Berman Exhibition Features the Work of Student Curator

As a curator, Renaissance Studies major Michelle Ermatinger-Salas wanted to embrace the art of the early modern period (approximately 1450-1800). But many of the works available in the campus museum collections are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “How do I use what the museum has and still be true to my major?” she asked herself.

Michelle Ermatinger-Salas

Renaissance Studies major Michelle Ermatinger-Salas

The result is the unique “Holding the Eyes and Soul:” Object and Viewer in 2012, an Upper Gallery exhibition based on the early modern period’s emphasis on viewer perspective.

The exhibition opens Feb. 15 at the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art on the Ursinus campus. The Berman periodically offers an exhibition curated by a student from the three-semester Curatorial Initiative.

Ermatinger-Salas, from Sellersburg, Indiana, was led to the Curatorial Initiative by a random conversation on an airplane during her sophomore year, as she chatted with another passenger about a children’s book author whose archival collection of objects and ephemera relating to Walt Disney is not on public view. “The collection is not documented, nor does the collector anticipate that it will survive after his death. It was the epiphany” she says, “since I realized that when he passed on, no one would know about this ‘cabinet of curiosities,’ I thought I would really want to be someone who could tell the stories of such collections, to make accessible the wonderment and importance of these pieces which had provided him such joy in his own life.”

Students who take part in the Curatorial Initiative, under the direction of Associate Director for Education Dr. Susan Shifrin, devote the second and third semesters of the course to creating an exhibition from the Berman’s permanent collection. “Curation is storytelling,” says Ermatinger-Salas. “It is representing and assisting artists to interpret their work, and it is contextualizing their stories for the public.”

Using the “ocularcentrism” or eye-centeredness of the early modern period as her starting point, Ermatinger-Salas frames her exhibition with the writings of such thinkers as Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), an Italian artist and theorist who helped to shape the visual and conceptual underpinnings of Renaissance art as we understand it today. Ermatinger-Salas’s choices of art in her exhibition showcase the mechanics and philosophy of seeing and comprehending.

Detail of The Little Connoisseur (detail), 1863, Oil on canvas, 18 ½” x 15 ½”

Image: August Siegert (German, 1820-1883), The Little Connoisseur (detail), 1863, Oil on canvas, 18 ½” x 15 ½”, Gift of Mary Downs

The exhibition invites us to interact with art as if we were “going to interact with a person,” she says. Works representing human subjects stand in for those living subjects. “The Renaissance put a new emphasis on the human being as the center of attention. Where the viewer stands is something we need to think about,” she says, “to allow us to see the painting as the painter wanted us to see it.”

Ermatinger-Salas has a special opening planned (Feb. 24 at 3:30 p.m.) for members of the College staff who don’t often get to the Museum because of their campus obligations. As a student abroad at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in London, she too note that when the Tate Modern museum opened, there was a special opening for city taxi drivers.Hearing another curator — Mel Yoakum, director of the F. Gilot Archives– speak at Ursinus, she says she was inspired by his comment that the “target audience is everyone.”

“Holding the Eyes and Soul:” Object and Viewer in 2012 shows a range of artists, including contemporary Philadelphia-based artist Cliff Lamoree, as well as a townscape by 16th-century Italian painter Carlevaris, work by early 19th-century German painter August Siegert, and a print by early 20th-century American artist Man Ray. “I am amazed at what the Berman has,” she says.

Having a museum on campus is something Ermatinger-Salas has come to appreciate. “Art is something we take for granted at a lot of schools,” she says. “I don’t know if I would have had this opportunity someplace else, but getting to work intimately with a small museum was a huge part of my experience here.”

Ermatinger-Salas plays intramural volleyball, soccer and basketball, has been stage crew in the Theater Department, a volunteer for ACLAMO and America Reads, an Office of Admission intern and a Resident Assistant. She also works for the Facilities Department and Campus Safety. Her independent major was developed with her advisor, Associate Professor of English Matthew Kozusko.

She may explore other careers before she pursues curating professionally, but has no regrets. “I got to do something I love.”

One thought on “Berman Exhibition Features the Work of Student Curator

  1. Michelle: So happy you are doing so well. I am a brother of you grandfather who was one of my best friends. If you are in the Baltimore area I would be so please do see you and share stories of him. He was a dear and kind man. Love Uncle Bill.