Monday, August 13, 2012

Week 10

August 6th - August 10th

And thus I began my final week as an MFAH intern...

With the essay out of the way, things really started to wind down. On Monday, I wrote out 'thank you' notes to MFAH staff, created a map of the important places that Tanner had traveled to throughout his life, put together a PowerPoint of Tanner images for the packet, and continued to rework some of the Tanner questions and text. Tuesday, I stated to assemble my internship presentation. On the last day of this week, the six summer undergraduate interns will give short talks on what we did this summer. If we thought that summarizing ten weeks of work in 5 -7 pages was tricky, it's nothing to the five minutes that we then had to condense it into.

Wednesday, the interns met with Amy Purvis, the Director of Development at the MFAH. This was a pretty interesting meeting and seemed to summarize both the glamour and humility involved in running a major arts institution. Development is a lot about creating and cultivating relationship with benefactors. This means knowing A LOT of information about both potential and present donors and hooking them or keeping them on board by finding good matches between individuals and museum projects.

In Purvis's own words, she does decent amount of "glad handing." You definitely need to have the right kind of personality to successfully carry out the more public aspects of development. There are definitely very social parts of the job that involves going to lunches and parties with benefactors, leading them on international tours, etc. However, there's also a quieter side of the department, involving things such as writing letters and 'thank you' notes and helping other departments write grants.

According to Purvis, there's significant room to grow in the field of development. Not only in terms of the number of development professionals (staff are in high demand and are paid well), but in terms of the amounts that entities could be giving, individual and especially corporate. I finished off the day with my final education staff meeting.

Thursday, I finished up the PowerPoint for my presentation on Friday. Unfortunately, when George and the interns got together to practice later, the six of us were all well over five minutes each. So Friday, I adjusted the PowerPoint to the critiques from the previous day. Then, I cleaned up my electronic files, had a debriefing meeting with Jason, and got ready to give my speech! In a small room filled with family, supervisors, and other interested parties, the six of us, one after another, delivered our presentations. Despite nerves, all went well. Each talk was met with enthusiastic applause and the entire event was capped off with a quick reception outside the auditorium.

Selected slides from my internship presentation

If I have not expressed my gratitude for the Education Department throughout this blog, I'd like to do it here. I really did have a wonderful summer at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. I learned a lot about what it's like to be an educator and had so much fun doing it. Looking back, there wasn't one morning that I wished I wasn't going in to work at the museum. The entirety of the education staff was so welcoming and encouraging. I'd like to express special thanks to George Ramirez, Dr. Victoria Ramirez, Jason Moodie, Natalie Svacina, Jennifer Beradino, Clare Hulfish, and Kris Bergquist. I could certainly go on, but I'd end up listing the entire department. I had a wonderful experience at the MFAH, and would recommend this internship to anyone interested in museum work or arts education.

The 2012 MFAH Summer Undergraduate Interns
Top: Alex Irrera, Education/School Programs, Rachel, Curatorial Film
Middle: Araceli, Education/Family Programs
Bottom: Molly, International Center for the Arts of the Americas,
Kenji, Curatorial Photography
Not Pictured: Leslie, Conservation
Photo by George Ramirez

Week 9

July 30th - August 3rd

This summer has certainly gone by quickly! With two more weeks left to go on Monday, the end of the internship was definitely in sight. I started to put together a list of resources for the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY teacher packet. The articles and websites that I came across mostly recommended strategies for covering difficult subject, such as war, violence, and death, in the classroom. I also attended the presentation for a research project about the collections feature of art museum websites, completed by the Photography intern Kenji.

Tuesday, I began annotating my WAR resource findings. I also met with Natalie to go over my Tanner packet questions again. She gave me some feedback on my writing for two more of Tanner's paintings. Primarily, I needed to hone in one the point that I wanted to make with each question. I also needed to change the ordering of my questions and text so they matched each other - ultimately creating a scaffolding that students will be able to build their reading of the paintings on.

Later in the day, the interns met with Director of the MFAH, Gary Tinterow. Following the typical structure of our meetings with staff, Mr. Tinterow told us a little bit about his background, his experiences at The Metropolitan Museum of Art where, after nearly thirty years of services, he concluded his time there as the director of the Met's 19th century, modern, and contemporary department. Our talk with him was congenial. He answered questions about his approach as a museum professional ("you get what you give"), the museum's plans to construct a new modern and contemporary building, and his goals concerning the MFAH's commitment to serving a diverse public (he said that he hopes to "dispel imperceptible barriers" and make the museum a place where there is something for everyone). The meeting was personally enlightening and a great opportunity to hear from the individual who will guide the MFAH's public presence and personality through the coming years.

Newly appointed Director of the MFAH,
Gary Tinterow
On Wednesday, the interns met with one of my supervisors, Director of Education Dr. Victoria Ramirez. The talk followed its usual format: personal/academic background, overview of the department/position, and questions. Like many others, Dr. Ramirez began with an interest in curating but switched paths after having an eye-opening experience with an education department and concluded its type of work was better suited to her ideas and goals about contributing to the museum world. Something that was surprising to her (and I think would be surprising to anyone interested in museum work) is that most people come into the education center to ask, what is there to do here? It's sort of a strange question for people who simply love museums, but I think the prevalence of this question sums up what the education department is here to do: serve as a medium between the museum and the typical visitor. If the typical visitor enters the museum with a question of this nature, then the education department is indeed poised to perform a vital function.

Thursday, I worked on my internship essay. Each of the six undergraduate interns is required to write a 5-7 page reflection on their experiences. These essays are then compiled into a book to be given back to the interns or are shown to trustees, donors, and other supporters of the museum's internship program. I took a break in the middle of the day to watch The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a film that is considered to be the older surviving animated feature. Created in 1926, it's no longer the most politically correct of children's tales, but for the most part the animation was really beautiful and the story entertaining.

The first few minutes of Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures
of Prince Achmed

On Friday, I completed my essay and a brief paragraph about myself by the afternoon. The rest of the day I spent editing the Tanner packet.

Week 8

July 23rd - July 27th

Week eight was busy with WAR and more off site field trips. Monday, I continued to read through the WAR exhibition catalogue. Later in the day, the education department met with curators Anne Tucker, Will Michels, and Natalie Zelt to discuss the educational space that will be placed in the last gallery of the exhibition. First, Natalie Zelt gave a presentation of exhibition highlights, the titles of which I quickly jotted down so I could include them in my own list. Staff then discussed the three types of audience members who will visit (military, general public, and the arts/photography community) and that these individual groups will all be expecting different information and experiences from the show. Because the exhibition is so big and often graphic, there was discussion of putting together a map of all the galleries, with the more brutal areas marked out (so people with young kids or sensitive viewers can avoid as they see fit). How best to prepare the docents for the material was also brought up and Dr. Ramirez mentioned to me that I might put together a list of teacher resources dealing with how to approach difficult subjects, such as conflict, in the classroom.

Tuesday morning I helped Jason register people for the Summer Mini-Conference, in which artists and educators can learn about art history, art making, and art education in different sessions. Wednesday, the interns visited the conservation department at the Rosine Building. First, Kress Foundation Conservation Fellow Melissa Gardner introduced us to the department's paintings lab. She talked about her own educational background (and about how extremely competitive the conservation world is) and introduced us to a few of her projects. After she led us around the analytical lab, we had our second meeting of the day with Conservation Assistant Trevor Boyd. Boyd talked about the silver coating project and the large amount of work that the team had recently completed for American Made - including recreating a rare Gothic Revival settee from (basically) just its frame, and figuring out how to put together George Nelson's Comprehensive Storage System with Desk without any instructions... or a picture of what it should look like once assembled. Overall, it was a really cool visit.

An example of a Gothic Revival settee

Conservation inside the Beck Building
(Sorry - I couldn't find any pictures of Rosine!)

Thursday, I assisted Family Programs sketching activity in the morning and worked on WAR in the afternoon. On Friday, George took the interns out to lunch at local Vietnamese restaurant Van Loc before traveling to the Menil Collection to met Associate Curator Michelle White. There are so many truly wonderful aspects of the Menil, but I won't go into detail about too many of them. Foremost however, the Menil is beautifully constructed. It is primarily lit with natural light (you can experience light changes in the lobby as clouds come and go) and has clean white walls and dark wood floors, which are slightly warn from the footsteps of its visitors. These aspects, as well as the fact that it's relatively small and contained on a single floor, were utilized to avoid museum fatigue, a goal of the de Menils, the museum's remarkable founders.

We traveled into the preparations lab (to see models of the museum and its permanent collection in one twelfth scale). Then, we went into a few of the storage rooms. Arranged "cabinet of curiosity" style, two dimensional works hang from floor to ceiling and sculptures are placed on stands and in cabinets. In short, these rooms were the most intimate art spaces I think I've ever been in. The de Menil's were famous collectors of surrealist art so the first room contained groups of Ernst sculpture, followed by a wall or two of paintings and drawings by René Magritte. There were also shadow boxes by Joseph Cornell, drawings, paintings, and collage by Picasso, paint and mounds of pigment by Kline, sculptures by Oldenburg, and Warhol or two. It was magical - the candy store equivalent for any art history enthusiast. This intelligently clustered arrangement seemed like it would be rare but extremely useful from an academic perspective. It was if the pages of a catalogue had spread out and come to life, allowing one to view small periods of artistic activity for an individual artist with one look. Curator White made it all the more fun by providing us with background stories on certain works and quizzing us on our abilities to name artists. The tour of the Menil's storage has definitely been one of the highlights and privileges of the summer.

Exterior of the Menil

Menil gallery space

Scale model of museum in the exhibitions

René Magritte (1898–1967), L'empire des lumiéres
(The Dominion of Light), 1954

Week 7

July 16th - July 20th

The end of the Tanner packet is near! Well, at least temporarily. Monday, I started writing a section of the packet comparing Tanner's work and life and that of local Houston artist John Biggers. The comparison is a little bit of a stretch; Tanner and Biggers had very different styles of painting and practical opposing conceptions of what it meant to be African American (granted they were working nearly three quarters of a century apart). However, both faith and travel were integral to their experiences as artists and human beings, which is what I focused on.

John Biggers (1924 - 2001)

John Biggers, Jubilee: Ghana Harvest Festival, 1959-63, Tempera and acrylic
on canvas, MFAH, Gift of Duke Energy.

Tuesday, Jason suggested that I give myself a break from Tanner by moving on to the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY EFE packet. I'm very excited about the switch because, 1) Tanner has been dragging and 2) WAR's got some really incredible content. For this packet, I will be looking through the works (almost 500) and going through the catalogue (or what exists so far of the projected 600 page text) to find the works that are described most extensively and that seem most useful and appropriate for the classroom. The appeal of this new project, also gave me the little boost of energy that I needed to finish up my writing the comparison between Tanner and Biggers and reworking some of PAFA's original questions.

Wednesday, I dove into WAR. My first task was just to locate all the documents and images from the the photography department that I would need. In the afternoon, the interns met with Assistant Curator Christine Gervais for a insider tour of the new exhibition: American Made: 250 Years of American Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Christine was very nice and was able to tell us about certain restoration projects that happened for the exhibition and about the many curatorial decisions that she and American Painting curator Emily Neff made in creating the exhibit. Overall, American Made is one of the most impressive exhibitions that I've seen - it does a wonderful job of evoking the thoughts and feelings of each time period it covers without featuring any particularly famous works or didactic panels. The exhibition is an elegant creation that leaves one feeling practically patriotic by the final gallery (despite the fact that the room features selections from Robert Frank's critical photographic work The Americans).

John James Audubon, ​The Birds of America:
from Original Drawings​, 1827–38, hand-colored
etching and aquatint, Private Western Collection.

Unknown makers (including S. R. Carroll, M. A. Humphreys,
Sophia Osborne, Ellen Ehlies, T. S. and M. D.), "Baltimore
Album" Quilt​, 1840s, cotton and cotton appliqué, the MFAH,
 gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. 

Elie Nadelman, Tango, c. 1918–24, cherry wood
and gesso, the MFAH, gift of Mr. and
Mrs. Meredith Long. © Estate of Elie Nadelman

Helen Torr, Corrugated Building, 1929, oil
on panel, the MFAH, gift of The Brown Foundation,
 Inc., and Isabel B. Wilson in memory of
Peter C. Marzio.

Thursday, Kendra and I did a little bit to help out with Family Programs by making examples for the art making activity based on Turner's A Coast Scene with Fisherman Hauling a Boat Ashore ("The Iveagh Sea-Piece") from the Kenwood House exhibition. The rest of the day was devoted to the WAR packet.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, A Coast Scene with Fisherman
Hauling a Boat Ashore ("The Iveagh Sea-Piece"), c. 1803–04,
oil on canvas, Kenwood House, English Heritage, Iveagh
Bequest. (Courtesy American Federation of Arts)

A splendid example project! Created using watercolor pencils
and paper, markers, and projector sheets.

Friday, the interns headed to Rienzi, the MFAH's second off site decorative arts department. While Bayou Bend focuses on decorative arts from America, Rienzi collects European works. Director and curator Katherine Howe was able to give us a tour of the house, which was a real treat because she was integral contributor to its creation in 1999. Beautiful art aside, the house itself is really interesting - many parts of its design are undeniably evocative of the 1950s, yet it is also accommodating to gold, silver, and ornament from another continent, centuries ago.

Friedrich Ketwyck and Jochim Timme, Wall Sconce
(one of a pair), c. 1670, Silver, MFAH, The Rienzi
Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harris Masterson III

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Week 6

July 9th - July 13th

Monday began with my introduction to Jen and Natalie's Teacher Fellows Summer Institute (TFSI). The program will formally begin on Tuesday so the first day of the week gave Natalie and Jen the chance to practice and refine their gallery talk with an audience (Jen's assistant Clare and I). While Natalie led us through a looking and discussion exercise with Georgia O'Keeffe painting Red Hills with White Shell, Jen interjected to explain the kinds of choices Natalie was making as educator, such as when to give or withhold information, how to change the questions if the audience struggles to answer, and strategies for leading and pacing the conversation.

Georgia O'Keeffe. American 1887-1986. Red Hills with White Shell.
1938. Oil on canvas.  30 x 36 1/2 inches.

Natalie and Jen's program is really interesting. Essentially, they're developing a Learning Through Art program for a middle school audience (LTAs are currently planned for elementary). The pair wants this programs to focus on higher level thinking or what they're calling "habits of mind." These include themes like ambiguity, persistence, and determination. The purpose of the TFSI is to really begin to tie the work that Natalie and Jen have done so far to the curriculum that Texas teachers are required to teach (called TEKS). After the practice session, I helped Kendra by posing for some photos she'll need for the audio tour flyer (fancy!). Later in the day, the staff meeting was held, after which I asked Natalie for some feedback on what I've written on Tanner so far. She looked over my discussion of Tanner's paintings Pomp at the Zoo and A Mosque in Cairo.

Henry Ossawa Tanner. Pomp at the Zoo.
 c. 1880.  Oil on canvas.  20 x 16 inches.
Henry Ossawa Tanner. A Mosque in Cairo. 1897.
Oil on canvas. 9.5 x 13 inches.

Natalie's feedback was very helpful; she let me know what I ideas she thought I needed to expand and gave diction suggestions. She also mentioned that she thought that a lot of the classroom questions that go along with the painting examples, which I had borrowed from PAFA (with permission), aren't strong. Question writing is an area that I'm particularly unfamiliar with so, I hadn't felt equipped to be too critical of the PAFA. However, having watched a bit of gallery teaching by this point, I can definitely agree with Natalie's assessment. My next steps will be to rewrite the sections that Natalie commented on, get feedback for the rest of what I've written, and rewrite the questions. Natalie has also kindly suggested a few articles on question writing to help me out: Pat Villeneuve's Aesthetic Scanning and From Periphery to Center: Art Museum Education in the 21st Century.

Tuesday, I attended sections of the TFSI, notably Natalie's gallery talk and the curriculum connections session, in which the teachers began to brainstorm connections between "habits of mind" and specific curriculum content.Wednesday morning, the TFSI duo lead a group discussion on the topic: what makes a good question? Later in the day, the interns met with Curator of Photography, Anne Wilkes Tucker.

Tucker is one of the biggest names on the MFAH staff as well as within the field of photographic study. One of her biggest accomplishments has been to establish the MFAH's now extensive photography collection, building it up from the very little that the department possessed when she began here in 1976. Her production of exhibition catalogues and other texts on photography has also been prolific. Tucker was able to talk about her life and career, and a bit about WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY; then we had a Q&A session with her.

One thing that stood out to me was her process for both coming up with show themes and adding to the permanent collection. Both seemed to come out of a series of questions: Has someone done this?/Do we have this? Why not? How can we do it?/ How can we get it? It's part of a process that requires persistence, confidence, and a bit of nerve. Another interesting point was that much of being a curator is fundraising (which I think perhaps aspiring curators don't usually realize). A final aspect of the conversation that struck me was how little preciousness she seemed to assign to her work. Although she definitely expressed pride concerning her professional accomplishments, she also noted that no one can know what will survive the test of taste and time. The works and exhibitions that are currently revered may be forgotten tomorrow, just as the pieces that are dismissed today could later inspire awe. After our discussion with Tucker, we met with Del Zogg, Manager of the Works on Paper and Photography Collections, who told us a bit about himself and gave us a tour of the Works on Paper Study Center and storage (freezers and all). On a side note, Tucker recommends Errol Morris' article on the debate surrounding Roger Fenton's famous pair of photographs The Valley of the Shadow of Death, which will be featured in the W/P exhibition.

Thursday, I helped out a little with Family Programs. The activity was gallery sketching and scavenger hunts. This time, these activities took place in one of the temporary exhibitions, Modern and Contemporary Masterworks from Malba - Fundacion Contantini. With these activities, kids get the chance to study and draw from great works like Abaporu (The Man that Eats People) by Tarsila do Amaral and Frida Kahlo's Self Portrait with Monkey and Parrot.

Tarsila do Amaral, Abaporu, 1928,
Oil on canvas, Malba - Fundación Costantini,
Buenos Aires. © Tarsila do Amaral

Frida Kahlo, Autorretrato con chango y loro
 (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot),
1942, Oil on masonite, Malba - Fundación
Costantini, Buenos Aires. © 2012 Banco
de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums
 Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York

Despite the threat of a downpour on Friday, the interns headed off to tour Bayou Bend (BB). Originally the house and collection of Ima Hogg, daughter of a Texas governor, BB is the decorative arts wing of the MFAH and exclusively features American-made items (furniture, silver, paintings, etc.) from the early colonial times until the later half 1800s. The house is located in the wealthiest of Houston neighborhoods known as River Oaks and has extensive gardens and walking paths.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Week 5

July 2nd - July 6th

Thanks to our national holiday, this week was short and sweet. I'll keep my description concise as well by just saying that the week was devoted to finishing the rough draft of the biographical content for the Tanner packet. By Tuesday afternoon, I had completed Tanner's biography, added vocabulary terms, and edited the draft a bit.

Wednesday was the Fourth of July, but we were back on Thursday for another intern field trip. For this excursion, we traveled across the Montrose Street to meet with the staff of Houston's Contemporary Arts Museum (CAMH, commonly referred to as the "CAM").

Museum of Contemporary Arts, Houston
Back of the museum,
sculpture by Houston native and artist Mel Chin.

The meeting assembled in a sort-of pow-wow in the middle of the museum's ground-level gallery. Standing in a large circle, MFAH interns and CAMH staff and interns introduced themselves. At George's request, some of the CAM's head staff spoke at length about their backgrounds, offering their professional trajectories and experiences. Most notable were the stories of Director Bill Arning and Senior Curator Valerie Cassel Oliver. As to be expected, both described years of hard work. However, each also embodied a strong degree of flexibility in navigating their experiences. Although neither began their formal education in the visual arts (Arning wanted to be a musician and Oliver originally got her undergraduate degree in communications), by embracing and taking full advantage of their changing interests and opportunities, both have built sound careers and have done impressive, often groundbreaking work in the field. I especially liked Oliver's characterization of curating as "collecting voices." A number of Arning's quotes were also amusing and cogent. Towards the end of the discussion, he said something to the extent of: "Sex, violence, and other controversial subjects are all over television and it's numbing. There's plenty of sex, violence, etc. in a contemporary art museum, but here it's up close and personal. Here, it makes you think." After the meeting, the MFAH interns stayed to check out the two exhibitions currently on view: It Is What It Is. Or Is It? and Perspectives 178: Cineplex, both of which were appropriately exciting and thought provoking.

I left the group a bit early to assist with Family Programs at the MFAH. The day's activity was scroll painting, inspired by the Japanese art of the Powers exhibition. Volunteers help kids and their families discover how to use the value of a pigment to designate foreground, middle ground, and background in landscapes. I ended the week by having a meeting with Dr. Ramirez about my progress with the Tanner packet and by beginning to add the content and make the adjustments that she had suggested.