Posts in: AH231

Strange Beauty and the End(?) of a Block

During fourth week, we finished writing our catalogue essays for the Strange Beauty exhibition—a project that we were working on for essentially the full block.  Writing the catalogue essay was a kind of cathartic exercise for me, the chance to articulate all the ideas, insights, and research of the last few weeks into a final paper.  In addition to creating the catalogue for the exhibition, our class got the opportunity to write the label text for the contemporary pieces.  The process was more challenging than I expected, as by the time you are writing a label for a piece you really just want to share all the interesting insights and layers that you’ve discovered, but you can’t create a label that is too lengthy and didactic.  I think as a class we were successful in this endeavor, writing labels that are informative, thought provoking, and short enough to retain a visitor’s interest.  Our final project was preparing for the Strange Beauty opening Cabaret, a multi-media program in which we interact with visitors to stimulate conversation about the works.  I think it is going to be an exciting event, and a great chance to share what we’ve been working on this block with CC students, staff, faculty, and the general public.

 

Since Strange Beauty doesn’t open until December 6th, well into fourth block, our class isn’t actually over as third block comes to a close. Yet as blocks seem to continuously build upon and play off one another, I feel like a class at CC isn’t ever really over. Learning doesn’t begin on Monday of first week and end on Wednesday of fourth week; it is truly a life-long process.

 

Luncheons, Exhibitions, and Reflections

As third week began, we turned our attention from the Baroque objects we’ve been getting to know intimately over the last couple weeks to the contemporary pieces featured in the Strange Beauty exhibition.  Researching current artists is surprisingly more difficult than those of the 17th century, as there is simply not the same vast quantity of scholarship and academic study on contemporary art.  Our time is also rather limited, so we embarked on a kind of researching frenzy, reading biographies, artist statements, reviews of exhibitions, essentially anything and everything we could find.  Once we had learned enough to be familiar with our respective pieces and artists, we gathered for lunch at Wooglin’s, a delicious café frequented by CC students, to discuss some of the questions central to creating an exhibition: Who is our ideal audience? What is the goal for the exhibition? What kind of experience are we looking to create? What kind of wall text or labels will we have? Etc.  Many students, myself included, voiced very strong opinions on these subjects, and numerous, rather heated debates ensued.  One area of particular controversy was whether we wanted to design a website for the exhibition, where the catalogue information would be accessible for review whenever visitors had the time to learn more.  This debate led to the central question of our technological age—how do people access information?  As we attempted to discover an answer, I kept thinking of the blog I am currently writing.

The way in which people give and receive information is clearly changing, yet I think there is an enduring tension between print and digital media. There are plenty of people who still feel strongly about the importance of print media, as in the case of newspapers, but many are on the other side of the fence, believing solely in the power of the Internet.  Like much of my generation, I feel caught between the two, and though I like the accessibility and universal scope of the Internet, I am still very attached to print.  I love holding a book in my hands, the feel of turning each page, and being able to pick up a New York Times on my way to class.  But at the same time I love the rapid pace and global reach of the Internet, its ability to bring like-minded people together, and create innovative ways of communication.  In writing this blog, sharing with perspective students and interested individuals the real experience of a course at CC, I am beginning to fully understand and appreciate the value of digital communication.

The Excitement of a Field Trip

For the latter half of class Thursday, we went on a little excursion to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, which is conveniently right across the street.  The purpose of this outing was to examine a couple of the temporary exhibitions at the FAC and begin thinking about the design of our own exhibition.  We discussed what kind of audience the museum is catering to, how they foster a learning experience for this audience, or if they do at all, and then related that knowledge to who we think our audience will be, and what kind of experience we want to create for them in our exhibition.  I have been conscious of the incredible influence of perception and exhibition design since my Museum Curatorial Studies class eighth block last year, and I find that these kinds of questions are always on my mind when I visit museums now.  As an Art History major, I am considering a career in the museum industry, specifically in Education, so a field trip that involves a critique of how museums wield their pedagogical power is particularly interesting. But lets face it, whether you’re in fourth grade or in college, the prospect of a field trip is always exciting.

My classmates, with our professor Rebecca Tucker and the IDEA Space curator Jessica Hunter Larsen, discussing the FAC's Sandzén in Colorado exhibition.

Opening Up the Discussion

One of the great things about having twelve people in a class is that everyone can get a chance to bounce their ideas off each other and get a fresh perspective when you’re just too deeply involved to see clearly.  Especially when trying to nail down a thesis, as we are now, an open environment to present your ideas and get critical feedback and new insights is truly invaluable.  As a class, we are able to articulate questions and arguments that we are struggling with individually, and develop clear ways of addressing these questions or creating chains of evidence to support our claims.  I now feel confident in the direction of my paper, and I am ready to attack my research and writing with a new focus.

 

Opening Avenues of Interpretation

Whilst studying Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, our class began a discussion of the role of audience interpretation in a work.  For today’s viewer, there are limited ways of reading a work, mainly narrative, biographic, or personal, but the 17th century viewer could approach a piece from any one, or combination of, numerous readings—theological, neo-platonic, poetic, theatrical, historic—to uncover layers of meaning in a piece.  To me, the ability to discover these kinds of dialogic understandings that interact with one another reflects the value of a liberal arts education, as studying a comprehensive assortment of subjects enables you to approach a problem through myriad perspectives and understandings.

End of Week One

It’s only the end of first week, but it feels more like the end of the first month on the block plan.  Our class started out seven days ago with almost no previous knowledge of the subject, and now we are deep into the core issues of the Baroque period and the research on our respective pieces.  On Thursday, we took a little field trip over to the IDEA Space to meet Jessica Larsen, the curator, and discuss the role of museums, their missions, and historical development.  An interesting debate over current perceptions of museums and the relation of power and art ensued, and I think we really discovered some of the key issues that the museum industry is grappling with today.  The class ended with a brief overview of our goals for the exhibition, and both Jessica and Rebecca (our professor, at CC we get to call them by first name!) encouraged all of us students to begin brainstorming ideas for the exhibition.  It will be interesting to see what creative concepts our class generates; I think we have potential for some innovative, out-of-the-box approaches.

Our individual research projects are progressing from the visual analysis stage to a more comprehensive look at our works, examining related objects to discover where our piece fits into the tradition, or where it breaks from it.  I chose to analyze the relationship between Bernini’s Baldacchino and three other baldachins and ciboriums, with dates ranging from 80 BCE to 1285.  These comparisons enabled me to ascertain in what sense the Baldacchino was innovative and revolutionary, and where Bernini drew from the conventional norm.  It is essential to understand how your piece fits into the tradition before you make any claims to its exceptional style or the artist’s groundbreaking genius.  The next step, then, is developing a solid thesis, and it is this pivotal statement, which will determine the direction of my research, that dominates my thoughts as this first week comes to a close.

A New Block, a New Course, and a New Relationship

Art of the Baroque is the kind of class you only get a chance to take once.  Instead of the normal slide memorization and lengthy, essay-filled tests, we get the chance to combine art history and museum studies, making direct connections between the 17th century art we are exploring in class and the contemporary art featured in the upcoming exhibition at the IDEA Space here at CC.  Not only are we getting this unique opportunity to discover new relationships between historic and modern art, but our class will also be directly involved in the curation and execution of this new exhibit- Strange Beauty: Baroque Sensibilities in Contemporary Art.  For an art history major like me, this is clearly an exciting course.

As a class of this nature is completely unprecedented, the setup is rather interesting, for as we learn about Baroque Art (which most of us don’t have much knowledge of aside from a brief overview in survey), we are also beginning in-depth research of a specific object.  These designated 17th century objects are all paired with contemporary objects of the Strange Beauty exhibition that embody similar themes or characteristics.  So, essentially, we will explore our single objects while studying the period of Baroque Art as a whole, and then finally be able to draw connections between our 17th century objects, elements of the Baroque style, and the correlating contemporary objects.

We all selected the objects we wanted to pursue ourselves—I chose the Baldacchino of St. Peter’s Basilica, a masterpiece of Baroque sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which is paired with a beautiful contemporary instillation by Tsehai Johnson entitled To Dust She Returns.  Both are definitely worth a Google Image search if you have the time.  Bernini’s Baldacchino and I have already become involved in a close, personal relationship, as I have just completed a first level visual analysis, which is when you really get to know a piece through a detailed, observation-driven paper where you break down all the formal elements of the work: space, line, form, light, color, and composition.  While in some cases you can immediately begin to dislike an object through a visual analysis, for me this is that blissful two-month period of a relationship, that stage where you’re getting to intimately know a new piece and discover all the little details that make them interesting, but you haven’t spent enough time with them yet to know if the relationship is really strong enough to last.

For now, I will enjoy the fresh adventure of these early days, and I am excited to see where this relationship, and this block, is headed.