Art 300 by Kiran Gill (PA 2011)

Visual Culture: Discovering the Addison Collection (Art 300), was the most unique class I took at Andover. We read Ways of Seeing by John Berger and Art by Yazmina Reza, researched artists and museums, and met weekly at the Addison’s Museum Learning Center to learn about interpreting art and exhibition planning with the museum staff.

Our final project was to curate an exhibition from ninety objects for two galleries on the second floor, using the permanent collection exhibition Inside, Outside, Upside, Down: The Addison Anew as a model and inspiration. Each one of us had the opportunity to express our opinions about the artworks and draw connections between the art and our other classes. The process was a collaborative group exercise, which will be useful in the future.

The class enabled us to discern themes from different art periods and artists in order to create a compelling narrative that would inspire dialogue. We also had the opportunity to learn about the process of organizing an exhibition. From the development of a theme to selection and placement of the artwork to the planning of the opening reception and educational events, we were entrenched in the entire process.

How do museums make meaning? This is the essential question for Art 300, a class that explores the development and nature of the Addison’s collection and exhibitions. As students meet with the museum’s curators, educators, and preparators while they are reading and writing about cultural institutions and artists, they come to understand the power of selecting, arranging, and interpreting artworks. Through Art 300, students become aware of and involved in many facets of museum work that are not usually visible to the public.
-Julie Bernson, Addison Curator of Education

Developed in 2005, Art 300 offers a unique opportunity for students, the art department, and Addison staff to work together. In this course, students learn how to respond to historic and contemporary works of art through observation, research, discussion, and selected readings and writing. The process of curating an exhibition presents both rewards and challenges as students learn to express their ideas, listen to others, and develop a collective voice represented in their exhibition.
-Elaine Crivelli, Phillips Academy Art Department

Documenting the Process

One of our first assignments was to write a comparison paper on two objects from the initial checklist of ninety objects from which the class would curate its exhibition. As we shuffled paper reproductions of the artworks during our presentations, the juxtapositions sparked many interesting conversations about overlapping themes and how the art would look in the galleries.

The debate for the final theme of the exhibition was extensive. We followed the model of the permanent collection exhibition, Inside, Outside, Upside, Down: The Addison Anew in which single words floated on the galleries walls—“Presence,” “Construction,” and “Document”— to guide viewers. Our original identity theme evolved into “Muse” because it was neither vague nor broad and functioned as a both a noun and verb. As a noun, a muse is a person or an object that inspires. In the form of a verb, we all muse over thoughts, ideas, and artworks.

After much anticipation, we made a trip to the Addison’s storage areas to see the art in person. One work in particular that captured our attention was David McGee’s Corporate Girl/Side B, 1997, a mammoth painting of the artist’s girlfriend in historic dress, her face painted, and wearing boxing gloves ready for a fight. Half the class loved it, but others were overwhelmed by the painting’s size.

The last work of art we saw in person was Thank You Very Much, 1983 by Ida Appleborg. In a reproduction, it appeared to be an unspectacular monochrome rendering of five women on a white background. When we finally saw the work in person everyone was awed by its dramatic scale as well as the green and blue shading complemented the figures’ black outlines. That moment solidified the agreement that Thank You Very Much should be included in the exhibition.

With the class working in two groups, an organic division occurred and two subthemes were created. The first gallery explored the more unconventional muses in the various forms of the body. The second gallery became a study of portraiture with each individual in the chosen artworks having a distinct aura.

When the actual objects are brought into the galleries, we quickly learned that the artworks’ size, color, and frames can significantly change our original ideas. The class spent three days debating the exact locations for each piece to hang on the walls.

The Opening

As we finalized the layout in each of the two galleries and the wall text content and design, the class generated publicity both on and off campus. We also developed the food menu and programming for the opening reception.

Although we were a bit worried about how many people would attend the reception during finals weeks, an abundant audience of friends, family, and community members gathered to see the exhibition and hear us speak about the process and the exhibition. As we mingled with the public we were treated as actual curators, answering questions and discussing the works in depth as well as what we had learned about the museum.

-Written by Kiran Gill, PA 2011

Art 300 Exhibitions

2011 – MUSE
2008 – The American Landscape or The Americans' Landscape?
2006 – The Nature of Summer
2005 – Past, Present, and Future: The Evolution of American Values

Image caption (left): Gallery Talk at the Reception for the Art 300 Exhibition, spring 2008