RICHMOND, VA.- On March 23, 2005, the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums, will open Objects and Meaning: Museum Studies Seminar Exhibition. The exhibition is presented by students enrolled in the Seminar in Museum Studies, a course offered in the University of Richmond’s Department of Art and Art History and part of the Interdisciplinary Concentration in Arts Management.
Using the concept of “objects and meaning” for the exhibition, the class developed three themes to explore that idea, researched and selected works from the collection of the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature in relation to those themes, designed the installation of the objects, and developed the educational programming.
The exhibition examines the role that context and setting play in creating connections and meaning between objects that may at first glance seem unrelated. For example, the exhibition begins with the presentation of a Chinese enameled porcelain charger, a carved sphere of sandstone, and an American pressed glass goblet from the late-nineteenth century.
These objects differ completely in terms of materials, age, geographic origin, and function. Yet when placed side by side, the striking visual patterns on the surface of each item become immediately apparent. This visual link of manmade and natural patterns connects these items in a manner created only through their adjacency in the display and is intended to encourage the viewer to consider other similarities that may not be obvious upon first glance.
Following this display are three groupings that likewise bring together disparate objects that have associations and meaning created through their placement. One section features antique Asian objects. Although the use and symbolism of these artifacts may not be familiar to many museum visitors, by studying the items closely, one begins to recognize that these are all objects of a personal and ritualistic or religious nature, such as a 12-inch-high Chinese ancestral tablet, a bronze Indian seated Buddha, and a decorated Chinese ceramic pillow.
In the next portion of the exhibition, objects found in nature are juxtaposed with manmade manipulations of the same materials to prompt questions about our past, present and current connections with the environment. For instance, a piece of rough yellow agatized jasper from Fluvanna County, Virginia, is paired with a figurine of a giraffe also made of yellow agatized jasper, carved by an artisan from the German firm of Emil Becker, Kirschweiler, in Idar-Oberstein. Viewed together, the items enhance the inherent beauty and value of the material and suggest that each piece is merely a stage in the process of an on-going transformation.
The final part of the exhibition presents a selection of containers, chosen to reveal meaning beyond their basic function through the comparison of medium, cultural background, and form. Some objects obviously belong in this grouping, such as a silver British “Loving Cup” from the nineteenth century and an ancient Roman bottle made of blue glass (circa 100 B.C.E.) Other objects challenge the viewer to consider the containment of animal and even spiritual beings, as in a clam shell from the Indo-Pacific Ocean and a 12-inch tall African standing figure from the Chockwe culture.
Under the supervision of their professor, Richard Waller, executive director of University Museums, and working closely with the museum staff, the students curated and designed the exhibition and developed exhibition text and programming. Collaborating as a group and in teams, the curators are Michael Davis, Gordana Stojcevic, and Bradley Wright; the designers are Kira Eng-Wilmot, Laura Murphy, and Molly Wells; and the educators are Nan Goff, Carmen Hermo, and Shirelle Lewis.