Kris Ercums

Exhibition curator Kris Ercums poses in front of the womanhood wall.

The Spencer Museum of Art reopened its galleries this month to present 120 never before displayed works of art. 

The new exhibit, called “Debut,” features unseen works, but also has some more familiar art that is used for teaching. Artwork in the exhibition comes from all over the world and from various artists, curator Kris Ercums said.

Some of the themes include womanhood, global currents, landscapes and fresh fruit and cut flowers, Ercums said. Each section takes up a wall or two in the exhibition. 

Ercums put together the exhibit and researched some of the new artwork. His role as the curator included selecting which artwork to display, grouping the artwork into different sections and then researching the artwork to create labels for the people who visit the museum.

Ercums designed the entirety of the main floor gallery, and those works will be displayed throughout the rest of the year, he said. The “Debut” exhibition will be the only exhibition on display for the time being due to renovations on the fourth floor, where a study center is being built. 

“This will be another resource for students to learn about the collection and do research on it,” Ercums said.

Aided by graduate assistants, Ercums said he created didactic labels that are about 50-75 words for each piece of artwork, so the audience will be able to understand what they are looking at. One of the graduate student interns, Sara Johnson, from Sheridan, Wyoming, who is also in the museum studies M.A., created labels for seven pieces of art. 

“Since ‘Debut’ features a ton of artworks that have never been exhibited before, a lot of them have never had labels written about them before,” Johnson said. 

Research on the artwork begins with information about the artist, such as their name and where they were from, Ercums said. Then, the research would transition to more about the artwork itself, including how and when it was made. 

A recent addition to the graduate assistant team, Vidhita Raina, a Japanese art history major from Delhi, India, led the exhibition’s open house. A lot goes on to put together an exhibition like this, Raina said.

“It takes a team effort,” Raina said. “There’s a lot of work that interns have done and, of course, Kris as the curator of the exhibition. I think one of the coolest things about the exhibition is how much we’ve done to show works we haven’t seen for many decades.”

There were some challenges during the selection process, Ercums said. The museum has more artwork than can be shown, so Ercums had to be decisive and intentional with exactly what should be displayed. 

“After I did the research for works that have never before been displayed, I had a huge list,” Ercums said. “So, trying to bring order to that, I just used some very classic art historical categories like still light, portraiture and landscape. Those became ways I could then organize and create some works that have relationships to each other.”

Ercums then took into account the quality of the work and tried to match pieces based on if they had interesting relationships, he said. The end result was 14 walls filled with artwork.

“I want people to come away with some new encounters, some new favorites,” Ercums said. “It’s like a labyrinth of new nuggets of illumination, so it’s really about discovery and using your eye to make penetrating observations.”

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