An Artistic Voyage: Exhibition Seminar

April 22, 2022

by Vishva Nalamalapu ’20

The art history Exhibition Seminar course is a rare opportunity for undergraduate students to curate an exhibition. The course culminates in a show in the Grinnell College Museum of Art and in the publication of a catalog.

Fredo Rivera, assistant professor of art history, took the course when he was a student at Grinnell College. “It was a profound experience that has followed me to this day,” he says. Now, as a professor, he teaches the course himself. Along with nine students, he curated the exhibition, En Voyage: Hybridity and Vodou in Haitian Art. In the catalog preface, he describes the process: “The Exhibition Seminar itself provides a voyage — a hands-on experience that familiarizes students with museum culture and the curatorial process.”

A different art history professor teaches the course each time it is offered. In fall 2022, Eiren Shea will teach the course. The exhibition she will curate with the students will focus on Eastern Mediterranean and Islamic art from the Grinnell College Art Collection. Through these objects, she wants to explore collecting practices (“How did these objects end up in the Grinnell collection?”), what it means for something to be “Islamic art,” and more.

A Hands-On, Intensive Experience

Completing the coursework for the Exhibition Seminar is no small feat. “We’re covering how to do an exhibition, covering the background on the material and everything else, and then putting together the exhibition,” Shea explains. As a result, students develop a wide variety of skills. “We’re wearing a lot of different hats and doing a lot of interdisciplinary work,” she says.

Come January 2023, when the exhibition opens, Shea says, “It’ll be really nice to have a tangible result.” And the result is always wonderful. Rivera says of his students, “They took the exhibition to a place that I never thought was possible. I see this as the students’ exhibition — I merely provided connections with collections and a broad idea.”

The Exhibition Seminar is the epitome of Grinnell College. Rivera explains, “I would say that it is not only a highlight of what we do in our department, it is also unique among our peer institutions. This is the reason we go to Grinnell — to have this very hands-on, intensive experience.”

Learn more about studying art history at Grinnell

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