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Students curate art museum exhibit

On January 24, 2013


The atmosphere at the Nora Eccles Harrison Art Museum on the day of an art exhibition opening could be summed up in one word: frenzy. Tables are set up for refreshments, and flowers are cut and put into vases. Deb Banerjee, museum curator, has been working with Rachel Middleman, assistant professor of art history, and her class of 13 art students to produce their exhibit called “Ideas, an exhibition.”

“It’s like a big party,” Banerjee said about exhibition openings.

The exhibition opened on Tuesday and marked the first event that the museum hosts for members to attend.

“Most museums have membership programs,” Banerjee said. “Most memberships have different levels, and we have a student level that is just $5.”

In the past, the museum has depended on memberships, and the nominal fees for these memberships would not be budget-friendly to students. But with the student memberships Banerjee said she hopes to increase student involvement in museum events.

“It’s just to encourage students to get involved and come to our events,” Banerjee said.

Events that museum members are invited to attend include gallery talks with visiting artists and special previews of new exhibits. Banejree said the museum also hosts events specifically geared toward students.

“Last semester we did a movie with some popcorn, sort of an evening event and this semester this event is kind of like the student opening,” Banerjee said.

The exhibition that opened this week was put together by students.

“It was part of an art history class,” Banerjee said. “They used objects already in the collection to curate a show.”

“The idea for the class was to see if we could use the museum as a sort of laboratory and get the students working hands-on with real art objects. So they did everything from selecting pieces, to doing research, to writing wall labels and installing it,” said Rachel Middleman, the professor of the class.

Students were assigned to pick one or two artifacts from the museum’s collection to research and prepare for showcase.

“We had a focus of work from the ‘70s to ‘90s called conceptual art,” Banerjee said. “These are works that use ideas, and that’s why the title of the exhibition, as their primary focus.”

Conceptual art incorporates different forms of media, including video, photography, performance art and installation art. One piece, called “Mar Mar March” by Paul Kos, allows viewers to walk through the art to create a kinetic experience. All the senses are involved as the viewer walks down a makeshift hallway, stepping over evenly spaced planks toward a small TV at the end.

“You’re actually supposed to walk into the space and participate in the project,” Banerjee said.

Amanda Welch, a senior studying art, worked on an installation that features pieces that support art, but are not considered art in the traditional sense. In two museum cases, Welch has placed items that look like bulletins and magazine pages.

“There were artists who made books just to convey an idea,” Welch said. “The words are placed in the grammar and flow that we would recognize: paragraphs, sentences, and quotations. But all of the letters are just mixed up. So it just says to us, ‘What are words anyway?’”

For Welch the process of installing a piece goes beyond just putting magazine pages on display; it’s about the overall feel of the entire exhibition.

“It’s a great experience to understand how museums work,” Welch said. “I could potentially work in museums again, and its just good to know that.”

Sitting next to Welch’s installation is one that Michael McPhie, a senior studying political science and minoring in art history, chose to install. Named “Malcolm X,” the piece is a little black box with a nameplate that reads “Malcolm X.”

“Its a nonrepresentational-conceptual portrait of the civil rights leader,” McPhie said. “(The artist) chose this abstract form as the portrait. In fact you wouldn’t even know it’s a portrait except the little inscription in the box. This box is almost coffin like, but a really beautiful piece.”12

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