My Summer with Peggy – Reflections on an Internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice
Thursday, October 12, 2017
Image from www.guggenheim.org
“Having plenty of time and the museum’s funds at my disposal, I put myself on a regime to buy one picture a day.”
– Peggy Guggenheim, 1947, on amassing her collection in Paris
I walked up the crooked stone steps to the small entrance vestibule and was greeted by a dapper young man in a suit. I extended my hand with forced confidence and introduced myself as one of the new interns. After an exchange of pleasantries, he grinned goofily and motioned to the faded terracotta palazzo to his right. Like countless guests before and after me I asked him where the bathroom was…
My name is Hella Wiedmer-Newman and from April to June 2017 I was an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. The PGC is one of Europe’s most beloved modern art museums, due to both Peggy Guggenheim’s biography and the unique works on display there. The museum was established in 1980; it had served as the collector’s private home from 1949 to 1979 when Guggenheim died after a career as one of the 20th century’s most important art collectors and patrons. Her friend Philip Rylands helped turn her former residence into a museum (the collection was bequeathed to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation under the condition that it remain in Venice). He served as director until June 2017 when Karole Vail, Peggy’s granddaughter and a curator at the Guggenheim in New York, took over.
The internship program employs 25 to 30 interns at a time for stays of one to three months. Interns change monthly; when there is a last-minute cancellation, others can apply to stay an extra month. As an intern, I got to perform all the jobs that make a museum tick: I guarded rooms, sold and cancelled tickets, distributed audio-guides, checked coats and staffed special events; cleaned windows, sculptures and benches; secured protective coverings for light-sensitive paintings and drawings, and replenished the gift shop. I also delivered at least five public talks a month on Guggenheim’s life, as well as individual artworks and movements represented in the collection and current exhibitions. During my internship, the exhibitions included the surrealist period of Rita Kerrn-Larsen and a retrospective of the works of the anti-abstract expressionist Mark Tobey. I also gave tours of the entire collection in English and German, remunerated with EUR 60 (unless it was for friends of the museum). At first, speaking in front of an audience of strangers can seem daunting and it takes a few tries to master: in my very first talk I got so flustered trying to explicate a painting of a nude woman riding a bicycle that I blurted out: “It’s like what Freud says about dreams and wish fulfillment; I mean, haven’t you ever had that dream where you’re naked in public, I know I have it all the time?!”
At the end of our respective stays, each of us had to deliver a 30-minute seminar. They didn’t have to take the form of a traditional academic paper, but were rather a way of introducing the other interns to something new, or a chance to explore something related to Venice. My seminar addressed the narrative and affective capabilities of Virtual Reality, a notable theme at this year’s Biennale.
Not all my time as an intern was work. E very month we had at least one lecture with a curator, conservator/restorer, or administrator, and a tour or lecture led by Dr. Rylands himself. We also took two trips as a group each month: a Venice trip to a local event, and a big trip beyond Venice. Highlights this summer were the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Punta della Dogana and the Palazzo Grassi, and Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. At the beginning of every month there was a welcome breakfast and dinner for the new interns and at the end the Festa della Fine del Mese, a potluck on the museum’s famous roof-top terrace. We would also enjoy the odd spritz by the grand canal after work, and occasional house parties and group dinners were common. Many of us also visited other parts of Italy during our stay.
But, most importantly, celebrities often visit the museum. In my last month, I spotted Anne Hathaway walking around the Anthony Caro dressed entirely in white and sporting a blue baseball cap, and, as was the custom, I immediately alerted everyone to her whereabouts. We all piled into the special exhibition space and one of us started doing a pretend tour, which actually garnered a few interested nods from Anne herself – yeah, we’re on a first name basis now.
I am often asked about salary, admission and life in Venice. The salary is EUR 800/month, which just covers rent of one of the rooms on a list sent out to interns before their arrival, and basic food. It helps if you have some money saved. I found a room in the apartment of a lovely couple, but others were not so lucky and housing was a constant topic of discussion. The application is a straightforward online process requiring two recommendations, a résumé and a short essay on one’s interest in the collection. One can specify a desired length of time (one to three months) or specific months, though the final decision rests with the PGC. It is helpful if one speaks languages other than English, especially French, Italian or German. And finally, perseverance pays off: many interns are accepted only after a second or even third try.
Living in Venice is overwhelming, in the best possible way. Especially during the tourist season and, more importantly, the Biennale, the crowds were initially daunting. But, though it was annoying at times to walk through the streets already crowded at 7:30 am – not a day went by that I didn’t see a new bride with her entire wedding party scouring the Piazza San Marco for the perfect backdrop to her photos — there are many secluded areas and nice, cheap restaurants where tourists seldom venture. (One of my favourite bars is called Adriatico Mar; they serve artisanal rhubarb spritz, need I say more?!) I was also delighted by the vast number of art spaces in Venice, not just during the Biennale. Venice swells your soul and, in a tiny way, changes you forever.
Among other things — patience, for instance, and decorum and pragmatism — the internship taught me a new comfort with researching and crafting texts on a range of topics in a very short time, and presenting them to strangers. It was also a welcome challenge to work with so many people from different countries and, as a precious side effect, to form friendships with some. The PGC internship is a truly singular opportunity; it has enriched me in many different ways and left me feeling more fully sculpted than when I first ascended those crooked stone steps.
If you have any questions about the application process, the internship itself or Venice, please do not hesitate to contact me: email@example.com
Here is a link to the 2018 internship application form: http://www.guggenheim-venice.it/inglese/education/pdf/internship-form.pdf
Exploring the interaction of religion and politics in early Islamic architecture
Monday, September 25, 2017
Art and architecture scholar Heba Mostafa “in the perfect spot”
As a scholar of Islamic art and architecture, Heba Mostafa feels she is in the perfect spot as she joins the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto this year.
“I’m Canadian, so coming back to Toronto made a lot of sense to me. I was born in Guelph, but raised in Egypt, and that’s where I did my training as an architect,” says Mostafa, who joins the History of Art department in the newly created position of assistant professor of Islamic art and architecture.
Staking our claim as hub of Islamic culture and art
She says the new faculty position and the opening of the Aga Khan Museum in North York also underscores that U of T and Toronto are becoming a hub of Islamic culture and art.
“It looks like Toronto is staking its claim, and that is a particularly attractive quality not only of the city, but also the university.”
Mostafa taught at the University of Cambridge, the University of California at Berkeley, and most recently at the University of Kansas, before coming to U of T.
Her research focuses on the interaction of religion and politics in early Islamic architecture, particularly in the early mosque, palace and shrine.
A “great story” with many unresolved questions
Her fascination with the early Islamic period stems from the fact that it is a “great story” with many unresolved questions. For example, the architectural idiom developed rapidly, with such iconic buildings as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem constructed only a few decades after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in the first half of the seventh century, she says.
The Aga Khan Museum highlights the artistic, intellectual, and scientific heritage of Muslim civilizations across the centuries from the Iberian Peninsula to China. Photo: aa440 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Like other researchers, she works to dispel the notion that Islam was outside or alien to the early Western world.
“If you have an understanding of Western culture, you can understand Islamic culture very easily, because it’s a product of the same shared history ― the late antique world, the period between approximately 250 and 750 CE.”
Islamic architecture reflects the complexity and nuance of its culture in a unique way, and appreciating it deepens that understanding, says Mostafa, who is teaching a course on Monuments of the Islamic World this fall, and a graduate seminar in Early Islamic Architecture in the spring semester.
A trained architect and architectural historian, Mostafa borrows from her background in design to help her art history students in the classroom.
“Art history is often taught as narrative and that is great, but there are other ways to understand a problem”
“Art history is often taught as narrative and that is great, but there are other ways to understand a problem, and that’s where I borrow these other methods from design,” says Mostafa.
“They treat the subject analysis as a design problem on some level, and I ask my students to do some mapping and sketching, as using some of the graphical tools from design can be extremely helpful in organizing all of the complexity.”
Mostafa says her goal is to stoke the natural fire and curiosity in her students.
“In the field of early Islamic architecture, there are so many unanswered questions, so they hear these riddles and they feel that they want to try to figure them out, even on the most basic level.”
Ultimately, she wants to help her students develop their analytical capabilities and critical thinking through Islamic art and architectural history so they can apply it to other subjects.
For that reason, she says she’s passionately against “learning” through memorization.
“My goal is for them not to only be able to discuss Islamic architecture, but any architecture
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Photo: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
“My goal is for them not to only be able to discuss Islamic architecture, but any architecture. I believe if they understand it, they will never have to memorize anything,” says Mostafa.
“I see it as similar to improvised music. My students should be able to analyze or at least speculate about any artwork, building or city just by looking and asking some basic questions, in the same way musicians can riff on a melody.”
She’s proud of the way she has been able to marry her academic disciplines with her cultural background and apply it to her teaching and research.
“As an Egyptian who is also Canadian, I’m able to understand and speak in both worlds,” says Mostafa.
“I’ve taught in architecture programs, and I’ve taught in art history programs, and I have kept that connection between cultures and also between disciplines.”
This story was originally published on the University of Toronto Arts & Science News Site (September 21, 2017)
Article by: Peter Boisseau
New Exhibition at MMA – “Struck by Likening”
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Tom Thomson (Canadian 1877 – 1917) The Birch Grove, Autumn, 1915–16, oil on canvas. Art Gallery of Hamilton
The McMaster Museum of Art presents a new exhibition, “Stuck by Likening: The Power & Discontents of Artworld Analogies”, curated by the Department’s own Professor Mark Cheetham. From the MMA’s website:
Levy Gallery (level 4)
19 August – 2 December, 2017
PUBLIC RECEPTION: Thursday, September 14, 6 – 8 pm
CURATOR’S TALK | Getting Some Distance on Likening: Wednesday October 4, 12:30 – 1:20 pm
Struck by Likening explores commonplace declarations such as “Tom Thomson is the Van Gogh of Canada” and Norval Morrisseau is “the Picasso of the North.” We may call these familiar comparisons “likenings.” Innocent though they might seem, we need to take likenings seriously. They occur with such frequency as to become largely unheard and invisible. They structure not only what we say about art, but literally how we see it. Likenings can trigger ‘ah-ha’ moments when we are ‘struck by likening’ in the sense of having an insight or they can commit us to dubious cultural assumptions.
Likening is a form of analogy, a process by which a connection is asserted between two distinct elements. Examples abound in pop culture (“Prabhu Deva [is] the Michael Jackson of India”), politics (“Nelson Mandela: The Lincoln of Africa”), science (Ernest Rutherford’s analogy between the atom and solar system), and the law, which argues from analogous precedents. Analogy is fundamental to the way we make sense of the world. Struck by Likening interrogates how we construct our views on artists, their works, and art history through analogy.
The exhibition has five viewing stations, each exploring the issues raised by likening. Questions of national aspiration, genius, gender, anachronism, inter-media comparison, humour, and cultural appropriation are brought into focus. Visitors will see likenings that seem right and lend insight and those that reinforce stereotypes. When comparing the comparisons on exhibit, are you inclined to accept or to resist likenings?
Works for Struck by Likening are drawn from the historical, modern and contemporary collection of the MMA, and loans from the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, Museum London and the Corkin Gallery, Toronto. They include works by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jack Chambers, George Grosz, William Hogarth, William Kurelek, Wifredo Lam, David Lucas, Norval Morrisseau, Pablo Picasso, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Gerhard Richter, Tom Thomson, Harold Town, Homer Watson, and Edward Weston.
For more information on this exhibition, please visit the McMaster Museum of Art website.
Congratulations to the 2016–17 Graduates
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Zainab Al-Shalihi; Emily Baker; Adam Barbu; Samantha Chang; Michael Collins; Kathleen Cummings; Victoria De Chellis; Caroline Duffy; Lina El-Shamy; Rafael Goldchain; Zaneta Laurence; Madeleine Leisk; Debra Lustig; Shaun Midanik; Brittany Myburg; Hoang Anh Thu Nguyen; Meghan O’Callaghan; Carolyn Peralta; Rebecca Proppe; Juliana Ramirez; Shelby Ricker; Matthew Sova; Kaylee Verkruisen; Dana Weaver; Austin Yuen; Yuxing Zhang; Xinran Zhu
Sara Angel; Miriam Aronowicz; Olenka Horbatsch; Dana Katz; Adam Lauder; Elizabeth Moss; Colin Murray; Devon Smither
Doctoral Students Win Prestigious Awards
Monday, June 12, 2017
The Graduate Department of Art is pleased to announce the following award recipients and nominations.
Akshaya Tankha (PhD) has been awarded a Doctoral Fellowship at the Jackman Humanities Institute for 2017–18, where he will work on his dissertation thesis “The Aesthetics of Indigenous Difference in the Absence of Reconciliation in Late-Liberal South Asia,” within the context of the JHI’s theme, “Indelible Violence: Shame, Reconciliation, and the Work of Apology.”
PhD students Rachel Dewan, Dongwon Esther Kim, and Marina Dumont-Gauthier have each won 2017–18 SSHRC Doctoral Awards in support of the research and writing of their dissertation theses over the next 3 years.
Adam Lauder, who recently completed his PhD under the supervision of Professor Elizabeth Legge, was recently nominated for a Governor General’s Gold Medal award.
A hearty congratulations to all of these students for their outstanding work and the impressive recognition that it has received!