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Julie Levin Caro

Criticism & Curating Summer School, 2017

What is your background, Julie?

I am a Professor of Art History and Chair of the Art Department at Warren Wilson College, a small liberal arts college near Asheville, North Carolina. 

In addition to teaching I have worked as a museum educator and independent curator. My areas of expertise are American modernism and African-American art. I often use my curating in conjunction with my college teaching – I encourage my students to engage with the history of art and art objects through interdisciplinary and experiential modes of learning.

Why did you choose to study Criticism & Curating at the Royal College of Art?

When looking for a short course to do, I immediately sought out the RCA. I was interested in gaining new ways of approaching and expanding the range of my curatorial practice and my teaching. The short course allowed me to get a taste of the RCA‘s teaching methodology and gain access to some of London’s leading curators. 

The course was the perfect length to allow me to focus on a new field of inquiry – studying curation as a discipline and thinking more carefully about issues related to contemporary art and design.

Was the opportunity to study in London – with its vibrant cultural and creative life – important? 

The opportunity to spend time in London was an integral factor in my decision to study at the RCA. The Criticism & Curating course made incredible use of the resources in the city, visiting exhibitions at Tate, the V&A and the Design Museum. I attended art openings, performances and lectures – events I may not have been aware of as a tourist. I was so impressed with the sheer volume of art and culture on view in London at one time!

What are your strongest impressions of your time at the RCA and in London?

The Criticism & Curating course was an immersive experience that combined a thought-provoking reading list and excellent course leaders with leading experts. 

The idea of curating as an intervention stood out to me as a new way of thinking about curatorial practice. Maya Oppenheimer was an excellent course leader who constantly made connections between the various kinds of materials we were engaging and our own interests. I also enjoyed the sessions with Helen Nesbit, Ben Cranfield and Cat Rossi; Nesbit’s talk on her role as a curator and the responsibility she feels towards artists was inspiring. 

Did you find the collaborative learning environment enhanced your experience?

One of the things that attracted me to study at RCA was their particular mode of teaching using the brief: a short, focused assignment that asks you to apply what you’ve learnt to a real-world question or issue. I enjoyed this type of experiential learning and it enabled me to connect with the material in new and meaningful ways. I’ve been using this mode of instruction in my own teaching with great results!  

How do you think your time at the RCA has changed what you’re doing now or supported your career?

I have also used what I learned on the Criticism and Curating short course at the RCA to develop new courses on curation and craft & design at Warren Wilson. 

The short course topic – ‘evocative objects and evocative experiences’ – also transformed my personal curatorial approach. I learned new ways to connect archival material and oral histories for my current exhibition Between Form and Content: Perspectives on Jacob Lawrence and Black Mountain College for the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville, North Carolina. 

In preparing my final brief for the short course, I developed an idea to recreate Jean Varda’s large-scale art object, the Trojan Horse. Using photographs and first person accounts of the horse in the Black Mountain College archives my colleagues, students and I re-created Varda’s horse to scale and created a performance art piece for the Black Mountain College Museum’s annual {Re}Happening event. The resulting experience was the content of the RCA course come to life!

What was the most surprising thing about the course?

One aspect of the course that I was not expecting was the diverse backgrounds of the participants. The 20 students in the class came from six continents and there were a wide variety of ages and vocations. The final presentations in which everyone proposed the curatorial projects that we wanted to bring back to our home cities all around the globe was a once-in-a-lifetime intercultural experience.

Julie Levin Caro
Julie Levin Caro