The Collegian
Monday, June 27, 2022

UR Curious: Students display rare items in cabinet of curiosity

<p>Cabinet of Curiosity exhibition.</p>

Cabinet of Curiosity exhibition.

Students in the Museums Studies seminar created an art exhibit titled "Cabinet of Curiosity Reimagined" that will be on display in the Modlin Center for the Arts until the end of the semester. 

The exhibit, which features gemstones, skeletons and other trinkets selected from the collections of the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, was the result of a class project that Elizabeth Schlatter, the deputy director and curator of exhibitions for University Museums, assigned to her students.

Cabinets of curiosity were created during the early Renaissance for people to show off their personal collections of items from around the world, Schlatter said.

“It was for noblemen or particularly learned people to demonstrate their specialized knowledge just to show how sophisticated they were, she said. “They would do that by mixing and matching these objects from all around the world that they knew at the time.”

The exhibit, which can be found on the Modlin Center for the Arts’ second floor near Room VAB 206, features four cabinets. The two cabinets on the left are recreations of classic, historically accurate cabinets of curiosity. The two on the right included objects that serve as critiques of contemporary society, Schlatter said. 

The traditional side of the cabinet includes objects that stimulate wonder such as two pipes with intricately carved faces and three megalodon teeth. The two cabinets on the right challenge this sense of wonder by including objects that serve as commentaries on the issues of today. Particularly with the two rightmost cabinets, the students selected objects that would bring attention to topics such as climate change, mining and trade, junior and curatorial team member Shira Greer said.

“There are a lot of shells on the right side, and as you go from the top to the bottom, the colors fade and it’s a comment on ocean acidification,” Devin Portner, senior and member of the PR team, said. “There are also a bunch of gemstones that comment on sustainable mining practices.”

The students spent the first half of the semester learning about cabinets of curiosity and hearing guest speakers discuss museum work, guidelines and ideal museum practices. The class broke up into a curatorial team, public relations team and a catalog team. The class visited the Gallery a few times to get acquainted with the collection before each student created a list of objects they would like to see in the cabinet, Greer said.

“It’s been cool to get to hear from a bunch of different guest speakers and do a wide variety of readings, but we also get to put that into practice through our exhibition,” Greer said. 

The list was then refined by the curatorial team before they adjusted the shelf heights and arranged the objects, Greer said. 

The exhibit is accompanied by a notebook for visitors to write down their favorite objects, feelings or general impressions of the cabinet. Portner hopes that many more students will visit and appreciate the exhibit, especially those that don’t frequent the art building, she said.

“Hopefully, we can get more people from [the business school] and Gottwald to go visit because there are comments on sustainable practices,” Portner said.

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As part of the PR team, Portner helped spread the word about the exhibit by creating graphics for the UR Museums Instagram page. Since the grand opening was promoted on Instagram, many have visited the cabinet and recorded their reactions in the notebook. 

Greer hopes that people take a moment from today’s digital age and appreciate the cabinet of curiosity, she said. 

“Just so that [people] are able to take a moment and just appreciate it and hopefully see something interesting in the cabinet,” Greer said. “Particularly with the right side of the cabinet, that it sparks some critical thinking about where we are, what our world is and making our world a better place.”

Contact contributor Ale Egocheaga at ale.egocheaga@richmond.edu.

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