Allison Taylor and I (also known as “the Allisons” around the Museum) create a guide each exhibition cycle (roughly a semester) for educators interested in bringing students to the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum’s special exhibitions. Modern and contemporary art can seem like a challenging and unconventional teaching tool, even for art teachers, so our aim is to demystify and unpack the complex artwork on view and serve it up in bit-sized pieces.
We look closely at each exhibition: What is the thesis? What are the major themes? Why would a K-12 educator bring a class to see this exhibition? Each exhibition produces different answers. For instance, Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928-1945 served as a wonderful teaching tool not only for learning about Cubism and still lifes, but also for learning about World War II and French language and culture in an experiential format.
The two major special exhibitions currently on view, From Picasso to Fontana—Collecting Modern and Postwar Art in the Eisendrath Years, 1960-68 and Sam Durant: Proposal for White and Indian Dead Monument Transpositions, Washington, D.C., both offer a wealth of curricular connections—a study of American monuments and memorials, or a comprehensive look at postwar European and American abstract painting, for instance. However, the Allisons decided to try something slightly different this semester. Instead of creating an educator guide around an exhibition, we selected artwork for an educator guide.
The Sam Durant exhibition provided the inspiration. It is a large-scale installation which (to quote Sabine Eckmann, Kemper Art Museum director and curator of this exhibition) “draws attention to the violent and unequal power relations between whites and Native Americans during the creation of the republic.” The educator guide this semester is called Native American Myths and Stereotypes, Manifest Destiny, and Historical Narratives in Visual Art and it addresses exactly what the title says. The three paintings (one by George Caleb Bingham and two by Charles Wimar) and two photographs (both by Edward Sheriff Curtis) included in the educator guide (and currently on view in the permanent collection gallery) support the dominant historical narrative about westward expansion and relationships between white settlers and Native American populations.
Placing the five artworks for the educator guide in conversation with Sam Durant’s Proposal for White and Indian Dead Monument Transpositions, Washington, D.C., emphasizes the discrepancies between history and historical narrative. The location of this installation in St. Louis, “the Gateway to the West,” provides even more metaphorical suitcases to unpack.
I don’t want to spoil all the fun here, so if I’ve piqued your interest, call or email to schedule a tour!
By Allison Fricke, assistant educator