How An Exhibition Comes Together

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Emma Kessler, curatorial assistant for the Art of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas at the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University

Ever wonder what goes into planning and installing an exhibition at a museum? Today’s blog post answers that question. Emma Kessler, curatorial assistant for the Arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas, takes us through the process of envisioning and installing the museum’s new Focalpoint exhibition Hats as Materials of Culture on view now through May 7, 2017 in the museum’s third floor gallery of Arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas.

The Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery houses the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection of art from Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas. While the vast majority of the objects in this gallery remain on continuous display, the Focalpoint section features a series of rotating exhibitions. Here we create two or three exhibitions a year on a range of topics. Recent displays include the art of ancient Peru, a look at fakes and forgeries, costumes and ornaments from New Guinea, and an investigation into tradition and authenticity in Native American art.

When deciding on a new Focalpoint exhibition, we first consider whether the topic can be linked to another exhibition, an event occurring on campus, or a new collection that has come to the museum. Our current Focalpoint, Hats: Materials of Culture, corresponds with the course Art, Craft, and Technology in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is being offered by the Department of Art History this spring. Even after the topic was selected, there was still a lot to narrow down. For example, would the exhibition look at one type of material or one kind of technology? One of the ideas I considered was a focus on beadwork. I would have looked at a wide range of objects from across Africa and made by a variety of peoples, but out of a single material—beads.

In preparation for Focalpoint, I put together several proposals, one for each of my exhibition ideas. They included 20 to 30 objects that could be used in the exhibition along with a short paragraph of the ideas and topics that could be addressed. Interestingly, this step in the process often reveals whether or not an exhibition will work. As it turns out, the beadwork idea did not work. While the objects were extremely interesting, they did not work together as well as I had hoped. As it turned out, a different idea worked much better—to create an exhibition centered on a single object type, but featuring a wide range of materials and a number of different techniques. In this case, the object type was hats.

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New in the Galleries: Modern Sculptors in Indiana

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In celebration of the Indiana State Bicentennial, the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is featuring a special installation titled Modern Sculptors in Indianawith works by renowned sculptors who were born, worked, or studied in the state. The works on display represent the diversity and pluralism of modern sculpture and range from representative figures to geometric forms. An official Bicentennial Legacy Project, this installation commemorates the rich artistic heritage of Indiana and showcases some of the state’s most influential sculptures. It is on view through March 12, 2017 in the museum’s first-floor gallery of the Art of the Western World. Originally from Concarneau, France, Robert Laurent is perhaps one of the best known artists to contribute work for the Bloomington campus. His figurative sculpture The Birth of Venus (also known as the Showalter Fountain) is located in the Fine Arts Plaza next to the Eskenazi Museum of Art. Laurent worked primarily in Bloomington for the last two decades of his career and taught at Indiana University from 1942 to 1960. Some of his other works can be seen throughout campus, namely at the IU Auditorium and on the façade of Ballantine Hall. This installation features Torso, Laurent’s walnut sculpture of a female form from 1924. Representative of his lifelong interest in smooth and elegant surfaces, Torso provides visitors an intimate view of one of Laurent’s earlier small-scale works, which preceded the public and monumental sculptures of his late career.

Bloomington locals may also be familiar with Alexander Calder’s large, abstract sculpturePeau Rouge Indiana, outside Indiana University’s Musical Arts Center. Born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania, Calder gained international attention for his suspended mobile sculptures. In contrast, Peau Rouge Indiana is a “stabile,” or monumental and stationary steel sculpture.Despite its inability to move, the overlapping and intersecting abstract planes, as well as its striking red color, dynamically activate the space it occupies. A maquette, or preliminary model,of Peau Rouge Indiana is on view in the Indiana Sculptors installation, providing an opportunity to explore Calder’s early working process. The other artists in the installation have also expanded the parameters of modern sculpture, both in Indiana and on an international scale. David Smith, the abstract expressionist who influenced many of the other artists in this installation, worked in South Bend in the early 1920s and was a visiting artist at Indiana University from 1955 to 1956; David Hayes received degrees from both University of Notre Dame and Indiana University, where he worked with Smith; George Rickey,a South Bend native, created intricate kinetic sculptures; and Isamu Noguchi, known for his surrealist-inspired, biomorphic sculptures, moved to Indiana from Japan at the age of thirteen.

We hope you take this opportunity to visit us at the Eskenazi Museum of Art and see the work of some of Indiana’s most significant twentieth-century sculptors. If you have any questions, please contact us at iuam@indiana.edu.

Post by Andrew Wang, IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Graduate Assistant for European and American Art.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website
New in the Galleries
Restoring Peau Rouge Indiana