Art museum visitors experience 20th-century urbanism, labor issues in student-curated exhibitions

Published: November 17, 2017
Updated: November 20, 2017
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Advanced art history students at Auburn University get a hands-on look at the world of art curation right in their own backyard and have a unique experience for their portfolios. Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art welcomes students to curate a two-part exhibition in the Chi Omega-Hargis Gallery. Exhibition one is titled "The American City: Tourists and Denizens" and exhibition two focuses on "Division of Labor." Museum staff will feature the student's research in an online series of collection spotlights.

Emily Burns, assistant professor of art history, led the students in her Art of the United States course in their integrated approach to learning and interacting with American art. The class learned through lectures, both about the art they are working with and other art displayed around the world.

Students broke into two groups for this final project. "We divided it up within our group as far as the curating process goes," Sarah Webb, senior in art history said. "We had some group members work on research, some work on writing and others focused on design."

All the art in the exhibitions is from the permanent collection of the Jule Collins Smith Museum. Students met with the museum's registrar to see the art they were considering in person, which helped them narrow down which pieces would and would not work side-by-side.

Students in Burns' class take viewers to a place far away from our small Alabama town. "The American City: Tourists and Denizens" captures the spirit of travel to and within an American city in the 20th century. Artists featured include Andy Warhol, Martin Lewis, Yvonne Jacquette, John Sloan, Ben Shute, Frank Kleinholz, Gregorio Prestopino, William Castellana and O. Louis Guglielmi. "Division of Labor" addresses the complex role of representations of labor in America, through the work of Andrew Wyeth, William Gropper, Walker Evans and Pablo O'Higgins.

"The experience allows students to take ownership of their project by picking an object, independently conducting research and developing a presentation that combines visual analysis and research findings," Burns said.

This project not only gave students a chance to learn about the art from afar, but allowed them to get up close with the pieces and learn more about how the curating process works from an insider perspective.

Matt Baumgart, a senior in graphic design, found a new understanding with a behind-the-scenes look at museum operations. "I always thought of museums as a place that presents things from the past," he said. "Now, I recognize that there are teams of professionals working to present these works which are just as timely for discussion as when they were created in the early 20th century."

Meredithe Kelsoe, a sophomore in art history, said this project was a great introduction into her career path and would absolutely help her going forward in her major.

"My grandpa was an artist, so he instilled the love of art in me," Kelsoe said. "I hope this student-led exhibition helps forge the path for more students that currently don't show as much interest in art to come visit the museum."

Admission to the gallery is free and open to the public. For more information, go to or call 334-844-1484.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 29,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.