The Frick Pittsburgh

    The recently remodeled Education Center served as my office for the summer.


    Using Storytelling to Create Meaningful Experiences for Visitors

    Mellon Museum Profession Fellow at The Frick Pittsburgh – Summer 2019

    As a native of Point Breeze, I was excited to return to the neighborhood when I received the news that I had been accepted as the A.W. Mellon Foundation Fellow at the Frick Pittsburgh. Growing up, I loved coming to the Frick to see the racecars in the Car and Carriage Museum (CCM), and my little brother has carried on the tradition. As I grew older, I remember touring Clayton (the Frick family home) and the art museum when my grandparents came to visit Pittsburgh. This summer, while working with the department of Learning & Visitor Experience (L&VE), I was able to see first-hand how the Frick interacts with public audiences through programming that connects to visitors of all ages and demographics. In my first few days, I went on a tour of Clayton, one of the first public CCM tours, and attended gallery talks, in order to familiarize myself with the mission of the L&VE department. Prior to the tour, I was told to listen how the docents employ storytelling to deepen the connection between an object or a space and the visitors.

    Within a week, I was acquainted with the site, the permanent collection, and this summer’s travelling exhibition, A Sporting Vision. I also conducted research for Coffee and Culture programs and contributed to docent training for A Sporting Vision. The most comprehensive segment of my internship came later in the summer, when I helped plan this year’s Wine Walk. I was present at all stages of the planning process, from helping decide the route and topics for each stop, to attending logistics meetings and doing research on the content of the program. For one stop, we decided that it would be interesting to hear about other buildings that Frick commissioned around Pittsburgh, all while standing in the shadow of Clayton.

    While researching Frick’s buildings I had to find useful facts to present, but also figure out a way to weave them into a cohesive narrative. I ultimately tied everything into a story about Frick showing his commitment to Pittsburgh by investing in the construction of prominent buildings that still stand today. I also used this information to create a piece on the StoryView app, which will also be displayed on iPads in the Grable Visitor Center and in the galleries. The emphasis on storytelling ultimate relates back to creating enriching educational experiences for visitors, a value that L&VE, as well as the rest of the Frick, hold deeply.

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    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

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    • Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé, c. 1610. Oil on canvas. Frick Art & Historical Center
    • Isabelle de Borchgrave's creation based on Rubens's Portrait
    • Fashion exhibition research
    Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé, c. 1610. Oil on canvas. Frick Art & Historical Center

    Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé, c. 1610. Oil on canvas. Frick Art & Historical Center.


    Museum Education Internship at the Frick Pittsburgh

    Museum Studies Intern at The Frick Pittsburgh - Spring 2017

    During the past 2017 Spring semester, I worked as an intern under the supervision of Amanda Dunyak Gillen, Director of Learning & Visitor Experience, at the Education Department of the Frick Pittsburgh. My main job responsibility was facilitating the museum’s public programs, including program planning, gallery talks, adult and family programs, special events, etc.

    The Frick Pittsburgh is known for its historical significance as it is infused with the history of the Frick family and the 19th century Pittsburgh. At first I was a bit intimidated by the unfamiliar historical materials I was about to confront, but as soon as I entered the department, I started to learn about the museum's mission beyond being a historical institution. Revolving around its own collection, the museum has hosted and will be hosting a variety of exhibitions and corresponding programs to enrich its visitor experience. Their current big project is a three-year series of fashion-focused exhibitions —Killer Heels (2016), Undressed (2017), and Isabelle de Borchgrave (2018). These fashion exhibitions are not only opening up the museum to a younger crowd, but they are also offering a new angle for looking at the museum’s collection and history. The Killer Heels exhibition, for example, drew the public’s attention to the collection of footwear of the Frick family, and some shoes were put on permanent display in the Frick’s visitor center in order to meet the continuous enthusiasm about the fashion aspect of the family.

    As an intern, I was lucky to have a lot of hands-on experience with museum programs. I assisted in running special events such as the annual Women’s History Program and the Easter family program. I was also a speaker for the Friday gallery talk program and presented on the museum’s collection of Claude Monet, which I further developed into a digital project for the visitor center interface.

    My biggest project was designing public programs for the upcoming Undressed exhibition. The first phase of my work included conducting research on contemporary fashion exhibitions and their related programs, as well as learning about the Frick’s previous programs. Because of the increasing sensibility towards fashion in recent years, there were many institutions that have hosted fashion-focused exhibitions and programs, such as the MET, MOMA, as well as some smaller-scale, local museums, and therefore I was able to find many corresponding resources. But to narrow them down and extract applicable information based on the museum’s own specificities was much trickier. For each resource I found, I listed out their key features that can be potentially incorporated into our own space. This step was very helpful towards the second phase of my work, which was the actual programming. At first my development of ideas was not very constructive. However, in the meantime, I shadowed the Women’s History program, and during the process of planning and preparation, I learned about how much details to be put into program planning. Based on my previous experience on our Gallery Talk program, I proposed adult drop-in writing sessions in the galleries to inspire more interactive conversations on our collections. Some other examples of programs I proposed are: live art and fashion—lace-making; a family ball with the Beauty and the Beast; etc.

    I am very grateful for this internship through which I gained valuable hands-on experience on museum programming and many other practices. Most importantly, it helped me to find my passion on museum education, and I believe I will benefit from the knowledge and skills I learned from this internship in my future career.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Clayton: The Frick family's Pittsburgh home and our main attraction


    An Introduction to Curation: My Semester at The Frick Art Museum

    Museum Studies Intern at The Frick Pittsburgh - Spring 2016

    Remember the first bit of your freshman year of high school when it felt like you couldn't get through the week without another teacher thrusting another aptitude test in your face? I must've taken at least 7 throughout the course of that year, but the only one that mattered was the one whose results introduced me to the word "curator" and claimed I'd be a good one. A google search was done, and about 2 minutes later, I knew what I wanted be when I grew up. Flash forward almost 6 years, and here I am, telling you about my experience as a curatorial intern this past semester. Funny how life works sometimes, right? 

    Since January I have been fortunate enough to intern at the Frick Art and Historical Center in their Art Museum's curatorial department. I've been working under head curator, Sarah Hall, to help prepare and plan for the museum's upcoming exhibition,The Frick Collects, as well as its accompanying publication. The goal of this exhibition is to provide a deeper look into the museum's permanent collection to tell a more complete story of the Frick Collection, and to encourage it's continued growth. To achieve this, the curatorial office has been digging into forgotten corners of storage, and considering how to organize the galleries in order to effectively tell a story through the juxtaposition of objects that may not normally even be in the same building.

    Throughout this process, I have been responsible for creating and updating object files as new objects are added or more information is required of old ones, writing and formatting gallery labels as well as tombstone texts, updating and adding to the object checklist that pertains to The Frick Collects publication, and creating the filemaker database also corresponding to the publication. The nature of this work has been very independent, allowing me to develop a sense of self-motivation in the workplace. In addition to the technical work I was doing, my site mentor, Sarah, encouraged me to exercise curatorial ways of thinking by asking me to prepare my own input on the exhibition's design, which I then presented to her, and to find possible additional objects that I believed would be assets to the exhibition. 

    Even though,The Frick Collects has been the primary focus of my position, during my time at the Frick I have been involved in various stages of three different exhibition. From installation to filing to research, this internship has had it all. I've been able to apply and improve skills gained through past professional experiences to my work, while gaining and becoming adept at new skills pertaining to curation.

    This experience has been an invaluable asset to my Museum Studies program, and I would reccommend it to everyone interested in museums, a career in the arts, or arts management. Moving forward, I am excited by the prospect of applying to more positions with my resume updated to reflect this experience. This internship has given me the skills and confidence necessary to keep chasing my dream job, so that in another 6 years I can look back and once again say, "funny how life works sometimes, right?"

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