Orange Alert

Diversity of SU Art Museum Collection Highlighted in Two Virtual Exhibitions Curated by Art History Graduate Students

Exterior shot of the Syracuse University Art Museum

Posted on: March 31, 2021

The opportunity for students to conceive, curate, and mount exhibitions at the Syracuse University Art Museum has resulted in two dynamic spring exhibitions curated by M.A. students in art history in the Department of Art and Music Histories.

Drawing from the museum’s large collection of photographs by Berenice Abbott, second-year student Mary Bedell curated the show As They Were: Berenice Abbott’s Queer Parisian Portraiture, 1921-1929. Abbott began her photographic career in Paris where she became an assistant at the Man Ray studio. Abbott is perhaps best known for her 1930s work that documents New York City’s changing skyline. Bedell saw the exhibition as an opportunity to highlight the diversity of the SU Art Museum’s collection. She offers a different perspective on Abbott’s work, one that focuses on photographs that operate on a more intimate, human scale. According to Bedell, “No previous show had highlighted [Abbott’s] identity as a lesbian or the prevalence of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people among her subjects.” Bedell continues, “The exhibition addresses this narrative head-on by telling the stories of Abbott's subjects and showing how integral they were in many of the key intellectual, artistic, and political movements of the era.”

Black and white photo of hands called "Hands of Jean Cocteau"

The exhibition “Looking Back, Looking Forward: American Artists React to Twentieth-Century Modernism,” was also spurred by two MA students’ desire to showcase lesser-known works of art from the SU Art Museum’s collection. Originally conceived as two independent exhibitions, Kate Hill and Tyler Valera ultimately decided to combine their efforts to tell a story about how and why artists interpret both the past and the present. The artists showcased in the exhibition include etchers, including as John Taylor Arms, and watercolorists, including Dong Kingman, Reginald Marsh, Joseph Pennell, Frederick Whitaker, and Maria Wickey. Hill and Valera note that they were inspired to reach out the museum about curating an exhibition by a course they took with professor Sascha Scott, in which the class curated an exhibition of the photographs by W. Eugene Smith for the SU Art Museum.

Photo on left called "Gothic Glory, Sens Cathedral" in 1929. Photo on right called "Building Archway with Three Men and Barrels" in 1948

Bedell, Hill and Valera presented their research on the two exhibits during two lunchtime gallery talks in February and March. These presentations are now available on YouTube. Watch Bedell’s discussion of Berenice Abbott. Watch Hill’s and Valera’s insights into “Looking Back, Looking Forward.”

From conception to installation, the students found their experience at the SU Art Museum to be a fulfilling and meaningful foray into the realm of curatorial practice.