Alyssa Kerper ’20 Writes at the Guggenheim

The first part of the museum’s main rotunda exhibition, Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection, in which artists were invited to curate mini exhibits using works in the Gugg collection. This segment was curated by artist Cai Guo-Qiang and it includes a bunch of early works and sketches from future famous artists, including Kandinsky, Robert Delaunay, and Picasso.

This summer, I am lucky enough to be interning at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City! As a native New Yorker, devoted art history student, and frequent museum visitor, working for this iconic institution is an experience I am truly grateful for. Already, I have met some amazing people and gotten a look into the city’s art world. 

The museum opened in 1939 as a way for Solomon R. Guggenheim, a wealthy businessman and art collector, to display his personal collection of modern, “non-objective” art, featuring artists like Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Marc Chagall. A few years later, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design a more permanent home for the collection, and in 1959, the distinctive spiral building opened to the public, facing heated controversy. Over time, the Guggenheim has earned its place on Manhattan’s Museum Mile, and this past week, the building was one of eight Frank Lloyd Wright designs to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The inside of the spiral rotunda, where the exhibit is hung. I just think it looks really cool.

My position at the museum is in the Publications Department. At the Guggenheim, this department is responsible for editing and approving all the text put out by the museum, including wall texts for works of art, signage throughout the museum, marketing material and press releases, exhibition catalogues, and books about artists or pieces in our collection. Because of this I get to work on different projects every day. Tasks range from proofreading short event descriptions for the calendar to reading through a complete draft of one of our upcoming books—an A to Z guide to the museum’s collection. We collaborate closely with members of the Curatorial, Marketing, and Graphic Design departments to create different types of materials and to enhance the visitor experience. Because of this collaboration, I get to see the different ways the museum attempts to engage visitors with art and to make to make the space as accessible as possible, which are goals I think all museums should be constantly working toward.  

As much as I’m loving the work I’m doing in the museum’s offices, my favorite part of this internship is getting to learn about the huge arts community in New York City. Every Friday, the interns visit a different arts organization in the city to meet with people who work there (usually former Guggenheim interns!) and learn about the organization. So far, we’ve been to Paddle8, an online art auction house; the International Center for Photography, which is a school and museum space; the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, where we got to see binders full of the artist’s original contact sheets; the Whitney Museum, where we got a tour of the Biennial; and The Shed, a new center for art and performance in Hudson Yards. It is refreshing to know that there are plentiful options for careers in the arts—a fact that can easily be lost in the sea of STEM job fairs and tech startups. It is even more amazing to speak with people who did exactly what I’m doing, and who went on to find success in their careers. Being in a city with so many opportunities, and with people who go after these opportunities is exciting and something I will always be grateful for.

Maira Kalman’s New Yorker cover featuring the Gugg.

To sum up my experience in what feels like the center of the universe, I’m borrowing from the great New York author/illustrator Maira Kalman. During an interview she gave about a 2014 New Yorker cover she designed featuring the Guggenheim in the background that  she said:

“Then I wanted to anchor it in the city, so I thought, what’s more chic than the Guggenheim? You know immediately where you are. If you know anything, you know that you’re on 88th street, and if you don’t know that, you know you’re in New York; and then if you don’t, well, I don’t know what you know.”

Thanks to the HCAH for giving me the chance to know immediately where I am.

Written by Alyssa Kerper ’20, history of art and French and francophone studies double major

Edited by Emily Dombrovskaya ’19