At 93rd Street and Riverside, almost hidden by the enveloping trees, stands Joan of Arc in her glistening armor, sitting astride a sturdy stallion, sword held aloft. While the subject is well known, its creator, Anna Hyatt Huntington, comes less readily to mind.
The theme of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery’s upcoming exhibition, “Goddess, Heroine, Beast: Anna Hyatt Huntington’s New York Sculpture, 1902-1936,” opening Jan. 22, is rediscovery. The show demonstrates a collective effort of students from three Barnard and Columbia undergraduate and graduate programs to bring Anna Hyatt Huntington, once among the most prominent New York sculptors, back into the public eye.
The exhibit is the product of a course launched in the art history department last semester, “Exhibition Practice,” led by Professor Anne Higonnet, which forgoes the traditional lecture formula. Higonnet placed the class, made up of doctorate, Master of Arts, and Bachelor of Arts students from both Barnard and Columbia, in charge of nearly the entire project.
“There really hasn’t been any class like this before,” Julia Wolkoff, BC ’14, said. “It seemed like a really unique and exciting opportunity to have the hands-on experience to be a part of every aspect of creating an exhibition.”
“It’s especially interesting as the class mixed undergraduates and graduate,” Ellen Watkins, BC ’14, said. “So you get to learn from how people at a higher educational level are working as well.”
The class was divided into teams, each taking responsibility for an aspect of the gallery, such as publicity, in-depth research, and programming. The class worked together as a whole to create the exhibition catalog.
“It’s like having a giant collective brain outside myself, which really worked on the layout of the catalog,” said Higonnet.
The gallery’s layout tells the story of Huntington. Visitors are welcomed by a variety of objects that deal with the reproduction of art in Huntington’s time, conveying Huntington’s incredible talent for creating art on every scale. The exhibit also features a digital reproduction of the larger-than-life “Joan of Arc,” reproduced in rotational photography, made possible by Columbia’s Media Center for Art History.
A second room with animal sculptures focuses on the goddess Diana. The exhibit concludes with Huntington’s casts of hands and a film of her at work, which suggest an appreciation of Huntington’s sense of self as a creator.
“Once you reached that end, you realized that all of these natural animals and these two heroines are really about her sense of creative power,” Higonnet said.
Indeed, Huntington’s “Diana of the Chase,” depicting the goddess aiming a bow toward the sky, one of the jewels of the show, seems to serve as a symbol for Huntington’s own creative ambition.
“The Goddess, noble, focused, determined, but most of all, empowering, conveys a strong sense of upward motion,” Watkins said. “That is how Columbia and Barnard students are. This is why it’s very special about teaching them.”
“Goddess, Heroine, Beast” runs through March 15 at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Gallery, 826 Schermerhorn.