by Theresa Moir
As my curatorial internship at the Currier draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the many great opportunities I’ve had at the Museum. While I spent some time in the galleries (see: A Drape Painting Takes Shape), most of my time was spent in the library and registrars’ office conducting research for artist Andrew Witkin, who will have a solo exhibition at the Currier in winter/spring 2014. Witkin’s exhibition explores the many stories embedded in the Currier’s holdings, from collection objects to written and photographic records in the archives. Witkin’s exhibition will feature a series of installations throughout the Currier’s galleries, which will invite visitors to think about the way they experience objects at the Currier and perceive history as told in the Museum. My research has helped to determine what archival materials Witkin will include and ultimately, the stories about the Currier his exhibition communicates.
The research process was highly collaborative and a bit spontaneous. Witkin’s general interests in organizational systems and making meaning from material culture guided my sleuthing, which resulted in exciting finds I would then communicate to the artist in post-research debriefing sessions. I want to share a couple of my finds that Witkin found particularly intriguing for potential inclusion in his exhibition.
One was accidental: an old card catalogue of exhibitions. The age of this card catalogue suggested it may lead to more information about a 1938 exhibition of “rock art” (cave paintings and engravings) that had intrigued Witkin during an earlier look at the Currier’s exhibition history. The Currier’s Librarian and Archivist, Meghan Petersen, eagerly pulled the appropriate card. Our excitement quickly dwindled when we saw the phrase “see typed descriptive data” on the card, which is pictured above. We had no idea what document the comment referred to, nor did we have any knowledge of additional material in the archives. Such frustration became a routine part of the research process. But dead ends and the countless number of thin records I encountered, meant just as much to Witkin as finding a wealth of information. I learned from this process that the all-but-forgotten can be just as important to our historical understanding as what is remembered through systematic documentation.
In addition to dead ends, our research yielded several unexpected connections. I’d been researching some plaster casts the Museum purchased before opening in 1929. These casts were never formally accessioned into the Currier’s collection, and few records about their movements in the galleries exist. The Currier has several vintage postcards that show the placement of many of the plaster casts in the museum’s East Gallery, but it is unknown how often these sculptures moved, or if the postcards show the original locations for these objects. It was unexpected, when looking at the original blueprints for the Museum, to notice that several plaster reliefs were drawn directly into the architectural plans.
Artworks once deemed important enough for inclusion in the architectural plans now reside in several offsite locations on the Currier’s campus. The reliefs pictured in the plans above are currently housed in the Kennard House, a nearby building with Currier employee offices.
A selection of the sculptural casts, including the one of the Venus de Milo pictured to the left, can be found at the entrance to the Art Center.
Because Witkin typically didn’t know what information might be in the archives, a lot of my time was spent sorting through materials simply to see what was available. This process yielded some of my favorite finds. One such item was on a shelf in the archive labeled “north façade loose bits.” With such a mysterious label, Meghan and I opted to open the several small, individually wrapped objects. They appeared to be small pieces of an architectural model, the rest of which we found shortly after. While searching for information about the model, I found this photograph (below) with no date or explanation. With no clear documentation about the architectural model, it remains a bit of a mystery, confounded further by the unusual photograph.
These items highlight just a small cross section of my research for Witkin. His project is extensive and full of connections, surprises and unanswered questions. The research process, although challenging, has been immeasurably rewarding. Witkin’s perspective on the richness of material culture illuminated many interesting nuances I would otherwise have overlooked and encouraged me to look closely for the unexpected. I hope that when you visit the Currier, you approach objects in the collection and archives with intense curiosity. If you do, you will probably find your experience as rewarding as mine!