UD Art History classes explore exhibits at the Whitney and MOMA.

Maeve Goldman, Staff Writer

The brushstrokes were no longer pixelated and the buildings were no longer the size of a projector as the school’s half-credit Art History students left the classroom and entered the Manhattan art scene on their first trip in two and a half years. “Seeing the art at a museum gave it a new significance as the center of a dynamic environment rather than a still photo,” Ellie Campbell (10) said.  

Last Wednesday, Visual Arts Department Chair Dr. Anna Hetherington’s Renaissance and Ancient Art History students visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) together, Hetherington said. “The Met offers the opportunity to view both Ancient and Renaissance work,” she said. “I wanted students to think about the connections between Ancient Greek and Roman and European Renaissance Art.” 

Meanwhile, Contemporary Art History classes went to Manhattan to view the 2022 Whitney Biennial and to observe contemporary architecture along the High Line, Saanvi Serchan (10) said. “Going to see work we had studied in class was an incredible experience,” she said. 

Before attending the Met, Renaissance and Ancient Art History students were assigned an art piece to research, which they would present to students in smaller groups at the museum, Hetherington said. She chose the works by ensuring that each group had art of different types, mediums and themes, she said. ”I wanted to include paintings and sculptures and different types of work such as religious, narrative, portrait, and mythological.” 

Hetherington selected the different art based on how individual pieces interact with each other, she said. For example, Hetherington paired together two Roman sculptures from 138 – 181 A.D. and 1st–2nd century A.D., she said. “One group had the Fallen Warrior sculpture so I put that together with the Wounded Amazon marble,” Hetherington said. “It was interesting to see how differently male and female wounded heroes are portrayed,” 

Christine Tao (11) analyzed a 1630s narrative painting by Paul Rubens titled “Venus and Adonis,” she said. “The project made me think deeper about art,” she said. “I used to think some Renaissance paintings were ugly but by learning about the specific iconography and artists’ choices, I gained a greater appreciation for why paintings look the way they do.” 

Gisele Paulson (11) presented Artemisia Gentileschi’s religious painting “Esther before Ahasuerus,” a painting that detailed a narrative from the Old Testament, Paulson said. “It was painted by one of the most prominent female renaissance painters so it was super cool to learn the feminist angle of the Renaissance.”  

The opportunity to view art in-person, as opposed to through online images, was crucial to the student’s understanding of each work, Hetherington said. “Being in front of a work of art in-person is always different than viewing it on screen,” she said. “You can view the size, technique, impasto, and sculptures in the round.” 

Seeing the art first hand increased students’ appreciation of each piece, Gabriela Tinaj (11) said. Tinaj was amazed to discover that her painting, “Portrait of a Carthusian” by Petrus Christus was smaller than she imagined — only 11.5 by 8.5 inches, she said. “I was impressed with the amount of detail and how naturalistic the painting was.” 

In addition, students were able to experience the specific staging that curators designed for each exhibit room, Hetherington said. The different methods of presenting art influence the way museum-goers interpret the work, she said. For example, if two renaissance portraits of the same person hang next to each other the subject will still be presented in different ways,” she said. If a painting is hung near a window with light that obscures it, it’s very different than a portrait that is next to a door and you can view people walking through the door,” she said. “There are choices made and the ways we experience objects that are different in person than in a classroom,” Hetherington said. 

After students left the Greek and European galleries, they were instructed to explore the museum and analyze one of its other exhibits, Hetherington said. “There is a real joy in discovering that students can think about works of art they have never seen before and understand them.” 

The ability to see non-Renaissance art exposed students to styles of art they did not encounter in class, Tao said. Tao visited the museum’s Costume Institute exhibit “America: A Lexicon in Fashion,” she said. “It was super cool to see more current works such as A$AP Rocky’s quilted outfit from the Met Gala and Taylor Swift’s Grammy dress.”

The trip to the Whitney and High Line allowed students to further engage with the question of “what is art,” and “how certain places and artists define art for us,” Art History teacher Avram Schlesinger said.

The students prepared by researching two artists whose pieces were presented at the Biennial, then taught the rest of the class about their art, Schlesinger said. This year the Biennials theme is “Quiet as it’s Kept.” “The Whitney Biennial is the show that demonstrates the latest of artists’ creations for the past several years,” he said.

Serchan enjoyed seeing one of the artists she researched, Wang Hui’s installation, she said. “Their installations include LED lights,” she said. “It was mesmerizing to sit under them and watch them glow.” 

At the Whitney, the art gained a new significance, Campbell said. Campbell was drawn to an installation called Jail by Denyse Thamos, she said. “A photo of it was shown during class presentations but the picture did not reflect the scale of the piece or the simultaneously three-dimensional and claustrophobic atmosphere that it conveyed in person.”

After students left the Biennial, they walked along the High Line and discussed contemporary architecture, Schlesinger said. The High Line passes by quintessential contemporary architecture such as the Lantern House, Zaha Hadid’s building, and High Line 23, which marked the beginning of postmodern structures on the High Line, he said. “The High Line has a lot of what we call starchitects.” 

Overall, Schlesinger believes the trip further inspired students to engage with art history, he said. “I hope the students gain a desire to go back and look at more art.”