Inside Perspective: An Essay by Curatorial Research Intern Chlo Finley

Chlo Finley at Craft Consciousness

I have been the Anderson’s Curatorial Research intern from Fall 2020 through Spring 2021 for Fieldwork credit and am pleased to share some of my experiences and projects in this role! Having this experience has made a huge impression on me and opened doors for bigger opportunities in the future; the things I have learned are truly invaluable and have helped prepare me for my graduate school trajectory. If you are interested in curation or otherwise art administration, this internship is a hands-on learning opportunity offered by the Anderson, (along with the Applied Curatorial Practices class and a number of other super exciting internship opportunities).

In addition to a major in Craft/Material Studies, I am minoring in Art History since I have been interested in curation since high school, when I began to get involved in public arts. I learned about the Anderson gallery during the Art Foundation Program (AFO), and as a junior curated an exhibition of seven artists (including myself) at the gallery, orchestrated through their Open Call program. After this independent experience I wanted to get more directly involved supporting other artists at a historic art institution – so when the Anderson advertised the Curatorial Research internship position I had to apply, even though I wasn’t sure what to expect. 

My first project with the Anderson is unlike anything else I have had the privilege of working on, and is actually still ongoing from it’s initiation in the beginning of Fall 2020. In 1996, the Anderson hosted FLY, an exhibition of Yoko Ono works. This Ono exhibition is one of the least recorded, and therefore least studied, components of the prominent artist’s career and an exciting part of our own gallery’s history. Using Art History MA alum Veronica Parker’s thesis The Many Forms of FLY: A Study of Yoko Ono’s 1996 Anderson Gallery Exhibition FLY and its Relationship to the Conceptual Work, FLY Piece as a launching point for my research, I visited the Special Collections and Archives in VCU’s Cabell Library to research the exhibition. There I had the opportunity to work from original documents, including hundreds of handwritten wish tags from Ono’s Wishing Tree and viewed photos in the form of Polaroids and slides that very few people in the world have ever seen. I also read and scanned contemporaneous (mid-90s) articles, taking notes on their content with specific attention to consistencies and inconsistencies in the coverage of FLY. Additionally, I was able to identify certain persons who worked at the Anderson during this exhibition period, or worked directly on the exhibition with Ono’s personal curator Jon Hendricks, and interviewed them regarding the experience 24 years ago. These figures included independent curator Jean Crutchfield; Dr. Charles Bleick, the previous Director of The Anderson and Director of the AFO program; and Edwin Slipek, longtime VCUarts Adjunct Professor and critic at Style Weekly. 

Photo of (4) slides of Yoko Ono Cleaning Piece, 1996, The Anderson (then the Anderson Gallery), Richmond, VA

Once all of the initial research was conducted, I was able to fill in the informational gaps left by the lacking documentation from two decades ago, identifying exactly what pieces the exhibition was composed of, what those pieces looked like and felt like, and how they were established throughout the gallery space. The purpose of this research, and the phase the project is currently in, is to recreate FLY in the Anderson’s virtual Unity build, allowing an entirely new generation of student artists to experience and explore Ono’s relatively unknown FLY exhibition at the Anderson, in which seven works were on view– including the seminal 1970 Fly film and the mindfully interactive Cleaning Piece, which actually debuted here in Richmond. My goals throughout the process were to faithfully articulate the artworks and atmosphere of the exhibition and synthesize information for the digital designers, to explore virtual and online spaces as a means of art research and curation, and to engage a wider and remote audience by providing an accessible art space. This digitally recreated space is being developed by PhD candidate Clay Harper and adjunct instructor Chelsea Brtis.

Digital rendering of Play It By Trust from designers Clay Harper & Chelsea Brtis

The next project I worked on also incorporated an interview component, in which I provided coverage of the 2020 MFA alumni exhibitions that had been postponed from Spring 2020 to Fall 2020, due to Covid-19. To promote these artists’ thesis exhibitions, I wrote articles on Sydney Finch’s Paul by Paul by Paul and Kyrae Dawaun’s Get Down Pat. I also interviewed Mariana Parisca regarding her exhibition, Parakupá Vená/Fall From the Highest Point, Jared Deusterhaus about Return Scripts, and Bryan Castro in reference to his thesis, An Incessant Modulation. On the Anderson’s Instagram, @vcuartstheanderson, I offered coverage of Castro’s aforementioned thesis along with Eric Berdis’ it’s going to feel like Wednesday all day, John Chae’s good faith, Paige Morris’ A girl is a girl is a girl, Min Kang’s See As One, and Kate Turner’s WHEN I WAS KNEE HIGH. Promoting and supporting other artists has been one of the best parts of this internship, and as I am writing this we are now in the 2021 MFA Thesis Exhibition season, which I am also covering on Instagram! As a natural extension of the gallery’s expanded online presence, we will be offering a new internship opportunity for Communications & Social Media beginning Fall 2021, a position that I have assisted in planning while providing administrative support to Monica Kinsey and Chase Westfall. Throughout my time in this position, both Monica and Chase have offered me guidance and constructive ways to grow and develop my personal abilities. Their support has contributed to this internship being so fulfilling for me.

Photo of me at Craft Consciousness, showing work (left to right) by Dani Simons, Andy Lizak (floor), Madie Maier, Os Bender, and Sophie Copeland

Another way I have been able to support artists and gain curatorial experience has been through the organization of an exhibition for the Craft/Material Studies Department, called Craft Consciousness, which featured 26+ works from 24 Craft/Material Studies undergraduate students representing the five disciplines of VCUarts’ Craft program (clay, glass, fiber, wood, and metal). The final works on view were decided by a jury composed of the five area heads: Blair Clemo, Jack Wax, Hillary Waters-Fayle, Scott Braun, and Susie Ganch. It was my responsibility to organize the call and entries, as well as actually curate the exhibition (including installation and de-installation). This project was important and personal to me as a Craft/Material Studies student, and developed with the support of Cindy Myron, Assistant Craft Department Chair, in response to Craft students expressing the need for more opportunities to exhibit work. Craft Consciousness was absolutely a high point in my internship experience and allowed me to apply the skills I had been developing and learning behind-the-scenes while giving back to my direct community and fulfilling a need in that artistic space.

Craft Consciousness, showing work (left to right) by A. Rosenberg, Arrington Peterson (pedestals), Emma Worth (pedestal), Brianna Cappelli, Kayleigh MacDonald, and Carolina Gaillard

Armed with the experience and knowledge gained from my Anderson experience, I plan to continue a curatorial practice beyond my BFA undergrad. I am already looking at other internship opportunities in museums, and I’m particularly interested in Virginia Tech’s MA program in Material Culture & Public Humanities. I am passionate about exploring curation as a means of facilitating social change, promoting accessibility to art spaces in new ways, and cultural conservancy. Working as the Anderson’s Curatorial Research Intern has provided me with the opportunity to try out projects that feel meaningful and aligned with these values. I can’t wait to see what new semesters of students add to the gallery, and how this wonderful old place continues to evolve!