Students tackle Curating 101

Installation by artist Braco Dimitrijevic

When you pass by the Fresh Grocer building at 40th and Walnut later this month (at right) and Fisher-Bennett Hall next month, be sure to look up.

On both facades, you’ll see a large banner featuring a black and white portrait photograph by Bosnian artist Braco Dimitrijevic. This piece, titled “The Casual Passer-By I Met at 3:01 p.m., Philadelphia, April 9, 2007,” is mounted as an exhibit that is part of the 2007-2008 RBSL Bergman Foundation Curatorial Seminar, a two-semester interdisciplinary course that instructs students in the art of curating.

The course—run jointly through the departments of English and History of Art—enables students to be involved in curating several different projects through the Slought Foundation, a non-profit arts organization located just west of campus, at 4017 Walnut St. Aaron Levy, Slought’s executive director and senior curator, as well as a lecturer in the English Department, is leading the course, and says throughout the year, the eight students will travel to galleries and exhibitions in Philadelphia and New York, as well as meet with artists and negotiate which projects to take on.
They will publish a book which looks at the figure of the child in the theoretical body of work of artists-architects-poets Arakawa and Madeline Gins, in conjunction with a conference in April 2008, and organize a project for the conference, “In Defense of Sloth,” to be held in New York in December.

They are also organizing an opening of the Dimitrijevic banner project on Oct. 11 that includes conversations with different people involved in the project’s realization. (A complete and updated schedule of events is available at the Slought website: www.slought.org/calendar.)

The hands-on curating work is in addition to weekly theoretical readings and critical writings. The course places the students firmly at the intersection of different disciplines.

“An enormous amount is being asked of them,” says Levy. The goal is “to impart to them some sense of what the curatorial practice entails.” He says artists, too, are sure to benefit from interactions with students. “It’s a very unusual thing to open up your everyday way of working [with] all the risks and excitement.”

David Brownlee, the Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor and Chair in the Department of the History of Art, says the Bergman Seminar is notable because of the close relationship with the Slought Foundation. “It is an almost unique opportunity whose unique characteristic is related to the nature of Slought, a small, intimative storefront gallery,” he says. “Students will get to see in one small place an enormous [amount] of variety.”

The Bergman Seminar is one of several classes that take students into museums and galleries to put them in touch with curators and one part of the real art world. Other seminars include studying in Venice in conjunction with the Venice Biennale, and a seminar in which students travel to Normandy and southern England to examine artifacts related to 1066 on both sides of the Channel. “We’ve moved boldly out of the classroom out into the world,” says Brownlee.

The Bergman seminar and others draw students from a variety of disciplines. One, taught by Brownlee on the history and architecture of Penn Museum (which will be exhibited at the Museum next year) involved students from art history, anthropology and architecture.

The reasons for these seminars are two-fold, Brownlee explains. First is to provide students who are hoping to work in museums and galleries after graduation with practical experience. “Second, it’s very valuable for people who are studying history and methodology to put that theoretical training to the test, to bring their knowledge to working with real objects and three-dimensional problems.”

Originally published Oct. 4, 2007.

Originally published on October 4, 2007