Modernization: A Preservation of the Past

The following post was guest written by Darcy McConnell, an active member of the undergraduate Art History Association. The Art History Association recently utilized artworks from The Art Gallery’s permanent collection to re-curate a space in the Art-Sociology Building. Their work is now on display on the fourth floor of the building in the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture. In the post, McConnell briefly details the curatorial experience of her and her fellow University of Maryland students.

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Juxtaposing the old and the new. Photo by Quint Gregory.

Modernization: A Preservation of the Past
An Exhibition Curated by the Art History Association

Throughout the past semester, the Art History Association has had the exciting opportunity to work with art history graduate student Madeline Gent to re-curate the spaces of the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture and its graduate lounge in the Art-Sociology Building. Over the course of the past few months, we have attempted to select works that are both aesthetically pleasing and meaningful. For the grad student lounge, we have chosen William Gropper’s The Senate (1936 – 1942), Joe Jones’s Lay O’ The Land (1909 – 1963), and an untitled work by Phil Band; for the Collaboratory wall, we have selected Alfred de Giorgio Crimi’s Collage, flanked by Risaburo Kimura’s Tokyo and Vienna; and for the Collaboratory bookshelf, we have chosen two items from the University’s African Art Collection: a Colonial Figure and Gelede Mask, both made by unknown artists.

To begin the curating process, the members of the AHA—both collectively and individually—searched through the University Art Gallery’s permanent collection online. Together we brainstormed potential ideas and curatorial visions, and individual members proposed selections. After narrowing down the possibilities, we met with Ms. Gent to view the works in person at the Gallery, where we discussed our options and made our final choices.

The AHA students hanging the pieces in the Graduate Student Lounge. Photo by Quint Gregory.

AHA students hang pieces in the Graduate Student Lounge. Photo by Quint Gregory.

The works in the graduate student lounge were curated by Zoe Copeman and are taken from the Martin W. Brown Collection. Flanking William Gropper’s work are Lay O’ The Land and Phil Band’s untitled work, both of which represent, in subdued hues and with quiet feeling, the average people of America—those whose lives are deeply affected by the actions and choices of those such as the central figure portrayed in The Senate, a brighter and more cartoon-like depiction of a politician whose noise and bluster are doing very little to change the lives of America’s average joe. In choosing to display these images, we hope to encourage critical thinking and send a message about power structures within American society that continue to this day.

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Students hang Vienna by Risaburo Kimura. Photo by Quint Gregory.

The Collaboratory, curated by Matthew Forster, now houses the works of Risaburo Kimura, which hang to the right and left of Alfred de Giorgio Crimi’s Collage. Crimi’s work, bridging the two vibrant Kimura cityscapes of Tokyo and Vienna, almost resembles a passport, an association reinforced by the artist’s decision to use real postage stamps along with the watercolor paints. To us, these works together represent interconnectivity between cultures—the importance of cultural exchange, and the advancements in technology that make such exchange increasingly easy. We also believe that this selection reflects the purpose of the Collaboratory as a place where people can communicate ideas and facilitate dialogue while studying the past.

The new selection of objects from the African collection.

The new selection of objects from the African collection. Photo by Quint Gregory.

The figures from the African Art Collection, chosen by Sophie Huget, however, represent another kind of relationship between cultures, and were chosen partly to foster thought about the disparities in power and historical developments that have shaped the interconnected world represented by the three works on the Collaboratory wall. Two of the objects—the Gelede Mask and Sowei Helmet Mask—celebrates women and power, and represents objects that are used to this day in Yoruba and Sande societies respectively. The Colonial Figure, on the other hand, represents an African man dressed in Western clothing: arms pinned to his sides, waist cinched by a belt, and adorned with a tie, a collared shirt, and a jacket. This figure is not representative of his culture, and is not meant to be put to any use; rather, he is representative of colonial power structures. In choosing these figures, we hope to not only encourage appreciation of multiple cultures, but to highlight the difference between productive cultural exchange and more problematic forms of interconnectivity, such as forced assimilation and cultural appropriation.

The opportunity to curate the Collaboratory and graduate student lounge has been amazing. We have gained valuable experience, and have loved working together to make our mark in this way. It is our hope that our selections will provoke thought and the exchange of ideas, and that through these curated works, we may foster the intellectual development that both spaces are meant to facilitate.

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The Art Gallery’s Taras Matla was on site to supervise and advise our undergraduate curators. Photo by Quint Gregory.

– Darcy McConnell, University of Maryland Class of 2016
Art History Association 2015

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