time. The dominant colors are various shades of rust while the building’s foundation is heavily eroded, yet the building itself still stands. What will fade?

What will remain? After looking it up, I found Mnemosyne to be the perfect name. It’s one the painting shares with the Greek goddess of memory, mother to the nine muses.

How does the piece interact with your space?

I think mid-century modern design does a good job of being thematically clean, allowing other elements to stand out. There’s instead a sense of overgrowth as soon as you enter the apartment due to plants overflowing from every corner and every wall. A planted fish tank with a bonsai moss tree takes center stage. I also have a couple of vaguely Greek busts, pieces of art, and bookends. The painting really drives the image of some civilization’s ruins being reclaimed by nature.

Has the piece had any effect on visitors when they enter your space?

It definitely provides something for the mind to work on a bit. Even though there are lots of plants, foliage is only interesting for so long. Green everywhere simply becomes the background. People visiting for the first time usually mention the painting, comment on its colors, and ask about its origins.

What has been most exciting for you in having a professional art work in your living space?

Haha, definitely displaying original artwork without the associated cost! But with this apartment, I also got to furnish and decorate my own place for the first time in my life. I’ll be here for at least a few more years, and Mnemosyne will always be the first thing I think of when looking back. Wow, look at me getting sentimental about an apartment…am I an adult now?

What advice would you give to other students hoping to participate in the Student Lending Art Program in the future?

Give it a try even if you don’t have any strong feelings about visual art; I certainly didn’t a couple years ago. It’s a free service that is unique to your time at MIT. I’ve personally found appreciation of art to be one of life’s highest benefit to cost activities. Oh, and just like with your children, try to love all your choices equally since it’s a total lottery and some pieces are extremely desired (looking at you, Picasso).