1/10/24 - 4/28/24

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 spring 2024, students are analyzing symmetry, doing exercises in color theory, painting compositions inspired by specific works of art, and pairing art with poetry.

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 2024 Classes

Art Studio 244: Taswirkhana: Technique and Practice of Indian Drawing and Painting
Professor Murad Mumtaz

Taswirkhana, a workshop model established in the Mughal court in the late 16th century, spread throughout northern South Asia and continues to be relevant in India and Pakistan today. Students in this course learn the basics of drawing and painting techniques of the traditional taswirkhana. Concurrent with their studio practice, they look closely at this selection of works and use digital imaging to observe minute details and evidence of artistic process. For example, different layers of drawing are visible in the work attributed to Nainsukh with rough charcoal, broad strokes in red, and then fine lines in black.

Art Studio 304: Color Theory: The Poetics and Politics of Color
Professor Rit Premnath

Grappling with a wide range of perceptual, formal, and theoretical approaches helps students understand and control their use of color. They begin with hands-on exercises in color theory from Josef Albers’ book Interaction of Color, referring to the painting here as well as his two prints selected for Mathematics 355. This leads to sustained projects in which students explore their own interests through self-directed projects, drawing inspiration from the art here and throughout the museum galleries.

Art History 221: History of Photography
Professor Catherine Howe

Students explore photography’s physical and conceptual characteristics as a medium, paying particular attention to its uniquely intimate and frequently contested relationship to “reality.” In an extended observation assignment, students select a photograph in Object Lab and look closely for an entire hour in order to notice more details, develop a careful visual analysis, and situate the work in a broader historical context. These three contemporary photographs offer opportunities to think about space, levels of fiction, and the relationship between the photographers and their subjects. 

Art History 584: Fragments and Healing: Disability Studies and Late Antique Art
Professor Glenn Peers 

Students investigate how contemporary Disability Studies can help us think about the complexities of differently abled bodies in Late Antiquity (from 200 to 750), the formative period for Christian art. Students think about art as documents, reflections, and determinants of those bodies, now and in the past. Here they look at representations of healing and recuperation in the print depicting St. Thecla, art produced by and directed at diverse bodies in the drawing by Deaf artist and activist Christine Sun Kim, and at fragments and restorations in the fresco of a male saint. 

Comparative Literature 221: Dante and the Medieval World
Professor Mario Sassi

Through a close reading of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, completed around 1321, students consider Dante’s use of language, allegory, and cultural knowledge to depict the afterlife and assess medieval society’s social, political, and religious systems. They also examine the poem’s relationship with global literature, art, and culture, including the selections here. Marie Spartali Stillman’s watercolor shows a young Dante (in green) next to Beatrice Portinari (in red), who  inspired his poetry and became Dante’s guide in the Divine Comedy. Other selections give  students a sense of 14th-century Italian culture and a range of representations of the afterlife.

English 418: Modernisms and the Archive
Professor Bethany Hicok

Students use archival theory, print culture, and literary study to chart new pathways for understanding modern poetry and poetics during the period of literary history (from 1900 to 1945) that we most closely associate with the term Modernism. Students focus here on the old and new in the modern city, examining photographs of New York City including Berenice Abbott’s Cliff and Ferry Street, with the horse-drawn cart in the foreground, cars in the middle ground, and a skyscraper looming in the background.

Latina/o Studies 224: U.S. Latinx Religions
Professor Efrain Agosto

Focusing on the United States, students engage aspects of Latinx religious experiences, practices, and expressions. They survey select religious traditions and practices, including popular Catholic devotions to the Virgin of Guadalupe, as seen in the tattoo in Delilah Montoya’s photograph. As they learn about Latinx approaches to traditional religious expressions of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism in the United States, they consider two performances by the artist group Asco documented in photographs here. Students discuss how  Asco’s first performance, Stations of the Cross, both appropriates Biblical imagery of Christ bearing the cross and relates to political protest of the Vietnam War.

Mathematics 355: Abstract Algebra
Professor Steve Miller

Students learn about algebraic structures including concepts of groups and identifiable  patterns. Here they focus on classifying and organizing data, questioning what properties they care about—such as size and color—and if they can agree on which properties should be prioritized. Analyzing these two prints by Josef Albers and his painting selected for Art Studio 304, students list the different groups they can formulate using properties they identify. They also consider the types of symmetry they can generate for each artwork, such as imagining a horizontal or vertical fold down the middle.

Science and Technology Studies 290: Technologies of Friendship
Professor Ezra Feldman

Students examine how writers across centuries have described the tools and technologies of friendship, from the sentimental to the invasive. In Object Lab, students focus on the friendship and artistic collaborations between photographer Barbara Morgan and dancer Martha Graham, and between artists Giuseppe Campuzano and Germain Machuca. They learn more about each friendship and the resulting impact on the collaborative artistic processes that led to the photographs shown here.