Undergraduate Gallery Guides to curate exhibit

In just six months, five undergraduate Gallery Guides will become experts in Jerome Liebling’s work — and have an exhibit to prove it.

The undergraduate guides will work closely with the Academic Initiatives department of the gallery for the next semester and a half to curate an exhibit featuring 51 Jerome Liebling photographs. The exhibition, which will open May 2008, in time for Commencement weekend, will be the first entirely undergraduate-curated exhibit to open at the gallery.

Museum Educator Aja Armey said the Liebling exhibition will be one of two student-curated exhibits this year. Both projects will give returning Gallery Guides the chance to become involved in the actual collection development.

“It’s wonderful to have Gallery Guides who know the collection so well and who engage with the public regularly participate in the curatorial process,” Armey said in an e-mail.

The undergraduate Gallery Guide program at Yale provides participants with the opportunity to give tours at the Yale University Art Gallery of exhibits curated by experts in the field.

Pamela Franks, curator of Academic Initiatives at the gallery, stressed the importance of students’ collaborating with one another, each bringing his or her own interests and academic expertise.

“The result will be that much richer for having five different people’s perspectives,” Franks said.

The project is still in its early stages. The undergraduate Gallery Guides put up the exhibit, which involves individual research, exhibition design, writing wall text and determining the general concept of the exhibit, said Charlotte Ickes ’08, one of the five Gallery Guides. One of the most valuable steps has been speaking with Liebling, she said.

The artist, who has worked as a professor, photographer and filmmaker since the 1940s, will continue to visit the gallery and oversee the project, Ickes said.

“We have really gotten a feel for the photos just by looking at them, verbalizing our first impressions,” she said in an e-mail. “We then met with Liebling himself and realized how our first impressions were often quite different from his intentions.”

Alan Trachtenberg, professor emeritus of American studies and English, wrote an essay introducing Liebling’s book of photography entitled “Jerome Liebling: the Minnesota Photographs, 1949-1969.” He said working on Liebling’s photography collection will be a positive experience for students.

“His significance is quite high for his work as a humanist and lyrical documentary photographer, with a powerful sense of visual form and of color” Trachtenberg said in an e-mail.

Both Ickes and Elisa Iturbe ’08, another Gallery Guide working on the project, stressed the importance of photography as a new way of seeing the world.

“Photographs can ask you to look again at what you thought was familiar,” Iturbe said in an e-mail. “[They] reframe the world, sometimes making the known unknown and other times pushing the unknown into the realm of familiarity.”

Franks said the exhibition is a way for the students to immerse themselves in the artist’s work and a way for them to improve the quality of their tours and enrich their overall experiences as Gallery Guides.

“Every exhibition presents the challenge of presenting a compelling visual story and getting across the message you want to convey in the form of a display,” she said. “By the end of this semester they’ll have come up with the angles they want to present, and throughout the spring they’ll be working on installation design.”

Iturbe said the exhibition is a useful application of the lessons learned through the Gallery Guide curriculum, such as the personalizing of tours of exhibits that are not self-curated.

“We are asked to expand our studies of art from memorization of data to personal interpretations of the work, and most importantly, we must integrate our ideas with those of others, whether they are fellow students or published scholars,” she said.

Ickes said working at the gallery has provided some of her most important educational experiences, and the Liebling show will surely be no exception.

“I cannot make art, but I do believe that curating a show is a type of a creative process,” she said.

The exhibit is the third student-curated exhibit at the gallery. The first, “Responding to Kahn: A Sculptural Conversation,” was put on for the reopening of the Louis Kahn building and paved the way for future exhibits, Armey said.

“The program has been so successful and has engaged students in such an amazing opportunity that I am sure the program is here to stay for some time” Armey said.

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