6/23/23 - 12/17/23

Elizabeth Gallerani, Curator of Mellon Academic Programs

Object Lab is a hybrid gallery-classroom that visualizes the Williams liberal arts curriculum through the museum collection. Faculty work with WCMA staff to select art that connects with course concepts. These works of art are then installed in the gallery, grouped by course. Through museum visits combined with close-looking assignments and digital projects, students engage deeply with the objects throughout the semester.

During fall 2023, students are reinterpreting cultural objects, responding to weekly prompts about architectural context, designing programming languages, learning the foundations of oil painting, and analyzing the context of movement-based performances.

We welcome all museum visitors to experience the diverse array of objects and to engage with the interdisciplinary ideas brought forth in this active, experimental space.

Object Lab: Fall 2023 Classes

American Studies 146: Introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies
Professor Stefan Aune

Centering shifting representations of Native American people within the United States history and culture, this course considers how Native writers, artists, and activists resist settler colonial mythologies. In Object Lab, students compare the ways Indigenous people are represented in relation to notions of “modernity.” Chemehuevi artist Romero emphasizes agency in Native self-fashioning; she positions the trickster Coyote in front of an Española liquor store and a lowrider Impala. Warhol, however, reinforces settler fantasies by appropriating an archival photograph of Sitting Bull for a series titled Cowboys and Indians.

Click here to look at the course’s StoryMap, online multimedia stories with interactive elements that encourage viewers to explore art in more detail.

American Studies 326: Unfinishing America
Professor William Stahl

Students read Ralph Ellison’s unfinished second novel in order to historically situate racial trauma and to engage with drafting and editing as creative processes. The selections in Object Lab help them explore what it means to leave unfinished, to refinish, or to revise. Piper handed out copies of the calling card after witnessing racist acts, but here in Object Lab it appears framed on a wall, ephemera from an ongoing performance. Ligon repeats lines from Ellison’s first novel, Invisible Man, with barely legible black ink on black paper. As a culminating project, students “unfinish” a cultural object from the United States. 

Art History 106: An Invitation to World Architecture
Professor Michelle Apotsos  

Students study architecture as concept, space, and practice, and think critically about its influence on human experience. Each week they study an object at the museum, note visual elements such as size, scale, and materials, and then respond to a specific prompt. For example, the fragmented sculpture of an apsara originally adorned the facade of a South Asian temple and represents a female celestial being associated with clouds and water in Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Students reflect on why the apsara appeared in this architectural context and what she may have been intended to convey.

Click here to look at the course’s StoryMap, online multimedia stories with interactive elements that encourage viewers to explore art in more detail.

Art History 229: The Art of Natural History
Professor Catherine Howe

The scientific revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries fundamentally changed perceptions of the natural world. New discoveries in the natural sciences and competing theories of evolution developed with corresponding shifts in conceptions of natural history, nature, and the proper place of humankind. Investigating connections between art and natural science, students examine O’Keeffe’s use of yellow-orange paint around skunk cabbage to convey the heat and stench the plant releases. Considering museum dioramas and the role of aesthetics in fabricating “natural history,” they learn how Kirkland examines specimens in natural history collections and designs utopian landscapes.

Click here to look at the course’s StoryMap, online multimedia stories with interactive elements that encourage viewers to explore art in more detail.

Art Studio 241: Introduction to Oil Painting
Professor William Binnie

Students learn the foundations of painting, including the manipulation of color, value, surface, and texture. In Object Lab, they observe a range of techniques across these selections as well as the O’Keeffe and Gifford works for Art History 229. Over the course of three visits this semester, students note how their attention to detail, material knowledge, and artistic practice have grown. Digital imaging techniques reveal magnified views of the painted surfaces, giving a sense of artistic process, the topography of paint, and change over time.

Computer Science 334: Principles of Programming Languages
Professor Dan Barowy

A programming language is a distinct vocabulary and set of rules used to communicate with a computer and to achieve a desired result. Students learn to use precise, nuanced words to describe something and how to combine those words effectively. They practice this careful description by writing about compositional elements they observe here such as shape, color, size, and texture. For the final project, each student designs a programming language capable of generating artwork in the style of an artist selected from Object Lab.

Dance 103: Historical Research in Dance and Performance Studies
Professor Munjulika Tarah

Students learn to analyze the historical and sociopolitical contexts of movement-based performances. Using these still images and the apsara sculpture for Art History 106, they learn to describe what they do and do not see, consider relationships between motion and body, and critique how an artist represents movement in a two-dimensional image. These exercises help the class to document, analyze, and write about dance as a historical and cultural text, and to explore interdisciplinary engagement with movement-based performances.

History 224: Introduction to Medieval Europe
Professor Joel Pattison

Focusing on Europe from the decline of the Roman Empire in the fifth century through the fifteenth century, this course encounters the medieval world through the people who lived in it. Here students learn about broader networks of connections through portable objects, considering materials such as gold and ivory as well as the cultural significance of the finished works. The coin, for example, shows the circulation of imperial imagery—deftly combining familial lineage and Christian symbolism—throughout the  Byzantine Empire and beyond.