Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh is a consortium of local museums, galleries and archives working together to share information and expertise, and foster collaboration in research, teaching, and public engagement.

Here, at the HAA Constellations blog, you can read about some of the outcomes of these partnerships. Learn more about Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh at https://haa.pitt.edu/ckp.

 

Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Paul M. Farber, Artistic Director of Monument Lab and lecturer in Fine Arts and Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania

     

    Philadelphia’s Monument Lab reports to Pittsburgh

    Author: Kirk Savage

    William S. Dietrich II Professor of History of Art and Architecture

    “As a nation, we are in the midst of a long reckoning over our inherited monuments.” 

    So begins a report to the City of Philadelphia by Monument Lab, a team of artists, urbanists, public historians, and data experts working to “remediate” the memorial landscape. Since 2015 Monument Lab has captured national attention with research projects and artistic interventions that leverage the expertise and energy of diverse constituencies in order to address inequities in our existing monuments and imagine new solutions for the future. 

    On November 28 & 29, 2018, the University of Pittsburgh was very fortunate to be able to host Paul Farber, artistic director Monument Lab, for a series of fascinating discussions and workshops over two full days. In a lecture at Pitt’s Humanities Center, Farber walked us through the curatorial program of Monument Lab – most spectacularly in a citywide exhibition of twenty artists intervening in ten parks and sites in Philadelphia in the fall of 2017, just weeks after the tragic events in Charlottesville. Equally important, however was the research activity paired with these artistic projects. In specially outfitted shipping containers, passersby were invited to answer the question, “what is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?” These answers, written and sketched on cards, were then scanned and tagged and entered into a database that itself constitutes a unique treasury of ideas, insights, and critiques about their city.

    Farber and his colleague Laurie Allen, Monument Lab’s Director of Research and Director of Digital Scholarship at Penn, who participated remotely, also led a workshop at the Office of Public Art attended by arts professionals and representatives of local foundations and nonprofits. We filled out cards on an “appropriate monument for the current city of Pittsburgh,” discussed the process surrounding the Stephen Foster monument, and speculated on how a Monument Lab approach might be adapted to the unique conditions of Pittsburgh.

    Finally, Farber led an inspiring session with graduate students in art history and several other departments on changing careers for humanities PhDs. As a professional who combines curatorial work and part-time teaching with research, writing, and social activism, he shared his own personal experiences with collaboration, community engagement, fundraising, and managing work-life balance.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Musée Yves Saint Laurent, installation detail, Paris, France

     

    Fashions Far Afield and Close to Home

    Author: Emily Mazzola

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and 2018-2019 Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education

    I arrived three years ago at Pitt, just as excitement over fashion exhibitions began to take hold here with the opening of Killer Heels at The Frick Pittsburgh. Due to my interests in gender, identity, and museum display practices, I was encouraged to research and write about the clothing exhibitions happening across Pittsburgh. I quickly discovered, however, how unprepared I was to take up this research. I needed to read, see, and experience more. So I created a grant proposal and travel itinerary that took me to some of the largest fashion collections and fashion exhibiting institutions in Western Europe. Four weeks, ten cities, and thirty-five museums—I spent the month of July fully immersed in fashion displays and clothing history. Exploring how museums across London, Paris, and Amsterdam tell stories using clothing, create spaces for audiences to imagine new bodily experiences, and position fashion in relation to the history of art. 

    But, as is often the case when we leave home in search of something new, I discovered upon returning to Pittsburgh, something fashionable and novel just beyond my own front door—The Frick Pittsburgh’s latest exhibition Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper (open through January 6, 2019). Fashioning Art from Paper is an exhibition of meticulously crafted paper gowns spanning the history of art and dress. Reveling in the materiality of its objects and witty trompe l’oeil that transforms paper pulp into silk, velvet, and pearls—Fashioning Art from Paper offers a compelling meditation on the ways fashion exhibitions continue to connect with museum audiences. 

    Chief Curator Sarah Hall’s display strategies facilitate object movement, an approach that replicates the ways fashion and dress history exhibitions empower viewers to imagine engaging with garments beyond their bodily experience. But in Fashioning Art from Paper the garments are not clothes, and the spaces opened up by the exhibition for viewers to image new tactile experiences give way to questions and desires about creativity rather than consumption.  Upon entering the exhibition viewers are greeted with the costumes of the Ballet Russes gently twirling in the air. Paper tutus mounted from the ceiling dance with the audience when they move around the rotunda in a captivating call and response. Paper, however, does not flutter the way tulle does, and the interest usually sparked by garment movement in fashion exhibitions to wear, feel, and possess the clothing gives way to new curiosities regarding the transformation of paper, tape, and glue into dazzling garments. In fact, Hall revealed during a private exhibition visit, that one of the primary audience responses was not the urge to touch or wear the garments, but a desire create paper fashions of their own.  

    The seeming accessibility of de Borchgrave’s process and materials is amplified by the ways Fashioning Art from Paper plays with fashion curation’s emphasis on craftsmanship and handwork, replacing academic appreciation of technical skill with wit and clever visual illusions. Fashion exhibitions, especially haute couture shows, highlight the skills required to uphold the traditions of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Fashioning Art from Paper’s embrace of trompe l’oeil turns this element of fashion display on its head. It is not the intricate embroidery or beadwork that draws the viewer in, but de Borchgrave’s mimicry of it. Tongue and cheek details reveal the artifice of the paper garments. For example, in de Borchgrave’s Medici Series, the trappings of Renaissance wealth, such as gold pendants and chains, are rendered as single pieces of cut paper. By refusing to model the heft and weight of Florentine gold, the artist lets the viewer in on the joke, revealing her sleight of hand.    

    Fashion exhibitions continue to draw museum audiences in part because they create spaces for engaging with objects that are once relatable and familiar yet sensorially foreign, providing opportunities to imagine bodily experiences beyond the realm of our everyday experiences. But in Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper the viewer is not asked to imagine the tactile sensations of Baroque silk, but rather how paper can be painted, torn, and embellished to emulate it. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Dinosaurs in Their Time - The exhibit that I worked on during my first several days as conservation intern

     

    Conservation: Preserving the Past for Future Generations

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2018

    For the last four months I have worked as a Conservation Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. During this time, I have been exposed to a wide range of practices common among natural history conservators that I can apply to my future career. While before the internship I maintained a keen interest in the field of conservation, working under head conservator Gretchen Anderson has given me a newfound appreciation of conservation work. I have learned that conservation encompasses a wide range of responsibilities and expects that the conservation team work closely with many other departments, including exhibits, collections, and curatorial.

    Over the course of the semester I had the opportunity to clean and preserve taxidermied specimens, package and send out loans, assist with scientific imaging, and create a housekeeping plan for the entirety of the museum of natural history. Interspersed between these hands-on activities were cross-departmental meetings, instructional readings, and even classes to further teach me about the science of conservation.

    The housekeeping plan was the most urgent and important task of the semester, requiring that I met with staff from each section of collections, maintenance, and facilities. All of these departments worked together to set a standard that would keep the museum clean and all collections safe. Without the dedicated work of a conservator, museum collections would not last nearly as long as is now allowed.

    I appreciate the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s willingness to teach and willingness to give true responsibility to their interns. I have learned more than I would have ever expected, and I am excited to one day establish myself in the conservation field.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Photograph of myself in front of a fossil diorama at the CMNH, a topic of discussion at a meeting.

     

    Ethics: How Museum Policies Are Made

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History—Fall 2018

    This semester I worked as the Ethics Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH). My experience opened my eyes to what goes into policy and decision making for a large institution. As an avid museum-goer my whole life, I never considered what goes into making exhibits and installations that the public gets to see. The work I completed over the course of this semester exposed me to the other side of museum work and gave me an appreciation for how museums function. 

    During my internship, I was responsible for researching Codes of Ethics from American Alliance of Museums accredited institutions and compiled all the information into recommendations for the CMNH’s Code of Ethics revision. This unique internship provided me with opportunities to grow as a researcher and allowed me to partake in meetings with various museum staff and faculty members. 

    During my internship, I had the opportunity to attend three meetings with senior museum staff. I met with the Director of the Museum, Director of Science and Research, and the Chairman of the Ethics committee, as well as two staff members who work in the collections department. My final meeting was with my mentor and the Chairman of the Ethics committee to present my findings. During these meetings, numerous museum issues and regulations were discussed, including whether or not fossils should be treated as minerals or human remains, and even how to display ivory in the animal dioramas. Through these conversations, I learned about the ethical considerations of curation and display in natural history museums. My internship experience gave me a new perspective as a museum-goer.  When I walk into museums now, I can no longer look at intricate animal dioramas or Native American artifacts passively. Now, I have an understanding of the ethical issues and procedures that go into displaying these objects.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
     

    Studying a Vietnam War Veteran at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall

    Museums Studies Intern at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum — Fall 2018

    Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum is an institution that commemorates our veterans and fallen heroes that have participated in the many conflicts that the United States has participated in. The staff of the museum is dedicated to the preservation of the personal artifacts of many veterans, and they endeavor to teach children, seniors, and adults alike about the hardships and struggles of our military personnel. The museum itself is a small institution, but they work hard to cover the various wars and conflicts the United States has engaged in from the American Civil War up to the present day.

    My main project during my internship was analyzing the photographs and letters sent home by a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, Sgt. John R. Elm. John Elm spent a year in Vietnam, serving his country dutifully. He was born on January 19th, 1948, and died on September 14th, 2003. He lived in Pittsburgh, and frequently sent letters and photographs that he took home to his family. He was sent to Vietnam in June 1968 and went home in July 1969. He would write home in his free time in order to calm his nerves after experiencing stressful combat situations. However, he would leave out gory details when addressing his family at large, preferring to save those details for letters home to his sister, Maxine Elm. Elm bought a camera while in Vietnam, and sent many pictures home with the letters, which allowed me to connect many of the photographs to what Elm wrote about in his letters home.

    One of the most touching aspects of letters and photos that John sent home from the battlefield was the story of his battery’s adoption of a stray dog as their “mascot.” This dog’s name was Pro-Jo, short for “projectile,” perhaps due to her climbing into a mortar canon. It was thought that they lost her in Dong Tam when they took her to get shots, but she showed back up later on. By the end of John’s time in Vietnam, he heard that the men that were going to take their leave in Hawaii were planning on bringing Pro-Jo along and finding her a family. It’s rather heartwarming that John Elm’s story in Vietnam ended with him going back home to Pittsburgh and a stray dog finding a home. 

    I worked with Lisa Petita (Collections Manager), Tim Neff (Vice President/Director of Museum & Education), and Michael Kraus(Curator). Outside of my main project, my day to day tasks included aiding in the accession of received military artifacts, helping with setting up for events such as the Canon Ball Fundraiser and school visitations, as well as occasionally aiding with the instruction of visiting school groups.

    My experiences at Soldiers and Sailors were extremely valuable and I am glad that I have had a chance to intern here. I have gained a greater appreciation for the common man in the military, and the struggles that they have gone through. I also appreciate the great work that the people who work there go through in order to sustain a museum collection, no matter how small. 

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Taylor and her fellow interns construct Trisha Holt’s 16 piece, 4'x4' rug.

     

    Curating an Exhibition: From the Ground Up

    Museum Studies Intern at Silver Eye Center for Photography - Fall 2018

     

    At the start of my internship at Silver Eye Center for Photography, I was selected to collaboratively curate an exhibition with senior staff members and my fellow interns from Point Park University. Our first goal was to find 100 regional photographers for the exhibition. We individually researched artists based on location, then documented our favorites through Pinterest. We have collected seventy-seven photographers altogether, and are now working to narrow the group down to 10-15 photographers, selecting a variety of creative visions and locations. The exhibition will be shown at Silver Eye during the Spring of 2019.

    As part of our training, Silver Eye’s Communications Coordinator Kate Kelley devoted a generous amount of her time and energy into teaching us basic design strategies for email and social media, archiving prints decades old into digital media, and installing artwork. My fellow interns and I also learned about printing photographs, framing images, and properly handling and packaging framed items for shipping in the Lab at Silver Eye from Sean Stewart. Over the past few weeks, I have also had the opportunity to observe and assist in installing two exhibitions: Door into the Dark and The In-Between. During install week for The In-Between, the other interns and I constructed Trisha Holt’s sixteen piece rug, as seen in the attached image. Holt’s “rug” is not made of textile, but rather paper with an enlarged image of a rug that has been expanded into sixteen pieces, creating a four by four work that appears like a rug from a distance. Because the work is intended to be walked upon, we felt that it was essential to curate the piece in such a way that felt inviting for people to interact with.

    These learning experiences will be applied to two upcoming Spring shows at Silver Eye,

    Come April 2019, I will have been a part of four group exhibitions at this location. Working with this organization has  looking forward to continue working with this team next semester, completing the regional photography exhibition, and sharing the images of photographers we have worked so hard to discover.

     

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Interactive Art: A gateway to the Abstract

    Museum Studies intern at Carnegie Museum of Art.

     

                  This fall I’ve had the privilege of working under Marilyn Russell, the Curator of Education at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and Sally Cao, the Curatorial and Education Program Manager, during the Carnegie International 2018. I was tasked with analyzing and attempting to quantify Gallery ambassador surveys from the exhibits and helping to build a picture of how the ambassadors can assist the guests and enhance the visitor experience. While there are many examples of how they do this, what caught me the most was the passing comments of the visitors which were recorded by the ambassadors.

                  What stood out to me is just how much people from all ages had to say about the pieces. The art Labor piece focuses on consumerism and the effects it has on other countries. It uses Vietnamese coffee as an example, as the coffee industry has largely changed the agricultural landscape in that country for the purpose of the product being sold in other countries. The comments from the art labor exhibit range everywhere from “Where can I get coffee like this?” to “It’s like eco-gentrification” and everything in between. Although some of these comments miss the point, but perhaps that’s not the point. In analyzing art or anything else, one has to risk the chance of being wrong. Of course, this isn’t a definitive comment, but when I compare the volume of comments on the surveys along with the comments I’ve observed while wondering the exhibits myself, I’ve found that the amount of comments directed at interactive exhibits greatly surpass those at non-interactive exhibits. This might vary base on the demographic of the visitors. In any event, what follows those statements from what I’ve observed is engagement with the ambassador. This turns the idle comments into a deeper form of understanding including more abstract ideas. It’s my belief that the increase of comfort levels with art using this kind of interaction is the bridge to having the confidence to speak on the feelings one gets from interacting with art that is less physical.

                  Ultimately, I feel very privileged to have been able to work under people like Ms. Russell and Ms. Cao and work with their insight and experience to better understand how the guests interact with the museum and seeing how the museum also effects the guest and corresponding community as it opens their minds in various ways and to various topics which they otherwise might not be interacting with. I of course include myself apart of that latter category and attribute my better understanding of the museum’s important place in the community to this internship position and to the insights of the ambassadors and guests with whom I’ve spent time

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Exploring the book, Building Stories, while sitting in the Special Collections Department reading room.

     

    Building Stories

    Museum Studies Intern at Special Collections Department, Hillman Library – Fall 2018

    During my internship at the Special Collections Department of Hillman Library, I worked with a recent acquisition called Building Stories that helped me rediscover my love of books. Building Stories is not a typical book—packaged in a board game-style box and bound in various forms such as comic strips, a Little Golden Book, and full-page illustrations. The plot of the book does not have a singular storyline, instead, it depends on the way the reader begins each section, meaning that everyone reads the book differently and has a unique experience. Not only does the reader build a story, but the story itself is about a building and its tenants: the landlady on the ground floor, the main character on the first floor, a couple on the second floor, and an anthropomorphized bee. 

    Interning at the Special Collections Department of Hillman Library aided in my discovery of the incredible materials they have. On most days, I shelved and pulled books, conducted research for several projects, and compiled lists of the materials visiting classes used so both the Department and the students can refer to them again. 

    These tasks allowed me to interact with intriguing texts and learn about new literary genres.. For example, when a class focusing on science fiction came for a browsing session, I composed a list of all the books and pulp magazines they used. Before their visit I had heard of pulp magazines but had never directly interacted with them. Working with this collection, I learned how imaginative and interesting pulp magazines covers and stories are. Interning reminded me of the joys of discovery libraries offer. When I was in high school, I used to love libraries and books. I finished a novel every other day and was constantly looking for new reading material. Once I began college, I no longer felt like I had the time to read books for pleasure. Working with the materials in the Special Collections Department, reminded me of the vibrant creativity that goes into developing books, magazines, and other forms of literature. I am grateful I had the opportunity to intern there because exploring their extraordinary resources renewed my appreciation for books and libraries. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Digitizing Nan Goldin's memoir of Greer Lankton, A Rebel Whose Dolls Embodied Her Dreams

     

    Experiencing the Different Levels of the Greer Lankton Archive

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory – Fall 2018

    In 1996, just weeks before her passing, transgender artist Greer Lankton presented a monumental exhibition of her work at the Mattress Factory (MF) in the Northside. The centerpiece of the show was Lankton’s first large-scale installation piece, It’s all about ME, Not You. While looking through the Greer Lankton Archive this semester, I came across the original correspondences between the curator of the 1996 show, the director of the MF, and Lankton, organizing a trip for Lankton to come to Pittsburgh to see the museum and plan out the installation. 

    This fall, I was tasked with processing Lankton’s archival material, starting with organizing numerous boxes of magazine and newspaper clippings, personal letters, contracts, photographs, and exhibition materials. I quickly noticed that Lankton kept anything mentioning her or her work, whether it was a short sentence in a magazine promoting a group show, or a full-page advertisement for a solo exhibition. In a sense, Lankton archived her own life and work by saving such a vast range of materials. Looking through her papers, I witnessed Lankton’s professional successes as well as the personal struggles she faced. Her work portrays these challenges, but reading striking first-hand accounts written by Lankton and those closest to her was even more powerful.

    One of the most notable things I read was a binder of daily journal entries written by Lankton’s father, Bill. The entries were written while Lankton’s parents were spending more time with her to offer support during her recovery. Bill Lankton writes about mundane activities, like accompanying Greer to McDonald’s, where they seemed to go at least twice a week, to more exciting activities, such as their trip to Pittsburgh to visit the MF. The journal concludes with entries from the days after Greer’s passing, when her parents and family friends collected her things from her apartment in Chicago, forming the basis of the MF’s archive. In the same way Greer compiled her personal archive, her parents picked up where she left off. Bill Lankton describes rifling through boxes of exhibition pamphlets and promotional materials, just as I did this semester.

    Along with supporting the permanent installation of It’s all about ME, Not You, one of the goals of the Greer Lankton Archive, is to make the material more readily available to researchers and scholars through digitization. Once I organized a portion of the archive, I scanned everything and uploaded the files into Collective Access, the MF’s collections database. My time at the MF taught me the value of committing to a process, even though I was not sure what the outcome would be. Through this project, I also gained a new sense of respect for Greer Lankton, her parents, and her art. Seeing all of Lankton’s life—from school reports from when she was still known as “Greg,” to the aftermath of her death through Bill Lankton’s journal entries—allowed me the opportunity to consider her legacy and what it means to document someone’s life.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • A little known artwork by Sol LeWitt in the underground T Station at Wood Street in Pittsburgh, PA

     

    Pittsburgh’s Sol LeWitt

    Museum Studies Intern at The Pittsburgh Public Office of Art- Fall 2018

    One of the best and most valuable opportunities I had during my internship was the chance to interview Carol R. Brown, the former President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Carol R. Brown was a member of the committee that commissioned a piece by Sol LeWitt in the Wood Street T Station titled Thirteen Geometric Figures. Brown and I discussed the selection process of artists for public art commissions and spoke about several of the other pieces of artwork around Pittsburgh. I was particularly excited for this interview because of Brown’s former position in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and her accomplishments for the arts in the city.

    Brown was responsible for raising fund for the project in the private sector. The Port Authority was responsible for the construction costs and the committee would secure the private funds necessary to match the Port Authority funds. Brown met with Jack Heinz, the head of the Heinz Endowment and the Heinz Corporation at the time. Heinz loved the arts and ended up talking to Brown for two hours and ultimately gave the committee the quarter of a million they needed.  During the installation process, LeWitt worked with the architects to ensure that the connection between his artwork and the light rail station was seamless.

    Interning for the Greater Pittsburgh Art Council has opened my eyes to the vast amount of artwork around downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland. My main responsibility this semester was visiting ten different public art sites in these specific areas and writing about them for the Art Places section of the Greater Pittsburgh Art Council website. Rachel Klipa, Manager of Community Engagement for the Office of Public Art, was my mentor and the person to whom I reported. Once my submissions were submitted to her, Rachel would edit and then approve my writings once they were revised. Some of the Art Places Profiles I produced include the Westinghouse Memorial in Schenley Park, To Pittsburgh by Jenny Holzer in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and the Edward Manning Bigelow statue in front of Phipps Conservatory.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

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