Art history students research and curate exhibitions from museum collections

Picture of New York harbor on a stormy night used in exhibition

Written by Caroline Stone, Auburn University Class of 2018 (public relations major)

Advanced art history students at Auburn University get a hands-on look at the world of art curation right in their own backyard. Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University invited students to curate an exhibition in the Chi Omega-Hargis Gallery. 

Dr. Emily Burns, professor of art history, lead the students in her Art of the United States course in their integrated approach to learning and interacting with American art. The class learned through lectures, both about the art they are working with and other art displayed around the world. The students' final project is the curation of this exhibition, displayed in two parts at the Jule Collins Smith Museum. Exhibition one runs from Nov. 7 - Nov. 24, 2017, and exhibition two runs from Dec. 4, 2017 through January 2018.

Students broke into two groups for the final project, one taking on exhibition one and the other taking on exhibition two. From there, they decided what roles to undertake. The students of exhibition one decided on the theme, “The American City: Tourists and Denizens.”

Exhibition one will have a public opening discussion on Nov. 16 at 5 p.m. in the museum. Each group member will speak, giving an overview of the theme, elaborating on the context information, and highlighting each work of art. 

“We divided it up within our group as far as the curating process goes,” Sarah Webb, senior in art history said. “We had some group members work on research, some work on writing and others focused on design.”

All the art in the exhibitions are from the permanent collection of the Jule Collins Smith Museum. Students met with the museum’s registrar to see the art they were considering in person, which helped them narrow down which pieces would and would not work side-by-side. 

Students in Dr. Burns’ class take viewers to a place far away from our small Alabama town. “The American City: Tourists and Denizens” captures the spirit of travel to and within an American city in the 20th century. Artists featured include Andy Warhol, Martin Lewis, Yvonne Jacquette, John Sloan, Ben Shute, Frank Kleinholz, Gregorio Prestopino, William Castellana, and O. Louis Guglielmi.

“The experience allows students to take ownership of their project by picking an object, independently conducting research, and developing a presentation that combines visual analysis and research findings,” Dr. Burns said. 

This project not only gave students a chance to learn about the art from afar, but allowed them to get up close with the pieces and learn more about how the curating process works from an inside perspective. Meredithe Kelsoe, a sophomore in art history, said this project was a great introduction into her career path and would absolutely help her going forward in her major. 

“My grandpa was an artist, so he instilled the love of art in me,” Kelsoe said. “I hope this student-led exhibition helps forge the path for more students that currently don’t show as much interest in art to come visit the museum.”

Admission to the gallery is free and open to the public.

For more information, go to or call 334-844-1484.


Last Updated: November 15, 2017