Exhibition Tackles Avant-Garde

Students in the Transatlantic Avant-Gardes, 1880-1920 course helped create museum labels for avant-gardes art pieces in the Picker Art Gallery’s permanent collection.

The current Transatlantic Avant-Gardes exhibition in the Picker Art Gallery displays a diverse collection that speaks to under-explored pieces of artwork and previously underrepresented student voices.

The avant-garde art movement began in the 1850s and drastically transformed the art world. By pushing the limits of creativity and visualization, the avant-garde movement encouraged individuals to experiment with art and challenge traditional art processes and forms. Subsequently, avant-garde artists produced a variety of non-traditional work that was radically different from historical art pieces. Despite the avant-garde movement marking the beginning of a cultural revolution, this artistic period is often forgotten.

Fortunately, in the fall 2018 semester, Colgate’s Art and Art History department emphasized the importance of the avant-garde movement by offering the course Transatlantic Avant-Gardes, 1880-1920 to students. Assistant Professor of Art and Art History Laura Moure-Cecchini’s class surveyed a wide variety of visual artworks from 1880 to 1920 and explored the exchange of artworks, ideas and artistic techniques between Europe, Africa and America. Throughout the course, students learned how art was radically transformed by industrialization, urbanization, political and social change, technological innovations and a growing consumer culture. These changes gave rise to the avant-garde movement and radically different artistic representations started to emerge.

The culminating project of this course combined students’ knowledge of the avant-garde movement with artworks from the Picker Art Gallery’s permanent collection. Each student chose a specific piece from the Picker Art Gallery and conducted research about its artist, context and artistic technique. In order to locate this information, students utilized Colgate’s academic resources and examined the object files in the Picker Art Gallery archives. After thoroughly researching their artwork, students connected their findings with the mate- rial they learned in class and proceeded to write a short essay, catalog entry and museum label.

The pieces of art that students chose for their projects are currently on display in the Picker Art Gallery. The wide range of differences between each of the selections perfectly captures the flexibility of artistic creativity and expression during the avant-garde movement. On the one hand, a number of paintings on display play with the use of monotone colors and simple shapes. Other paintings use vibrant colors and intricate detail in order to portray similar images of people and landscapes in a different light.

Furthermore, each painting is accompanied by a museum label written by the student who studied that specific artwork. Students used concise language in their museum labels in order to capture important details about the artwork within a small space. The information provided in the museum labels helps observers understand the historical context of each painting, the techniques each artist utilized and how each piece of art relates to the avant-garde movement.

Overall, the Transatlantic Avant-Gardes exhibition in the Picker Art Gallery not only showcases a selection of pieces from the gallery’s permanent collection, but it also demonstrates the hard work that students put into their study of the avant-garde art movement.

The exhibit will be on display through June 30.

Contact Sarah Speegle at sspeegle@colgate.edu.

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