Art Museum Unveils New Exhibition on Protest Art – The Middlebury Campus

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After seeing the exhibition “An Incomplete History of Protest” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Middlebury’s chief curator and engagement director Jason Vrooman began considering curating an exhibition on Protest Art at the Middlebury Museum of Art.

Unfortunately, 2020 became a year of lost time as the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily closed the college museum and sent most of the college’s students and faculty off campus. However, the museum staff decided to use this time to rethink certain aspects of the museum, including reorganizing the permanent galleries for better accessibility and inclusivity.

Staff redoubled their efforts to undermine a permanent installation in the Museum of Art and Activism in the face of the protests against Black Lives Matter and racial justice in the summer of 2020.

“There were so many more amazing stories of artistic protest that we could have told and so many great works left in storage that I knew I wanted to curate a bigger exhibition,” Vrooman said in an email at The Campus.

With the museum reopening and Middlebury College’s return to mostly face-to-face learning this fall, Vrooman and staff felt an active art exhibition was appropriate.

“The Middlebury Art Museum is a place where anyone can come to learn about the past, reflect on our present moment, and reflect on how we do [move] moving forward together as a society, ”said Vrooman.

Planning began in spring 2021 and lasted into summer, with many discussions around the complications that can arise when working on such a multi-faceted project.

Another member of the project was co-curator María Ramirez ’21, who brought in her personal experiences with the perception of people of color in museums and how she wanted to make the museum accessible.

She started with the question, “Who will this achieve and how will it affect them?” Thanks to part of the museum’s grants, Ramirez and Vrooman worked together looking specifically for new work by women or color artists.

The museum also enlisted the help of its summer interns to participate in discussions around the works and to have conversations with several artists in the gallery about their works and the importance of decolonizing a museum. Florence Wu ’22 focused on the photojournalistic aspect of the exhibition, researching various information about the photographs in the museum and writing some of the labels.

“I see great hit-or-miss potential in photojournalism. It’s not very durable. If you look at some photojournalists, it’s just a photo that defined their careers, ”said Wu.

The power of art to create movement contributed to the spark Guest lecturer for art history and architecture Sarah Rogers’ love of the exhibition.

“Art attracts us so that we can reflect on sociopolitical issues,” said Rogers.

In spring 2021 she started planning to offer an art and protest class for the coming autumn semester. When Vrooman got wind of this, the two decided to work together.

Vrooman spoke to the faculty to find out which images would benefit the students most, while Rogers began linking parts of their curriculum to work in the exhibition. Rather than taking a chronological approach, she decided to organize the curriculum around different strategies that can be used in protest art: caricature, museum art versus street art, physical insertions, and more. This enabled students to better understand the effects and limitations of protest art on an audience while becoming better participants in the world in terms of sociocultural issues.

According to Rogers, that iteration of the course will likely not be offered until this semester. In his place, Rogers plans to offer a related course in the next semester, either on the refugee crisis and the decolonization of museums or on a specific topic of protest art.

The exhibition “Art and Protest” can only be seen until mid-December. As a rule, in addition to the works from the permanent collection, only six to eight temporary exhibitions are shown in the museum.

“Art & Protest: Artists as Agents of Social Change” is from 14.09. Open until December 12th, 2021, reservations are required. To reserve a spot, visit: go.middlebury.edu/museumvisit/

Editor’s Note: Florence Wu is a local editor for The Campus.


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