Art History Student Curates Exhibitions as Madden Museum Fellow
During her time as an undergraduate student, Kit Bernal was focused on making her own art rather than talking about other artists’ work. During this time, she realized that wasn’t the path she wanted to take and that she was much more interested in — and better at — interpreting, presenting and curating art rather than making her own.
“I went to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and got my BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in visual art and photography, and I'm so grateful for that experience, partly because it taught me that being a practicing artist is not what I want to do. I've always loved museums, and I'm fascinated by how we make meaning out of images and how that is impacted by how they're arranged or presented, especially in the museum space,” says Bernal.
Bernal ultimately chose to pursue a graduate degree in art history and museum studies at the University of Denver because both faculty and students were so excited about being at DU, making it hard for Bernal not to be excited too. And all the opportunities the program had to offer, particularly its partnerships with museums like the Madden Museum and the Denver Art Museum, made DU a perfect fit.
“DU has a great track record of graduates working in museums (with alumni in places like LACMA and the Library of Congress), and the small program was appealing to me after having and loving that small-college experience before,” says Bernal. “The opportunity to be the Madden Fellow and get that hands-on experience was a huge draw as well, because that's an opportunity not many schools are able to offer.”
Taking advantage of this opportunity, Bernal has worked with graduate students in her same year as well as art history alumnae Felicia Martinez, Sarah Martin and the Madden Fellow before her, Mesel Tzegai.
Not only has collaborating with other graduate students been a great experience, but faculty members in the art history program have also made a big impact on Bernal.
“Everyone I've worked with has been incredible. Annette Stott's Research Practicum and Material Religion classes completely changed the way I do research; Annabeth Headrick's classes have made me an immensely better writer and scholar; Scott Montgomery's Theoretical Seminar made complex new ideas approachable and engageable without dumbing them down at all; and of course Nicole Parks has been there for me as the Madden Fellow in basically any capacity I could ask for,” says Bernal. “Every faculty member I've worked with has been genuinely invested in my work and success, which can be rare in academia. The faculty are truly what have made my experience at DU as positive as it has been.”
Bernal’s time at the Madden Museum has given her real-world experience that she will carry with her beyond graduation. From working with some of her favorite artists in the collection, like Robert Rauschenberg, to working on an individual curatorial project, Bernal has truly felt like the work she’s doing is important.
“My individual project focuses on the influence of relationships (with artists, dealers, etc.) on Mr. Madden's collection. After conducting interviews with Mr. Madden, there are some stories about how he has obtained works, or artists he knew (Chen Chi and Rauschenberg, for example), and because the collection is so varied it's really interesting to be able to find these connections outside of the works themselves,” says Bernal.
Last year, Bernal spent most of her time getting to know the collection. She did so through a curatorial practicum class where they used the Madden Collection (along with the University Art Collections) to plan an exhibition focused on landscape called Lay of the Land: Interpretations of Scapes.
In addition to working on her individual project, Bernal is helping turn Lay of the Land into a virtual exhibition, as well as installing a Madden Highlights show.
Although times are uncertain and chaotic in living with COVID-19, Bernal is immensely grateful for this opportunity. Her experience with DU’s art history graduate program, as well as her time at the Madden Museum, has given her quality, practical experience that has both challenged and affirmed her in ways that have been vital for her growth as an academic, museum professional and art historian.
“We are in challenging times right now, with COVID and heightened global and national injustice and unrest, and I've felt seen and supported by the Madden and the School of Art & Art History faculty. My time at grad school looks different than I expected it to, but I know I'm still getting a quality experience and education,” says Bernal.