Santa Clara University

Santa Clara Magazine

Hands on study

art history class
Photo: Charles Barry

The team that organized the de Saisset Museum’s new show came from a nearby source: members of Art History Associate Professor Andrea Pappas’ Exhibiting the Sixties class. Fourteen students contributed to many steps leading up to the show: preparing the online audio tour and exhibit models, writing labels and author bios, and organizing special events and docent tours.

“For them, the sixties are ancient history,” says Pappas. “But the students have an energy about this because it’s real. What they write for the exhibit will be read by someone besides their professor.” Pappas, whose specialty is in modernist art, chose the 1960s as the show’s focus because of the era’s broad appeal. The time period is a hot topic in the art world now, she says. But what gets her most excited is teaching students the process by which a museum exhibit comes together.

“It’s been a blast,” says Pappas. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s such an opportunity for the students.”

Senior Marisa Nakasone, an art history and studio art major, says working on the exhibit gave her insight into the student perspective of the era. “These pieces were produced by artists from the same generation as my parents,” she says. “And it helped me relate to the thoughts and attitudes they dealt with when they were around my age.”

The show’s strong showing of California artists was refreshing to senior Tasia Endo, a double major in journalism and art history, who says she has a better understanding of regional differences and influences now. “Other art history classes that cover modernism only teach about the more elite circles in New York,” she says, “while this focused look into the 1960s allowed for more attention to what was going on elsewhere.”

The class was able to view pieces from the exhibit in advance of the show at the home of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, whose collection the exhibit is drawn from. Their modest Atherton home is full of world-class art.

“Seeing art on the walls of somebody’s house is a different thing than seeing art in a museum,” says Pappas. “I wanted the students to have that experience, because that’s what changed the way I thought about art. There’s a buffer zone in a museum; it creates a division between the viewer and object. At some level, the message is, This art is not for you. But most art is meant to be lived with. The Andersons see Thiebaud’s Pies right there in the kitchen when they’re making toast every morning.” —LT