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By Eric Weld   Date: 6/4/10 Bookmark and Share

How to Look at Art—Student Exhibition Guides the Way

Viewing a work of art may seem like a simple act—a uni-dimensional exchange of artistic information transacted between a solitary viewer and the artist.

Museum visitors study the juxtaposed works in "Framed."

An exhibition, titled “Framed,” curated by Lauren Kaelin ’10 in the Museum of Art, broadens the context within which art consumption takes place with an exploration of the numerous agendas converging on the moment of art appreciation.

Of course, Kaelin reminds, the artist has intent in creating the work. But often (and perhaps ideally) unrealized is the curator’s intent in how, where and in what fashion to display the artists’ works in an exhibition. The framer, too, by defining the art works’ shape, makes an enormous if under-appreciated contribution. Finally, untold millions of details from viewers’ backgrounds alter their perception of the artwork and the context in which it’s presented.

“When you look at art, your experience is guided by the curator,” Kaelin explains in her introductory notes on the wall of the exhibition. “Ideally, the curator is not part of your conscious experience; however, through the exhibition selections, their arrangement and presentation, the frames, and notes, curators are our unseen guides.”

“Framed,” on display in the museum’s Nixon Gallery (second floor) through August 1, juxtaposes in pairs 20 samples from the museum’s renowned permanent collection, all by American and English artists. Within the juxtapositions, Kaelin challenges viewers to take a close examination of the art, to notice details, question the artists’ intent and scan the works to find similarities among the pairs.

"Framed" curator Lauren Kaelin ’10.

By doing so, Kaelin underscores the curator’s role in shaping—framing—viewers’ experiences. She assists the viewer by providing exhibition notes on postcards next to each display.

For example, two side-by-side photographs—CZ and Max on the Beach, Truro, Mass., 1976 by Nan Goldin (American, 1953- ) and Sunbathing in the Park from the collection Women are Beautiful by Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984)—depict scenes of people relaxing on the ground. Kaelin, however, points out the distinction between the two, noting the intimacy of one work as compared with the distance of the other.

Another display contrasts a print, Sauvigny Abbey, by Fredrick H. Evans (English, 1853-1943) with a silkscreen work, Bus Interior, from the series Urban Landscapes III by Richard Estes (American, 1932- ). Kaelin notes the similar “undeniable compositional consistency” of both pieces despite their obvious content differences.

With Kaelin’s guidance, viewers of “Framed” come away educated and equipped with sharpened skills in art appreciation. “Framed” therefore also emphasizes a facet of the Museum of Art’s mission to serve as an educational facility, both for Kaelin in this case, and for viewers.

Now graduated, Kaelin has a summer internship at the Toledo (Ohio) Art Museum, along with fellow Smith alumna Margaret Hagan ’10. “After that,” she says, “the plan is to move to North Carolina and start reading What Color is Your Parachute?


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