For this assignment, students are asked to imagine themselves as a curator of Ancient or Medieval Art (prehistory to ca. 1300 CE). In this role, you will select five (5) artworks that fit a selected theme and propose an exhibition of those artworks. Your exhibition may compare works across time and cultures, but a good curatorial thesis will remain focused and narrow in its scope (for instance, comparing the idealized male form in Egypt, Greece, and Rome would be too much for this project. But looking at Archaic Greece in comparison to Classical Greece is appropriate). Themes may be cultural, stylistic, or even based in a discussion of material – any uncertainty should be discussed with your instructor. This assignment requires scholarly research.
The written component of this project should be 500-750 words, or 2-3 pages, in length. Please limit your papers to 3 pages; a too-long paper needs more assertive revision to clarify the main thesis and supporting arguments. Use 11.5 or 12-point font, preferably Times. Double space your text and use 1” margins. Number each page starting on page 2. No cover page is necessary. In the top right corner of the first page include your last name, date, and section number single spaced. Proofread your paper before submission.
The Big Idea
A successful exhibition tells a good story and facilitates a productive encounter between the objects displayed and the viewer. Your exhibition should help the audience engage with the ancient and medieval art world in an interesting and coherent way. How you select, juxtapose, and describe your objects will frame the argument you make in your exhibition.
Museum professionals use a curatorial thesis to communicate their vision when they plan and execute exhibitions. A curatorial thesis is a statement of what an exhibition is about. Topics are incomplete thoughts; the thesis tells you why the topic is important and what it explains about the world.
Write a brief curatorial argument (500-750 words) to introduce the thesis of your exhibition. A good introductory essay presents the objects in your exhibition in historical context. Your essay should address a central theme/question/problem: for example, if your exhibition treats aspects of the funerary arts in ancient Egypt, you might first introduce your selected artworks generally as artistic and cultural artifacts. Then you should contextualize those objects: how were the objects created, viewed or used? The challenge of an introductory essay is to remain specific, that is, focused on the objects as unique, material, historical and original artworks. Yet your introductory essay should also examine the broader social, political, and/or economic significance of the artworks. In a sense, your essay must restore to the artworks the original context that the museum environment often lacks. The more vivid and detailed your essay, the more your reader will understand how artworks interacted with their social contexts. Finally, your essay must address the specific critical problem/question posed by the exhibition. You may need supporting maps, diagrams, drawings, or works of art to make your exhibition interesting, educational, and informative.
Please note, a thesis is not the same as a theme. Your theme may be something general (i.e., Egyptian sarcophagi) but your thesis should be much more focused – what specifically are you trying to communicate about that theme? Curatorial statements without a clear, one-sentence thesis in the introductory paragraph will be penalized one letter grade (10 points).
Over the course of the semester, you have encountered a large and diverse collection of ancient art objects. Make a list of five (5) objects you plan to include in your exhibition. Keep in mind that you will be responsible for briefly interpreting each object as it relates to your curatorial thesis; the selected objects are your support/evidence. Your images, along with complete identification information [title, creator- if known, date, dimensions, and materials (one point per item)] and current location should be submitted as an appendix to the Curatorial Introduction.
Remember: Your exhibition must be able to stand on its own. Viewers should be able to work out the connection between objects independently of any words. Do not simply illustrate an argument.