Curatorial Seminars

Spiegel Freshman Seminar in Contemporary Art: Glenn Ligon at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Fall 2012 + Spring 2013 (Prof. G. Shaw)

Under the auspices of the Spiegel Freshman Seminar in Contemporary Art, professor Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw and Dr. Jennifer Burris, the Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow at Penn's Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), began working with a group of first-year students on an as yet to be titled exhibition that will open at the ICA in late April 2013. The focus of the exhibition will be "Un/Becoming," a solo show of work by the American artist Glenn Ligon that was organized and mounted at the ICA in 1994. Students are charged with researching the original exhibition through its archival remains in the files of the ICA and the special collections that are located in Van Pelt Library. In order to better understand the artist's sources and legacy, members of the seminar are reading and discussing the history of African American literature, art and visual culture, as well as the contemporary art scene as it relates to themes of race, gender, and sexuality --- all topics that are of special interest to the artist. The resulting exhibition, which will feature the work of several different contemporary artists, promises to be both illuminating and provocative. By providing a glimpse into the profound impact of the 1994 show and Ligon's subsequent work, the course and exhibition will illuminate related artistic production by other, younger artists and examine evolving exhibition practices at the ICA and elsewhere.

Halpern-Rogath Curatorial Seminar: Afro-Brazilian Art, Fall 2011 (Prof. G. Shaw)

This past spring saw the hugely successful opening of the student-curated exhibition, "Samba Sessão: Afro-Brazilian Art and Film," at Penn's Arthur Ross Gallery. The exhibition was organized by a Halpern-Rogath Curatorial Seminar led by art history's Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw and the history department's Tamara Walker. The works included were loaned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where they make up a significant part of the museum's John Axelrod Collection. As a part of preparing for the exhibition, the 8 students were enrolled in the course travelled to Boston to see the works and to meet with Mr. Axelrod, a lawyer who collected the objects during during the 1980s and 90s while working as a real estate developer in Latin America. In early January, the professors accompanied the students on a week-long trip to Brazil to learn more about the realities of life and culture in that country. During one very busy week, the group visited numerous galleries and museums in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, meeting with specialists and dealers, sampling the local cuisine and music, and taking art-related tours.

Nearly 300 people attended the exhibition's opening, which featured live Bateria drumming by students from Penn's Wharton School and dance-inducing samba music by Philadelphia's own Alô Brasil, playingAfrican influenced music (samba batucada, samba reggae, pagode, maracatú, ijexá) from many different regions of Brazil. During the run of the show, the Arthur Ross Gallery also featured Capoeira lessons and students ran a related film series that was hosted by Harrison College House.

In addition to the art objects that were included in the exhibition, the student's produced short digital videos that analyzed Brazilian films of their choice. These videos, made with training received in special workshops provided by the excellent staff of the Wiegle Information Commons in Van Pelt Library, were displayed in the space of the gallery alongside the works of art and the student-composed labels. A small catalog was published along with an informative website. The videos made by the students may be viewed at

Spiegel Freshman Seminar: Contemporary Art And The Art Of Curating, Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 (K. Goldsmith)

In 1965, Andy Warhol had his first American museum exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art here at Penn. The place was so mobbed by students, fans, and the press that all of the paintings had to be removed from the walls because there was fear that they would be damaged. The crowd grew so large and unruly that Warhol and his entourage were forced to flee for fear of their lives.

This exhibition, arguably one of the most important of Warhol's career, marks a turning point in contemporary art, where the persona of the artist challenges the primacy of the works on display; by the time Warhol escaped, it was he whom the public wanted as much as the paintings he made.

The implications of this simple gesture are profound and play out in various ways over the next half-century, giving rise to performance and media art, as well as to the notion of the artist as celebrity as exemplified by Jeff Koons in the art world, Lady Gaga in music, and everybody's fifteen minutes of fame in reality television.

Students in the year-long Spiegel Freshman Seminar have been researching the events surrounding this historic event in preparation for our own show at the ICA, opening this April. The students have been mining the deep archives of the ICA and the Penn libraries, investigating this fascinating story by hunting down television broadcasts and vintage photographs; they've been digging up newspaper articles that were written for Penn student newspapers as well as in the mainstream press; and they've been interviewing people who were there. The class has been acting like a group of archeologists, reconstructing the exhibition space by locating and mapping its original location in what is today's Fisher Fine Arts Library.

Historically, the show has been somewhat of a mystery, even in the voluminous books and articles about Warhol. Their exhibition will be the first time that many of these materials have been made public, thus contributing an essential piece to the puzzle of Warhol scholarship.

Trouble in Paradise: The Art of Polynesian Warfare (Prof. G. Shaw)

Tapping into the rich collections of the University Museum, this course explores the arts of warfare in Polynesia. Clubs were the most effective weapons, and because clubs were so important, the Polynesians developed them into objects both of deadly effectiveness and also great beauty. While focusing primarily on creating an exhibition of the clubs, a variety of material and visual culture objects from the Pacific will be studied in order to provide context. Thanks to the generous donation from the Halpern-Rogath Family, this class affords students a unique opportunity to create an exhibit for the museum in one semester. The course includes research trips to London and Hawaii.

Whimsical Works: The Playful Design of Charles and Ray Eames (Prof. G. Marcus)

Whimsical Works: The Playful Designs of Charles and Ray Eames Featuring toys, children’s furniture, and quirky films, along with photographs chronicling their history and creation, this exhibition focuses on the famous husband and wife design team’s serious approach to playful things. Charles and Ray Eames are best known for the molded plywood and plastic furniture they introduced to America in the 1940s. Organized in cooperation with the Eames office by students in the Halpern-Rogath Curatorial Seminar supported by Penn’s Department of Art History.

Halpern-Rogath Curatorial Seminar: Modern Design—Louis Kahn Furniture and Interiors (Prof. G. Marcus)

This two-semester seminar takes Louis Kahn's pronouncement "Architecture begins with the making of a room" literally as it explores the interiors, furniture, and furnishings of the great Philadelphia architect. The subject of study is two-fold: the work of Louis Kahn and the planning and execution of exhibitions. For the former, students explored Penn's Architectural Archives, with its numerous original drawings and rich documentation of Kahn's designs for furniture, built-ins, fittings, and interior details, an area that has been little studied. Using the knowledge they gained through their primary research in the archives, students worked together to create an exhibition for the Arthur Ross Gallery in the following term. The second aspect of the course, asking the question posed by Paula Marincola's symposium book What Makes a Great Exhibition?, saw how the lessons learned from that text and other readings, museum experiences, and the wisdom of various museum professionals can be applied as the students created and mounted their own exhibition and assessed its achievement.

Halpern-Rogath Curatorial Seminar: Archaeologists and Travelers in Ottoman Lands, Fall 2009 (Prof. R. Holod and R. Ousterhout)

The seminar prepared an exhibit that appeared at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in the fall of 2010 and in modified form at the Pera Museum in Istanbul during the spring of 2011. Utilizing paintings, drawings, photographs, letters, excavation notebooks, and artifacts (almost all from the storerooms and archives of the Penn Museum), the exhibit constructed a visual narrative of three intersecting lives: Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910), a noted Orientalist painter, archaeologist, and the Director of the Ottoman Imperial Museum; Hermann Hilprecht (1859-1925), distinguished (and ultimately disgraced) Assyriologist from Penn, and John Henry Haynes (1849-1910), pioneering archaeological photographer and traveler, whose work remains all but unknown. We considered issues of Orientalism and Occidentalism in the confrontation of East and West, the intersections of painting and photography, early travel photography, and the beginnings of American archaeology and museum-building.

Halpern-Rogath Curatorial Seminar: African Art from the Benin Kingdom, 2007 (Prof. K.Curnow)

West Africa's Benin Kingdom provides the only 500-year extent continuum of sub-Saharan African art works. Most works in bronze, ivory, and wood were created to ornament the palace of the divine king, or to be worn by him or his chiefs. Working with the University Museum's strong collection as guest curator, I developed the idea of the exhibition, and then fleshed out some of its specifics with undergraduate and graduate students in the History of Art Department. After studying the history of museum practices, the students traveled to see four Benin displays in New York and Washington, DC. They analyzed those exhibitions, coming up with imaginative suggestions and caveats, many of which we incorporated in IYARE! The seminar’s participants handled storage pieces, debated how to address certain issues, and helped plan an in-depth website, also writing object entries for the companion catalogue.

The Painter-Etcher (Prof. M. Cole)

Prints by Dürer, Parmigianino, Brueghel, Barocci, Rubens, Rembrandt, Boucher, and a host of other master painters are currently featured “The Early Modern Painter-Etcher,” an exhibition on view at the Arthur Ross Gallery. The exhibition was curated by Michael Cole and by Madeleine Viljoen, in collaboration with Larry Silver and a number of current and former Penn students. The exhibition surveys etchings from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries by more than sixty European artists who, while not professional printmakers, took up the challenge of making works on paper. It highlights “experimental” sheets, in some cases featuring the single printed work a famous painter made. The loaned objects come from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Gallery of Art, The Baltimore Museum of Art, and eleven other major public and private collections. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, prepared in part during a spring 2006 Halpern-Rogath Curatorial Seminar that Profs. Cole and Silver led. The book, published by Penn State University Press, includes contributions by all the members of that class, as well as other distinguished print scholars from the United States and Canada

Issues of Contemporary Art and the Art of Curating (2004-05), (Prof. K. Beckman)

A curatorial seminar coordinated with the Institute of Contemporary Art, taught by Professor Karen Beckman

Drawings from the Ashmolean Museum (2004), (Prof. S. Sidlauskas)

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has a large, distinguished collection of drawings, with particularly strong holdings in 19th- and 20th-century works, including masterpieces by Millet, Degas, Cézanne, Corot, Morisot, Rodin, as well as prized examples of German Nazarene and English Pre-Raphaelite art. Students in this class researched the Ashmolean collection -- spending a week in Oxford -- and drew upon their research to develop an exhibition of some of the museum's most fascinating works. The exhibition was held at the Arthur Ross Gallery of the University of Pennsylvania. The students published a catalogue, organized by Prof. Susan Sidlauskas (Penn) and Dr. Jon Whiteley (Oxford), and developed an accompanying website.