Taking their studies out of the classroom and into a museum gallery, art history majors Olivia Lane ’22 and Fatima Leal ’23 are now bona fide curators. Over the summer, both Lane and Leal were interns at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Housing thousands of works of art, the Brooks is a staple of Midtown and a frequent afternoon excursion for Rhodes students. For Lane and Leal, the museum is now home to their first forays into professional curation.
“Rhodes students are receiving an education that will not be complete without ties like this one,” says Leal. “To be involved in the larger tessellation that is Memphis is to truly experience the city that is giving us a home for four years."
Initially interested in histography, Leal, who is from Brownsville, TX, took her first art history course with Professor David McCarthy and was convinced that she wanted to study the subject throughout her life. For Pearland, TX, native Lane, visits to the art museum with her dad helped foster a passion for art. She took McCarthy’s Survey of Contemporary Art, and, like Leal, established her academic footing in art history from then on.
While taking the Curation in Context course, Leal presented a project to a panel of experts at the Brooks. Dr. Rosemund Garrett, the museum’s curator and Leal’s future mentor, praised her project and discussed with her an opportunity for a summer internship. Leal turned to the art history department for assistance to fund the internship, which guided her in applying for the Lainoff Fellowship. “Everyone in the process was so helpful in reviewing, giving me time, and checking in with me,” says Leal.
For Lane, an established connection with Professor Victor Coonin led her to the Turley Fellowship. “We had developed a great working relationship, and he approached me with an intriguing research topic,” says Lane. The Turley Memphis Center Fellowship in the Arts is designed to sustain a student project in the arts conceived and executed with a faculty mentor. Coonin, a Renaissance scholar, had taken notice of St. Francis in Glory by Filipino Lippi at the Brooks, and came to Lane with the idea of investigating authorship. The project fit perfectly with the objectives of the Turley Fellowship, and Lane was granted the fellowship.
Throughout the summer, Lane, Coonin, and Leal met to discuss their work as a cohort, venturing into Memphis to take in the local art scene at venues such as the Dixon Museum and Gardens, the David Lusk Gallery, and the Crosstown Concourse. “The place of our meetings was no less important than what we discussed, for our locations were planned to complement our conversations of the art world in Memphis,” says Leal. “These spaces for reflection led me to appreciate the art scene in Memphis with new eyes.”
In addition to Coonin's mentorship, working at the Brooks connected both Lane and Leal to Garrett, who guided them through their projects and was an integral part of their experience. Both Leal and Lane completed projects that have left a permanent curatorial legacy at the museum. Today, “The Expulsion” by Albrecht Durer is in the Brooks Collection because of Leal.
“The museum had been searching for an Albrecht Durer print to complete their series of The Small Passion,” says Leal. “The Brooks had all the prints in the series but one, which was suspected to have been stolen in the 1970s, leaving the collection with a significant hole. This past July, however, a version of the missing print appeared for auction at Karl und Farber’s auction house.
“I searched through auction house data and made a list of the past auction prices with the characteristics that justified their price. Based on my research, the Brooks was able to not only bid, but actually win the auction and complete the series once again,” explains Leal. “Even if my contribution was behind the scenes, I know I leave some impact in the Brooks permanent collection. For future generations to enjoy a piece of art I helped obtain will always make me proud. At the end of it all, I grew, I achieved a little more than I thought I could, and I proved to myself that I am made for this.”
Looking toward her future, Leal says, “I want to see artists that look like me, speak like me, and care about the things I do. As a proud daughter of immigrant parents, and having myself moved to the United States to complete my studies, I am beyond ready to make a difference in institutions, bringing representation of Latinx people into spaces where they can feel proud of their work, to be recognized and celebrated. I want to help the curatorial world get a little kinder, one exhibit at the time.”
Lane’s work is also a part of the museum’s permanent collection. After researching the Lippi painting, Lane moved on to concrete curatorial work. “The selection of the prints consisted of a trio of works on paper that had themes central to women and their representation and role in art and in museum spaces. Temperantia, Ornaments with Two Genii Riding Chimera, and Gossips explore themes of sexualization, control, and gendered language.” Lane wrote the display labels that give context for the prints, which can be seen at the museum today. On one of the labels are the words: “Interpretation by Olivia Lane, Class of 2022 at Rhodes College, generously supported by the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center at Rhodes College.”
“Seeing the final product of all of the hard work that went into their creation has been one of the proudest moments of my life,” says Lane. “To be credited at an institution such as the Brooks has made me more confident in my own intellectual abilities, and confident in my ability to continue working in art spaces.”
By Zara Raezer '22
Olivia Lane ’22, Fatima Leal ’23, and Prof. Victor Coonin Discuss Internships