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Knight/Shapiro Class Celebrates Kennedy Generosity


A recent afternoon celebration of Kevin ’70 and Karen Kennedy’s generosity and participation in a unique art history and curatorial course, American Art 1900-1950, gave all those involved an opportunity to revisit the wealth of experiences the course offered. Conceived and presented by Associate Professor of Art Robert Knight and High Museum Director Emeritus Michael Shapiro ’71 last fall, the class had addressed the development of the modern American museum and the theory and practice of collecting art and of curating an exhibition.

The students along with Shapiro and Knight revisited the opportunities they had had to meet with experts in their fields including the director of the National Gallery of Art, the chief curator of the Whitney Museum, the head of the Terra Foundation, Christie’s chief auctioneer and deputy director, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute (MWPAI) president, as well as the directors of numerous New York art galleries. Alumnae art experts Carol Friscia ’77 and Adrienne Conzelman ’92, who had met with students during the class, were also part of the day's celebration. 

But it was the Kennedy collection and meeting with the Kennedys that served as the centerpiece of the entire course. “Everything else — the course readings about the rise of Modernism, our work with the Wellin Museum and Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute, our trip to meet with gallery and museum directors in NYC — were tied to the works in the Kennedy collection,” said Knight. “However, the generosity of the Kennedys went far beyond the loaning of the physical works themselves. The Kennedys welcomed our class into their home, Kevin shared stories of his experience at Hamilton with the students, and the students got to wander their apartment to see how collectors actually live with artworks. Together, their generosity in supporting this course serves as a bridge between the Kennedys' generation and the current one, connecting the education the students are receiving here at Hamilton with various possible paths after Hamilton, and allowing students to see their learning refracted through the real world experiences of various gallery, museum and auction house directors."

Currently, the Wellin Museum is exhibiting a small group of works from their collection for which the students drafted the wall texts and assisted with the design. “The exhibition of physical objects from Karen and Kevin Kennedy ’70’s collection currently presented in Archive Hall centers around a new generation of American artists in the first half of the 20th century who broke every rule to help invent what we know as ‘modern art,’” Knight said. In addition to creating this exhibition, the students developed their own themes around which they curated a virtual exhibition using objects from the Kennedy collection, the Wellin Museum, and MWPAI and created a simulated gallery environment using SketchUp, a CAD application.

Although Knight described the course as “incredibly intensive,” Madeline “Maddie” Justiniano ’21 said it was “… life-changing. I do want to go into this world of art. Every project was intriguing.” “This was the best class yet,” added Jesse Gross ’22.

For more information about the course, please go to the course website here.

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