Thirty-Five Hours, Four New York Museums
December 19, 2018
If you want to know what a truly whirlwind tour of New York’s internationally renowned museums feels like, ask Liz Aksamit ’19, Ruthie Hoglen ’19, Jack Manzer ’18, or Associate Professor of Art History Patrick Hajovsky. In spring 2018, the art history majors and professor were surprised with an extraordinary opportunity: a donor to the University was sponsoring a paid trip to New York City to tour its galleries, and the students got to choose which collections they wanted to visit. Their itinerary ended up including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Neue Galerie, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and two separate trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). The group arrived in the City That Never Sleeps around 10 a.m. on a Saturday and departed approximately 35 hours later, exhausted but exhilarated. “It was so fast, but it was really helpful,” says Manzer. “I got to see all this stuff, and I was super excited.”
The highlight of the trip was visiting the Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas exhibition at the Met. Because the students had taken Hajovsky’s Art of Mesoamerica and Art of the Andes courses, they were excited to see in person lavish artworks and artifacts they had originally encountered in class back at Southwestern. “It was really interesting and really valuable to go especially with Dr. H,” says Aksamit, because “with the Golden Kingdoms exhibit, I thought, ‘Oh my god, I saw this in class!’” Manzer describes his experience of examining the priceless creations of the Incas, Aztecs, and their predecessors as leaving him “awestruck.” But he also laughingly recalls that Hajovsky had a quiz scheduled in class for Monday, just hours after they all got back to campus. “I was studying on the plane, but I did well on the quiz,” he assures me.
The goal of the funded high-impact experience was to help the students identify topics for their capstone projects, seeing the works in person and documenting their thoughts. Aksamit, Hoglen, Manzer, and Seth Nicholas ’18—who was unfortunately unable to attend the Big Apple trip—have been enrolled in Professor of Art History Thomas Noble Howe’s research seminar, Creation, Reception, and Context. The students spent the fall semester learning about and discussing what Howe describes as “the intersection of how works get created, how they are intended to be received, and how they actually are received.” Like most capstones at the University, the course provides students with a great deal of independence to pursue their discipline-specific interests. However, this particular seminar is distinctive for being student led after the first month of class, with the four students assigning readings to their classmates, facilitating discussion, and creating handouts or PowerPoint presentations on the topics of their choice. “He expects you to teach him something he doesn’t know,” Hoglen says. Aksamit adds, “He said he wants by the end [of the course] to feel comfortable quoting our work”—all of which is an intimidating challenge given the breadth of Howe’s knowledge and scholarship; as Manzer says, “he’s a savant.” Nevertheless, the students enjoy the small size of the class, its collaborative aspect, and the freedom to explore different concepts and ideas, from Hoglen sharing her discoveries about Egyptian architecture to Nicholas presenting on New Objectivity, a German art movement that began during the 1920s.
Earlier this month, the students finished researching, writing, and presenting their various projects. Aksamit, who is also a communications major, focused on the gender implications of the work of Günther Uecker (1930–), a German artist who hammers nails into canvas, furniture, musical instruments, and found objects. She hopes to pursue a career in marketing or advertising, but in the meantime, she’ll be finishing up her last semester at Southwestern while engaging in an internship in Austin at SelfMade, a start-up specializing in technology and digital art that helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses through social media. “I love that kind of stuff,” she says. “If I don’t have something creative in my life, it drives me crazy.”
Hoglen researched the Great Sphinx of Giza and was inspired by the Met’s collection of ancient Egyptian art, including the Temple of Dendur, a first-century B.C. structure that has been on view at the museum since 1967. She is angling for an internship at the Smithsonian Institute spring semester and hopes to eventually attend graduate school in architecture, perhaps specializing in residential buildings or historical preservation. “I was forced in high school to take a class on architectural drafting,” she remembers, “but I really liked it, and since then, I’ve just loved it.”
Manzer argued for the realism of John Singer Sargent’s (1856–1925) depiction of wounded World War I soldiers in his painting Gassed (1919), which is exhibited by the Imperial War Museums in London. After his time at Southwestern, during which he has gained work experience through a stunning nine different internships, Manzer hopes to pursue a career in development and fundraising for nonprofits. He sees his art history degree as perfectly relevant because it’s a way to begin a dialogue with others: “You [learn to] understand other cultures, understanding how they developed, [and] where they are today. Just being able to talk to another person about their native art is a great way to start a conversation or relationship.”
Nicholas examined the World War I etchings of Wilhelm Heinrich Otto Dix (1891–1969), the German painter and printmaker, considering his works in the context of academic scholarship that has traditionally labeled Dix a pacifist. “I find Dix compelling because the range of styles he goes through is phenomenal,” Nicholas opines. After he graduates this December, he would love to continue working for University Relations, where he currently interns. But “whatever ends up happening once I graduate,” he says, “I’ll never stop studying art or history. I don’t have to be an erudite art historian. I just want to be a normal person who studies art history.”