1/28/22 - 4/30/22

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.

In spring 2022, students are assessing depth cues in art, analyzing the material properties of bronze, translating Chinese calligraphy, and designing their own monuments.

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: Spring 2022 Classes

Art History 103: East Asian Art
Professor Carolyn Wargula

This course surveys Chinese, Korean, and Japanese art from prehistory to the present. Through thematic units, students learn about the original context of these artworks and consider how cross-cultural exchanges stimulated new interpretations across time and space. In the death and memorialization unit, students study this bronze gui, a Chinese ritual vessel used for holding food in tombs. For the landscape unit, students examine the brushstrokes of the Fang Shishu hanging scroll and the depiction of depth in the Hiroshige woodblock print.


Art History 247: Art and Representation in the Wake of Empire, Europe after 1945
Professor Alena Williams

Set against global, decolonial, and migration shifts after World War II, this course focuses on visual representation in Europe and its former colonies. The selections in Object Lab relate to the European postwar landscape of militarized violence and its impacts on national identity, selfhood, and belonging. For instance, the two photographs of Normandie—a site of the Allied invasion decades earlier in 1944—depict empty flax fields and beech trees.


Art History 402: Monuments and the Art of Memorial
Professor Elizabeth McGowan

Calls for the removal of monuments that elevate individuals implicated by colonialism and racism have led to a surge in alternative forms of public commemoration and monument-making. Beginning in the ancient Mediterranean and continuing through Europe and the United States in the modern era, this course looks at a range of monuments and charts their reception, influence, and even destruction. Students explore Piranesi’s print of the Pantheon in Rome and unrealized designs for monuments by Oldenburg and Rossi, and then each create their own design for a monument.


Chemistry 114: The Science Behind Materials: Shaping the Past and Future of Society
Professor Amnon Ortoll-Bloch

Students in this course learn to think about materials at the atomic scale, looking at how the smallest building blocks organize into specific structures. They explore the relationships between structure, processing, and properties for a range of materials, and, in Object Lab, do a deep dive into the characteristics of ceramics and bronze. Students learn about how each work was made and how their chemical makeup and structure change over time. They compare the bronze sculptures selected for their class and those chosen for ARTH 103, and try to account for why the surfaces look different.


Chemistry 364: Instrumental Methods of Analysis
Professor Christopher Goh

Students survey different laboratory methods of chemical analysis and learn which instruments to use and how to quantify the results. Employing Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to examine details invisible to the naked eye, students look at discoloration and losses in these four paintings. For example, they study RTI details to consider how and when the Isfandiyar image was pasted onto this different page from a Shahnama text. Students also assess which conservation techniques are viable, reversible options for these paintings and which are too invasive.


Chinese 402: Advanced Chinese
Professor Li Yu

Conducted entirely in Mandarin, this course helps advanced learners develop language proficiency and intercultural communication skills. Each student visits Object Lab for individual sessions with the Teaching Associate. They discuss the architecture of the pleasure house depicted here, noting connections with the four arts of the Chinese gentleman scholar: guqin (a seven-stringed musical instrument), weiqi (a strategy board game), calligraphy, and painting. They examine Liu Zheng’s photograph of statues featuring Chairman Mao and apply their knowledge of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Students decipher calligraphy by Wang Chi-Yuan (who founded the School of Chinese Brushwork in 1947) and in the poster by the Guerrilla Girls.


Cognitive Science 328: Cognitive Approaches to Visual Perception
Professor Omer Daglar Tanrikulu

Covering the relationship between perception and cognition, this course introduces how the visual system processes motion, color, depth, and shape. In Object Lab, students look for depth cues such as perspective with a vanishing point; occlusion and overlapping; relative height and size (size constancy); and shadow or lighting direction. Students also observe instances where the logic of our perception is altered in works of art, such as works depicting shadows that don’t make sense or that use scale to convey hierarchy rather than depth. These can be hard to notice because our visual systems compensate and make corrections.


Psychology 337: Critical Perspectives in Special Education
Professor Kelsey Jones

An examination of special education requires an understanding of the history and construction of dis/ability. The class listens to narratives shared by people with dis/abilities to understand how personal connections to special education influence students’ own current beliefs and future practice. Students consider the ways in which representations of dis/ability in works of art in Object Lab contribute to bias and even the criminalization of difference. For example, students question their assumptions about the signs and vendor permits worn by individuals in the Faurer photograph here and in the Strand photograph selected for WGSS 208.


Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 208: Designer Genes
Professor Bethany Hicok

Students explore cultural texts that attempt to come to terms with—or exploit—the revolution in contemporary genetics with a particular focus on gender, race, class, and sexuality. The Lazard video helps students to reimagine time and challenge ideas of ableism. Photographic portraits—the images as well as their titles—bring up questions of agency, collaboration, gaze, and identity. Students closely examine the text, organs, and mapping in the Dennis print, considering it as a corporeal interpretation of what it means to be human.