When standing in front of a painting on the wall of a museum, one rarely con-siders the process that the work endured to earn its place there, but “What Muse-ums Collect: From the Cabinet of Curi-osities to Modern Curatorial Challenges” explores this question along with other issues museums face. The exhibit will be open from May 9 to June 15 at the Pick-er Art Gallery. The exhibit examines the challenges that museums face today, such as the detection of forgeries, the looting of antiquities, wartime plunder, colonial pillage, objects of religious veneration, offensive art and the role of popular vi-sual culture in museums. Covering the museums’ history and architecture along with the process of selecting art, this ex-hibit promises an all-encompassing view of museums.
Organized and planned by Professor of Art and Art History and Medieval and Renaissance Studies Judy Oliver’s ARTS 370 course, Museums in Theory and Practice, the idea for the show emerged from Oliver’s realization that the major topics the class would be learning about in the abstract could be well illustrated by an exhibit in Picker that the public could share in as well. The members of her class include seniors Nicole Barbuto, Jordan Grant, Megan Reinhart, Saman-tha Varela and Brooke Weinstein, ju-nior Grace Goodwin, sophomore Brody Wacker and first-year Michael Grayson. These students selected pieces from their topic areas for the exhibit from the range of artwork that Oliver and registrar of the Picker Gallery Sarisha Guarnieri compiled from the Picker’s holdings in its online database. The end result will be a cohesive show with a variety of styles for all to see.
Most of the pieces deal with controver-sial topics in the art world, such as how to determine when art is offensive, whether sexually explicit or against a certain reli-gion. Besides drawing in those who wish to discuss the qualifications for art that should not be on display, the show will hopefully draw crowds with its section on forger-ies. Professor Oliver estimated that forg-eries would be the most fascinating topic to many viewers, since scientific tests are becoming more widely used as a method to detect forgeries, not to mention visitors to museums are always interested in seeing the conservation labs.
Another element of great interest, and perhaps the class’s most ambitious aspect of the exhibit, is the recreation of an 18th century “cabinet of curiosities.”
According to Oliver, such a cabinet is “a vast jumbled assemblage of art, natural history and artifacts from all the ‘newly’ discovered corners of the earth that were brought back to Europe by early explor-ers,” with the aim of creating a “universal museum of all knowledge.”
Thus, the class has borrowed gems from the Geology Museum, stuffed birds from the Biology Department and even “a 200-year-old elephant of a book from Special Collections, celebrating the first rediscovery of ancient Egypt,” Oliver said.
The class hopes that students, mem-bers of the Hamilton community and fac-ulty alike will attend and learn more about museum’s processes and challenges while looking at the Picker collection. Ideally, the event will stay with its viewers and the next time they enter a museum, they will see more than the art on the wall – they will see all the work that happened behind the canvas as well.
Contact Bridget Sheppard at