Peggy Guggenheim Collection Internship

Jess Chen

2018 Benenson Award Winner Jess Chen

During the course of my internship, I was able to grow not only as a researcher and art historian but also as a professional working in a fast-paced, international environment. I became comfortable speaking Italian and picking up phrases in Spanish, French, and German to greet all visitors to the museum. My previous experience taking Italian courses at Duke was especially helpful, since I knew common verbs and conjugations necessary for day-to-day interaction. In addition, I had the opportunity to give an hour-long tour in Mandarin to friends of the museum, which challenged me to translate art concepts from English to Chinese. Furthermore, I pursued this internship with a cohort of 20 other interns from countries as varied as France, Singapore, and Canada. Though I did not know anyone on the first day, by the end I truly felt that I made lasting friendships and had a support system. I am currently studying in New York as part of the Duke in New York: Arts and Media program, where there are six former interns working or studying the art industries. The internship created a strong arts network for me that extends across the United States and abroad.

As an art history major concentrating in museum theory, I was particularly intrigued by the public talks we gave about Peggy Guggenheim’s life, works in the collection, and our temporary exhibitions (the 1948 Venice Biennale and Josef Albers: Homage to the Square). I learned how to tailor my talks to a wide variety of backgrounds; though some visitors were intimately familiar with the details of art history, others had no exposure to art previously. I learned to craft my talks with necessary art movement knowledge as well as fun stories and tidbits about the people involved in the production of art. One of my favorite facts about Peggy Guggenheim is that she loved dogs, specifically Lhasa terriers. In fact, 57 dogs were born in the palazzo-turned-museum!

This summer cemented the path I wish to pursue: graduate school for art history and becoming a curator. I had the opportunity to sit down with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection’s assistant curator and ask her about the process of curating an exhibition, as well as compile artist research for her. I was utterly fascinated by the planning and conceptualization that goes into a successful exhibition, and I hope to be working in the museum field in the future.