The Artist-Endowed Foundation: An Intern’s Perspective

by Alex Kelly, Oberlin College ’13

For an Art History major at a liberal arts college, graduation day approaches like a threatening deadline – representing the moment we must cast aside the comfort of textbooks and research papers and enter “The Real World.” It is in this the moment we must confront the question that we have been avoiding since declaring our major: “what are you going to do with that?” Can one write papers for a living? For many of us, that’s our most marketable skill.

Fortunately, Oberlin College gives its students the opportunity to dip their toes into The Real World each January for a Winter Term. We have one month to get an internship, take a class, or undertake a project of our choice. This January, I applied for a curatorial internship at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation. An artist’s foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the work of a single artist. This type of organization is a fairly recent phenomenon, and most artist’s foundations are committed to contemporary artists. For example, The Calder Foundation, The Willem de Kooning Foundation and the Judd Foundation are all artists’ foundations based in New York City. Artist’s foundations are not necessarily museum spaces, and no two organizations operate in exactly the same way.

The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation is singular in that it operates out of the former home and studio space of Chaim Gross, and maintains not only a permanent collection of Gross’s work, but also his outstanding personal collection of African, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian, European and American art. The townhouse in which the Foundation is located is at once a library, an office and a gallery space. Working at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation means that not only do you work with art objects, but you live with them. Each morning I would walk past a gallery dedicated to the sculptures of Chaim Gross, eat lunch with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec drawings while being watched by rows of African masks, and typing under the eyes of a Fernand Léger.

Working at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation for a month provided me with the opportunity to develop an understanding of how an Arts not-for-profit organization operates, while learning and developing skills that an Art History major can apply to working in The Real World. I greatly appreciate that the Foundation is a small organization with big ideas. As an intern I was able to wear a variety of hats, so to speak; I met each employee and learned about their current project. The Foundation is currently undergoing the enormous task of compiling a catalogue raisonné of Chaim’s work. At the same time, they maintain a permanent exhibition of Chaim’s sculptures on the first floor of the town house, and are installing a second show featuring Chaim’s Asante goldweights from his collection of African art.

Working with the Foundation’s coming exhibition, Life in Miniature: Asante Goldweights and Sculpture, curated by Kristen Windmuller, a PhD student in African Art at Princeton University, was an amazing opportunity to observe the behind-the-scenes of an art exhibition. It was fascinating to watch Ms. Windmuller collaborate with the staff of the Foundation in order to actualize her concept. By observing and participating in this process I was able to appreciate the value of The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation as an alternative to a museum space for the exhibition and display of art objects. Collaboration and innovation are required when working with a limited display space and a seemingly limitless collection of objects. Ms. Windmuller and The Foundation’s staff creatively utilized the Foundation’s resources in order to include a variety of media as well as interactive materials, resulting in an exhibition that is both educational and aesthetic.

My internship at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation has been a unique and invaluable experience. It has shown me that working in an artist’s foundation is a dynamic way to apply my Art History degree. Also, because of the new and intriguing challenges presented by this emerging type of Arts organization, working for an artist’s foundation would require a constant expansion of my arts education. I am grateful to The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation for providing me with an enjoyable and informative encounter with The Real World.

 

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