WCMA Sol LeWitt exhibit earns honor

The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) recently won the 2012 award for Outstanding Exhibition in a University Museum for “Sol LeWitt: The Well-Tempered Grid.” The Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) honored WCMA with the award at its Annual Awards for Excellence in Boston. Charles “Mark” Haxthausen, the Robert Sterling Clark professor of art history,  curated the exhibit in tandem with his seminar on LeWitt’s wall drawings with the help of Kathryn Price, curator of special projects at the museum. Graduates of the College’s M.A. program in art history Christianna Bonin ’12 and Erica DiBenedetto ’09 served as curatorial assistant and catalog contributor, respectively. Both wrote essays for the exhibition catalog.

The AAMC strives to recognize and support the work of museum curators by “creating opportunities for networking, collaboration, professional development and advancement,” according to the organization’s website. The nonprofit organization developed from the Forum of Curators and Conservators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) developed, the group brainstormed about the feasibility of the nonprofit national association of museum curators in 1999. Over the course of two years, curators at the Met sketched out the proposed organization’s mission statement and by-laws. In April 2001, the ad hoc committee presented its plan for a curatorial society to a gathering of representatives of various American art museums and voted the AAMC into existence. Promoting research opportunities with travel grants, advocating for curatorial careers and recognizing achievements in the field have been among the AAMC’s top priorities since its inception.

The AAMC created the Award for Outstanding Exhibition or Installation in a University Museum in 2010. The entire membership of the AAMC votes on the recipients of the award. The Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County won the inaugural prize in 2010. The Pomona College Museum of Art received the accolade in 2011 for its three-part exhibition “It Happened at Pomona College: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969-73.”

“Sol LeWitt: The Well-Tempered Grid” marks the first exhibition to explore the role of the grid in the artist’s work. Haxthausen examined how LeWitt’s use of the grid evolved over the span of his prolific artistic career from 1960 until his death in 2007. “LeWitt described himself as a conceptual artist, and my goal for the WCMA exhibition was to use it as a means to give my students insight into the nature of the mind that conceived the wall drawings,” Haxthausen said.

The exhibit included approximately 65 works on loan from the LeWitt collection in Chester, Conn., featured alongside an assortment of the artist’s books from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute library. The exhibit showcased LeWitt’s oeuvre across a variety of media, including drawings, gouaches, prints, artist’s books, structures and wall drawings. “The exhibition was very much a team effort,” Haxthausen said.

“We are extremely proud of this honor,” Lisa Dorin, deputy director of curatorial affairs, said. “It is the first time WCMA has received an award from the AAMC, which is particularly gratifying because the awards are determined by votes amongst our curatorial colleagues nationally.   It is a testament to [Haxthausen’s] vision for the exhibition and the hard work he and [Kathryn] Price, curator of special projects, put into the show and the book.”

This award is one of multiple accolades the exhibit has accrued. “The LeWitt exhibition catalogue won the 2013 New York Book Show Award for Scholarly Publication, so we’re excited to be recognized by the AAMC for the exhibition,” Price said. “WCMA has a strong tradition of original scholarship, and we were thrilled to showcase [Haxthausen’s] insightful take on [LeWitt’s] work.”