Display in the Picker Art Gallery

This website was created to showcase the efforts and findings of students, but it would also be beneficial to showcase the results of this work in the Picker Art Gallery. The two main areas being addressed in this essay are the potential exhibit design for these reliefs in the Picker Art Gallery, and how this exhibit can be used to generate interest in the Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University and Herbert Mayer.

Students took on the task of answering a plethora of previous unanswered questions about these objects; Are they authentic, and will we ever be able to know for sure? Are they all from the same place? Have they ever been shown before, and if so where and how? Where did they come from? Who made them? We found some of these questions had concrete answers, while for others we could only formulate theories. This poses a significant problem for the Picker Gallery. The Louvre shows their collection of similar Egyptian reliefs by recreating the temple that they came from. The exhibit of Assyrian reliefs at Dartmouth University presented the reliefs with a reconstruction of their original context. The Picker cannot display the reliefs in this way because we do not have concrete evidence about where they came from. The Brooklyn Museum was faced with a difficult situation when they discovered that some of their reliefs were actually forgeries. Rather than hide them away, the museum created a temporary exhibit around the very scandal. In this exhibit they had three rooms. Within these rooms the reliefs were divided into real, forged, and in question. This is not a viable solution for the Picker because all 20 of the reliefs would fall into the “in question” section.

The Picker Reliefs are art, but they are also archeological artifacts. When artifacts, such as ours, have unconfirmed origins and authenticity a museum cannot present them in a way that makes assumptions. When a museum presents artifacts such as ours they must do so in a way that simply presents a theory, rather than facts. Creating a museum exhibit with so little concrete information poses significant problems. The Picker Art Gallery is a dynamic space with many niches, and levels that lend it to creative exhibit design. However, since the collection of reliefs is relatively small, and there is so little known about their authenticity, it would be difficult to curate an exhibit centered on them alone.

An alternate solution would be to curate an exhibit around Herbert Mayer’s bequests to the University. Herbert Mayer asked the question, “What happens when powerful art is set in a rural but intellectually ambitious surrounding?”(Calo). He believed that just such juxtaposition might lead to a more sincere experience of art. This course, which prompted students to conduct research on real unexplored pieces of art, is an example of this juxtaposition lending itself to real experience and understanding of art. In an ideal world this exhibit would be about the manifestation of Herbert Mayer’s philosophy through Colgate’s curriculum. This exhibit would be about Mayer’s gifts, but also his intellectual legacy. If over the next few years more courses were taught around art from Herbert Mayer’s bequest and courses that embody Mayer’s vision then an exhibit could be built around the research and findings of these several courses. The Picker Art Gallery’s space, with its many niches and levels lends itself well to an exhibit made up of several distinct sections. The area devoted to this course and Mayer’s reliefs would focus on the class and student research rather than the reliefs themselves, because we lack sufficient information.

Since we are aiming to create an exhibit based on the research of these reliefs rather than the objects themselves, we must look to similar exhibitions for guidance. After looking at a few comparable exhibits, there are some aspects that could potentially be incorporated into our exhibit as well. The University of Michigan held an exhibit entitled “Karanis Revealed- Discovering the Past and Present of Michigan Excavation in Egypt” at the Kelsay Museum that opened in September of 2011. Divided into two different segments due to spatial restrictions, this exhibit was created to show the excavation process the institution went through in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Working off of this idea, we could also divide our exhibit into two distinct parts, with one exhibit highlighting the reliefs and the other highlighting the textiles. Not only could this tighten the focus of the two exhibits, it would create more publicity for the objects since we are essentially displaying two different aspects of our findings. The University of Michigan exhibit also incorporated an interactive approach to their objects. While the students and visitors were wandering through the exhibit, they were allowed to tweet about their experience. Those ongoing tweets were then displayed on a screen in the reception room so that everyone could read the reactions of the visitors. This is a great idea to have the visitors get involved and instead of just tweeting about anything, perhaps we could suggest that visitors could focus on any suggestions on how we could expand our research of these ancient objects.

The objects would be placed on a table in glass cases, which would allow the viewers to examine them closely, looking for clues just as the students had. These glass cases would also insure that the objects were not damaged. The student-written catalogue entries would accompany each of the reliefs. The observation notes take by each student could also be placed on the table in order to see how many of our observations had changed as research progressed. Lighting within the exhibit would be done with tungsten light bulbs because they can be dimmed and do not emit a lot of ultra-violet radiation to further protect the reliefs. A TV screen on one end of the exhibit would show a series of interviews with students and professors about the project. Around the walls of the exhibit there would be a timeline detailing the reliefs’ journey from Cairo to the Picker. This timeline would also include photos and text from student research. These would be mounted on the wall using dry-transfer lettering, which is used in many small museums. At the end of the exhibit, a number of computers would be set up so that visitors can view the student-made website and research would be available. There could also be suggestion boxes set up so that visitors can suggest steps the students should take to further strengthen our research. Creating an interactive exhibit based on our research as a whole with a detailed timeline of the entire process the students have gone through will make the visitor’s experience that much more valuable and leave feeling as though they have contributes to our research of these ancient objects.

This exhibit focusing on Mayer’s bequest would be great academic publicity. The University has already published several articles about this course, and an actual exhibit would be a great physical manifestation that alumni, academics and prospective students could see. Since our research encompasses many different fields of interest, our exhibit would be relevant to many different groups of students on campus. Whether it is the chemistry behind these ancient reliefs, the iconography of the birds and animals depicted on them or simply an interest in art and exploration, Colgate students will become more involved with this topic. This exhibit would highlight the innovative academics at Colgate and could also be used to generate interest among alumni. This show would celebrate the contributions of a notable alumni and would demonstrate how much the students at Colgate benefit from these types of generous contributions. Additionally, the Picker Art Gallery could gain publicity within the art world by highlighting the mystery behind these objects. The Brooklyn Museum did this very successfully. Looting and forgery is scandalous, and people find this very intriguing. It is not often that a small University museum has objects such as these, and it is even more rare that students are working to uncover the mystery behind them.


Nicole Vilanova '13 and Morgan Roth '13 are Art History Majors at Colgate University