— mixing it up|
By Jane Ford
David Summers is an expert on Michelangelo and Renaissance
art, his philosophy of understanding
art history incorporates all traditions — European
and non-European — on an equal footing.
offers new perspective on art
Walking into the “Museum: Conditions and Spaces” exhibit
at the U.Va. Art Museum one is immediately struck that something different
exhibit encompasses works from the museum’s
collection that span ancient artifacts through modernist
artworks but the focus is not on chronology. Rather
the exhibit embraces a new way of considering art,
developed by David Summers, William R. Kenan Jr.
Professor of Art History.
shown in the exhibit were selected from those highlighted
in the museum’s collections handbook, which
features entries by curators, faculty, graduate students
and other historians.
The exhibit runs through Sunday, Oct. 17.
will give a gallery talk on two consecutive Sundays:
Oct. 3 and 10 at 2 p.m.
his book, “Real Spaces: World Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism,” Summers
formulates a new language of principles and categories to theorize and teach
intercultural art history. It’s an approach that makes possible a
meaningful comparison of all traditions of art using the same criteria,
said Summers, the
Kenan Jr. Professor of Art History. The approach makes it “possible to
walk in each other’s
moccasins, so to speak.”
Summers’ approach incorporates more than aesthetics. “Works of art
look the way they look because of the purposes for which they were made, not
just for aesthetic reasons,” he said.
The idea for the book began to germinate several decades
ago, when Summers was a Yale graduate student.
He visited Mexico on an anthropological tour
a sculpture so horrific he wondered why it had been made. It wasn’t
until 1989, after writing books on the
Renaissance and Michelangelo, that he began putting his ideas about world
art history to paper.
Summers said he “duked it out with Kant and other philosophers,” wrestling
with theoretical bases of aesthetics, image, nature, man’s place
in the world and the development of cultures to arrive at his book
on world art history.
has put the book’s theoretical and practical applications
to the test in the classroom and in the U.Va.
Art Museum through a co-curated exhibit.
presents museum collection in novel way
Douglas began forming her view of art history and an approach
to how art might be presented in
museums long before she became U.Va.
Art Museum curator in January.
a post-doctoral project, she created a catalog of the museum’s
collection, which involves the collaboration of 16 U.Va.
The results, “The Museum: Conditions and Spaces,” highlights
more than 100 works in the museum’s permanent collection
using criteria set by art professor David Summers. (See above
shares Summers’ interest in the inclusion of artwork
created outside the traditional European art history lexicon.
She is an expert on identity politics and the art of the Caribbean
and the African Diaspora. Summers was one of her Ph.D. advisers.
As catalog editor, Douglas asked artists and art historians
to write about works in the collection, some of which
had never before been written about critically.
“Summers’ approach has an accessibility,” Douglas
said. “Here is a language we can use to talk about … all
kinds of objects.”
comparative aspect of the approach facilitates various ways
of presenting the
collection, which is broad but not deep in many art periods,
Douglas and Summers co-curated the exhibit “Museums: Conditions
and Spaces” using the ideas Summers sets
out in his book. In museums,
ancient art is usually seen with ancient art; Impressionist
works, with other
Impressionist art. When you have works displayed
in a comparative context, juxtaposing periods and
media, “you notice things
you might not have,” she said.
want visitors and others, over time, to see and question differently,”
Douglas said. “I want museum visitors to become involved
in the questions of how do we see and how do we know the world.”