By Anna Allen, ’16
When it came time to plan her summer, art history major Katherine Pierce, '16, was looking for something different. She set off on a cross-country road trip from her home on the East Coast to immerse herself in the art world through an internship with the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (MCASD).
Pierce began her internship in MCASD’s registration department, also known as collections management. Working there was an adventure in itself; each day she came to work not knowing what would be waiting for her. “We did a little bit of everything,” she says. “It would depend on what was going on in the museum on any particular day. Sometimes I would meet with curators, set up for new exhibitions, or help write condition reports on the collections.”
Working with assistant registrar Karin Zonis-Sawrey, Pierce was given the freedom to decide how she wanted to focus her learning experience. “Karin told me if there was ever anything that I wanted to do or learn about she would make it happen, including being able to learn about different departments in the museum,” says Pierce.
Branching out and learning about the MCASD’s many departments is exactly what Pierce did, as she dug into long-term projects in licensing agreement and exhibition history.
“I went through the database to find objects from 2013 to present that MCASD did not have the rights to and sent licensing agreements to those artists or the gallery that represented those artists,” says Pierce. “I spoke with many artists throughout the process. They were all enthusiastic and happy to help.”
Pierce also gathered data to build a comprehensive exhibition history for the museum. Having a complete exhibition history helps the museum draw on its past successful exhibitions in order to understand what its current exhibitions might need to thrive. “We had a document with all of the exhibitions that had been shown at the museum going back as far as the 1940s,” she says. However, most of the exhibitions before 2007 did not have exhibition histories listed. “My job was to search around, both on the Internet and in our physical object files, to find a press release to add to our exhibition history,” she says.
Though it appeared tedious, Pierce found the task investigative and fun. “It was fascinating for me to examine the variety of shows that museum had put on in the past and what types of art the museum focused on in different years, depending on the curator and trends in the contemporary art world. It was like unearthing forgotten pieces of art history.”
Pierce’s favorite experience of the summer, however, was working with public inquiries. When individuals contacted MCASD to ask if the museum had photographs of exhibitions, records of shows, or artists and their collections, Pierce had to search through object files that had old emails, photographs, and bills of sale to find answers. “I found one exhibition in 1982 that had all of my favorite modern artists: Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Frank Stella. It was incredibly inspiring to learn what art was in our museum throughout its history,” she says.
It wasn’t all hard work though; Pierce was able to attend an exhibition opening one evening. “It was incredible, not just to see the public’s reaction to a show I had been working with all summer, but to get to network and meet the artists and their families,” she says.
For Pierce, the many departments in the museum world mean multiple opportunities to work behind the scenes of art museums across the country. “I want to help maintain a place for artists to share their work and to find new ways to get the public interested and involved in the world of art,” she says.