Sitting in the boardroom of The Whitney Museum of American Art, overlooking the West Side Highway and the Hudson River, are the students of Art History 310 and Scott Rothkopf, chief curator of The Whitney.
Associate Professor of Art Robert Knight and Michael Shapiro ’71, former museum director of the High Museum of Art, co-teach their new course, “From Collecting to Curating: American Art, 1900 to 1950.” From Rothkopf to Pace MacGill to Christie’s, the class interviewed various gallery owners, museum curators, and art collectors throughout their trip to New York City on Oct. 10 to 12.
The capstone project for the course is curating a small exhibition of objects from Kevin ’70 and Karen Kennedy’s art collection, which mainly consists of American paintings and works on paper from 1900-1950. The exhibition will also feature works from the Wellin collection as well as the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute in Utica.
“In order to get to a place where students can curate an exhibition, they need to learn a great deal, including the evolution of modern American art, the specific works that are included in Kevin’s collection, related works in the Wellin and Munson-Williams collections, and the larger process of curating itself,” Knight said.
[The trip] was a great extension of our class, not only because it gave life to the fields of work that we have been studying, as well as the works we have been looking at, but because it also was incredibly engaging and inspiring for all of us in the class that are considering this line of work in the future.
The idea of this field trip to New York City was actually part of the initial premise of the course.
“Looking at works of art in person, rather than on a screen or in a book, is a radically different experience,” Knight said. “In addition to seeing works they were curating, the trip provided an opportunity for students to consider the myriad career paths in the art world open to students studying at Hamilton. In this way, the trip was about art leadership as much as it was about art objects.”
Each of the students in the course prepared questions for the people they would be interviewing in the various galleries and museums. Jesse Gross ’22 researched Eric Widing, deputy chairman and former director of American Art at Christie’s.
“[The trip] was a great extension of our class, not only because it gave life to the fields of work that we have been studying, as well as the works we have been looking at, but because it also was incredibly engaging and inspiring for all of us in the class that are considering this line of work in the future,” Gross said. “I think I learned a lot about myself and what aspects of engagement with art make me happy. I’ve really been in search of how art is dealt with in the real world, both in museums and out, and this trip was an eye-opening opportunity.”
Students not only visited the Kennedys, but also Carol Friscia K’77, who has worked for Sotheby’s and Doyle Auctions, and Adrienne Conzelman ’92, P’20, P’22, owner of ARC Fine Art LLC.
“I hope that the students learned more about the objects in Kevin’s collection, but I also hope they were inspired by some of the people that they met and that they learned some of the ways that those careers can come about after Hamilton,” Knight said. “The sorts of learning that took place – handling objects, hearing the behind-the-scenes stories of working at major museums, auction houses, and galleries – simply cannot happen in the classroom.”
The trip was made possible by support from the Levitt Center, the Kirkland Endowment, and the Experiential Learning Fund.