Students ask visitors to reflect on what it means to be human in new Kennedy Museum exhibit

Published: May 3, 2021 Author: Kelee Garrison Riesbeck, BSJ, CERT ‘91

Ohio University College of Fine Arts’ Kennedy Museum of Art announces its newest exhibition, Perceive with Caution: Merging Concepts VII, a show developed, curated, designed, and installed by students in the museum’s Museum Studies Certificate Program. Viewers are offered the opportunity to reflect on their own understanding about what it means to be human as they interact with objects carefully crafted by the hands of artists or collected and preserved from the natural world that offer us a varied perspective on our own lives. The collection demonstrates that the ways in which we interpret and portray the world reflect our understanding of the human condition. 

The Museum Studies Certificate Program is a transdisciplinary academic program offered by the School of Art + Design and is open to all Ohio University undergraduate and graduate students. Course content is developed and taught by Kennedy Museum of Art staff. Students earning a certificate gain the ability to design professional museum displays; create appropriate, educational, interpretive materials for museum visitors; learn how to properly handle and display objects, artifacts and other museum holdings; and articulate how museums collect, preserve, interpret and exhibit items.

The program collaborates with partners both within and beyond OHIO that contribute professional expertise and make valuable collections accessible. Featured in the annual Merging Concepts exhibitions are a variety of objects from the collections of the Southeast Ohio History Center and OHIO units including Ohio University Libraries, Biomedical Sciences Department, Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the museum itself. 

Director of Kennedy Museum of Art and program instructor Ed Pauley said the program is set up so both undergraduate and graduate students can collaborate and create for the series. 

"The graduate students in our program research two primary objects, which are chosen by the entire class,” he explained. “Based on that research, the class develops what we in the museum profession call the ‘big idea,’ which becomes the theme of the exhibition. Then, each graduate and undergraduate student must go out and find one secondary object that compliments the big idea. Together, the primary and secondary objects make up the exhibition,” he said. 

Pauley said the big idea for Perceive with Caution: Merging Concepts VII is from this statement written by the students: “The ways in which we interpret and portray the world reflect our understanding of the human condition.”

“This exercise is reflective of what we do as museum professionals — as curators, educators, designers and registrars,” said Pauley. “Through this program students have a great opportunity to work with people who are very experienced in the museum field and caring for collections in addition to earning their certificate.”

Felicity Gunn, who graduated Sunday with a bachelor’s degree in printmaking from the School of Art + Design, said her undergraduate education experience informed how she approached the collaborative approach in creating Perceive with Caution.

“Printmaking is community based by nature – we are all dependent on shared materials and equipment, which leads to plenty of opportunity for collaboration and open communication within the studio,” Gunn said. “Although each of us are focusing on our own work at hand, we promote and teach each other throughout the process. I love this aspect of the field because as opposed to many other art mediums where an individual may not need this shared studio space, printmaking lends itself to fostering a unique and strong network for artists and makers. Printmaking has taught me how to disseminate information whether through verbal communication or printed text, as well as appreciate the process of craft and production.” 

While Gunn said she had fun working alongside the students in the museum fundamentals courses to produce the show, one element about museum exhibition production surprised her.  

“I learned that the most surprising element in the museum profession is exactly how much work goes into orchestrating an exhibition,” Gunn said. “Although we only saw a glimpse of what the field entails, it was extremely exciting to have the opportunity to conceive a show from start to finish. There were many intense days filled with brainstorming and big idea development, followed by even more work put into setting up the exhibition within the gallery space. Up until taking the course, I never really considered the amount of effort that goes into the planning and implementation process. Even down to effective lighting and color schemes, everything needs to essentially be perfect in order to communicate an intended narrative to the audience.”

Perceive with Caution is on view until September 5, 2021. Kennedy Museum of Art is now open by appointment. Schedule your visit here. Experience other exhibitions virtually and learn more about the museum through its virtual portal here.