CATSKILL — After inclement weather forced the January salon to be postponed, the Thomas Cole National Historic site began its 2019 season by taking a look at how museums can be more tastefully curated in modern times.
Sylvia Yount, the Lawrence A. Fleischman Curator in Charge of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, presented to a full crowd in the New Studio at the Thomas Cole House on Sunday. Yount’s lecture began at 2 p.m. and was followed by discussion and refreshments.
Lisa Martin Fox, chair of the board of trustees, opened the lecture, welcoming guests.
“This is salon one of four,” Fox said. “I hope we’ll see you at other talks.”
Executive Director Betsy Jacks took a moment to introduce listeners to the space before introducing Yount.
“The New Studio is a dual-purpose room,” Jacks said. “We have lectures in the winter and on May 1 we will have an exhibition of Thomas Cole paintings here.”
The exhibit, called “Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek,” will run from May 4 until Nov. 3.
Yount is no stranger to Cole, Jacks added.
“The Met had a major Thomas Cole exhibit last year,” she said, noting that the exhibit was well-received.
Yount’s job at the Met involves both administrative and curative duties, Jacks said.
The American Wing, which Yount oversees, was founded in 1924.
Yount plays a key role in helping the gallery to create a more pluralistic experience for 21st-century audiences. “We’re looking for a new perspective that will move the field forward,” Yount said.
The transformation that the Met and other museums are taking part in comes at a critical time in history, Yount noted.
“In a time of fractured identities we are calling into question, what is America? And in doing so, what is American art?” she asked.
Curators have to consider the context in which they present history, Yount said.
“Museums are inherently conservative given their preservative nature,” Yount said.
The Met and other institutions are now questioning their cultural privilege and heritage when curating exhibits, Yount said.
Local author Hudson Talbott said he thoroughly enjoyed the lecture.
“I loved it,” he said. “I thought she was terrific. It was really interesting and very intelligent. It was like a college course in museum curation.”
Talbott was especially intrigued by the section about the Met’s new Native American exhibit.
“They have to rethink how it’s presented,” he said. “They’re redoing it with greater sensitivity and greater respect to the importance of indigenous art.”
In addition to the lecture, visitors could take tours of the grounds.
Upcoming salons at the Thomas Cole House include “Directionality in the Art of Thomas Cole: An Eco-critical Perspective,” given by Alan C. Braddock, the Ralph H. Wark Associate Professor of Art History and American Studies at the College of William and Mary and co-curator of the traveling exhibition “Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment” at Princeton University on March 3; and “Catskill Creek and the Science of Landscape,” given by Jeanne Haffner, associate curator of the exhibition “Hudson Rising” at the New York Historical Society on April 7.