Post-Internship Reflection / August 14, 2009

A week ago today was the last day of our summer internship in AIC’s department of museum education. The last week of the internship was an interesting one… On one hand, we were not too busy. Most summer camps in Chicago had concluded, so we did not have many tours and we were not doing any new research. On the other hand, we had many moments of fun and excitement as well as a few unexpected spurts of busyness. On Thursday, we all had the opportunity to help with the AIC art activity at the Chicago Children’s Museum Art Day and, upon returning to AIC that afternoon, we jumped in to help with the Discerning Eye program for a group of approximately 200 medical students. After that long afternoon, we very much enjoyed hanging out together at the jazz concert at Pritzker Pavillion. On Friday morning, my tour group was over an hour late and I didn’t get the chance to give my final tour – instead we just showed the group the Japanese screens exhibit and did the studio activity. That somewhat disappointing experience was followed by an excellent lunch with all of the interns at Terzo Piano. And we concluded Friday afternoon with more food – a potluck reception in the docent room. That was a lot of food and a lot of people in one small space! But it was great to spend the last couple of hours with all of the great educators who helped us along and taught us so much during our time at AIC.

Overall, the internship was a great experience filled with learning opportunities and the chance to develop relationships with new colleagues, mentors, and friends. It was so much fun getting to know the seven other interns and I miss having a group of girls to hang out with everyday. The process of both learning together and learning from each other was an important part of the internship for me. It was always fun to return to the docent room after tours and share with each other our successes and failures, the funny things kids say, and the frustrations of chaperones who are more trouble than they are a help. It was also great having a group of interns with different interests and areas of expertise to which you could turn when you needed help with anything from research to pronunciations. So, did we ever decide – is it SHEE-vuh or SHIH-vah? Guh-NESH-ah or Guh-NESH? Just kidding! Miss you all – Monica H., Liz, Kristin, Mari, Monica B., Kimberly, and Becca!

Becca's photo of the group at Pritzker Pavillion on our last night together.

Becca's photo of the group at Pritzker Pavillion on our last night together.


Some stuff I know…

August 7, 2009

Since I have a few minutes this morning, it thought it might be fun to post some of the objects I have used on my tours.

“SUPERHEROS IN ART” (Art from Many Places Tour)

1). Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Spanish, 1746-1828, El Maragato Threatens Friar Pedro de Zaldivia with His Gun, c. 1806

2). Bernatt Martorell, Spanish, Saint George Killing the Dragon, 1434/35

Saint George Killing the Dragon

3). India, Rajasthan, Boar Incarnation of God Vishnu (Varaha) Lifting the Earth Goddess Bhudevi, 11th century (this is not the sculpture at the museum, but it is very similar)

4). Harriet Hosmer, American 1830-1908, Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, c. 1857

5). Cy Twombly, Peonies, 2007

“REAL AND IMAGINARY PLACES” (another “Art from Many Places” tour)

1).Winslow Homer, American 1836-1910, “The Herring Net” 1885

2). Peter Blume, American, born Russia, (present-day Belaurs), 1906-1992, The Rock, 1944-48


Hasegawa Soya. Willow Bridge and Waterwheel (detail), c. 1650.


4). Gerhard Richter, German, born 1932, Woman Descending the Staircase, 1965

5). Joseph Cornell, American 1903-1972, For Juan Gris #7, 1954

For Juan Gris #7

Musing by Kimberly

August 7, 2009

Week 8 / August 3

I can’t seem to write about just one thing this week. I keep thinking about objects I wanted to use because they would have been wonderful. I wanted to use the architecture and design galleries in the Modern Wing more, particularly Bruce Goff. There is the list of artworks that would be on the “inappropriate” tour for young minds (Jeff Koons and Hans Bellmer top this list). I could also write about the things I’ve learned. My thesis was about object-based learning in the classroom and I’ve spent the last eight weeks using object-based learning in the museum. It would also be lovely to write about all the wonderful people I’ve met. I’ve learned so much from my fellow interns and they are the nicest group of people ever. So, you can see my dilemma. I’ve decided not to make a decision and say a little bit about lots of things.

architectural fragments

architectural fragments

Afternoon sun on the Grand Staircase

Afternoon sun on the Grand Staircase

I highly recommend visiting the architectural fragments on a sunny afternoon. It is especially nice when you don’t have a chance to go outside during the day. Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.…

Monet's Waterlilis

Monet's Waterlilies

Chicago skyline seen through Lurie garden

Chicago skyline seen through Lurie garden

The art in the garden was my favorite tour this summer. The garden club from a Skokie elementary school came to the museum to look at artworks that depict gardens and then went to the Lurie garden to tour with an educator there. The tour had real purpose and it was specifically related to something the students and chaperone’s were already invested in. The chaperone’s were involved in the discussion and as a result so were the students. It was the tour that taught me the most. I won’t detail specifics since I have already mentioned how delightful this tour was once before. I will say that all my tours following this one went well. I realized how important it is for everyone in the group to participate for a tour to go “perfect.” Instead of getting frustrated when things didn’t unfold the way I expected them to I began to think of my tour as the first step. Many of the groups this summer were composed of students and chaperone’s that had never been to the museum. It’s not easy to look carefully at art and draw conclusions about it. It takes practice to give a tour and to participate a discussion on one.

Jeff Koons, Woman in Tub.

Jeff Koons, Woman in Tub.

All school groups will stop and stare at this sculpture. I found that the phrase, “This isn’t the artwork we’re talking about today” abbreviates the gawk time…a little bit.

The past two month have gone by so fast.    We’ve learned a lot, we’ve laughed, and we’ve cried (mainly from blisters on our swollen, tired feet), but all and all I must say it has been a good run. For all those who may read this blog after the AIC Interns ’09 have long departed here are some words of wisdom.

FYI – The Logistical: The education department here at the AIC is comprised of three divisions – Student Programs, Family Programs, and Adult Programs.  The AIC has a structured two-month internship program, to which I applied and was accepted.  There are eight interns total, including myself, this year.  We are based in the student programs department and our primary responsibilities have been to research and conduct tours for groups of school children that range in age from pre-kindergarten to high school.  Tours are scheduled five days a week from 10:30-11:30 and are sometimes followed by a studio activity and/or lunch.

In addition to student tours, I have also conducted tours for family programs and adult programs.  Family tours are scheduled Thursday through Saturday and are especially designed for family groups, grownups (parents, grandparents, etc…) who are visiting the museum with children. The tours are half an hour long and are followed by a studio activity. Adult tours are scheduled throughout the day as well as Thursday and Friday evenings, when the museum has extended hours, and are either an  hour or a half hour long.

On top of touring responsibilities we are also working, in pairs, on a research based teacher packet project.  The teacher packet is focused on one work from the museum’s modern and contemporary art collection.  I have been assigned to work on Martin Puryear’s Sanctuary, 1982.  The packets are designed to be used by teachers in the classroom and consist of a brief biographical essay on the artist and description of the work, discussion based questions, and activities.

A short reflection and food for thought: This internship has provided an important opportunity to see if/how theory and practice come toghther.  I must admit, in my museum studies course we read a number of museologist pontificating on rather Utopian ideas.  I like Utopian ideas, the problem with Utopian ideas is that they should not be seen as a means to end.  Museum operate under physical, financial, and logistical limitations.  The challenges faced by museum professionals, especially those who work in the education department, are changing as museums attempt to assert a new position for themselves as not only repositories of precious objects, but also cultrual centers, and dare I say entertainment venues.  These are important roles for the museum to adopt.  Asking questions that motivate discussions are a place to start: Who/how does the museum represent?  How are objects interpreted?  How do people learn in museums?  What is the nature of the visitor experience in the museum? What is the relationship between the museum and the community?  I’ve apprecaited that during the internship at the AIC, I was able to discuss some of these questions with my fellow interns and museum staff.  The future for the AIC looks exciting, I was happy to have been a small part of it.

The Bedroom by Vincent van Gogh

The Bedroom by Vincent van Gogh

We were warned, we try to plan, and yet sometimes artworks unexpectedly disappear from the galleries.  Case in point, the other day I had planned to use Vincent van Gogh’s The Bedroom on a student tour.  I visited the painting thirty minutes prior to the tour, but when I returned with my group it had been removed and a little card hung in its place.  The card informed visitors that the picture had been taken to the conservation lab.  Later that afternoon we went down to the conservation lab as part of our MPS (Museum Practice Seminar) and saw the painting laid out on a table.

Encountering the painting in the lab was euphoric.  It had been taken out of its decorative frame and delicately placed on a soft dark piece of cloth.  Laid out in this manner, the edges where the canvas had been pulled over the stretchers where exposed.  In places the cloth had torn, allowing the warm colored wood to peek through.  We learned that the picture had been cut from its original canvas and lined with a new canvas for support; the seam was visible.  When the picture is hung in the gallery, visitors can devour the way in which van Gogh slathered paint onto fabric, but under the microscope (used by conservators to assess deterioration) the real lushesness of the surface is revealed and the hairs on van Gogh’s brush are like pronges of a fork dragged through white creamy chocolate mouse or silky dark ganache.

Seeing the painting and discussing conservation methods with the staff brought home the fact that artworks take on lives of their own.  Time and experiences mark themselves on the surfaces of objects through discoloration and deterioration.  Albeit contemporary conservation mantras that mandate “do no harm” and use only reversible methods, extreme efforts are taken to make certain that objects put on display look as “original” as possible, negating the effects of their age.  This means cleaning surfaces, painting in missing portions, or replicating necessary accouterments.  I left the lab wondering what objects are considered candidates for restoration?

During my museum studies courses we had a lengthy discussion regarding The Henry Ford Museum’s decision to purchase and restore the Rosa Parks Bus.   After purchasing the bus, The Henry Ford undertook a $300,000 project to restore the bus to it’s “original” condition.  This was in anticipation of constructing an exhibit that would allow visitors to sit in the bus, an attempt by the museum to simulate what it would have been like to be a passenger on the bus in the 1950s. The Henry Ford is not an art museum and the objects in their collections are framed as things that “document the American Experience.” But can it not be said that some of the dilemmas faced by conservators restoring the bus are the same as those faced by art conservators?  How much do you negate the effects of time to give the visitor an “original” experience?

Visitor’s have expectation when they come to a museum.   They have a desire to encounter works that meet preconceived ideas of “original,” the “real” thing.  What visitors are accustomed to, and what curators often deliver, is an “original aesthetic” experience of the object, one that is reconstructed, put back together by the talented team of experts that work in conservation labs.  What about the life of the object?  Its history?  We often forget that works of art, like all other objects, are objects.  And unfortunately along with that condition come the limitations of aging.  Artist’s have made efforts to highlight the ephemeral nature of art objects creating works that either exaggerate the ephemeral quality, Spiral Jetty for example which is now consumed by the Salt Lake, and which even when it emerges is not the same as the 1969 “original” because it is covered in salt crystals.  Where did the object go? and Where has it been?  Are as important to ask as what the artist’s aesthic intentions may have been.  Learning to love artworks as objects, appreciating their histories, and their objectness is somewhat of a challenge.  But one that is well worth the struggle.

Week 8 / August 5, 2009

One of the best things about an internship at The Art Institute of Chicago is their great collection of artworks. One of the worst things about an internship at The Art Institute of Chicago is that the collection is so darn big you can’t possibly research and prepare everything you want to include on tours! During my eight weeks here I have had the opportunity to research and practice teaching with many familiar artworks as well as others that were completely new to me. Giving tours with Monica H. during the first couple of weeks helped me to prepare artworks that I may not have used otherwise (such as Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day or the Monet gallery). I have really enjoyed my thematic tours such as “Music & Dance, ” “Heroes in Art,” and “City Life.” But, there were other ideas for tour themes that I never got around to preparing: landscapes, funerary objects, body language, artworks made of wood, and the list goes on… Below are images of some of the artworks that I wanted to include on tours but never had the opportunity (with the exception of the Vernet, which I did manage to squeeze in on my only Animals in Art tour last week – see the dog and birds?!). This is the online version of the “Themeless Tour I Never Gave:”

Landscape with Penitent Saint Jerome

Landscape with the Penitent Saint Jerome, 1530/40. Flemish (Antwerp).

Morning, 1760. Claude Joseph Vernet, French, 1714-1789.

Morning, 1760. Claude Joseph Vernet, French, 1714-1789.

Bandleader, c. 1765. Manufacturer: Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, German, founded 1710, after a model of Kändler or Reinicke.

Bandleader, c. 1765. Manufacturer: Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, German, founded 1710, after a model of Kändler or Reinicke.

View of Cotopaxi, 1857. Frederic Edwin Church, American, 1826-1900.

View of Cotopaxi, 1857. Frederic Edwin Church, American, 1826-1900.

The Tub

The Tub, modeled 1889 & cast 1919/21 . Edgar Degas, French, 1834-1917.

Week 8/ August 5, 2009

In keeping with the theme of information that could be helpful for future interns, a list of ten things I would have never expected and learned, aka a highlights list of some of the fun, unexpected, and occasionally offensive things that I have come across in the last 8 weeks.

1. Adults aren’t always more well-behaved than children. Sometimes, the opposite proves to be true. I think it might have something to do with the fact that (most) kids are more afraid of breaking the rules.

2. If you are excited about all six objects on the tour you had planned, the group will most likely be late. At first I was upset about it, but last week I had one of my best tours, and we only got to three objects because the kids were so interested in what we were doing (and, of course, twenty minutes late).

3. Little kids can be the most smart and observant people in the world. While looking at St. George and the Dragon on a Family Tour, I had a TWO YEAR OLD say “It looks like a kingdom.” It made my entire day.

4. Talking through a work of art with someone else is one of the best ways to understand it. I’ll admit to not being a huge fan of the Richter Ice paintings until we, as a whole group, discussed them.

5. Smaller children, who I assumed would want to run everywhere, turned out to be the slowest walkers ever. Little legs aren’t made for a jaunt from the Impressionist galleries to the third floor of the Modern Wing. My family tour is probably 1/3 walking, which is fine, but something I had not prepared for.

6. Sometimes people will ask borderline (or even not so borderline) offensive questions on a tour, and it’s important to be prepared. Not in terms of necessarily having an answer, but at least ready to not make a shocked face. I’ll be honest, this one was hard for me.

7. When in doubt, a well-planned activity can be a lifesaver if kids aren’t engaging with a work of art. And, I guess 7B, what works for one group might not work for another, and it’s important to realize that’s okay, no matter how not great it is in the moment.

8. Learning the elevators can be key to a successful tour. Everyone loves elevators, and they’re a good way of moving a group up the stairs quickly, and many people need or prefer to use them.

9. For some reason, I’ve had a lot of little kids ask about the gift shops, but have had no group leader actually take them there. There are FIVE in the museum, and many children will be impressed with that fact.

10. Most importantly, everyone wants you to succeed. Not only the people we work with, but visitors too. I was terrified before my first adult tour, and even though it didn’t go perfectly, a few visitors came up at the end to say how excited they were that we interns were here this summer and how great of a job we were doing 🙂