By Kate Howard Perry / World-Herald staff writer
The works of Council Bluffs native and muralist Louis Grell have never had a comprehensive exhibit. University of Nebraska at Omaha art students have never curated an exhibit from start to finish.
Both will happen in the UNO Art Gallery, where an exhibit of Grell’s paintings and drawings opens Friday.
Art majors researched, selected and even hung and labeled the works through a class designed around the creation of the exhibit. The students organized themselves into teams – research, curating, archiving material and writing the labels that would accompany the art at the gallery.
“This class is incredibly unusual,” said Amy Morris, assistant professor of art history at UNO, who led the seminar. “Most of our history classes are more academic — follow a textbook, look at certain images.”
But this class offered students the rare opportunity to look at a local artist who was commissioned for more than 100 murals in the early 20th century but hasn’t been heavily researched.
Morris brought in the curator from the Joslyn Art Museum to teach the basics of creating an exhibit and members of the Grell family to discuss their research. She also took the class on a field trip to the Grell family farm in Council Bluffs.
The project started a couple of years ago when Richard Grell, the late artist’s grand-nephew, brought some of his family’s paintings to the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center to be conserved and mentioned that he hoped to display them someday. A staff member there suggested that UNO might be interested, and the idea of building a seminar around creating the exhibit was born.
Richard Grell visited with distant family members around the country to acquire more pieces on loan and formed a foundation in September dedicated to acquiring and keeping together the art of Louis Grell, who died in 1960.
Last fall, the class began its work.
Richard Grell attended almost every class and said just hearing other people discussing his grand-uncle was shocking, since everything he knew before he started his research — he has a mural in Times Square, he once taught Walt Disney at a Chicago art school — he heard from inside his family.
“To sit in the classes and hear other experts talking about Louis Grell’s style and technique, it blew me away,” Richard Grell said.
For students in the class, it provided an experience that’s hard to get as an undergrad, said Candace Berger, a senior art history major who was one of the curators of the exhibit. Berger has a work-study job in the gallery and hopes to work in a museum after graduation.
She and her classmates learned how much goes into an exhibit, including framing and measuring photos to hang at eye level and telling a story with the order of the pictures.
The class was a big time commitment; Berger didn’t really have a Christmas break as final preparations were underway. But as the class finished hanging the pictures this week, Berger said seeing the physical manifestation of their work was amazing.
“It was very rewarding that we could work together to do this instead of staring at pictures on a wall or a teacher’s PowerPoint,” she said.
Now she can add curating to her résumé, Berger said, which shouldn’t hurt when she starts looking for a museum job either.
See more at http://www.omaha.com/article/20140116/NEWS/140119057/1694#uno-students-learn-curating-bluffs-native-louis-grell-gets-his-due