University of Pittsburgh

commons room

Gallery Life

Written by Elise Hawthorne

Classes are done for the day, and the wide hallways encircling the rotunda of the Frick Fine Arts Building are quiet. Only the soft echo of a few voices can be heard, slipping through a door that’s slightly ajar.

Inside the University Art Gallery, a student balances atop a high ladder, using a staple gun to hang a shiny orange, black, and green drapery in a doorway. She crafted the drapery herself, using Japanese Kabuki theater curtains as a model. A classmate directs from below, ensuring that the fabric hangs evenly.

Nearby, other classmates carefully balance a Japanese bench between them, slowly lowering it to the floor. Woodblock prints are propped up against the surrounding walls, waiting to be hung.

The Pitt students, who are all seniors majoring in the history of art and architecture, are spending their Wednesday night in the gallery as part of a museum studies course. The course includes a unique assignment—the successful execution of an art exhibition. Their instructor, Eric Shiner (A&S ’94), is the Milton Fine Curator of Art at Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum. He’s advising them as they take on the challenge.

Titled “Making Face: The Depiction of Women in Japan from Edo to Today,” the exhibition features Japanese woodblock prints from the 18th and 19th centuries. The prints are from the collection of Barry Rosensteel (EDUC ’76), who recently donated more than 100 similar pieces to Pitt. The class of 25 students has been working in three teams, dividing up tasks like establishing the show’s theme, writing labels to describe the art, and determining optimal hanging heights and lighting. Now, they’ve all joined together, alternating shifts in the gallery to prepare for the opening in just two days.

One of the students, Adrienne Rozzi, settles into a square antique chair where visitors will be able to rest as they view the show. She surveys the gallery, envisioning how the art will look from this angle. As part of the class’s curatorial team, she helped to select the room’s theme—“Women and Labor”—and developed a layout to contrast portraits of courtesans, who were prostitutes, and geishas, who were entertainers. She’s proud of her hands-on work. Between classes, she has been working part-time as a gallery attendant at the Warhol Museum, where she has witnessed the development of several exhibitions but has only been able to imagine what her own approach might be. Now, it’s real.

At the exhibition’s opening, Rozzi and her classmates stay busy mingling with viewers, but they all know there’s something more worth celebrating—they’re officially curators.