WCMA courses produce exhibitions, programs, and acquisitions.

Students and faculty work directly with museum staff to activate the museum's spaces, collections, and publics.

Current Courses

Acquiring Art: Selecting and Purchasing Objects for WCMA

Curator Kevin Murphy discusses types of artworks in the Acquiring Art: Selecting and Purchasing Objects for WCMA course.

Acquiring Art: Selecting and Purchasing Objects For WCMA
Fall 2017 Cross-listed as ECON 227, ARTH 327, ARTH 527

How do museums acquire art? Factors considered in selecting objects include: the museum’s existing collection, its mission, the availability of suitable objects, evaluation of the art historical importance of potential purchases, and the available budget. How can objects be identified and obtained at the most reasonable cost? How do auctions work and what strategies are best for purchasing works at auction? Is it more economical to purchase art at auction or to work with dealers or (for contemporary works) directly with artists? Do museums consider value in the same way as private collectors? What role does an object’s history and condition play in the evaluation process? In this course students will work as teams to identify and propose objects for addition to the WCMA collection. A significant budget will be made available for the acquisition. Approaches for identification, acquisition and evaluation of objects will be discussed. Student teams will be responsible for identifying a set of objects that would make appropriate additions to the museum collection, and a strategy for acquiring one or more of those objects. Working with the advice of WCMA curatorial staff, one or more of these objects will be acquired using the agreed strategy, and the object will become part of the permanent collection. Graduate students will participate in all aspects of the class but may be required to undertake different assignments.

Cotaught by Senior Curator of American Art Kevin Murphy and Professor of Economics Stephen Sheppard.

Past courses

Uncovering Williams
Log mural

The mural in the Log, a venue for students, faculty, alumni, and the community. The mural depicts Mohawk leader Theyanoguin (also known as Chief or King Hendrick) and Col. Ephraim Williams.

Sparked by current controversies around visual representations at Williams, this course–a joint effort of the Williams College Museum of Art and the American Studies Program–interrogates the history of the college and its relationship to land, people, architecture, and artifacts. Students in this course will examine the visual and material culture of Williams and the land it occupies to uncover how the long and complex history of the college reverberates in the spaces and places students, faculty, and staff traverse daily. We take seriously that objects and environments are not neutral nor are the atmospheres that they reflect and produce. Our interdisciplinary approach draws from the methods and theories of American studies, art history, material culture studies, critical race theory, gender studies, and eco-criticism. Topics of discussion may include: the foundation of the college and displacement of native populations; buildings, objects, and monuments linked to Williams’ evangelical history and the role of missionaries in American imperialism; the symbolic meaning of the varied architectural styles at the college; and the visibility/invisibility of the college’s relationship to slavery and Abolitionism.

AMST 335, ARTH335
Spring 2017

Cotaught by Senior Curator of American Art Kevin Murphy and Professor of American Studies Dorothy Wang.

Robert Rauschenberg: Art, Archives, and Exhibitions
Photo of a class in the Rose Study Gallery.

ARTH 319 Rauschenberg Archives course co-taught by Professor of Art C. Ondine Chavoya and Curator Lisa Dorin.

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was a leading figure in postwar American art whose work is considered an important bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop art. Throughout his career he worked in a wide range of media, collaborated frequently with dancers and performers, and was dedicated to promoting awareness of causes he cared about, including world peace, the environment and humanitarian issues. The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation archives have recently been processed and opened to scholars for the first time. This course will make use of the archives with the aim of shedding new light on Rauschenberg’s art and collaborations in the form of an exhibition that will open at the Williams College Museum of Art in the spring 2017 semester. Students will have hands-on access to archival materials and will collaborate on the development of the exhibition through both individual and group activities and assignments. As a class we will critically explore the role and possibilities of research and archives in curatorial practices and museum exhibitions. Course readings will be drawn from the major monographs on Rauschenberg’s art, texts that highlight various historical, theoretical, and methodological approaches to the archive, and primary source material from the Rauschenberg archive.

ARTH 319
Fall 2016

Cotaught by Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs Lisa Dorin and Professor of Art C. Ondine Chavoya.

Acquiring Art: Selecting and Purchasing Objects for WCMA

ARTH 327/ECON 227 Acquisition Art course, co-taught in fall 2015 by Curator Kevin Murphy and Economics Professor Stephen Sheppard, with their acquisition.

A blend of art history and economics, this fall-semester seminar enrolled 15 seniors and three students from Williams’ Graduate Program in the History of Art.

For the first half of the semester, the professors took turns teaching class sessions. Murphy discussed WCMA’s collection and goals as well as what to look for in terms of an object’s condition. “We gave students tools to look at provenance and the history of objects, and to consider questions of authenticity,” he says.

Sheppard, meanwhile, provided an understanding of economic modeling and how the art market works. “We taught them to use data-based analytic models, talked about how auctions function and provided bargaining strategies,” he says.

Then the students assembled into five teams to research art works. They were given three guidelines—the object had to align with WCMA’s collecting priorities; the students had to view the work in person; and it had to fit within a budget of $25,000, provided by the Fulkerson Fund for Leadership in the Arts.

ARTH 327, ECON227, ARTH557
Fall 2015

Cotaught by Senior Curator of American Art Kevin Murphy and Professor of Economics Stephen Sheppard.

Experimental and Experiential Approaches to Curating American Vernacular Art at WCMA
Material Friction WCMA course

The Experimental and Experiential Approaches course meeting in the Material Friction exhibition at WCMA.

Working directly with a collection temporarily on loan to the Williams College Museum of Art, this course examines problems posed by paintings and decorative arts created by artists, artisans, and amateurs in the rural American Northeast from 1700 to 1840 -works labeled “folk” or “vernacular” art. It interrogates the ways in which this material fits (or doesn’t) into existing art historical and institutional narratives of American art, and experiments with modes of display and interpretation using methods from material culture studies, thing theory, connoisseurship, social and physical sciences, philosophy, and economics. Students apply their research to the development and implementation of exhibition strategies that integrate objects into installations at WCMA.

Fall 2014

Cotaught by Senior Curator of American Art Kevin Murphy and  Associate Director for Academic and Public Engagement Sonnet Coggins.