The Catholic University of America

Dec. 1, 2011

Seniors Help Curate Art Department Exhibit

  ghanad liberty

Colombia by Reza Ghanad, 2010 (oil enamel, oil on pastel, 22 x 28)

Seniors Irene Costigan, Mallory Guglielmo, Anne Maybell, and Alyssa Palella are only too happy to take visitors on a tour of the current exhibit in the Salve Regina gallery, “Reza Ghanad: Meta.”

In their roles as assistant curators for the exhibit, the art history majors worked closely with Philadelphia-based artist Reza Ghanad, spending hours interviewing him, studying his work, writing wall labels, and helping to install the exhibit.

Stopping at a painting titled, Colombia, Maybell, of Darien, Conn., explains, “The image at the center of this painting resembles the face of the Statue of Liberty. As you explore it, you begin to see so many images relevant to the theme of liberation.”

Guglielmo, of San Diego, wrote the wall label for Colombia, noting that the painting “is a mix of icons that are relevant to American history and its ideals.” The wall label also tells the viewer that the painting was “inspired by formal society portraits, and Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. In combining images of privilege with the personification of freedom, Ghanad refers to liberty as an actual concrete goal, eternally valued but not always realized.”

Writing wall labels for each of the paintings in the exhibit proved to be more challenging than one might think, says Costigan, of Rochester, N.Y. “You want to tell viewers what to look for as they enjoy each painting, without being too obvious because you also want to allow them the opportunity to view the painting from their own personal perspectives,” she explains.

“To write something so concise after hours of research wasn’t easy,” adds Guglielmo.

In writing the wall labels, the students followed the Smithsonian Institution guidelines, “which are quite strict,” notes Nora Heimann, chair of the Department of Art and associate professor. “Reza told us he will use the labels again in future exhibits, which is such a compliment to the students,” she adds.

The students each conducted several one-on-one interviews with the award-winning artist who has an M.F.A. from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. These interviews were written up by the students and are in a book at the gallery available to visitors at the exhibit.

Ghanad students  
Mallory Guglielmo, Irene Costigan, and Anne Maybell show Ghanad’s Vows 2010 (oil on panel, 48 x 48).  

In one of Palella’s interviews, Ghanad explains that the process of painting must include time for thinking. “You can’t make a painting fast,” Ghanad says. “In the process of spending that time with the painting, you have a lot of time to think. There is a labor involved in painting; you can’t just instantly get what you want with it, you have to build to it; you have to explore it and discover it. Even with traditional training there’s still a lot of self discovery in the process.”

Palella, of Sea Girt, N.J., says she enjoyed the communications aspect of the project. “I loved meeting the artist. I liked hearing his point of view on each piece of work — behind each piece is a story. He opened up to us so quickly, and because we connected with him we were better able to show the work to the public.”

The art history students served as assistants to curator Stephen Lewis, an artist who also has been a visiting instructor in CUA’s art department.

“Being a curator is an acquired skill and also a gift,” says Heimann. “In assisting Stephen, the seniors were exposed to all aspects of the professional curatorial process, which is such an important element to their art history education. The students also designed posters and invitations, they made podcasts, and even catered the opening. They did a beautiful job throughout.”

“The practice in professional relationships in the art world was wonderful,” says Costigan.

“We were able to apply what we’ve learned as art history students to the real world, to something we could potentially do when we graduate,” adds Maybell.


“Reza Ghanad: Meta” is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Dec. 12. The exhibit is in the gallery of Salve Regina Hall at The Catholic University of America. For more information, contact the Department of Art at 202-319-5202.



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