Author: Lee Silva-Walker
This semester I had the opportunity to work with Alex J. Taylor, the guest curator for the exhibition, Alone Together: Encounters in American Realism at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. This exhibition’s collection brings together historical and contemporary works of Magic Realism, focusing on the shared experience of living and working in challenging times. My involvement in the show was to research the historical artists whose art is being displayed in the exhibition. I worked with two other interns doing research on the artists, which helped give more depth to the show and taught me how much thought and planning that goes into curating an exhibition.
A highlight for my research was on the work of Edward Biberman, whose painting Tear Gas and Water Hoses is the key image for the exhibition. He was the first artist I started doing research on this semester. In the process of exploring the subject of the painting, which depicts a union protest outside the Warner Brothers studio in Los Angeles, we discovered the newspaper photographs in the Los Angeles Times that were Biberman's source. Biberman transformed these news photos into a painting by compositing shapes from the references together and simplifying the scenes. Another subject that I was able to research was Biberman’s personal connections to political issues. Herbert Biberman, screenwriter and director, is Edward’s brother who was one of the Hollywood Ten and then blacklisted by Hollywood Studios. The Hollywood Ten was a group of writers and directors who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
I learned I had to focus on finding information that was relevant to the pieces in the show. I gained new research skills like identifying what is useful information among the results of the search. Since I drew upon materials from five database sources to search for books and articles about or by Biberman and other artists this method helped save a lot of time which allowed me to get through more search results. The importance of the research we did on the artists was revealed by Alex Taylor, who used it to write the artists’ labels and much more. The labels are essential as they give the viewers information that shapes how they experience the show. The other interns and I also helped with the layout of the show. This was my favorite part of the semester because it felt like solving a puzzle. We had to think about what people see first, what they see together, and how the pieces look in relation to each other. Taking all that into consideration, along with the sizes and aesthetics of the works, we were then able to perfect the arrangement of the exhibition. Bringing together our research in the context of the display gave depth to the show, and I had the opportunity to also help assemble the layout of the works, I felt like a real curator.
Lee Silva-Walker, Museum Studies Intern at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Spring 2022