Denver Museum Trip: Differing Opinions on Exhibiting Art

Coming to a Close

Over the past two blocks, Victoria Ehrlich has led me and 15 other students on a journey through the history of western art. It has been a fun and eye opening experience that has shown us all how art has developed into what it is today, as well as the politics that surround the art sphere. To conclude our First Year Experience in AH112, each one of us has created a presentation on our final papers. These presentations have honestly been one of my favorite portions of the class. They have allowed each student to show how we have gone from knowing so little about the evolution of art of the Western world, to now understanding most aspects of almost all past art movements. We’re able to show each other what aspects of art we are most passionate about, and why they are meaningful in our own lives. We have a new passion and understanding of art that I hope everyone will be able to experience someday. Art makes up a huge portion of our daily lives, and being able to value it and have a better understanding of what artworks are trying to convey makes life so much more rich and exciting.

Opening Day of Our Exhibition!

On October 12th, our exhibition titled, Faces, Places, and Spaces: An Exploration of Identity, finally opened. Clad in our spiffy gallery opening outfits, our class met outside the Fine Arts Center. For many of us, this was the first time entering the exhibition since adding our finishing touches, and the satisfaction on everyone’s face was evident. Victoria explained to us that we would be in groups of four standing and answering questions in the exhibition each for twenty minutes. When asked who wanted to take the first shift a surplus of hands waved in the air. Everyone was excited to share with others what we had been working so hard on for the past two blocks.

During my shift I talked to fellow Colorado College students and Colorado Springs community members about the two works I studied closely: Chuck Forsman’s Native Lands and Enrique E. Montenegro’s Artist In Studio. It was fascinating to hear the questions people had about the works. Many visitors mentioned aspects I had yet to consider myself. A fresh pair of eyes in combination with my background knowledge on the artwork led to great and unexpected dialogue between myself and the museum visitors. It was refreshing to be reminded of the ways in which you can always discover new things about a work (even if you’ve been staring at it for two blocks already!) Prior to this class, curating an exhibition and confidently speaking to visitors about it was something I never imagined myself doing, yet this experience has helped me to realize such capabilities, as well as the numerous ways one can engage with art.

 

Native Land

At the beginning of Block 1, I knew little to nothing about art history. We would look at artwork and it wouldn’t mean all that much to me. Over time, I slowly gained knowledge about how to analyze certain works of art and what the characteristics and formal elements of different time periods were. I really started to understand the process of analyzing art when our class exhibition rolled around. I found it slightly difficult to pick a work of art to concentrate on, but eventually, I did. The work of art, Native Land, by Chuck Forsman, hung next to my artwork of choice, San Vato, in the exhibition. Prior to the exhibition, our class had looked through a PowerPoint featuring artworks available to us from the permanent collection, and chose which ones we felt worked with our theme centering on identity. When Native Land came on the screen, everyone wanted it in the exhibition. Except for me. I didn’t see what was so special about it. I simply saw just another work of art. I was fine with it being in the exhibition, because I didn’t not like it, but I couldn’t fathom what was so special about it. Fast-forward to today, as I sit here writing this blog, I now understand why everyone was so enthusiastic about Native Land. It touches on a very sensitive subject in a powerful and respectful way. Forsman focuses on the land that belongs to the Native Americans that is being taken away from them piece by piece, and industrialized. I couldn’t help but stare at the dog with three legs, but then it finally hit me, the dog must represent the land of the Native Americans. Still functioning, but not to its full, beautiful capability. Forsman makes great use of diagonal lines to show the split between industrialization and untouched grassland. He even extends the most prominent line further outside of the regular rectangular frame, causing the need for an outcropping to be made to contain this strong line by the frame, which is definitely not your usual rectangle. This experience with one particular work of art is just a tiny insight as to how this class boosted my intelligence greatly, pushing me to think critically in ways that I wasn’t used to, and for that I am forever grateful.

Connecting Through Art and Our Exhibition – Faces, Places, and Spaces: An Exploration of Identity

As I walked into the Fine Arts Center with my parents, I beamed with pride. It was like giving them a tour of my second home, as I have grown to feel comfortable in a place I previously found intimidating. I led my dad, who majored in Art History, and my mom to our exhibition, and I could answer most of their questions about the objects we passed in addition to pointing out objects I found interesting. Then I had the pleasure of showing them the room I have spent the past two blocks creating. I finally could share the product of so much hard work with them, and I was so excited. Making the experience even better, they were clearly so impressed and so proud. As a girl who had little to no previous knowledge of art or anything that went into curating an exhibition, I was proud of me, too. I explained the piece I was responsible for, as well as other pieces I found interesting. Since our exhibition centered on identity, it felt fitting to talk to my parents about how my childhood had shaped the way I examined Nostalgia Baggage, focusing on the Pez wrapper and the fishing fly as those evoke memories I hold close. My dad and I discussed Native Lands, commenting on its unusual frame that adds to the work in a unique way. Similarly, I was able to give him context for some of the other images of indigenous peoples in the exhibit. The ability to connect with him on this new level is something I am incredibly grateful for, and it is just one of the gifts this class and this experience has given me.

One Day Before the Exhibition

It is the third week of the second block now—and I can hardly believe how quickly time has flown! The opening of our class exhibition at the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College is just around the corner. During the last 10 days, we have been working on the didactic labels for each artwork and the wall text for the whole exhibition. Coming up with a ‘perfect’ 300-word label is indeed more complicated than I thought it would be.

To start this phase of the project, Jessica, the curator for the UnBlocked Gallery, came to class last week and gave us a working session on how to write the didactic label. With the help of guidelines and label examples, we began to draft our own by researching our artists’ backgrounds, analyzing the artworks, and exploring their connections with the theme of our exhibition: identity. After peer review, another gallery visit, professor comments, and reading them aloud, our didactic labels eventually made it to the final draft after revising a couple of times. It is amazing to see our labels printed and mounted on the wall! I used to visit the public galleries without paying much attention to the wall text or the arrangement of artworks on the wall. The wall paint, frames, labels and wall texts: I took the entire set-up at galleries for granted. However, after taking part in an exhibition-curating task myself, I realized that everything in the gallery is the result of curators’ attentive design and hard work.

In addition to the exhibition preparation, our art history lecture in class has moved on to Impressionist paintings and modern art. As our class approaches the end, it’s amazing to look back and see how far we have come through the history of western art—from the pre-historic period all the way to modern times. As this was my first class on the block plan, it has been quite surprising to see how much progress we made in just eight weeks. This FYE class has not only taught me a lot about art, but it has also helped me to adapt to the special block plan schedule at CC.

The Art is Up!

After all of our discussions and planning, our chosen works of art are officially up in the UnBlocked Gallery! I was anxious to see how it all turned out, especially because it was set up while we were away on Block Break. Our class stopped by to see how everything turned out, and it was amazing to see how our ideas translated into a real space! Seeing all of the works in real life rather than in a two-dimensional picture completely changed how I thought about each of them. I was able to see so many small details that I had missed before, and the texture and feeling of each object was much more accessible to me when I was able to stand directly in front of a work. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t fit everything into the space. Planning it on the floor of our classroom was much different than actually seeing the objects together in real life because the reproductions we had been working with were not printed to scale. Many objects that we chose were much bigger than we expected, so we were forced to really think about which pieces we wanted to include. Because of the limited space, certain works had to be cut, and we were left with those objects that really emphasized what we wanted the viewer to think about when experiencing our exhibition.

Even though we didn’t get to include everything that we had hoped, I was glad that we came across this obstacle. It taught me so much about the job of an art curator. Before taking this class, I had not given much thought to how much work goes into putting an exhibition together, but our professor, Victoria, and Jessica Hunter-Larsen of the FAC Museum at CC, have shown me that it is actually a very complex process. Each object not only plays its own role within the exhibition, but it also affects how the viewer will think about all of the works positioned around it. Because of that, our class had to think very carefully about how these art objects would speak to one another if we put them close together and whether the message that we created with a particular arrangement supported the theme of our exhibit. Thus, we had to consider where in space we wanted to situate the works and how this arrangement would affect the viewer’s understanding of the composition. For example, we originally considered lining up three of the works in a step ladder pattern, but Jessica Hunter-Larsen pointed out that using a decorative set up just for aesthetic purposes could cause the viewer to focus on the organization of the pieces rather than the content of the works and the ideas we were trying to convey by putting them together.

Even though I have already learned much about this process, we still have a long way to go. Our last trip to the museum was spent selecting individual works to examine. We have each chosen one to two works of art for which we will write a short label that will be placed on the wall for the benefit of the viewer and then write a longer summary that will be available for visitors who would like to delve even more deeply into the exhibition. As a class, we are currently making decisions about what type of labels we would like to write, and must write an introduction to explain to visitors the theme that we are exploring. Clearly, there is a lot left to do before our opening reception, but I am excited to learn more about the works we have chosen, and to begin the next steps in completing our project!

Our Exhibition Blueprint

In these past couple of weeks, we have finally begun curating our gallery! To begin this process we went to the museum and each picked a featured exhibition to explore and dissect. With a graphic organizer and maybe a partner or two, we looked at how curators and artists come together to convey a central theme of an exhibition. For this exercise, I explored the exhibition, Raizes and Roots, which focused on Brazilian culture and the ways in which it has been misrepresented. This was an incredible exhibition to look at, in part, because of the innovative ways in which the works of art were arranged. Toward the rear of the exhibition, drawings hung from the ceiling by thread and were surrounded by beautifully cut tissue paper. Seeing this innovative set up, my partner and I were able to see not only how a certain work of art can shape the trajectory of an exhibition, but also how its location within the space impacts the viewer’s experience. We left with a greater understanding of how to convey a unifying theme through many different mediums.

The days preceding and following our gallery visit were spent flipping through slides and looking more closely at certain objects from the museum’s large storage area with Jessica Hunter-Larsen. We jumped back and forth from theme to theme but finally settled on one surrounding identity and how it is created and shaped. By narrowing down a theme, we were able to go from looking at objects and judging them based on aesthetics to really considering their purpose and message. We were really starting to make progress!

Some pieces jumped right out at us and we knew collectively that they had to be included. On the other hand, some took a little more time to figure out. To help us with our decisions, Jessica took these objects out of storage and let us have a look at them. This close-looking exercise changed everything. We could see sizing, proportions, color, and so many other compositional elements that weren’t translated well through a photo in a PowerPoint. After noting what would and wouldn’t work, we printed out all of the pictures and begin mapping out the gallery.

Since our gallery is oddly shaped (there are six walls to work with), we had to pay close attention to sizing. This was hard considering we were working with printed black-and-white photos that weren’t similar to the actual works of art at all. Still, after numerous MTV Cribs jokes and references to the Real World, we were able to turn our taped floor into a mock-up of the gallery. As a class we experimented with different placements and the use of sculpture within our exhibit. Although nobody got mad, there was some heavy debate over whether aesthetics or theme are more important when grouping pictures together — something we are still exploring as a class. Being able to have this taped-up model was extremely helpful and fun because we were able to truly begin visualizing what our gallery would look like. It was becoming so real! After experimenting with salon walls, sculpture, and varying wall placement, we were able to agree on a basic layout for our gallery. Over block break, Jessica Hunter-Larsen and her team hung our objects in the space. Stay tuned for updates on how it all turned out!

First Weeks and the Fine Arts Center

The first couple of weeks in FYE Introduction to Art History were packed full of studying artwork with a focus on art from pre-historic times up to the era of the Romanesque in Europe. When we weren’t in the classroom learning historical context and analyzing specific works of art, we took trips to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

On our first trip, Jessica Hunter-Larsen led us to a monumental painting. Our class was tasked with analyzing each aspect of the piece beginning with basic details and eventually finding a possible meaning of the Renaissance work, which featured Mary, Jesus, and Joseph seated in an almost tropical wilderness. Next, we visited the exhibit, “Everyday Extraordinary: From Rembrandt to Warhol.” Here, we all chose one work of art and were asked to spend ten minutes writing down our observations for a “slow looking” activity. For this exercise, we were challenged to look deeply, slowly, and intently, focusing on the details and objects represented in the piece to learn more about how they fit together as a whole. We then shared things we noticed after gazing at the art for the prescribed amount of time – which for me, was an etching by Rembrandt. Due to the small and hard to make out details, I spent much of the ten minutes examining the work up close. I discovered so many aspects of the print that I never would have seen had I looked at it for just a few seconds as I made my way through the exhibit. There were more people and animals in the print than I saw at first glance, hidden from initial view by the print’s small size and the intricately inked lines.

When next we returned to the Fine Arts Center, we were armed with a graphic organizer to guide our individual examinations of what types of elements comprised a visually arresting, cohesive exhibition. We took note of how the exhibit was structured, what types of art work were included, and how the wall text was utilized. We will use what we noticed to inform our own process of curating an exhibition. I chose to examine the Chihuly exhibition because it seemed outstanding to me as a whole. Aspects that fascinated me about the exhibit were the overwhelming emphasis on color and the variety of three-dimensional and two-dimensional pieces. After reading the wall text, I also learned about how some of the pieces were made and their backgrounds.

We have learned so much and have more to come. Now I have to dive into the Renaissance and make some decisions about our exhibit but keep your eye out for more blog entries from my classmates!

– Anna

Introduction to Art History: A Lineage of Historic Interpretation and Beauty

Hi! My name is Conner Darrell, and I’m a student in Introduction to Art History (AH112). In just a few short weeks, this class has taught my fellow classmates and me more about art than we’ve ever known before. Let me set the stage with an overview of just our first week.
 
Our first week’s classes constituted diving more deeply into the content presented in the first four chapters of our enormous Janson’s History of Art textbook. We began at the beginning, so to speak, examining interesting and detailed sculptures of the female form like the Austrian Woman of Willendorf and cave paintings hidden deeply within the Lascaux Caves in France, all the while exploring what these representations could’ve meant in a pre-historic age (an age before written history). Next we travelled into the humble beginnings of modern civilization by examining objects such as the Stele of Naram-sin, which memorializes an Akkadian general’s victory over his mortal enemies in ancient Mesopotamia. Afterwards, we travelled to Egypt where the striking mastaba-inspired and originally white limestone-covered great Pyramids of Giza still sit as the enormous tombs of Pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. Finally, we were swept to the Aegean Sea to witness the beautifully painted fresco of a male figure flipping himself over a bull while abstract, almost floating, female figures witness this feat from both sides. We also studied the gorgeous ruins of the city of Knossos on the island of Crete, which revealed a structure so large and incredibly designed that the historian Arthur Evans first defined it as a “palace” which he thought belonged to the mythical King Minos.
 
But this is just a simple taste of what has been and will be in store for us in AH112, so keep yourself posted with our blog to discover what other extraordinary and historic artistry we uncover in the future. Finally, stay tuned for more information regarding the unveiling of our class-curated art exhibition later in Block 2!