Exhibiting Modern Art

A Bryn Mawr College 360° Course Cluster Project

June 1, 2014
by Wendy Chen
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Concluding Thoughts for A Century of Self-Expression

This post was written by Wendy Chen (’14):

Today is the final day for viewing A Century of Self-Expression. Soon, the exhibition will be dismantled, and the works of art will be packed away into boxes just as swiftly as they came. This will conclude our yearlong project for our 360° course, “Exhibiting Modern Art”. It has been a year of growth and learning, some of which include studying about the history of the Armory Show of 1913, conducting scholarly research, writing a catalogue, curating an exhibition, practicing our public speaking skills, and hosting cocktail receptions. Without writing a single cover letter or submitting a resume, the course was the equivalent of an intensive internship. As students we were tasked with the challenge of publishing a professional catalogue, and transforming a rare book room into an art exhibition. I’m glad that we have succeeded in doing both. Although at times our 360° course was quite exhaustive, in the end it was immensely rewarding.

We are grateful for the opportunity to study and reflect upon the works from a private collection of Modern American Art, thanks to our generous donors John and Joanne Payson. The opportunity to work with actual works of art is unequivocally a privilege. It is infinitely more engaging when you get to view works of art, as opposed to viewing powerpoint slides on a projected screen.

The majority of the people in our class were seniors, and it was a helpful course for our imminent transition into the real world. We were able to get our feet wet with practical matters, but also not forgo the academic scholarship in the process. Thus, the course served as a bridge between theory and practice. The interactive and collaborative nature of the course was inspirational. Over the course of two semester’s we’ve consulted and learned from an Armory Show scholar, a graphic designer, an exhibition designer, a museum evaluator and a museum education specialist. What it shows us is that it truly takes a team of specialists in respective fields to put on a good exhibition. Although we won’t all be entering the museum industry, some of the skills we’ve gained are widely applicable in other fields we may choose to enter. In addition to curatorial experience, we have also gained exposure to publishing, development, communications, public programming and event planning. At times we also had some serious discussions on the issues of money and politics found within any institution.

Although we wished that there were more college students and youth who came to see our exhibition, we realize that trying to get the public excited about art may at times be an uphill battle. As a class we worked with our constraints and made the most out of limitations. The location of our exhibition in the Canaday Library may be a place that Bryn Mawr students typically associate with broken printers and all-nighters, therefore it would naturally be harder to try and get students to come to the library on a friday night for the sake of art. Sometimes, it almost feels as if museums have to beg or put on a circus just to incentivize people to come and see art. Perhaps, the general indifference towards art nowadays may also be the result of art not being taught as an academic subject in K-12 education. Art is typically subverted and treated as an non-academic elective when it really should be infused into core subjects such as history, literature and science.

For Bryn Mawr College, A Century of Self-Expression was our first grand step as students trying to engage the public and teach them about history through the arts.  It is important that art exhibitions are interactive and engaging without being pretentious. Overall our  360° course has been a success, and has allowed us to become more aware of future hurdles down the road. We hope that A Century of Self-Expression will not be the last exhibition at Bryn Mawr College, but the first of many more to come.

May 28, 2014
by Sarah Theobald
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Reflections from a fall semester participant

This post was written by Sarah Bochicchio, ’16

The Modern Art 360 is perhaps the best opportunity that Bryn Mawr offered me and I feel so fortunate to have been part of it, even if not in whole. I felt that the overall goals of the 360 program were accomplished: the course provided real world experience and even integrated the Real World into each class period. We left the classroom to explore, we escaped the “Bryn Mawr Bubble,” but we also had the Real World brought to us in the form of lectures and guest speakers.

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Steven Levine, Sarah Bochicchio, and Jon William Sweitzer-Lamme discuss the collection with the Paysons

Yet what I found most significant was the intimacy of the experience—not only in that we were a small group of dedicated students with outstanding professors, but that it was an opportunity to engage with two specific works of art (and a Whistler nonetheless!) for an entire semester. For me, this intimacy contributed most considerably to my growth as a student of art history. Going into the course, I felt inexperienced and unqualified for the task at hand, totally unsure of how I should begin. However, by the end of the first semester, I had the learned how to best engage with a work of art as well as to trust my research, my analysis, and myself.

May 27, 2014
by Nava Streiter
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360° Goes to the Movies

This post was written by Mariann Smith, Curatorial Assistant, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections:

BMFI

On Monday, May 5th, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute hosted the final event planned in conjunction with the 360° exhibition. Director Michael Maglaras and Executive Producer Teri Templeton attended a screening of The Great Confusion: The 1913 Armory Show, which attracted an audience of 122 members of our campus and community. The program began with a welcome by Valerie Temple, Senior Programming Manager at the BMFI. Next, Micaela Houtkin (’13) talked about the exhibition and introduced Michael Maglaras. Appropriately, he started his discussion by asking several guests, “how do you feel about modern art”— the same question the 1913 Armory Show provoked its thousands of attendees to ask themselves! The film, which Michael characterizes as an “essay,” reviewed the planning of the Armory show, its organization and installation, the artists who participated, and the sometimes-dramatic reactions to the first appearance of avant-garde art in the United States. It also featured commentary by Armory Show expert, Laurette McCarthy, who has served over the past year as the 360° class’s Armory Show authority, conducting tours of multiple museums during a trip to New York, visiting the class at Bryn Mawr, writing an essay for the exhibition catalog, and speaking at the celebratory weekend during the end of March. Following the screening, Michael Maglaras and Teri Templeton answered questions from the audience. Afterwards, many of the attendees joined us upstairs for a reception, where Michael and Teri answered further questions and signed and sold DVDs.

The evening was part of a continuing partnership between Bryn Mawr College and the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Juliet Goodfriend, the BMFI’s Executive Director, commented, “Last night was the kind of evening that defines BMFI and our mission: collaborating with BMC, fine art, good discussion, good projection/exhibition, and an appreciative and large audience.” The event has also inspired a number of attendees to visit A Century of Self-Expression over the following weeks. For instance, the Art Sisters—a group of friends who share a variety of experiences with art— came for a tour of the show on May 20.
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April 20, 2014
by Wendy Chen
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Museum Field Trip Day!

The post was written by Wendy Chen (’14): 

April 18th was another day on the move. We had a jam-packed but fun-filled plan to visit three museums, The Wagner Free Institute, The Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the Perelman Building. Margaret Lindauer’s article “The Critical Museum Viewer” served as a framework for our critical discussion of the three museums. In it, she lists several items for museum-goers to consider, including pre-visit observations, museum architecture, display style, written texts, and unspoken messages. During the trip, we carefully took mental note of these various aspects of each exhibition in order to write our final comparative museum assessment papers. Before the trip, we had reviewed the mission statements and institutional overviews of each museum. Although we had a general sense of what to expect at each one, reading about museums exhibitions on the web was nothing like visiting them in person.

I was especially excited about the first museum, which was the Wagner Free Institute. It was located in a part of town that many of us would not usually venture into, and some of the buildings around it appeared a little dilapidated. Outside of the Institute, a billboard was hanging with the collection’s specimen of the month, the armadillo. It seemed rather odd that the museum doors were closed and locked with only a little sign that pointed towards the doorbell.

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The Wagner Free Institute

Once we entered the building, the museum guide immediately locked the door behind us. Pretty soon, we realized that the Institute perfectly reflects its description as a place where “little has changed but the century.” It was as if the past had been frozen in time. We learned about the founder of the museum, William Wagner, whose mission had been to provide free science education for the people of Philadelphia. The second floor of the exhibition contained an encyclopedic collection of specimens. Wagner arranged its curation himself, and it has remained untouched since. Specimens were displayed by category with very few didactic texts. Some of us were not used to this sort of exhibition, but Rebekah, our resident archaeology major, really liked it and felt totally in her element. Although the museum was not necessarily something we were used to, it was definitely interesting.

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The Barnes Foundation

Next, it was time to see the Barnes Foundation, which is based around the private collection of Albert C. Barnes. When we visited, it was housing the special exhibition, “Magic Ladders,” which showed work by British artist, Yinka Shonibare. Although the exhibition was playfully colorful, it was clearly a critique of colonialism and of western establishments. It displayed headless mannequins dressed in Victorian-style outfits made of fabrics associated with Africa. The African fabrics were perhaps reminders that the Victorian West was complicit in the enslavement of Africans and in the pillaging of indigenous resources. Although it was interesting, the exhibition made some questionable stylistic choices, such as using white text on a pale blue wall.

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Philadelphia Museum of Art Perelman Building

By the time we had arrived at the Perelman building, we were already quite exhausted from seeing the previous two museum exhibitions. Adelina Vlas, curator of video arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, greeted us and introduced us to her department, where we watched a film that was perhaps too challenging and abstract for us after such a long day. Three museums in one day may have been too ambitious. However, many of us found our visits to the Wagner Free Institute and the Yinka Shonibare exhibition fruitful and thought-provoking. As we left the Perelman building to return to  campus, we had already begun thinking about how these museums compared and contrasted with each other. What are the unwritten messages we can garner from exhibitions when we read between the lines or look between the walls? These were the kind of questions we were thinking about on the ride back.

April 14, 2014
by Nava Streiter
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A Cabinet of Curiosities

This post was written by Mariann Smith, Curatorial Assistant, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections:

Wendy Chen, Haley Martin, Rebekah Keel, and Isabel Micaela Houtkin explore rare books with Head of Special Collections Eric Pumroy.

Wendy Chen, Haley Martin, Rebekah Keel, and Isabel Micaela Houtkin explore rare books with Head of Special Collections Eric Pumroy.


The theme of the class on April 14 was the cabinet of curiosities, a type of collection first seen in mid-sixteenth-century Europe and the forerunner of museums as we know them today. These fascinating assemblages of objects incorporated numerous disciplines, including flora and fauna, rocks and minerals, diagrams and illustrations, works of art and artifacts. Many collectors produced catalogs of their treasures, often with illustrations and written descriptions by themselves or other experts. The primary focus of the session was ten rare books dating from 1655 to 1810 selected by Eric Pumroy, Associate Chief Information Officer and Seymour Adelman Head of Special Collections. The books were written in Latin, Dutch, French, Italian, and English—the class was assisted with the Latin texts by Rare Books Catalog Librarian Patrick Crowley. Several of the books were catalogs of private cabinets of curiosities, including those of Ole Worm (1655), Lodovico Moscardo (1672), and Jacob de Wilde (1700); others showcased collections such as the Greek and Roman Antiquities belonging to the British Museum (1812), natural and artificial rarities belonging to the British Royal Society Museum in London (1681), and Etruscan antiquities in the Museum of Cortona, Italy (1750). It was a rare treat to interact with these centuries-old publications, turning their pages and imagining the men and women who created and visited these fascinating collections of things in a world that was much smaller than it is today!

Ole Worm’s cabinet of curiosities, from Museum Wormianum, 1655.

Ole Worm’s cabinet of curiosities, from Museum Wormianum, 1655.


After an introduction to each publication by Eric, students were encouraged to look more closely at the books and select one on which to focus in more detail. Each student then presented their thoughts on their chosen publication to the class.
The class session also included a visit to the special exhibition A Curious Group: A Cabinet of Curiosities, curated by Carrie Robbins (Ph.D. ’13) and designed by Nathanael Roesch in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Graduate Group in Archaeology, Classics, and History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. Using 170 objects from the College’s Art and Artifacts Collection, Carpenter Library’s Kaiser Reading Room was transformed into a veritable Cabinet of Curiosities, organized in seven themes: Cat., China Cabinet, Cupboard, Display, Fauna, Reproduction, Violence, and Wood. After exploring the exhibition and thinking about the themes, students discovered multiple layers of potential meaning in both categories and objects.

The class visits A Curious Group, in Carpenter Library’s Kaiser Reading Room.

The class visits A Curious Group, in Carpenter Library’s Kaiser Reading Room.

March 29, 2014
by Wendy Chen
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Student Presentations

This post was written by Wendy Chen ’14:  

On Saturday, March 29th, we delivered our student presentations on selected artworks in the exhibition. Many of us offered personal insights and interpretations or reflected on the experience of curating the exhibition and writing the catalogue. Dr. Laurette McCarthy rejoined us to discuss the historical backdrop of the Armory Show in connection with “A Century of Self-Expression.” Here are some snippets of topics that we presented at the event:

Rebekah: I spoke about the process of writing the catalogue. During my presentation, I highlighted how I picked the two works of art that I wrote about, and I discussed the process of writing a draft and rewriting that draft over and over. This involved meeting with Prof. Levine many times and having mini-art history lessons. Since I came from a different field, I didn’t always understand what he meant or always think about things the way he did. From the class editing sessions, to finally turning the entries in, to seeing the finished catalogue, the writing process was long and fascinating.

Maddy: I discussed the Armory Show in the context of the progressive era. The show happened at a time when women were marching for the right to vote and workers were fighting for fair wages and safe working conditions. New York was a rapidly changing city, and the shift in the Art world was a large part of that. The Armory Show helped to make New York City the global art capital that it is today.

Alex: I provided cultural context for images in the show. For instance, the painter Jacob Lawrence was heavily influenced by jazz, as is apparent in his drawing, “Fantasy: Stretched Limousine.”  In its rhythm, fluidity, and insistence on hiding a darker message behind a facade of calm, the picture strongly recalls the song, “Peace Piece,” by Bill Evans.  Both Lawrence and Evans were playing around with new ideas and heavy concepts, particularly with social critiques and with the introduction of atonal harmony, but they were smart enough to make work with a more digestible front so that they would not drive audiences away immediately. They were able to still get their ideas across, but in a palatable way.

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March 28, 2014
by Wendy Chen
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Yvonne Jacquette Comes to Bryn Mawr College!

The following post was written by Rebekah Keel (’14):

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Yvonne Jacquette at the podium

On March 28th, Yvonne Jacquette came to Bryn Mawr to give a talk. Four of her works are in the exhibition, and I wrote about one for the catalogue, so the opportunity to hear her talk about her art was really exciting. In class the previous Monday, Isabel and I had agreed to introduce her at the event, and I remember thinking that it would not be a big deal. Friday evening came, and we were still frantically going over what we were going to say. We introduced ourselves to Ms. Jacquette and asked what she wanted us to include. It was nerve-wracking to introduce her, because the room was filled with people that had come to hear the talk.

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One of Yvonne Jacquette’s paintings projected onto the screen

The talk was absolutely amazing. Ms. Jacquette spoke about her early paintings and about how she has moved from one stage in her work to another. She was very soft-spoken, but every now and then she would raise her voice to emphasize a point. She also posed several questions during the talk. These were interesting, and I remember wondering, “Is she asking us or are these her reflections?” Either way, it was a very dynamic way to keep the audience engaged. It was fascinating to hear her talk about all of the work that goes into a single pastel, painting, or woodcut and to share her views on her own art.

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John and Joanne Payson listening attentively to Yvonne Jacquette’s lecture

After the talk, we directed everyone towards Wyndham for a delicious dinner and champagne toasts! For many of us, it was our first networking experience with an older crowd. As students, we were told to mingle with Alumni, Professors and Collectors. It was an eventful evening, and what better way is there to wrap up the week than with good company, good food, and good conversation?

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Isabel with Professor Dale Kinney

 

March 24, 2014
by Wendy Chen
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Presentation Workshop with Matthew Ruben

This post was written by Wendy Chen’ 14: 

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In preparation for our student presentations this upcoming weekend, Matthew Ruben came to our class to give a public speaking workshop. One of the first things he said was that, according to studies, the most common number one fear is public speaking. (Number two is death.) Therefore, there is no reason to feel ashamed about any discomfort that comes from standing in front of a sea of faces and speaking. With preparation and practice, everyone can be a good communicator.

Mr. Ruben structured his workshop around three main ideas, “communication, contribution and compassion.” We not only had to communicate with our voices, but also with our bodies and our eyes. For instance, he advised us not to speak with pointed fingers, because that would come off as too aggressive, but rather to use open palms, which are more inviting. He also showed us interesting gestures called “the Clinton” or “the mitten.” Next, we got up from our chairs and practiced planting our feet firmly on the ground, about waist-width apart, so that we would not nervously shake or fidget when speaking.

Mr. Ruben was a big supporter of “talking points.” He said when we prepare for our presentations we shouldn’t have a fully memorized and written script of everything we’re going to say. Instead, we should have a skeletal outline of the main points and then let part of the presentation be slightly improvisational. This will ensure that we can contribute spontaneously and engage our audiences sincerely, which will make us livelier, more authentic speakers.

Finally, Mr. Ruben ended on the topic of compassion. He said we’d need to be compassionate towards the audience and ourselves when presenting. We should communicate in a way that our audience will understand, and we should not be overly critical of ourselves if we “mess up” during our presentations.

After our session with Mr. Ruben, it was clear to us that becoming an effective speaker takes practice, patience, compassion, and contribution as well as an earnest commitment to both verbal and physical communication.

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March 20, 2014
by Wendy Chen
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Our First Critique

The following post was written by Wendy Chen (’14):

Our show, “A Century of Self-Expression,” was up and running, and it was time to see if we had passed the test. On Monday March 17th, we received our first critique of the exhibition from Ian Alden Russell. Professor Russell is a Guest Curator for the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University and an assistant professor at Koç University in Istanbul. Our class met up with him in the gallery space on March 17th, and he started off his talk by congratulating us on a job well done. Overall, he gave a highly positive evaluation of our show, which he said had many effective juxtapositions and groupings.

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Mr. Russell helped us realize that galleries situate objects in interpretative spaces that give them meaning and facilitate interesting viewer experiences. There is an art to curation. The curator must be mindful of the colors, lines, and compositions that are created when paintings are grouped together, as well as of the dialogues created when different works co-inhabit a space. During the lecture he talked about a potential area for improvement, posed a thought-provoking question on the idea of “doubt,” and taught us how to look “between the walls.” He even discovered one particularly effective juxtaposition which we had unintentionally created between Jack Levine’s Card Game and Arthur B. Davie’s Untitled (Nude in Woods).

Casting a critical eye on the show, Mr. Russell noticed a problematic phrase in Jon’s wall label for the Louise Nevelson piece, Sky Garden Cryptic I. He felt the description, “soft, even egg-like in form,” did not appropriately represent what he saw in the interior of the Nevelson box. He then discussed the piece with Jon in more detail. Given the circumstances of our 360° course, Jon’s mistake was an understandable one that any of the student curators could have made. It showed us just how important it is to be able to spend time with the actual artworks that we are studying. Jon reflected productively on the experience:

“Ian and I talked about my label for the Louise Nevelson piece Sky Garden Cryptic I. He pointed out a rather glaring error I made–having only seen the interior of the piece once before writing my catalog entry and wall text, I described it in a way that makes little sense to an active viewer of the piece. He also proposed a new interpretation of her piece — since the top of the box is largely covered in strips of repurposed molding, he thought that connections could be drawn between it and the frames of nearby paintings. I’m dubious of this interpretation, but it certainly does represent an interpretation of the ‘spaces between works’ that he argued is at the heart of curatorial practice.” 

-Jon William Sweitzer-Lamme

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Next, Mr. Russell talked to us about how a certain level of doubt drives all intellectual inquiry. He particularly addressed Alex, who is the only chemist in our class. Here is what Alex learned from the conversation:

“Doubt is a powerful concept.  Doubt prevents us from thinking clearly and it stops us from making decisions.  Yet doubt is the basis for all scientific discovery.  Ian’s recent evaluation of our exhibition brought up some fascinating intersections between art and science: doubt.  Science operates on the principles that no fact is free from scrutiny, and art requires delicate interpretation of the artist’s intentions along with the viewer’s subjective thoughts.  I appreciated Ian’s insistence that doubt is important for the ways that we conduct tours.  Of course, we need to sound knowledgeable, but we should leave room for our tour members to make their own assertions and formulate their own ideas about the art.  We need to give them just enough of the skeletal information that they can begin filling in the rest.  Ian’s visit opened up our eyes to a new way of evaluating exhibitions as well as how we give tours.”

-Alexander Lee

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Near the end of the class, Ian Russell taught us a special trick where he goes around and pivots between the walls of an exhibition space. The particular comparison in the above photograph is one we did not notice until he pointed it out. One the left, we can see Jack Levine’s Card Game and on the right we see Arthur B. Davie’s Untitled (Nude in Woods). The grouping creates an interesting dialogue between masculinity and femininity. This sort of spatial juxtaposition shows how the museum experience is about more than the texts and paintings on the walls. It is also about how viewers interact with works of art in a given space. Curators are ultimately creating an embodied experience. Ian Russell’s visit was a delightful one, and it certainly gave us validation for a successfully student-curated exhibition.

March 20, 2014
by Wendy Chen
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A Preview Video of the Exhibition

Check out the evolution of the exhibit in this video made by Wendy Chen.

The gallery will be open from noon to 4:30 pm daily and until 7 pm Wednesdays as long as classes are in session.  Don’t forget to sign the guest book when you stop by!