When we walk into a museum we think about the artists, we think about styles and chosen mediums. We think about the artwork itself. Yet, our minds dismiss multiple questions. How did this work get here? Who made the layout? Why is this specific artist being featured? Well if you are wondering now- the person responsible for many of those decisions is the curator.
This title sounds terribly confusing or mysterious for those that are not artists nor art scholars. But, I assure you this occupation is invigorating and a key role at any museum.
Emily Stamey, the Curator of Exhibitions at The Weatherspoon Art Museum, has recently informed me about her occupation, her latest work, and tips for those that need all kinds of artistic guidance.
As a Curator of Exhibitions, Stamey works on four to five projects at once. Primarily, she researches artists that she may showcase in the future. After an artist is selected she meets with them and offer suggestions on layout of the exhibit and certain pieces that seem fitting for the museum’s spaces and audiences. Stamey will then write an overview of the exhibit, making sure all necessary information is supplied for museum goers. She aides in marketing the museum by talking to UNCG professors and students, and giving tours of the exhibits. This process is constantly being repeated, because the museum is always presenting new shows.
Stamey always loved museums since she was a child, but now it is more exhilarating when she sees the results of the work she puts in. This feeling radiates from her speech, especially when she talked about her newest exhibit, “Unbranded: A Century of White Women 1915-2015”. This exhibit, featuring the work of Hank Willis Thomas, a multimedia artist that has focused on sculpture, video projects, and print.
In this featured exhibit, Thomas continued with his impactful work that takes people on a hundred year journey through the ever-changing, malleable social construction of race and gender. Thomas’ prior work focused on black males and black females; however, this time around he focuses on white females. The artist does this by researching each year, starting from 1915 and moving towards 2015. Thomas selected an advertisement that represents the white female for that year. These past archival advertisements are ‘unbranded,’ in other words cleaned from any brand, trademark, or logo, while keeping the original artwork. This results in a picture unskewed by the advertisers mark of persuasion, and leaves the person able to interpret the picture as it is. As I went on a mini tour with Stamey she showed me the layers of questions hidden in the pictures that I would not have wondered prior to the ad being unbranded. The exhibit can trigger quite the emotional reaction, by delving into the associations that consumers make with a specific race and a rhetorical advertisement. The Weatherspoon is now displaying 38 of the original prints, but offers a great representation of the hundred years in those selected.
Stamey also offered some great advice. For those of us trying to become more appreciative of art she says to listen to the sticker she proudly has stamped on her office door, which states: “Fear no art”. She goes onto saying that if you do not understand the artwork, don’t worry, you just need to spend time with it. Be able to question the art, ask: Why these colors, or what is the context? Stamey makes it clear that we do not have to like every style of art, but we should learn to appreciate the artist’s content.
For those of us that are aspiring to work with art, she says you should always be looking. Simply put, taking in as much art as one can get by going to different galleries and meeting artists. She expounds on this by saying not to see the art in a “bubble” or “vacuum,” but to see the connections between the art and the world. Stamey explains, “I consider it just as important to read the news daily, as to read the art journals regularly”.
Stamey loves her job, saying she likes the blend of academic research and public interaction. She adds that art is important because it allows for different ways to look at the world around us, it expresses ideas in a way that cannot be communicated in speech nor in writing. In days that are good, and those that are bad she finds art useful in the way it challenges, entertains, soothes, and educates us. Art creates art, and that is exactly what Emily Stamey is doing as a Curator of Exhibitions.