Art History Curating Class Creates New Installation for Horizon Hall

by Christopher Gregg

Art History Curating Class Creates New Installation for Horizon Hall
“Albani” Antinous Relief, late 19th century plaster cast from Rome, Italy. GMU Cast Collection

In the spring semester of 2021, I led the Curatorial Seminar (ARTH 495/599) on the GMU Plaster Cast Collection. Thanks to Mason Professor C. Mattusch (emeritus), the Metropolitan Museum of New York generously gifted these casts to George Mason University in the early 2000s. Thirty of these casts, which are identical copies of works of art in the Metropolitan collection, had originally been on display in Robinson Hall, and they are now slated for exhibition in the newly opened Horizon Hall.

The seminar first explored the history of sculptural casts in the 19th and 20th centuries, when these gypsum reproduc-tions went from being the centerpiece of museum collections, to being discarded or hidden away in storehouses (as the Metropolitan examples had been prior to their arrival at Mason). Each member of the class “adopted” several of the casts for close research. They were often able to make valuable original contributions to our knowledge of the collection. 

Students wrote new wall labels for each piece and added their research data to a JSTOR Forum database con-structed by Stephanie Grimm and Rachel Lavendar at the Fenwick Library, soon available to all through the JSTOR online system. Roser Boltes-Beard translated all of the labels into Spanish so that the casts can be pre-sented in a bilingual format once they are installed in Horizon Hall.

The students also collaborated together on five essays that illuminate the history of Mason’s casts. Mason Publishing Group published these essays with a forward by Professor Mattusch and another by myself, Dr. Gregg. This publication is titled Engines of Education: Essays on the George Mason University Cast Collection; we proudly display a copy in the History/Art History department. Stephanie Sheridan, the departmental Visual Resources specialist, designed the cover, which showcases the cast of Antinous from our collection.

Thanks to our seminar and the Office of the University Curator, the Robinson Collection is close to being re-homed at last in Horizon Hall. We intend for the Robinson Collection to take its new place in Horizon Hall by spring semester 2022.

There is still much work that can be done with the GMU Plaster Cast collection, and the curatorial seminar demonstrated just how valuable a resource the casts are not only for our students but for the public at large.

Participants in the seminar included: Shirley Alvarez, Roser Boltes-Beard, Ellie Canning, Allison Cimino, Pia Desangles, Emily Eppard, Matthew Grembowitz, Olivia Holly-Johnson, Paola Torrico, Laura White, Lina Zikas.