This Is for Your Own Good

Five students at the University of Southern California are staging an intervention. The addict? An unsuspecting campus art museum that exhibited a conventional dependence on its previous art show, “Four Rooms and a View: USC’s Collection Highlights.”

The undergraduates walked into the university’s Fisher Museum last month and started rearranging the art. The objective of their not-so-hostile takeover — yes, they secured the nervous approval of the museum’s director — is to recurate an existing exhibit, midway through its run, to encourage visitors to take a second look at the artworks on display. Each of the students is working on an individual installation for an art-history course, “Contemporary Art and the Art of Curating.” The effort culminates in a new show, “re:View,” which runs through April 17.

Among the installations is one by Franciso D. Rosas, a senior, who decided to reconstruct and rearrange a series of nine murals. Six of the pieces were already in the museum’s collection.

Mr. Rosas located the owner of the three other murals, which were painted by Maynard Dixon during the pre-Prohibition years of 1912-14 for a mansion in Arcadia, Calif., and took photos of the artworks. From the photos he then traced silhouettes of the figures in the murals — menacing court jesters, mischievous leprechauns, fairies dancing in the nude, and drunken friars — to display alongside the six murals already in the museum.

Adding the missing scenes and arranging the murals as they appeared in the mansion is Mr. Rosas’ way of intervening.

“The way they were hung in the museum was kind of where they will fit on the wall,” he says. “There’s not really an attention to displaying them in the orientation that they were originally in.”

The intervention by Jayme L. Wilson, another senior, will prod viewers to think about issues of originality and industrialization of art. Her project, “Reproduce,” will display an original Charles Emile Jacque oil painting next to an oil-painted copy of the same piece.

Ms. Wilson says that by recurating the museum the students are “breathing new life into a permanent collection.”

Richard E. Meyer, an associate professor of art history and fine arts, says the goal for his class was not only to develop students’ curatorial and critical aptitude, but also to spur them to take another look at an array of subjects both inside and outside the art world.

“It’s about not taking for granted that the world as displayed is how it has to be, including exhibitions in the museum but also the world more broadly,” he says.

The students took ownership of the intervention and are “just as much experts in this project” as their professors, including Selma R. Holo, the museum’s director, who is co-teaching the course, Mr. Meyer says.

“In this case, the class really has become the exhibition,” he says. “There’s a certain kind of authority that you give up to the students. I love that, and it’s also strange.”


Francisco Rosas and Jayme Wilson collaborate on the takeover of the Fisher Museum.

By Ashley Marchand