Literature and Honors Students Visit Modernist Art Exhibits
Students in Dr. Noreen O’Connor’s Modernist Literature class and members of the King’s College Honors Program had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia and New York City in order to view and experience popular pieces of art created by the most influential artists of Modernism. A few of these famed artists include Vincent Van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
The Barnes Foundation, located in Philadelphia, offers a vast art collection from the Modernist and Post-Impressionist ages of art. The collection of paintings, murals, sculptures and jewelry was curated by Albert C. Barnes and the members of the Barnes Foundation. Students took a digitally guided tour as they admired the collection, which allowed them to better understand each piece.
For O’Connor, the opportunity to bring students to the Barnes Foundation was a rewarding experience.
“I was thrilled to be able to bring students to see the Barnes Collection,” O’Connor said. “It was my first visit to the new museum, which opened only recently. My students had been reading the writing of modernists who worked alongside with the post-impressionist and modern artists–Gertrude Stein, Roger Fry, and Virginia Woolf—and so it was meaningful to see some of the very works they had known by Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne and others.”
Sarah Holland, a student in O’Connor’s class, found the trip to the Barnes Foundation moving.
“It was so interesting how he combined African arts and jewelry of native peoples with the art of the modernist movements of that time period,” Holland said. “He blended everything together so beautifully, it was a wonderful collection to behold.”
Sarah Demace, a student in O’Connor’s class, said the trips to the Barnes Foundation and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) enchanced her understanding of the literature studied in class.
“Having the opportunity to visit the Barnes Foundation and MoMA with my modernism class has been a real eye-opening experience,” Demace said. “I feel as if the artwork has deepened my understanding and enriched my appreciation for 20th century literature and fine art.”
MoMA in New York City displays an ever changing collection of modern and contemporary art ranging from paintings to music and everything else imaginable.
A current exhibition, entitled “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North,” brought together visual and literary aspects leading up to and during the Harlem Renaissance. It included a 60 panel collection by artist Jacob Lawrence, as well as first edition novels by authors such as Langston Hughes and Nella Larson. The exhibit also included an area to listen to music pertaining to the migration.
O’Connor said viewing Lawrence’s series was helpful in gaining a better understanding of the Harlem Renaissance.
“Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series documents the history of African Americans in the early twentieth century, and it is so important to see it as a part of studying the work of modernist writers of the Harlem Renaissance,” O’Connor said. “This is the first time in over 20 years that the Lawrence paintings have been together, and I thought MoMA’s exhibit was very moving.”
The musical elements of the exhibit were especially poignant for O’Connor because of what they mean for American society today.
“Perhaps what stood out the most for me was the music that was part of the exhibit, including a display of Billie Holliday performing ‘Strange Fruit’ and Marion Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial after the DAR refused to let her sing at Constitution Hall,” O’Connor said. “The exhibit reminded me how far we have come in America in our struggle for equal rights, and also how much more work we all need to do.”
Other notable items on display at MoMA were classics such as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” an exhibition on the experimental musical work of singer-songwriter Björk, an outdoor sculpture garden and different types of art in the digital age that included video games and 3D printed artwork.
Works that the students were reading in class were also brought to life when they drove through Harlem itself. Misericordia’s Dr. Richard Hancuff, an expert in the works of Langston Hughes, guided students on the tour of Harlem, which passed by the historical landmarks of the Apollo Theater and YMCA. The YMCA is recognized as the place where Langston Hughes wrote one of his more popular works, “Theme for English B.” The home of the famous poet was the first stop along the impromptu tour, and students were given historical contexts as to how these locations influenced the artists who lived there.
Krystal Szerszen, an honors student, described the trips to the Barnes Foundation and MoMA as “humbling” because it allowed students to see famous artworks in person.
“As I walked through the museum and learned about the various paintings and artists displayed, I realized that we were standing in front of the canvases that painters, such as Picasso, had touched and spent so much time working on, and we were close enough to touch them, too,“ Szerszen said. “To me it is crazy that these artists were just doing what they love, and now they are characterized as some of the greatest artists to ever live.”