Student-Curated Exhibit Reimagines Reknowned Winslow Homer Painting

With their backs toward the viewer, one man peers through an octant while another fiddles with the maritime instrument in Winslow Homer’s 1886 painting, “Eight Bells.” The two sailors use the object in an attempt to determine their ship’s position in a sea of greenish, white-capped, rolling waves. This ocean, the men and a blanket of dark clouds in the sky dominate the canvas while the ship on which the sailors stand is minimally rendered. “Eight Bells” will be on display as part of “In Calm Waters, On Stormy Seas,” a new exhibit in the Addison Gallery of American Art’s Museum Learning Center.

All works in “In Calm Waters, On Stormy Seas” relate to themes present in Homer’s “Eight Bells.” The themes and pieces were chosen by the exhibit curators Nigle Barrow ’18, Olivia Berkey ’15, Rhaime Kim ’15, Annie Lee ’17, Grace Limoncelli ’18, Rachel Lin ’18 and Rebecca Somer ’15, who are all students in Art-300: Visual Culture: Discovering the Addison Collection. This course is co-taught by Elaine Crivelli, Instructor in Art, Rebecca Hayes, the Addison’s Curator of Education and Kelley Tialiou, the Addison’s Curatorial Assistant.

“This year was the first time that Art-300 students started with one painting, and ‘Eight Bells’ by Winslow Homer is a very popular painting in the Addison collection. The process really started with students examining that work and thinking about thematic explorations based on that work and to see where they would go. Alli Kemmerer, Curator at the Addison, and Tialiou came up with a collection of about 60 pieces from the collection, and from there students worked together to select about 30 pieces, both historic and contemporary. In the end the students came up with a collection of works that really connect with multiple themes, from water to gender issues,” said Crivelli.

The portrayal of gender roles in art, in particular, is one of the most prominent themes in the exhibit.

Annie Lee ’17, co-curator, said, “We noticed that in a lot of the paintings with women and the sea, they are surrounded by calm waters and the peaceful sea, while all the men are out there traveling and voyaging in the stormy seas. That is where we came up with both the idea of exploring gender roles and the name of the exhibition.

Sally Mann’s 1987 photograph “The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude,” will also be in the exhibit. The image shows a young boy standing in a body of dark water and staring ominously out at the viewer. The boy’s hands are frozen in a gliding motion along the surface of the water.

Olivia Berkey ’15, one of curators, said “My favorite piece [in the exhibit] is Sally Mann’s ‘The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude.’ Sally Mann is a personal artistic hero of mine… The photo used is one of the only scenes where the figure is submerged in the water but is also at a transitional point. We do a lot with masculinity and femininity in the show, but this is a character right on the edge. He is around 12 years old so the character, and then the viewer, starts to come to terms with where the crossing point is and where do you go from a child to man. I think it is one of the most thought-provoking works in our collection.” Another piece in the show is Arno Minkkinen’s 1975 “Berne.” The photograph is a self-portrait of Minkkinen who is half submerged in dark waters and grasps onto stairs that lead further downward. Minkkinen will be attending the exhibition opening.

Rebecca Somer ’15, co-curator, said, “My favorite piece is Arno Minkkinen’s ‘Berne’… We have been questioning the gender representation in some of the pictures and this picture is kind of a genderless character that is being moved by the water. We thought a lot about how calm waters are more depicted with women and stormy seas are more masculine and rugged. I think this photo is more of an in between.”

Minkkinen will be at the exhibit’s opening reception, which will be on May 31 from 2-4 p.m. The event will include a gallery talk, light refreshments, water-inspired musical performances and water-inspired art activities.

Lee said, “We, as a class are very excited and looking forward to the opening of this exhibition, because in my opinion all the work we have done in this term is quite extraordinary. Also, to put up a whole exhibition in one term, with most of us not having any previous experiences in museum curating, is quite amazing. This experience is very unique for high school students, and I am very happy to be in such a course.”

The whole exhibition will be on display from May 30 to July 31.