Curating “Intentional Exposure”: Chestiké Williams and Riva Nayaju

From April 2 through June 1, 2019, the student-curated exhibition “Intentional Exposure: Photography from the Permanent Collection,” was on view at the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art in the Malinda Berry Fischer Gallery. Part of my Spring 2019 course on the history of photography and museum studies, the exhibition prompted a series of responses from students. This week’s post includes reflections from two of the graduate students in the course: Chestiké Williams (Art History MA 2019) and Riva Nayaju (Graphic Design MFA student).

Chestiké: Curating Intentional Exposure was a highly enriching experience. Usually when you go to a museum you only see the end product of the exhibition and not all the hard work that has gone into it. Doing everything from the ground up meant getting a behind-the-scenes look. I especially enjoyed being able to look at a variety of photos and having a healthy debate about why a photo should or shouldn’t be in the show. It was nice to hear different opinions and to come to agreement when someone made a valid point.

yuri gagarin by james whitmore

James Whitmore (American, 1921-2009), “Yuri Gagarin After His Space Flight,” 1961 (printed later). Gelatin silver print, Gift of Robert Flynn Johnson, 2014.014.002.

I also enjoyed being able to research a particular photograph and its photographer. Of the three photos for which I wrote an exhibition label, my favorite was James Whitmore’s portrait of Yuri Gagarin. Going into it, I had no idea who he was or what he had accomplished in his lifetime. Once my research started, I learned so much about him. He was the first human to make an orbit around earth, and his life was cut tragically short in the 1960s after an airplane accident. This exhibition opens people up to wanting to expand their knowledge. Working on this exhibition was a nice way to wrap up my final semester of grad school and my time at Oklahoma State University.

Riva: Being part of the Intentional Exposure curatorial team has been a very good learning experience. It was challenging to become an expert on the history of photography and to get to know the photographs we were curating from the permanent collection of the OSU Museum of Art. ‘Bliss,’ by Kenda North, was the photograph I chose to research. It is a photograph from her ‘Urban Pool’ series. The underwater photography with an abstraction of a blurry hand and floating veil is captivating. In the exhibition, this photograph stood out among the others not just because it was color amid mostly black and white images, but also due to the harmony and balance in it.

bliss by kenda north

Kenda North (American, 1951). “Bliss,” from the “Urban Pools” series, 2012-2016. Ultrachrome pigment print on Hahnemuhle William Turner paper, Gift of the artist and The Museum Project, 2016.008.001.

The theme of the exhibition, concealing and revealing, works well with this photograph as it shows hands that seem to be in search of something, but does not reveal the face of the person. The delicate looking veil floating in the water evokes some sort of mystery. According to North, the color blue is associated with water, which creates a mindset that speaks to her of desire and daydreams.

Along with learning about the particular photograph and history of photography, the experience of working as a curator for a show has indeed been an amazing journey. Getting to learn about real life exhibition design which will eventually become part of my future work as an art and design student is very valuable.

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.
This entry was posted in museum exhibitions, permanent collection, student curating, student research, student writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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