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Landscapes of the Mind: The “brain” child of a Williams Professor

The night before Landscapes of the Mind opened to the public I dreamed that I walked into the gallery with my partner and some friends. All the works were back in boxes, and Richard, one of the preparators, was up on the ladder painting the walls. In shock, I thought of all the work that had gone into installing the show that month now lost. Waking, I had to convince myself that it was a dream. I never had the classic professor anxiety dream – standing in front of a class and looking down to discover you are naked – and now I am having a curator’s nightmare!

Luckily, the exhibition is still up, the lights are set, the microscopes focused. All the writing – brochures, wall text, publicity done. What an incredible experience it has been to spend a month in the museum helping to install a show. We had three artists visit to install their works, with espresso runs, hot tub escapes, and searches for thread. Katy Schimert was here to draw Oedipal Blind Spot anew, just as Sol Lewitt who encouraged her to do this piece (her first wall drawing) recreated his work on fresh walls. The exact timing and placement of the slide projectors kept Andrew Carnie busy for days. Jessica Rankin laboriously placed tiny pins into the wall to smooth the surface while creating shadows. The number of small decisions to make when installing an exhibition was surprising; the number of hours spent deciding on lighting truly amazing. The dedication and patience of the installation professionals was impressive, as was the number of staff working not only on this one exhibition, but simultaneously on several other shows.

So how did a science geek get to curate an art exhibition at a college museum? It started four years ago when I decided to teach a new seminar class that would focus on the intersections of neuroscience, my discipline, and visual art, my passion. John Stomberg, WCMA’s Deputy Director, Stefanie Jandl, then Mellon Associate Curator, and I met at the coffee shop and discussed the idea of a collaboration between the sciences and the museum. For my class, I had been collecting websites of artists who were using brain images in their work, and these became the nucleus of a list that would grow to about twenty artists who might fit into a show connecting neuroscience and art. Kathryn Price joined me to co-curate this exhibition, and her intelligence and competence carried us through. After three more years of meetings, visits to studios and galleries, and lots of emails and planning, the final result is now available for faculty, staff, students and the public to come, contemplate, and hopefully, write their reactions to the exhibition here.

Lisa Corrin, Class of 1956 Director, supported the theoretical basis for the exhibition and had amazing, albeit unproven, confidence in my ability to organize a museum show. I thank her so much for letting my dream become a reality, and now, bringing the public into the space and sharing the vision and thoughts of artists, scientists, and the public in this blog.

– Betty Zimmerberg, Professor of Psychology and co-curator of Landscapes of the Mind

Above images: Manager of Exhibition Design and Planning Hideyo Okamura, Professor Betty Zimmerberg, artist Katy Schimert, and assistant Ethan Buchsbaum ’10 discuss the installation of Katy’s work, A Woman’s Brain.

Betty Zimmerberg teaches her popular class on the brain and visual art in the Museum’s Rose Study Gallery.

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