LUAG students in NY to choose art

Gallery owner and director Nicola Vassell discusses artwork with Lehigh students in her gallery in Chelsea.

The Art of Curating

Lehigh students learn the behind-the-scenes business of museums and galleries.

Photography by

Christa Neu

Purchasing works of art for a museum or gallery might seem like an exclusive, high stakes enterprise that takes place in a largely hidden world of money, access and fame.

Indeed, sometimes it is, but the more you know, the less mysterious and more accessible the business of art acquisition is. And 16 Lehigh students who took ART275: Museum Collections and Exhibitions in the Spring 2023 semester not only learned the behind-the-scenes business of museums and galleries, but became participants by going to New York City to choose and purchase a work for Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG).

As a result, Lehigh now owns a large, evocative sculptural piece by Lauren Halsey, a rising contemporary artist and activist from Los Angeles, who uses architecture and installation art to explore the life of urban neighborhoods, the idea of community and the Black experience. The 4-by-8 untitled relief sculpture features images of heads and hairstyles inspired by the barber shops and advertisements of Halsey’s community carved into a canvas of gypsum.

the actual artwork that the students decided to purchase (Untitled, 2023 by Lauren Halsey

The artwork that the students decided to purchase (Untitled, 2023 by Lauren Halsey). Photo credit: David Kordansky Gallery

The course was created in 2021 by William Crow, director and professor of practice at LUAG, to offer a unique educational experience.

“We are believers in learning by doing at LUAG and at Lehigh broadly,” Crow said. “Experiential learning is such a fundamental aspect of what we do. There’s nothing quite like having the experience of going to a major global center of art and talking to the gallery directors and asking questions. That is something I hope the students will carry forward for the rest of their lives. The students will forever be connected to this piece of art that we are acquiring for Lehigh.”

For the first part of the semester, students had robust in-person classroom conversations.

“We look at a range of aspects of collecting—why do museums collect, how do they collect, how do they present those collections to a broad audience in order to make meaning from them,” said Crow. Students learn about the LUAG collection—20,000 works and growing—and its mission and guidelines and policies.

The second half of the course involved researching works for purchase with funds provided by LUAG’s Fine Art Endowment. Works students explored were by artists included in a traveling exhibition that came to LUAG in Spring 2022 called “Young, Gifted and Black.” The works speak to current times and address Lehigh’s goal of exploring themes of diversity, inclusion and equity.

Students were divided into groups based on their artists of interest, then traveled together to Manhattan to check out works during a tour of galleries described by Crow as a “marathon.”

Finally, students wrote acquisition proposals for their chosen works and advocated for them to LUAG’s collections committee. The committee ultimately chose the Halsey work.

Karine Marculino ‘23, an Integrated Business and Engineering major who wants to pursue a career related to museums, was one of the students who advocated for Halsey’s work.

She said it really spoke to her, as it did for the other people who were gathered around it at the David Kordansky Gallery in Chelsea.

examine works by artist Kara Walker at Sikkema Jenkins and Co. Gallery in Chelsea.

Lehigh students Afiwa Afandalo, left, Jackson Darling, right, and LUAG staff member Jeffrey Ludwig-Dicus, center, examine works by artist Kara Walker at Sikkema Jenkins and Co. Gallery in Chelsea.

“Everyone was so captivated,” she said. “LUAG’s mission is about fostering a community and what better way than to have an art piece that fosters community.”

Karine said the ART275 class was “amazing. It was one of the best courses I took at Lehigh because it gave me the opportunity to talk about a lot of topics, not just math or engineering.”

Halsey is an especially buzzworthy artist. Currently, her full-scale site-specific architectural installation titled “the eastside of south central los angeles hieroglyph prototype architecture (I)” is on display in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Commissioned by The Met, the 22-foot structure resembles a place of worship and is, according to the museum “designed to be inhabited by The Met’s visitors, who can explore its connections to sources as varied as ancient Egyptian symbolism, 1960s utopian architecture and contemporary visual expressions like tagging that reflect the ways in which people aspire to make public places their own.”

“Students were very keen to acquire this work because it is by a contemporary African American artist but also depicts subject matter about diversity, inclusion and equity inspired by the artist’s community,” Crow said. “But even though it speaks to a specific person’s experience and background, they felt this work had broad universal appeal.”

The work will be on display in LUAG’s Lower Gallery starting in Fall 2023, with accompanying text that explains why the work was selected.

Jackson Darling ’24, a history and museum studies major, said ART275 presented “a real incredible opportunity for undergraduate students to be able to work closely with a university program.

LUAG students in NY

LUAG team, and collector Bernard Lumpkin during the gallery visits to Hauser and Wirth in Chelsea.

“Most of the course was about essentially why do museums collect and what is the purpose of exhibiting collections and what are the tactics to exhibit collections in a way that is responsible to the artist and also to impart people with knowledge. What value does it have? It sounds pretty ambiguous, but it’s a really fascinating progression. “

Darling advocated for a work by Chiffon Thomas, an artist from Chicago who creates multimedia works from embroidery and paint. “Macule,” from Gallery PPOW, is a large piece that speaks to the subject of identity. Its frame is made from banister rails, and the charred canvas has a tear in the torso.

“Chiffon elevates trans voices,” said Darling. “It’s a pertinent issue in our time. It’s really valuable for LUAG to empower voices that are underrepresented in art.”

This was the second time ART275 was offered—the first time was in the spring of 2021 when Covid-19 restricted in-person everything. Students met virtually and explored art to acquire virtually. They targeted prints by Durham Press and Raven Fine Art Editions to complement LUAG’s collection. The selected works have been on display for two years. They include Chitra Ganesh’s “Architects of the Future,” a portfolio of four serigraphs; Hurvin Anderson’s “Paradise,” a woodblock print, and Curlee Raven Holton’s “Hands Up, Nimbs” and “Spinning Glory.”

ART275 will continue to be offered every other year, said Crow. He noted that it has value for students from any major.

“There are majors in finance and the sciences and engineering and other areas,” he said. “We feel like this type of project really allows students to engage from a wide range of angles. Some students looked at it as more about business, others through the lens of public engagement and others from the lens of, how do we bolster issues of diversity and equity.”

– Story by Jodi Duckett

Photography by

Christa Neu

Related Stories

2023 Radical Love Conference

Radical Love Conference Begins Feb. 14

The four-day conference on campus features programs, talks and events centered around this year’s theme of Embodied Love.

activist in Poland

Anti-LGBT Bills Led to More Suicides in Poland, Research Finds

Analysis led by Chad Meyerhoefer shows harmful effects regardless of whether laws passed, with potential parallels to current U.S. “bathroom bills.”

Carly Camplain

Native Scholar Carly Camplain Joins College of Health, Advances Indigenous Studies

Camplain attends Promoting Indigenous Research Leadership Conference, furthering Indigenous studies scholarship at Lehigh and nationally.