2/1/20 - Ongoing

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, students engage deeply with the objects throughout the semester. In Spring 2020, students are creating theatrical compositions, designing images for graphic novels, writing ekphrastic poetry, and rethinking object labels.

The course descriptions below appear as wall texts in Object Lab and therefore address readers as if they are in the exhibition gallery. We welcome all museum visitors to experience the diverse array of art on view and to engage with the interdisciplinary ideas brought forth in this active, experimental space.

Object Lab: Spring 2020 Classes

Africana Studies 323: Comic Lives: Graphic Novels & Dangerous Histories of the African Diaspora
Professor Rashida Braggs

How has the graphic novel operated as a provocative medium for representing histories of the African diaspora? In Bayou (available on the nearby bookshelf), Jeremy Love references Dorothea Lange’s Plantation Owner photograph but changes the power dynamic. The portly man and his car remain, but Love replaces the African-American sharecroppers with an African-American girl walking up the steps towards a group of white men standing by a Sheriff sign. Making connections with art here, we explore how the graphic novel uses word and image to deepen understandings of ethnic traumas.


Art History 103: Asian Art Survey: From the Land of the Buddha to the World of the Geisha
Professor Scarlett Jang

Moving chronologically and thematically, we survey the history of Asian art, from the Bronze Age to the present day with an emphasis on India, China, and Japan. A contextual approach helps us gain insight into the aesthetic, religious, and political ideas and cultural meanings conveyed by the works of art. We study both Buddha sculptures on the nearby pedestal and write an essay that closely compares the style, medium, and cultural references.


Art History 308: African Art and the Western Museum
Professor Michelle Apotsos

In this tutorial we focus on the exhibition history of African art objects within Western museums. How do these eight works invite us to consider how hierarchies of power and agency are established between the object and the museum space? Each work has a specific prompt such as how labeling practices limit understandings of African art and whose priorities are privileged in object representation. The prompts and student responses are available on the iPad below.


Biology 220: Field Botany and Plant Natural History
Professor Joan Edwards

Close looking, careful observation, and your own history all inform what you see in art and in nature. Art and field botany are highly visual, and in both, what you perceive can depend on your own specialized knowledge. Look closely at the art here and think about what the represented plant is doing, how it is functioning, and how it is adapting to its surroundings. After studying these plants in their natural settings, we return to the art and consider how our perceptions have changed based on deeper scientific understanding.


Chemistry 364: Instrumental Methods of Analysis
Professors Lee Park and Nathan Cook

We survey different laboratory methods of chemical analysis and learn which instruments to use and how to quantify the results. Building on knowledge of the chemical compounds and properties of different pigments, we examine these works of art and try to determine if the blue comes from lapis lazuli, azurite, indigo, or another source. We also study different techniques for stabilization and restoration of artistic materials. Compare the gold leaf with the tempera pigments in Madonna and Child by Charles Prendergast to see how materials degrade at varying rates.


English 340: Elizabeth Bishop in the Americas
Professor Bethany Hicok

Elizabeth Bishop’s (1911-1979) poetry often reflects her travels and residences in Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, Key West, and Brazil. We consider these works on view alongside themes of home, gender identity, ecology, race, and class in her poetry. For example, we look at Charles Prendergast’s Florida Grove in relation to Bishop’s poem “Questions of Travel,” which probes the complexity of experiencing other places. How would you paint a picture with words? Student poetry inspired by these works will be available mid-semester.


History 455: The Afterlives of Objects: Telling American Histories through Material Culture and Museums
Professor Christine DeLucia

The study of material culture approaches historical narratives through objects and considers how interdisciplinary methodologies can reveal alternative understandings of the past. We trace changing practices of preservation, curation, and display; shifting conceptions of “heritage”; and ethical challenges posed by Native American and African American objects in museum collections. Research projects on the works here evolve through guided looking, analysis of labels, and work with the museum’s object files. This selection intentionally includes works that have not previously been exhibited, including the cradleboard and table alarm clock.


Political Science 337: Visual Politics
Professor Mark Reinhardt

How might our understanding of politics change if we focus on the visual? We examine how institutions influence what images people can access and how images, in turn, intervene into or shape the terms of politics. As an example of how artists construct political and social narratives, Shimon Attie’s Steinstrasse 22, Berlin resurfaces political traumas and lost histories. This photograph documents a public installation in which he projected ghostly images of pre-war Jewish street life onto present-day locations in Berlin.


Religion 314: Racial and Religious Mixture
Professor Jackie Hidalgo

We reconsider ways that racial and religious identities have been imagined and defined. We use art to bridge abstract arguments about topics such as hybridity and syncretism with more concrete representations, such as the Mexican Day of the Dead in photographs by Manuel Bravo and Asco. How might applying a theory covered in class to one of these works of art help us understand what that theory obscures or overlooks? What can a theory capture about the nuances of racial and religious identity represented in art, and what do we do when a theory fails us?


Theatre 206: Directing for the Stage
Professor Robert Baker-White

How does a Stage Director translate interpretive concepts into stageworthy productions? This class thinks broadly about the intentional movement of bodies and objects in time and space. We study the abstract sculptures on view here to enliven our crafting of a theatre setting that sparks the viewer’s imagination. As an assignment, stage a scene in the museum galleries that builds on your embodied responses and interpretive reflections to a specific sculpture.


Theatre 256: The Expressive Body
Professor Shanti Pillai

Performance is fundamentally interdisciplinary, and we emphasize the relationship between words, movement, and objects. Works of art are not inanimate objects; rather, we search for their consciousness and communicate with them using slow breathing exercises and close looking. Stimulating the imagination with surprising juxtapositions here such as an ancient Egyptian cat head with a 10th-century Indian human head, we create group movement compositions and translate objects into forms of physical expression. We develop the body’s capacity to think and to create.