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Behind the Scenes at the RISD Museum


Museum fellow Anna Pederson 18 TX (center) with Nancy Prophet fellow Amber Lopez and Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art Dominic Molon | photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

Junior Anna Pederson 18 TX now knows more inside details about the RISD Museum’s contemporary art collection than most. Thanks to her Museum Fellowship, a semester-long apprenticeship open to selected students who are minoring in the History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC), she was able to work closely with Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art Dominic Molon and his associate Amber Lopez. Working on site for roughly six hours per week last fall, she combed through files in an effort to digitize information related to the museum’s ever-growing collection and research specific artists and genres to help with special projects related to new and recent acquisitions. 

“Reading and writing about art helps me to solidify and define my own tastes,” says Pederson, “which I think makes for more confident studio work.” 

As a Textiles major with a passion for contemporary painting, Pederson was a good fit for the fellowship, despite the fact that the museum’s contemporary collection includes few fiber pieces. “I hadn’t really considered fabrics curatorially before coming to RISD,” says Molon, “but thanks to the expertise of our Costume and Textiles curators and the interests of students like Anna, I’m becoming a textiles nut!” 

Pederson realized early on in her studies that it’s important to understand critical theory as a means of developing her studio practice. She decided to pursue a concentration – which at RISD is like a minor at other colleges – in HAVC after taking a class on Viennese culture in Freud’s era with Professor Mary Bergstein, who coordinates the HAVC Concentration.

“Classes like that one have really informed my critical perspective,” says Pederson. “It’s good to have interests outside of your preferred medium so that you’re not creating work in a vacuum.” 

Working behind the scenes at the RISD Museum exposed Pederson to artists she hadn’t heard of and gave her the opportunity to learn more about those already on her radar. “It’s so exciting to read through the museum’s exclusive documents – stuff like correspondence between curators and artists,” she says, adding that she was especially tickled by a rough sketch she came across by New York painter and printmaker David Kapp, whose piece, Oncoming Car, was added to the collection in 1986. 

“It’s good for students to see what happens to work after it goes to a museum and to learn how curators connect with living artists,” says Molon. “At the RISD Museum, the education and curatorial departments are really in synch.” 

One project Pederson particularly enjoyed was helping Lopez research contemporary Afrofuturists for a forthcoming video installation. “We don’t have the resources to do a survey of the entire genre,” Lopez explains, “so I asked Anna to help me narrow down the field of artists.” 

As the museum’s current Nancy Prophet Fellow, Lopez is committed to “diversifying the profession and building an inclusive community where members from all backgrounds can learn and create,” says Deputy Director Sarah Ganz. Thanks to Pederson’s research, Lopez is pursuing a new direction and is now trying to put together an exhibition at the museum with a notable South African video and performance artist.

“I enjoy doing research, so gathering information for Dominic and Amber about prospective additions to the collection was probably my favorite part of the job,” Pederson notes. With only three semesters left in her undergraduate career, she’s beginning to think about life after RISD. “I’m interested in the relationship between textiles and painting,” she says, “and hope to develop a fine arts practice rather than getting into commercial work like interiors or upholstery.” 

Simone Solondz 

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tags: History of Art + Visual Culture, research, RISD Museum, students

RISD has a long history of offering Saturday and after-school classes for children and teens, as this photo from c. 1910 confirms.