Modernism in the American Galleries: The Poynor Collection

Exhibitions

Birmingham Museum of Art

2000 Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr. Blvd

Birmingham, AL 35203

November 2018 – July 2019

 

I curated two installations from a major promised gift to the institution in celebration of the donor and the expanding scope of the American collection. These rotations illustrate how American artists used medium specificity and abstraction at mid-century to transition from stylization in the early twentieth century to the pluralism of subjects and materials in twenty-first century art.

Art Travels: MFA Boston

Art Travels

I have been lucky to travel a great deal the past few months and have greatly enjoyed lots of museums for the first time. I had one of the best experiences at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I currently spend a good deal of time using their digital resources and collections search in my own provenance research, so it was high on my list of places to visit.

Of most interest to me was the way the MFA Boston is attentive to itself as an institution. A few of the galleries had been converted in to open conservation labs and a great deal of the labels spoke to collecting practices, conservation, and curatorial choices. Their Juno label spoke of the work’s life standing in the Brandegee family farm in Brookline, Massachusetts and the difficulties in restoring it. The Museum drilled a 6 foot hold in to the middle of her to place a support dowel.

I also greatly enjoyed seeing Mary Cassatt’s pastel box and another iteration of Tara Donovan’s styrofoam cup sculpture. I have done some provenance research on the BMA’s Cassatt sketch… it is the sort of work that makes you feel more strongly about an artist-for better or worse. I have written and spoken quite a bit on Donovan’s styrofoam cup sculptures and knew of the MFA iteration. It is in slightly better condition than ours and much larger. It dominates the space it hangs in. I was very glad to see it in person.

I had an incredible experience in the Sidney and Esther Rabb Gallery-see bottom image. The power of museums lies in the juxtaposition of objects, and the curators nailed this corner of the room. It was visual decadence to see van Gogh’s Lullaby: Madame Augustine Roulin Rocking a Cradle (La Berceuse) and Renoir’s Dance at Bougival behind Rodin’s Eternal Springtime. I kept circling back to this corner to look at how the works formally and conceptually functioned together.

I knew this institution was large, but I wasn’t quite ready for just how large. I couldn’t get through the entire museum before the dreaded Museum Fatigue set in, so I look forward to returning.

For Freedoms

Exhibitions

Birmingham Museum of Art

2000 Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr. Blvd

Birmingham, AL 35203

September 8, 2018 – November 18, 2019

For Freedoms: Human Rights and Civil Rights has been up for a few months now at the BMA. In Birmingham, the topic of freedom is particularly revered as the city is still reconciling its history of civil rights abuses of people of color. The visitor response wall grows daily – the image here is a few weeks old now. Norman Lewis’s Alabama II (1969) looks striking in the 8th-Avenue lobby.

I was thrilled to co-curate this exhibition with Katelyn Crawford, the Curator of American Art at the BMA. Catch it before it closes on November 18, 2018.

For Freedoms – Opens Soon

Work in Progress

Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama

September 8 – November 18, 2018

More information can be found here

 

I’ve spent the past few weeks co-curating a small exhibition about historic and contemporary freedoms and rights. The BMA’s exhibition is a partnership with the artist-run For Freedoms, a super PAC working to utilize art to build greater participation in American Democracy. I highly enjoyed combing the permanent collection for works that speak to both the current and past status of minority rights.

We use these works to probe how freedom was historically restricted for people of color in Birmingham, and how freedom has changed today. We ask: How has freedom changed? For whom have rights changed? For whom hasn’t it changed? A component of the exhibition is a response area where visitors can display their feelings and reactions to the exhibit and these questions. The BMA has also produced a small voter guide and links page on our site to assist with navigating voter registration. Personally, my voting poll has changed three times in the last year. The registration process is confusing. We hope that making distilling this information will prompt civic engagement.

Installation is later this week, and the exhibit opens to the public Saturday, September 8th. Be sure to stop by!

Goodrich Internship – Education Rotation

Uncategorized

I began my time in the Education Department of the Birmingham Museum of Art by auditing every label in the first-floor galleries. The Museum is currently trying to write new style guide standards with better design and nomenclature for their object labels. I started by researching current best practices in exhibition labels before moving on to creating floor plans of all the galleries to provide a visual overview of the current labels. The Museum has undergone numerous renovations and re-installations of the permanent collection throughout the years, so some gallery labels have widely different levels of language. The newly re-installed Dutch gallery has really nice signage and language, so we would love to get the other galleries in line with this new standards.

A section of the floor plans that I made can be seen below. We hope to use the aerial view to better understand the spread of the objects and ideal panel locations. Another component of this project is tracking the locations of all the smartguide stops, indicated with small smart-phone symbols. Another document contains notes for each gallery such as alternate locations for section panels, typical length of each label, clarity of language, suggestions, etc. Overall, I really enjoyed the amount of time I got to spend in the galleries reading labels and looking at objects. Understanding how labels have changed over time is a major part of my interest in exhibition histories. For example, the object medium used to be at the bottom of the label in small text (after the credit line!) but is now forefronted after the artist’s name. This change could be seen as an increase in interest from the general public and museum professionals in the materiality of the object.

excerpt of the Birmingham Museum of Art first floor galleries – south side

excerpt of the Birmingham Museum of Art first floor galleries – north side

As soon as I wrapped up the floor plans and accompanying notes, teachers from schools around Birmingham began bringing in student works for Youth Art Month. The annual exhibition gives teachers an opportunity to recognize their students’ works by submitting works to hang in the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Burrow Education Gallery. The turnaround was quick – I only had about half a week to frame about 60 works and get the information I needed for the labels. The installation reminded me a lot of orchestrating the layout for the Auburn’s Biggin Gallery during the annual Juried Student Shows. With so many different works of different skill levels, it is critical to hang the show in a way that lets each object feel important. I was exhausted at the reception, but the kiddos were happy.

Youth Art Month 2018 installation view, Birmingham Museum of Art

Youth Art Month 2018 installation view, Birmingham Museum of Art

Goodrich Internship – First Rotation Complete!

Work in Progress

As the Goodrich Intern at the Birmingham Museum of Art, I rotate every three months between the Registrar, Education, Development, and Curatorial Departments for a year. I am coming to a close at my time with the Registrars and will shortly move to Education. However, I am very pleased to announce that, in addition to my duties as the Goodrich Internship, I will continue to work part time as a Registrar’s Assistant on a project I begun as the Goodrich Intern.

Fundamentally, I am digitizing the exhibition archives, begun in 1951, for public access. On a more detailed level, I am going through each archived exhibition record, which could have anywhere from one to three hundred pieces of paper, to pull out important information. At the same time, I am writing the standards for the digitization of the records, so that any future work on the archives will remain consistent. I am trying to find the who-what-when-where-why’s for the digital database: object checklist, contracts, dates, brochures, catalogues, press releases. Often, I will only have a letter to prove that an exhibition happened. Sometimes a file will be super thick, but after reading every page, I find that the exhibition was canceled.

I’ve processed about 350 records spanning the years 1951 to 1965. The Birmingham Museum of Art managed to exhibit about three shows every three weeks when the Museum was initially housed in Birmingham’s City Hall. At this point in time, all correspondence was done via letter or telegram, so I can find the chain of logic through all the correspondence, usually after some note taking. My memory is also key – often the files are unorganized, or a piece of paper will be put in to the wrong iteration of an annual exhibition – and I have to recall which show the paper belongs too. Sometimes a file labeled as a single exhibit is actually two or three distinct exhibitions. Furthermore, if I make a change to the workflow standards, I have to update any previously-digitized files to be in line with the new standards.

The best part of my day is when I find installation photos – standards were simply different. When the BMA first exhibited its Kress Collection of European Art, the paintings were hung against green velvet. I can’t wait until the files are public access through the Museum’s website – everyone should see those green velvet walls.

Workshop with Trinity Presbyterian School at the 121 PopUp Gallery

Uncategorized

The Trinity Presbyterian School, sponsor of the 121 PopUp Gallery in Montgomery, Alabama, asked me to lead a workshop for their high school students in AP and Advanced Art. We started off the day with a quick lecture and discussion about my experience in ‘art school at cow college’ at Auburn University. Next, I spoke with the students about the Approximate Knowledge installation and decisions. We ended the day by casting plaster in bags following the method I developed while creating Ferrous Liquid (2017). The students, who are about to apply to universities, enjoyed hearing about life as an art student and making the plaster pillows. Things got really interesting when the students began to explore how to alter the plaster forms. Their final works are displayed on low pedestals in Approximate Knowledge. 

 

 

Approximate Knowledge – solo show installation

Work in Progress

Things have been busy, busy, busy. I have been installing my first solo exhibition at the 121 PopUp and Collaborative Studio in Montgomery, Alabama. My relationship with the gallery director, Becky Miller, developed when I was featured in the Mentor & Protégé group exhibition in March of 2017. In two weeks, I will be giving an artist talk and leading a workshop for the advanced art students from Trinity Presbyterian School, who sponsors the space. The reception for Approximate Knowledge will be Thursday, September 28th at 6pm. See you there.