Questions and Answers: Interview with Colby Museum Curatorial Intern Mary Bevilacqua

During the Fall 2022 semester while working for the Colby Museum as a Curatorial Intern, Bevilacqua was tasked with curating a small selection of works on paper for the chest of drawers that resides in the museum’s Annex Gallery. In this article, Anne Lunder Leland Curatorial Fellow Megan Adams interviews Bevilacqua to learn more about her experience as the curator of this installation.

Mary Bevilacqua 23 is a senior Studio Art and American Studies double major at Colby College. Bevilacqua has been engaged with the Colby museum throughout her time as an undergraduate at Colby. Previously, Bevilacqua has worked as a Lunder Institute for American Art Research Assistant supporting the development of the museum’s upcoming exhibition Painted: Our Bodies, Hearts, and Village, she participated in the museum’s Summer 2022 internship program as the Black Family Curatorial Intern, and she continues to support the museum’s curatorial department in her current role. Additionally, Bevilacqua has been a student guide and held a position on the Museum Student Board since her freshman year at Colby. 

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1. For your installation you selected four works on paper, including: Waldo Peirce, Bill Zorach At Robinhood; Dahlov Ipcar, The Fish Coughs Up the Town; Dorothy Eisner, Football Players; and James Daugherty, In the Park. I would love to hear more about how you approached selecting the artworks for your Annex Gallery installation.

This installation was a really exciting opportunity for me to be able to showcase artwork from the Colby museum collection that I find intriguing on their own and even more significant together. I knew that I wanted to select works that you might not typically see in a traditional museum exhibition, works that diverge from the idyllic standard that we tend to place upon artwork. With this theme in mind, I explored the museum’s collection of works on paper paying attention to varying stylistic choices and mediums. I wanted to choose works that were thematically significant yet visually intriguing and charming. The freedom I was given in this process felt daunting as I navigated the museum’s immense collection yet, empowering when I began to narrow down my selections and define their relation to each other, myself, and the greater theme I hoped to convey. Selecting works for the Annex Gallery was a unique and valuable opportunity to go through the curation process mostly independently with the constructive support of my museum mentors.

2. I am so impressed by the many material, emotive, and thematic connections that can be traced between these four artworks. An element of commonality between this grouping of artworks that I found very striking is the way each artwork lends some insight into the artistic process. For example, in Dorothy Eisner’s Football Players remnants of aged glue adhering the collaged pieces to the paper are visible, and the fringe of the sketchbook paper remains on the left edge of the paper in In the Park by James Daugherty. You get a real sense of the process of material engagement with this selection of artworks. As a practicing visual artist, were you drawn to this element of these artworks?

Yes, my own artistic practice definitely had an influence in these selections. I was really intrigued by the shared but unique materiality of each of these works. These works are meant to represent a diverse range of mediums from collage, ink, graphite, and watercolor. However, I was most interested by the fact that many of these works do not simply use one medium but a combination of many. I don’t think it is completely accurate to label these works and others like them as one medium or another, or several not because the artists don’t use these mediums in the work but because these mediums are not necessarily separate elements within the artwork. Instead they work together to create something unique and undefinable. I love that these works are not just “one thing” and especially that aren’t “idealized” artwork. They aren’t the lifelike oil paintings that hang in the galleries of prestigious art museums nor depictions of serene landscapes. Instead, these works are lively, raw, and unapologetic in their presentation. By selecting these works to put on display I hoped to emphasize their inherent value and belonging alongside any other work on display in a museum. This is something that I have been exploring in my own art practice and really appreciate in other artists’ practices. 

Dorothy Eisner, Football Players, n.d. Collage, 14 x 20 11/16in. (35.56 x 52.55 cm). Bequest of William A. Keinbusch, 1981.075.

3. Do you have an identifiable favorite artwork in this group of works? 

I think my favorite work in this group is Dorothy Eisner’s Football Players. I was pleasantly surprised to discover this work in the collection as I haven’t seen anything like it before, especially in a museum. I appreciate her intricate paper application and her use of negative space in the composition! It’s such a fun piece that I think everyone deserves to see! She also has a similar piece of baseball player in the collection that is also great!

Installation curated by Mary Bevilacqua ’23, Annex Gallery at the Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME, 2023. Photos: Luc Demers.

4. You were given two drawers in a chest of drawers to curate for this project. How did this spatial assignment inform your curatorial process?

It was super difficult to choose just four works for these drawers from my initial selections. Ultimately, I wanted each work to differ in medium from the one next to it so I tried to space them out accordingly. I decided to place Football Players in the first drawer to catch the viewer’s attention and move along from there. 

5. As the curator of this installation you were able to be a part of the exhibition process at the museum from start to finish. Was there anything surprising about the process and/or anything new that you learned about curatorial work? 

Yes! I was really lucky to get the opportunity to be a part of the curation process from start to finish. The opportunity was given to me as an open ended project so I was able to build the installation from the ground up. I worked closely with Siera Hyte throughout the process to refine my ideas and selections. She helped facilitate each step of the process and was an excellent curatorial mentor. Thanks, Siera! I was even able to be a part of the installation process which was a new and fulfilling experience. I was surprised by the attention to detail that goes into curation from the exact placement of the works in the drawers to the location of the labels! There were a lot of choices to make which was a bit intimidating but I had great guidance.

6. What do you hope museum visitors take away from viewing this selection of artworks?

I hope museum visitors can find a bit of joy when they open these drawers. I want museum visitors to see these works as approachable, light-hearted, and worthy of their space in the museum. Ideally, these selections will give visitors an opportunity to question what kinds of artworks can be in a museum. Although these artworks were carefully selected and hold significant meaning, I hope that viewers can at least appreciate the imaginative conceptions of everyday life that these artworks depict.