Middlebury College Museum of Art

News & Events

Student Course Culminates in Museum Exhibition

November 8, 2011

“How Did I Get Here?”
September 6–December 11, 2011

For immediate release: 11/7/11
For further information contact: Douglas Perkins, Administrative Operations Manager, (802) 443-5235 or
deperkin@middlebury.edu

Middlebury, VT—During the spring of 2011 six students in the History of Art and Architecture course Art Museums: Theory and Practice, taught by Museum Director Richard Saunders, were invited to select a recent acquisition from the Middlebury College Museum of Art’s permanent collection as the focus of their study. Over the course of the semester the students researched the history and meaning of their respective works, and their research culminated in the installation of these six objects in this fall’s exhibition How Did I Get Here?

Just as each student who matriculates at Middlebury has a story to tell about the journey to campus, every object that enters the museum’s collection comes with a history. In addition to displaying the objects, this exhibition discusses the context from which they come and the significance of their addition to the collection.

At the beginning of the course the students were presented with a list of two hundred objects acquired by the museum over the past six years. Each student selected one work of interest and proceeded to conduct preliminary research prior to sharing with the entire class why he or she selected a particular object and what line of research he or she planned to explore. The students met with Museum Designer Ken Pohlman to discuss exhibit design then visited both Shelburne Museum and the Robert Hull Fleming Museum at UVM to examine and learn from their respective exhibit installations.

Ultimately, the students made class presentations about the works they examined over the course of the semester and wrote label texts to accompany each work in the exhibit. The design and layout of the installation are the result of a sequence of meetings with Pohlman to discuss the look and feel of the exhibit as well as the message the students want the exhibit to convey.

“I hope that this exhibition gives people a chance to see objects in a new light,” says Mathew Rojas ’11. “I hope the exhibition makes people think twice about what they see. Some things are not apparent the first time around, and it may take a closer look, a new perspective, or rethinking things, and I think the exhibition will give people the opportunity to see select works of art in a new way.”

The exhibit focuses entirely on contemporary art, as all six works were created within the last thirty years, and most within the last decade. Further, four of the six featured acquisitions are contemporary photography or video works revealing the students’ bias for these mediums.

Three of the six works are photographic, and together they illustrate the more cerebral side of the museum’s photography collection. Roe Ethridge’s chromogenic color print Thanksgiving 1984 (Green Dress) jarringly juxtaposes a seductively dressed fashion model against a Thanksgiving feast, blurring the lines between commercial imagery and fine art, while Coley (Injured), a carefully staged and deliberately grainy photograph by the New York-based art and fashion photographer Ryan McGinley, contrasts the vulnerability of a wounded subject with a harsh setting and the subject’s own brash nudity to capture the hedonism, freedom, and fleeting nature of a certain youth subculture.

“The liberating freedom of nature, recklessness and youth always flit away quickly,” says Lydia Jun ’12 who researched McGinley’s Coley (Injured). “This photograph epitomizes a private moment within these ideals.”

In U. A. Walker, New York, a photogravure from his twenty-five-year Theater series, Hiroshi Sugimoto captures a New York movie theater by leaving his camera shutter open for the entirety of a film. The resulting image of a mesmerizing white rectangle within the theater’s monumental interior reinforces the timeless character of the theater and prompts the viewer to ponder the brilliant, perhaps spiritual, experience that unfolds before the light of the screen.

The museum’s growing collection of contemporary video—as experimental as it is experiential—is represented in the exhibit by Tracy Moffatt’s 2003 video LOVE, a collection of clips from films spanning numerous eras that explores the universality of emotions and the impact of film media on the construction of stereotypes. Like love itself, Moffatt’s work takes the viewer on an emotional journey with a jagged continuity, suggesting that love lacks a definitive end yet persists as a complicated force that shapes our perception of reality.

“I chose to work with LOVE, because I thought it was an interesting and unexpected look at the portrayal of love scenes in the popular canon of film,” says Rojas. “I chose LOVE, because I wanted people to stop and think twice about the word. We throw it around and we visualize it in different ways, and I wanted to look at it through the lens of an artist whose focus is looking at the ways social media present universal emotions and contribute to the construction of the way we come to view these universal emotions and in turn the way we view ourselves.”

Two series of prints round out the exhibition. Harpers Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), a portfolio of fifteen prints by the prolific African-American artist Kara Walker, forces the viewer to reconsider America’s legacy of racial stereotypes, tension, and violence by superimposing caricatured figures over enlarged lithographs from the nationally circulated Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (1866). Similarly, South African artist William Kentridge, through a series of five prints titled L’inesorabile avanzata (The Inexorable Advance), explores political and moral questions relating to colonialism in Africa. Chaotic imagery and a fragmented story combined with Kentridge’s characteristic bold draughtsmanship evoke a sense of disorder and urgency and underscore the contemporary relevance of historical events.

Each work in the exhibit has its own story to tell about how it made its way to Middlebury. Some have come directly from dealers’ galleries, others from private collections by way of auction. Some have been gifts to the College, while others were purchased with endowed acquisition funds. Many of the works arrived, either directly or indirectly, as a result of the Museum’s Contemporary Photography, Film and Video Acquisition Program, a ten-year initiative funded in part by alumna Marianne Boesky ’89 whose goal was to help the Museum acquire compelling works by cutting edge and recently discovered artists, as well as works by highly regarded living photographers. Her only stipulation has been that students vote to determine which works will be acquired, and in that vein in the past decade students have voted to add forty-eight works to the Museum’s permanent collection.

“Giving students the opportunity to develop an exhibit out of our permanent collection is one of the most valuable experiences a college museum can provide,” Saunders said. “Each time is a wonderful, different journey. I love it––and our students clearly do, as well.”

Students in the course echoed Saunders’s sentiments.

Says Jun, “I caught a glimpse of a culture that demands innovative art, celebrates fun and eccentricity, and disregards monetary possession.”

“What I took away from this project,” says Rojas, “is that in order to truly understand an artwork, one must seek to understand the different facets of the work, the artist’s interests, the story behind the work, and look behind what the viewer sees just in front of him or her.”

The Middlebury College Museum of Art, located in the Mahaney Center for the Arts on Rte. 30 on the southern edge of campus, is free and open to the public Tues. through Fri. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sat. and Sun. from noon to 5 p.m. It is closed Mondays. The Museum is physically accessible. Parking is available in the Center for the Arts parking lot. For further information, please call (802) 443–5007 or TTY (802) 443–3155, or visit the Museum’s website at museum.middlebury.edu.