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.

Continue reading “How An Exhibition Comes Together”

Year-in-Review

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The spring semester is coming to a close but before the IU Art Museum begins to embark on summer festivities, events, and programming, we are taking a look back at this year’s newsworthy topics written about by students like you in the Indiana Daily Student:

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Advancing American Art
Advancing American Art: Art Interrupted (COURTESY PHOTO: IDS)

This year’s first Special Exhibition, Advancing American Art: Art Interrupted, recreated an exhibition from the World War II era. The original exhibition intended to exhibit to foreign nations the ideas of American art, freedom, and democracy, but was considered by many to be too controversial due to the employment of artists who were perceived as leftist and due to artistic styles.  The United States Congress ultimately cancelled the exhibition and auctioned it off.  The traveling exhibition featured 117 paintings from the original exhibition that were on view through December.

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In October 2013, a temporary exhibit took root in the IU Art Museum’s Thomas T. Solley Atrium. Presented by the members of the Indianapolis Bonsai Club, this pop-up exhibition presented a unique artistic experience on sculpture demonstration in the IU Art Museum atrium for the Bonsai Tree Exhibition Visitors to the museum were invited to learn the skill behind this Japanese art form as Scott Yelich, the president, demonstrated to visitors how to craft these whimsical creatures of Mother Earth.

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Shadowy Figures
Stories with Shadowy Figures (COURTESY PHOTO: IDS)

More life entered the IU Art Museum in the Gallery of the Arts of Asia and the Ancient Western World as theater professor and shadow puppet performer, Jennifer Goodlander, enlivened the Indonesian shadow puppets as part of Stories with Shadowy Figures.  Having studied in Indonesia last summer, Goodlander talked with museum visitors about the ancient performance art and about her opportunity to learn the tradition.

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Among the new events and exhibitions taking place at the IU Art Museum this year, museum visitors were assured that the annual Art of Chocolate gala would not be forgotten.  This year’s gala celebrated the Art of Chocolate’s 10th year running and its ongoing support for LIFEDesigns, a local nonprofit that serves children and adults with disabilities.  Leslie Abshier, LIFEDesign’s community development officer said it best, “who doesn’t like chocolate?”

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Faculty Artists
Faculty Artists From the IU’s Hope School of Fine Arts (COURTESY PHOTO: IDS)

Launching the first of many second semester exhibitions, the Faculty Artists From the IU’s Hope School of Fine Arts opened in the Special Exhibitions and Steward Hexagon Galleries in January.  Having “something for everyone,” as curator Jenny McComas described, this exhibition represented nearly all artistic mediums including sculpture, photography, and graphic design.  This exhibition provided visitors and students the chance to see contemporary works by IU faculty in one space that have been exhibited in a variety of public and private exhibitions.

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Exploring the IU Art Museum’s three permanent galleries, museum docent Monica Kindraka-Jensen began eye-ing  in on works through her thematic tour, The Eyes Have It.  Beginning in the third floor gallery, Raymond and Laura Wieglus Gallery of the Arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas, Jensen explored with visitors the role of eyes in art across diverse cultures.  Various eye shapes and types were discussed such as “coffee bean eyes” and the “curse of the evil eye.”

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YAM
Youth Art Month (COURTESY PHOTO: IDS)

March marked the celebration of Youth Art Month with the opening reception welcoming approximately 600 student artists, their families, and community members in support of local youth artists from the Monroe County Community School Corporation.  Commemorating the IU Art Museum’s 19th year hosting Youth Art Month in the Thomas T. Solley Atrium, children ages kindergarten to sixth grade were invited to display their water color, pastel, colored pencil, paper cutouts, and other works of art.

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More colorful works filled the IU Art Museum’s Special Exhibitions Gallery with the opening of Matisse’s Jazz and Other Works from Indiana University Collections.  Acclaimed as one of the most important modern artists of the 20th century, this exhibition highlights Matisse works from the last 30 years of his life during which he had to re-invent himself as an artist.

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In the first floor atrium, students from the Giving Back to Africa Student Association showcased their month-long photographs of Beta Histoire, which opened in early April.   These photos depicted children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and their daily lives with the goal of the exhibition aimed at educating IU students about the political, social, and economic issues in the DRC.

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Wrapping up the spring semester, more educational experiences took place at the IU Art Museum in conjunction with the Evan F. Lilly Memorial Lecture Competition.  Four IU students selected pieces from the IU Art Museum’s permanent collection, researched, and composed a paper and lecture on their findings.  Objects and ideas explored included male nudes, ancient Roman religion, hermaphrodites, and bilingual eye cups.

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S.D.