This exhibition is a rehanging of Material Friction, an exhibition that put early American folk art in conversation with American art from the WCMA collection. Material Friction became the site and subject of a Williams art history course. Graduate and undergraduate students worked directly with the Fielding collection, researching questions about museum practice and experimenting with modes of display, ultimately implementing their own installation of the works.
In the rehang, the students expand upon the traditional conceptions of portraiture. Every work in the exhibition functions as a portrait, but not necessarily of paintings that each depict a single figure in stoic, three-quarter perspective. Nor is it an exhibition solely of figural art. The exhibition is organized into three categories, each given its own gallery space–portraits of culture, time and place, and people. By offering a means for understanding these objects with familiar categories, viewers are invited to build their knowledge and discern their own meaning.