Due to a new program at the Yale Center for British Art, undergraduates can now influence the museum’s art acquisition process.
The John F. O’Brien Acquisition Program, established this school year, allows YCBA student tour guides to learn firsthand how museums acquire works of art. As the program draws to a close at the end of the semester, the YCBA will add one new work to its collections based on the group’s suggestions, which the students are planning to deliver later this month. The program seeks to expose students to a discipline within the visual arts that is not commonly studied.
“We want to encourage a critical approach to art but also give students sense of how a curator needs to think strategically about how to acquire for a collection,” said Scott Wilcox, the YCBA’s deputy director for collections.
In January, the student guides in the program traveled to New York City, where they attended the 2015 “Master Drawings in New York” event, which featured over two dozen exhibitions that were hosted by a number of Upper East Side galleries. During the trip, the students met with four art dealers and viewed 16 drawings in total. The students also had the chance to speak with the dealers about the art industry at large and the changing market for British art.
Both Wilcox and Gillian Forrester, the senior curator of prints and drawings, said they were surprised by the volume and diversity of drawings that dealers presented at the New York event. Forrester noted that as the acquisition program is currently limited in its funding, she was originally unsure of the quality of artwork that dealers would display.
After further deliberations in January and February, the students narrowed down the drawings from 16 to three. On April 24, students will present research on and assessments of the three drawings. The YCBA will then choose one of the drawings to add to its collection.
Wilcox noted that the presentations will focus on how the artists and works fit into the broader context of the museum’s collections. He added the YCBA would make a decision based on the strength of the students’ analyses of the pieces.
The program is sponsored by John F. O’Brien, whose experiences as an undergraduate at Georgetown University led him to donate to the YCBA. The YCBA usually gives student guides the chance to curate exhibits with its “Art in Focus” program, but it is not hosting the program this year due to its closing for renovations. As a result, the new program can continue the long-standing tradition of student teaching.
Danny Roza ’15, a participant in the program and former production and design editor for the News, said that while his experience as a tour guide has taught him about how departments within museums interact with one another, the program has demonstrated to him the importance of the YCBA’s relationships with art dealers and other groups outside of the museum itself.
Katharine Spooner ’16, another program participant, added that she was impressed to discover that museums and dealers work closely with one another to ensure that the interests of both sides are met.
Wilcox said that while the program will continue for the foreseeable future, it may change its curriculum. He explained that the program hopes to give different experiences each year by focusing on different mediums of art. As this year focused on 18th and 19th century drawings, Wilcox noted, subsequent years may look at photography or contemporary prints.
Forrester added that the program may function more as a “seminar” in the future, where students do more background reading and research a topic in greater depth and over a longer span of time than they did this year.
The YCBA Student Guide Program began in 2002.