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.