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Alec Unkovic

Alec Unkovic '12 describes his experiences curating an exhibition for the Tang's Mezzanine Gallery as part of his Winter Internship.
Alec Unkovic, Curator, in his exhibition, Twisted Domestic, Tang Teaching Museum, 2012

As the inaugural Winter Intern, one component of my experience at the Tang has been curating my exhibition, Twisted Domestic. I came to the Tang already interested in curation as a potential career and creating a show for the museum has confirmed my passion. The project both demonstrated many of the challenges a curator confronts when planning an exhibition and allowed me access to some important pieces of art.

I began the process by looking through the museum’s permanent collection and finding what pieces interested me; from there, I realized I was drawn to works that explored the emotional complexities we frequently feel about home, but that are often not publicly expressed. Creating this exhibition during my last semester at Skidmore, my focus on the home has been heightened by my graduation. Because I’ve entered a transitional period where my parent’s house is no longer mine, I was led to reflect on how emotionally charged that physical space has become over 22 years.

I presented three exhibition proposals to the curatorial staff, which included outlining themes, proposing checklists, and designing potential layouts. Often what people forget about are the practicalities that go along with curating; pieces may be too complicated or not work with the space, the museum may not want to show a piece in multiple shows too soon, or perhaps the concept that someone proposes runs too similar to a previous exhibition at the Tang.

From my time in Collections in the fall, I was already familiar with the artists and artworks, making it easy to find fantastic pieces. Once I proposed them to the Curatorial staff, we all decided on Twisted Domestic as the top choice. Through this project the staff allowed me to realize one of many exhibition ideas I had conceived of during my internship.

Once we chose Twisted Domestic, I spent time researching the artists and their work while focusing on what specific themes I wanted the exhibition to focus on. As a curator, you have to balance what you know of the artist’s intention of a work with the direction of the overall exhibition.

Although the introductory text in the gallery is only two paragraphs long, it evolved in over a dozen drafts over three weeks. Compacting all my ideas into two paragraphs is harder than writing a ten-page paper. It frames a viewer’s understanding of the show, introduces a concept, and should direct them while remaining open-ended enough for them to draw their own conclusions. I prefer visitors to create their own ideas rather than impose my own, as it leads to richer interactions with the works.

Installation day becomes the time when theoretical ideals struggle against the practicalities of curating. Once the pieces are brought into the space, you might immediately realize certain works don’t work well together. A pedestal may have become too crowded. Pieces that thematically relate should be in close proximity. With crucial guidance provided by Associate Curator Rachel Seligman, I determined the layout based on how I intended a visitor to physically approach and move through the exhibition.

I’m extremely proud of the exhibition’s outcome and viewer response. Now that the show is open I have been emailing the artists included and discussing the project with them. The museum has allowed me to not just appreciate the art, but also offers an opportunity to interact with influential artists. Further, conducting tours of the show invites audience discussion about the art; although the majority of my research has finished, this keeps the project exciting.

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