Students As Curators: Mini-exhibitions in the Gardiner Gallery

At the beginning of the Fall 2012 semester, the OSU Museum of Art staff pioneered a new student curating program in the Gardiner Gallery. I had noticed that exterior-facing side of the south wall in the gallery was underutilized by exhibitions because, unlike the north wall, it lacks flow from the central gallery area and thus is often difficult to incorporate into an exhibition’s narrative structure. What if we turned this disadvantage around, I asked the rest of the staff, and used the space to allow students to curate separate “mini-exhibitions” of five or six works from the permanent collection that complemented the show in the main gallery?

Our first student curator was our summer intern, Crystal Labrosse, who has been unfailingly cheerful about being a guinea pig for several museum projects! She curated a group of works from the estate of BJ Smith, in conjunction with “The Influence of Oklahoma: Modernism from the Collection of Kelly Knowlton.”

Based on Crystal’s experience, we drew up a set of guidelines for students to work with me, our registrar Carla Shelton, and Gallery director Shawn Yuan on the selection, research, writing, and installation of mini-exhibitions to accompany each main show of the fall semester. Five mini-exhibitions later, I think it is safe to say that the program has been a strong success, with students eager to participate and visitors enjoying the results.

Students Kimberly Morton and Melissa Agnew selecting work from the permanent collection for their mini-exhibition, “The Veil and the Woman.”

Kimberly Morton, one of the student curators of “The Veil and the Woman,” which accompanied the traveling exhibition “The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces,” had this to say about the experience:

“I chose to work on the student project because I’d like to obtain a curator’s position in a museum and felt that this would be a nice learning experience. I really enjoyed it, too!

Installation view of “The Veil and the Woman.”

“Because our exhibition was set up to relate to “The Veil” exhibition, the pieces selected were based on three stages: the cultural veil, the figurative veil, and the unveiled woman.  It wasn’t easy to find pieces that went well together for these stages, but I think we did all right! It helps to find a common theme or motif to relate them together with; ours was predominantly femininity and the Muslim veil.

Installation view of “The Veil and the Woman.”

“It also helps to have another person there; Melissa saw potential in some of the pieces that I would have otherwise overlooked. Because of the experience, though, I’ve learned to look even further beyond the face value of an image and that’s something that I think will be extremely useful in the future!”

Installation view of “The Veil and the Woman.”

For more information on the mini-exhibitions and/or how to participate in this program, contact us!

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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