Museum of Art’s Friday morning docent-led lectures, tours a longstanding tradition
By Dave Fidlin | SDUN Reporter
A monthly event aimed at melding art with scholarly insight has been a longstanding tradition at the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA). The program was born out of a desire to give attendees a close-up look at the museum’s collection.
Since its inception in 1970, SDMA’s docent lecture and tour series has tapped the resources of art scholars throughout San Diego, as well as across the globe.
While the topics vary widely from one program to the next, Ruth Broudy, manager of docent programs, said the overarching goal is the same: to provide greater insight into SDMA’s permanent collections.
“Whatever the topic, [the lecture] is an opportunity to make art more visible and understandable so there’s a greater appreciation,” Broudy said. “The more you know about it, the more you learn.”
SDMA’s docent lecture and tour series is well under way for the 2012-13 season. In recent months, programs have focused on such topics as German expressionist art, the origins of modern American portraiture and the meaning behind art and relics from Buddhist traditions.
“The idea is to enrich and enhance as lecturers give their presentations,” Broudy said. “It’s an opportunity for people to make a full connection with what’s on view in the museum.”
Upcoming programs will feature guest lectures from staff at SDMA and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, and touch topics including continuities in modern art and paintings from Spanish and Italian culture.
In March, SDMA will host a Toronto-based curator, Elizabeth Semmelhack, who works out of the Bata Shoe Museum in Canada’s largest city. Semmelhack will delve into gender fashions from 1550 to 1650.
Over the years, Broudy said that the lecture and tour series has drawn on insight from docents from a wide variety of backgrounds. Case in point: she said lecturers have spoken seven different languages outside English, including American Sign Language, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
“The composition of the docent community is definitely very versatile and reflects all parts of the world,” Broudy said.
The longevity of SDMA’s lecture and tour series could, perhaps, be traced to a historically large turnout. Broudy said it is not uncommon for a Friday morning session to draw a large crowd that frequently includes people from disparate walks of life, including various arts groups and school teachers.
“It is the most well attended of all our lecture series,” Broudy said. “There’s a desire for people to better understand the meaning behind a particular art exhibition.”
Broudy said an extensive amount of planning goes into crafting each year’s docent lecture and tour series, including putting out feelers to art scholars and historians interested in speaking and ensuring prospective speakers are connected to a piece of SDMA’s vast collection.
While the lecture and tour series has a long history, SMDA’s origins go back even further. The impetus for the organization began in 1915, during the Panama-California International Exhibition at Balboa Park. Planning for the museum itself began in earnest in 1922 with the financial backing of Appleton S. Bridges, a San Diego business and civic leader.
Construction got under way in 1924 and was completed two years later as the then-known Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego officially opened its doors. In 1978, the operation’s name was changed to SDMA.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: San Diego Museum of Art’s Friday morning docent lecture and tour series
WHEN: third Friday of each month through May; lecture at 10 a.m., tour at 11:30 a.m.
WHERE: James S. Copley Auditorium inside Balboa Park, 1450 El Prado
COST: $8 for students, $12 for members, $15 for nonmembers
INFORMATION: thesandiegomuseumofart.org, 619-232-7931
Upcoming Friday morning docent lectures and tours
Feb. 15 – “Behind the Picture: Looking in Depth at Paintings from the Spanish and Italian Collections of the San Diego Museum of Art” (with Nigel McGilchrist, art historian)
March 15 – “Renaissance Chopines and Baroque Heels: Fashion Gender from 1550-1650” (with Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto)
April 19 – “Purchasing Piranesi: Buying Art on the Grand Tour” (with John Marciari, curator of European art and head of provenance research at SDMA)
May 17 – “The More Things Change: Continuities in Modern Art” (with Kathryn Kanjo, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego)