This exhibition explores ceremony as a vital creative impulse expressed in remarkably diverse ways that reflect the emotional power of objects. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “ceremony” as “an outward rite or observance, religious or held sacred; the performance of some solemn act according to prescribed form.” Drawing upon collections at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, Swem Library, and elsewhere around William & Mary, the exhibition is organized in four nonsequential sections: Endings as Beginnings, Rituals in Repetition, Elevating the Everyday, and Considering Color. It includes paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and three-dimensional artifacts produced during the past two centuries.
In 1912, the French sociologist Émile Durkheim noted how dynamic social interactions and ceremonial activities strengthen communal ties in response to “some great collective shock” or the “natural decay of time.” During “revolutionary or creative epochs,” said Durkheim, people “look for each other and assemble together more than ever,” producing a “general effervescence.” He also observed, “it is not only in exceptional circumstances that this stimulating action of society makes itself felt; there is not … a moment in our lives when some current of energy does not come to us from without.” Even everyday life contains an element of ceremonial effervescence.
Objects of Ceremony considers a wide range of ceremonial artifacts and expressions—from the grand to the mundane, the celebratory to the somber—revealing a complex portrait of ritual events that shape and define daily life.
Renderings by Ronghong Dai
“I am an Art History major with a minor in Hispanic Studies. I’m also the editor of the Acropolis Art Journal. I took ‘The Curatorial Project’ because I hope to apply my degree to the curation and museum field. This class has given me great hands on experience. I love how we’ve really been able to interact with the Muscarelle’s collection as well as William & Mary Libraries’ Special Collections. It has given me a greater appreciation for the wealth of knowledge and resources that William & Mary has to offer.
I’m in the Endings as Beginnings group of our class which emphasizes the natural and human ceremonies in the cycle of life. My favorite piece that encapsulates this is ‘Plants of Mourning, Remembrance of Things Past’ by Amalia Mesa-Bains. This piece is a thematic bridge central to our section of the exhibit that ties everything together we are trying to convey so nicely.”
– Greer Bateman ’20
“I am a junior and was part of ‘The Curatorial Project’ class. In high school, I was able to participate in a short-term curatorial project at an art museum, but this class has been a completely new experience. It was surprising to learn just how much curators have to negotiate time, space, and resources to create an engaging exhibition. Needless to say, I am now very appreciative of the teamwork between curators and all museum staff members who come together to make an exhibition happen. It has been an honor to work with the Muscarelle and the Museum’s collection. My favorite piece in this show is a pair of aquatint prints by Carolyn Autry. They are incredibly beautiful and provide a unique layer of interpretation to the many themes found throughout the exhibition.”
– Grace Bland ’20
“I am a junior majoring in Art History and minoring in Italian Studies. In the Curatorial Project, the whole class worked collaboratively to curate ‘Objects of Ceremony.’ We worked together on creating the exhibition title, selecting exhibition objects, writing labels, coordinating with staff members in different departments of the museum, planning the installation layout, and eventually hanging items. ‘Sow’ by Steve Prince is my favorite of all the selected works. Power emanates from the magnificent size of the work. Steve Prince really masters the usage of dynamic lines to tell a story. I cannot help but stand in front of the piece, letting those lines guide my eyes on a ride.”
– Vanessa Cai ’20
“I am a senior art history major. It has been so enjoyable to end my time at W&M by working on this exhibition. Since I spend a lot of my time doing independent research on museums, it was a change for me to have group discussions about what this exhibition was going to look like. Those discussions were both the most rewarding and most challenging part of the class. My favorite piece in the show is called “In the Name of the Daughter,” a photograph by Linda Cummings. It struck me immediately visually as this beautiful piece but doing more research about it, her desire to subvert typically gendered spaces was so inspiring!”
– Emma Efkeman ’19
“I’m a senior double majoring in Sociology and Art History. This class has really given me a sense of all the hard work and collaboration necessary to put on an exhibition. I’ve been so impressed with all the effort and dedication my classmates have been putting into this show. I’m probably most excited about the Eliot Dudik photographs my group is including. They’re large size gives them this overwhelming presence and their frontality and rich colors are captivating.”
– Melissa Hudson ’19
“Hi! I’m a senior History major from Charleston, SC. Helping to curate ‘Objects of Ceremony’ is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Just seeing some of the artwork in the flesh for the first time was magical–but then the real work of putting together the show began! Every detail, down to the size of the exhibition booklet, had to be discussed and debated. And I don’t think I’ll ever skim an art label ever again, because now I know the hours of research, writing, and editing that go into them! My favorite thing in our show is a travel diary/scrapbook from 1934. The girl who owned it, Julia Augusta Grassinger, was very artistic and did incredible illustrations and collages on every page. Our exhibition has a section on the rituals of art-making, so it fits perfectly. I’m sure Julia would be shocked that her diary is on display (!) but she took so much time and care with it, it’s truly a work of art. Hopefully people will love it.”
– Lizzie Johnson ’19
“I am a senior classical studies major at William & Mary. The Curatorial Project really stood out to me because I am interested in the museum field and especially curating. The class taught me just how many moving pieces there are that have to come together to curate an exhibition. We had to discuss not only what items were going to be used but also how to display them, how we were going to acquire them, and how they fit with the theme. Throughout the process, we had to adapt and think on our feet. As the registrar for my team, I learned how to request loan items from museums and fill out object data sheets to keep track of every item on view in our section. The staff at the Muscarelle and @wmlibraries have been so helpful and gave us great advice such as recommending that we move our more fragile objects towards the walls, to make them more secure. It’s really a group effort to think through every aspect of the exhibition.
My favorite piece in the show is the “Gold Star Flag” which was created during World War I. The blue stars represent William & Mary students who fought in WWI but over the course of the war, some blue stars were replaced with gold stars. These represent the students who died in the war. Due to its size and condition, the flag is not on display but the Special Collections Research Center worked with us to create a facsimile, which appears in the gallery.”
– Kathleen Lauer ’19
“I’m a junior at William & Mary studying French and Art History with a concentration in Built Environment Studies. I’m the director of the pep band and a member of Dad Jeans Improv. The biggest takeaway from this class for me has to be how much behind-the-scenes work goes into every aspect of an exhibition, how a thousand little decisions need to go into each piece we choose to display. It’s also been a great example of the value of teamwork since we’ve had to pull this together so quickly and depend on each other to get everything done. As for my favorite piece, the World War I gold star flag in the Considering Color section of the gallery stands out to me because it’s such a personal, vivid piece of William & Mary history.”
– Davidson Norris ’20
“The class has been really fun and extremely hands-on. I loved being able to pick pieces that not only were visually pleasing, but fit within a larger narrative. The class has taught me to go with the flow, to anticipate changes to the plan, and to work efficiently with other curators. My favorite piece in our show would have to be Professor Kreydatus’ painting of the print shop in the Matoaka art studio. He’s by far my favorite professor at William & Mary, and his painting depicts such a familiar environment to me. I’m a studio art major working mainly in printmaking so I’ve spent a ton of hours in that studio.”
– Matt Parciak ’19
“I’m a junior Art History major in ‘The Curatorial Project.’ This class has been a wonderful way to get a hands-on experience with curating, from learning to juggle different people’s artistic visions to telling a story through both the artworks and their placement in the room. I loved working with my team members, debating exactly the right word for a title or label text, and having the chance to see how many little steps go into the behind-the-scenes of an exhibition. It’s so hard to choose one, but I think my favorite piece in the show is Wayne Thiebaud’s ‘Eight Lipsticks’ because I love the vivid colors, the repetitive but subtly changing details, and the way each lipstick is personalized by use. I hope you enjoy the show!”
– Clara Poteet ’20
“I am a junior Art & Art History major, I have been involved in curating three other exhibitions, but ‘Objects of Ceremony’ has been such a unique and dynamic learning experience because I’ve never curated with so many other people before. It was definitely an exercise in communication and collaborative vision. It was really exciting to learn how to work creatively and effectively as a team.
“My favorite piece in the exhibition is Steve Prince’s Sow because it so beautifully articulates weaving national cultural heritage into a personal family narrative.”
– Alijah Webb ’20
This exhibition has been curated by the following students in The Curatorial Project, a course taught by Alan C. Braddock, Ralph H. Wark Associate Professor of Art History and American Studies, in alphabetical order: Greer Bateman, Grace Bland, Vanessa Cai, Ronghong Dai, Emma Efkeman, Melissa Hudson, Lizzie Johnson, Kathleen Lauer, Davidson Norris, Matt Parciak, Clara Poteet, Sarah Roberts, Sam Ros, Emma Shainwald, Caitlin Wagner, Alijah Webb, and Kathryn Willoughby. Funded, in part, by the Department of Art & Art History as well as the Muscarelle Museum of Art Board Exhibition Endowment, The Ralph and Doris Piper Lamberson Memorial Endowment Fund, and the Gene A. and Mary A. Burns Bequest.
Photos by Adriano Marinazzo