Learning the Curatorial Process through Alone Together

Author: Julia Lepre

Danse Macabre, Mabel Dwight

This semester, I worked with Professor Alex J. Taylor, alongside two other interns, Lee Silva-Walker, and Tiffany Sims. Professor Taylor specializes in modern art and visual culture, and works as an assistant professor and academic curator at the University of Pittsburgh’s History of Art and Architecture Department. He is the guest curator of the exhibition, Alone Together: Encounters in American Realism, being shown at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art from May 29, 2022, to September 25, 2022. An amalgamation of modern 20th century and contemporary realist art are displayed together in this show, drawing connections between the past and the present through mutual expressions of uneasiness, loneliness, and isolation in times of unrest.  

Primarily, my fellow interns and I were responsible for researching the artists whose works are included in the show. At first, the work was overwhelming, and I found it difficult to organize the administrative processes required to manage this information. However, over time I was able to find a process that was more efficient and effective, and researching became more enjoyable. Checking in with Professor Taylor each week allowed me to reflect on the research I collected and determine which directions I should go in next. Eventually, I felt more confident in my own capabilities, and I gained a better understanding of the curatorial process. The more research I did on the different artists in the show, the more I found unexpected, but interesting, connections between the artists and their works that added new depth to the exhibition. It also showed me how frustrating the process can be; often your research can lead you to dead ends, and important questions can be left unanswered. This experience not only improved my own research skills but revealed to me how the process of curating a show is an ever-evolving one. Towards the end of the semester, we also got to help Professor Taylor design the exhibition space. Together, we looked through all the research we had compiled and used that to make logical, meaningful, and aesthetic decisions for the placement of the works in the gallery space. We discussed the different connections we found between artists and their works and if they made sense together; we discussed the flow of the room, and the experience of the viewer, as well as which pieces would work best in certain spots.  

Although the collection was already formed by the time we began researching the artists, we had done no preliminary research at this point, so we were going in blind. One of the artists I was researching was O. Louis Guglielmi and I came across a book on Guglielmi and the different exhibitions he had participated in. As we worked through the research I had collected on Guglielmi, as well as that conducted by my fellow interns, Professor Taylor discovered that Arrest No. 2 by Henry Billings, and The American Dream by O. Louis Guglielmi, had an unexpected, shared history. In the 1937 exhibition of the American Artist’s Congress, both paintings appeared together; and almost 100 years later they were to be brought back together in the same show, all without prior knowledge of their past. These kinds of exciting discoveries are what you are hoping for through all the hours of skimming articles and books, and they make the experience worthwhile. I realized that while I was researching, I was learning more about the show itself, and finding new ways to interpret its meaning and the relationship between each piece. Overall, this experience made me more enthusiastic about the curatorial process, as I was given the opportunity to work hands-on with this project and gained valuable experience from the work I did.

Julia Lepre, Museum Studies Intern at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Spring 2022

Constellations Group