Students on a field trip to the Institute of Contemporary Art exhibition Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present
The Fall 2014 course “Contemporary Art and Curatorial Practice,” offered by Amherst’s Department of Art and the History of Art and open to students from all Five Colleges, provided hands-on curatorial experience using the collection and facilities at the college’s Mead Art Museum.
Through readings, independent research and discussion, students explored how contemporary artistic practices present new challenges for museums and curators in terms of collecting, displaying and communicating art to the public, and investigated the effects curating can have on an individual artwork’s potential to communicate different narratives and expressions.
Designed and taught by Magdalena Holdar – an associate professor and director of the International Master’s Programme in Curating Art at Stockholm University in Sweden, who came to Amherst for one semester as a STINT Fellow in the Department of Art and the History of Art – the course culminated with a final project in which each student acted as curator to develop and propose an original art exhibition, many of which featured artworks from the Mead collection.
Holdar notes that the course used the Mead’s small but growing collection of contemporary art as a jumping-off point for identifying and theorizing artistic practices and curatorial strategies. “When we look at contemporary art, we also have to look at its history,” she says, adding that her students “quickly made often unexpected connections” between contemporary and historical works through their research.
Students visited the Mead’s William Green Study Room up to twice a week, for sessions designed and taught by both professor Holdar and Amy Halliday, acting curator of academic programs, who has a special interest in global contemporary art. Works from the collection not currently on display were brought from storage by study room manager Mila Waldman for students to see firsthand, and curators at the museum shared their professional experiences with the class. Students also visited Frost Library’s Archives and Special Collections, where Arts and Humanities Librarian Sara Smith shared art books from the collection; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, for a guided tour of the exhibition Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present. For their final projects, many students curated exhibitions featuring both contemporary and older works of art.
Click on the image below to open a slideshow of students presenting their final projects.