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Enhancing the Museum Experience
Education Team Encourages Active
Learning in Renovated Scaife Galleries

If Marilyn Russell has her way, visitors to the newly renovated Scaife Galleries will be spending less time walking and more time sitting, writing, reading, and discussing. Russell, curator of education for Carnegie Museum of Art, says that the physical changes to the galleries have allowed the education team to implement more programs that promote active learning. “Rather than have works of art wash over the visitor, we want the art to have an impact,” says Russell.

With 70 percent more artwork on display than before the renovations, the Scaife Galleries can be somewhat intimidating for the uninitiated. Russell says that visitors to the galleries range from casual tourists to art historians and from visual artists to parents with young children. Each brings a different perspective to the museum experience.

The education department has explored ways to create an active learning environment for every visitor, especially those who are less familiar with art history and art making. “The Museum has been experimenting with ways to invigorate the casual gallery experience with active learning strategies,” says Russell.

For example, visitors can expect to see the return of writing stations that were an integral part of the Panopticon exhibition. The writing stations—small podiums with a quote from an artist and an opportunity for visitors to respond to the quote and the artwork on view—challenge visitors to think about what they are seeing. Visitors are encouraged to write their thoughts on small cards and slip them into a little notebook. “It frequently turns into a written conversation with other people,” says Russell. “By reading other people’s comments and recording their own observations, visitors participate in a kind of community forum that encourages reflection and a more active role in creating their own museum experience.

Russell also says that there are many more explanatory labels next to works of art in the new galleries providing a great deal of contextual information, “but providing that information alone is not enough. We want to respond to our visitors’ curiosity about the artists, the techniques, and the cultural and historical context in which the work of art was created,” says Russell. “But we know from research on learning and numerous visitor studies that the most meaningful experiences with works of art are those that allow visitors to find a personal connection.”

Comfortable couches, richly colored walls, and groupings of artworks make the new setting warmer and more welcoming, encouraging visitors to linger and take time for reflection. A large selection of art books is available at seating areas throughout the galleries, so that visitors can further explore artists, works, and styles that interest them.

The audio guide is another resource for visitors that was introduced during the Panopticon exhibition. Available from the admission desk for a small fee, the audio guide includes recorded information on more than 100 works of art that can be viewed in any order—with a recommended short tour of 24 key works for those looking for a structured path through the galleries, or who have less time. The audio entries are designed to provide both factual information (about artists, techniques, the creative process) and other interesting commentary that may make the art more meaningful. Narration is provided by a variety of speakers; in some cases by the artist, the artist’s family members, experts in a related area, curators, and, for works of greatest interest to children, by “Art Cat,” the museum’s mascot for children’s programs. Russell also encourages visitors to take advantage of the daily free gallery talks conducted by Museum of Art docents that combine information with lively conversation and the chance to ask questions and compare points of view.

For visitors who like to learn experientially, the ARTventures program continues to provide art-making opportunities in various galleries. “Parents especially appreciate ARTventures,” says Russell. “Often, they are unsure about how to create a successful gallery visit for their children so we provide the tools with a scavenger search and hands-on art projects.” The ARTventures activity and location changes monthly and is available on a drop-in basis every weekend.

Russell credits her talented staff for the visitor-centered quality apparent in the Scaife galleries. By providing additional resources, Russell believes visitors will be able to connect better with artwork, asking such questions as: “What do I find interesting about this artwork?” “What might it have been like to experience it in its own time?” “How is it relevant to my life?” “Why is this work considered a great work of art?” Russell believes it is the responsibility of the Museum to help visitors understand the works within the galleries, even those that are difficult. “We want viewers to be curious, even challenged, but not puzzled. It is our obligation to provide the tools necessary to help them respond to this world-class collection in ways that are enjoyable and meaningful.” Russell adds, “When you encounter something new in a work of art and connect it to something you already know in a way that enriches your understanding of the world, that results in a lasting impact. It’s the definition of learning.”

Recent Acquisition:
Ugo Rondinone

Ugo Rondinone
No.249 – EINUNDZWANZIGSTERSEPTEMBERZWEIT – AUSENDUNDEINS 2001, ink on paper. Courtesy Mathew Marks Gallery, New York. A.W. Mellon Aquisition Endowment Fund.

The sublimely detailed ink drawings by Ugo Rondinone depict romantic views of alpine landscapes, lush forests, and well-worn paths, putting them, as Curator of Contemporary Art Laura Hoptman says, “squarely within the tradition of the early nineteenth-century German Wandermaler, or itinerant painter.” And yet, as Hoptman explains in an article on Rondinone in Parkett, “Despite their source in plein-air sketches, these works are scrupulously realistic renderings, not of a specific landscape, but of the landscape in art. Rendered in grisaille, and carefully numbered and dated to the day not when the scene was purportedly captured in a preparatory drawing, but when it was inked on a wall, there is no mistaking them for a window onto the world at large.”

Born in Switzerland in 1963, Rondinone first attracted attention in Europe in the 1990s for installations that combined actors, sound, painting, photography, and video. His works tend to address the conflict—or the intersection—between artifice and reality, and his own body and head often figure in videos or computer-altered images. Rondinone studied in Vienna from 1986 to 1990, and currently lives in New York. n


“Exhibitions like these take on a particular kind of time-tested rhythm,” says Curator of Contemporary Art Laura Hoptman of the upcoming Carnegie International. Set to open on October 9, 2004, the museum’s preparation for the exhibition, she says, is right on schedule. Just back from Helsinki, Stockholm, and London, and after a recent trip to Istanbul, Hoptman is not yet ready to release the list of artists to be included, but says the exhibition will tell a story “in the broadest sense,” dealing with issues that people confront every day.

The last International, says Hoptman, was high profile, but there is a new crop of artists who are unfamiliar with Pittsburgh and its recurring landmark exhibition. “If you go to a country where an artist has recently participated in it, they know the International,” she says. “But everyone knows who Andrew Carnegie was.”

To pull the exhibition together, Hoptman, along with Assistant Curator Elizabeth Thomas and Secretary Sara Hromack, set up meetings in advance in areas where Hoptman noticed interesting activity or exhibitions. She visited artists’ studios when she could and met with curators at other institutions for direction and advice. Because many artists today work with video or large-scale installation art, it was often challenging to find a way to see their current projects.

“ You establish a relationship with the artist and see what they’re doing,” she says of this time-consuming process. “There is a necessary lack of spontaneity. The museum has to prepare,” both physically and financially. To that end, the Friends of the Carnegie International, a group of collectors and other art lovers chaired by Milton and Sheila Fine of Pittsburgh and Jill and Peter Kraus of New York, has been formed to support the exhibition.

Watch for more news about the upcoming Carnegie International—including the artists who will be featured in the exhibition this fall—in future issues of CARNEGIE magazine.

Three Exhibitions, One Focus
Landscape Paintings, Prints, and Photographs Portray Early 19th Century
Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Heinz Galleries ; The Romantic Print in Britain, Works on Paper Gallery; Eloquent Vistas: The Art of Nineteenth Century American Landscape Photographers, Heinz Galleries

Thomas Cole, American, 1801-1848, Scene from The Last of the Mohicans: Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund, 1827, oil on canvas, The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

America’s first school of landscape painters emerged between 1815 and 1875 and was inspired by the Hudson River area, Niagara Falls, the Connecticut River Valley, and all the natural wonders found in abundance in what was then considered the New World. The Wadsworth Atheneum’s collection of Hudson River School paintings, begun by founder Daniel Wadsworth, is arguably the best in the world, boasting 13 paintings by Thomas Cole and 11 paintings by Frederic Church. Cole is traditionally considered one of the original and most influential painters of the Hudson River School, using his art as a moral platform as well as an opportunity to portray the unspoiled American wilderness.

Wadsworth, an early patron of both Cole and Church, introduced the two artists when Church was 17 years old, and Cole immediately made the young painter his apprentice. During the Civil War, Church advised Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt as she assembled an impressive collection of works by such artists as Albert Beirstadt, William Bradford, John Kensett, and Sanford Gifford, among others. Later, Colt became a major donor to the Atheneum. This exhibition will feature 55 works by Hudson River School artists and will be accompanied by a catalogue.

John Raphael Smith (1752-1812)
after George Morland (1763-1804)
African Hospitality, 1791,
mezzotint, printed in color, published state Yale Center for British Art.

Two complementary exhibitions will be presented in conjunction with Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. The Romantic Print in Britain is drawn from the Paul Mellon collection of British prints at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. Set in the same time period, this exhibition considers the Romantic preoccupation in England with the natural and manufactured worlds, and deals with such issues as technological change, national identity, and humanity’s relationship with the environment—subjects that concerned Turner and Constable and are still relevant today. The exhibition will feature printmaking tools and plates, as well as rare progress proofs tracing the evolution of specific images.

Platt D. Babbitt, American, ?-1879,
Tourists Viewing Niagara Falls from Prospect Point, c. 1855 daguerreotype with applied color. George Eastman House.

At the same time, the relatively new art of photography was capturing the unfolding and often dangerous American frontier. Organized by the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, Eloquent Vistas: The Art of Nineteenth Century American Landscape Photographers will include works by Timothy O’Sullivan, Alexander Gardner, William Henry Jackson, and Carleton Watkins.

Together, these three exhibitions will provide an insightful examination of a tumultuous period in British and American history.

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