I have a dirty little secret: I am an object-based art historian. In graduate school I kept this from my professors who expected allegiance to one particular theoretical approach or another. But I could not fool myself–every time I entered a museum I felt my heart skip a beat because I was going to experience real live works of art.
Early on I knew that I wanted to combine my love of objects with teaching. As curator, teacher, and researcher, I divide my time between courses on contemporary art, museum studies, and Russian art; and the Handwerker Gallery
As Gallery director I work with objects directly by maintaining the Handwerker’s permanent collection. I also curate and program professional and student exhibitions that examine the social, historical and political contexts of works of art and challenge viewers to question of the role of art in society. I see the Gallery as a laboratory for experiential learning. Indeed, it enriches the cultural and intellectual life at the College by giving students and faculty a forum to present their work and by bringing music, poetry, literature and drama together with art. The Handwerker Gallery is a dynamic and interactive space in which the arts intersect.
My research focuses upon the anti-establishment ethos of art, often through the portrayal of outsiders. Through a close reading of individual objects, I explore the social, historical and political contexts of pre-Revolutionary Russian art and contemporary art.
Objects take center stage in my classroom as well. In Art Since 1960 I introduce students to Modernist and Postmodernist painting, sculpture, and installations, and we explore the changing ideas about consumerism, tradition and innovation, roles of art and artists in society, and artistic autonomy. Contemporary art is inherently challenging and often intimidating. I help students come to terms with works through discussions, lectures, readings, and through encounters with real art objects in the Gallery. Nothing gives me greater pleasure as a teacher and as a curator than passionate discussions with students about art, its function, and its meaning, and I am continually delighted by both the breadth and depth of the classroom conversations in Art Since 1960.
I also teach a series of Museum Studies courses at the 300 and 400 levels. Introduction to Museology explores the role of museums in society. Museum Practices and Methods is a practical course that focuses on the Handwerker Gallery’s permanent collection. Here students learn about and assume the role of a museum professional over the course of the semester. I combine lecture, discussion, demonstrations, and field trips with projects in the Gallery to provide experience outside of the traditional classroom setting. Exhibition Seminar is a 400-level senior seminar where students work together to curate an exhibition for the Handwerker Gallery. Here they plan, design, install, and program the exhibition, as well as write the didactic material and the exhibition catalogue.
Mentoring students is an immensely gratifying part of my job and I love watching students grow in their pre-professional courses. The Department of Art History is the perfect place for me as it allows me to share my knowledge of and passion for art, its care, and its display with students in my classes, and, through the Gallery, with the broader College and regional communities.