Exploring Museums and Venice

By Suk-Lin Zhou ‘14

Victoria Schmidt-Scheuber '12 was constantly surrounded by art and beauty last summer, which began with a month in Venice, Italy, where she was an intern for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of the most important museums in the “City of Water,” features European and American art from the early twentieth century. The museum showcases Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism and includes work by Picasso, Dalí, Magritte, Pollock, and many other notable artists. Before 1980, the collection was under the ownership of Peggy Guggenheim, former wife of German painter and sculptor Max Ernst and niece of mining magnate Solomon R. Guggenheim. Since then, the collection has been open to the public for viewing, and is located in Peggy Guggenheim's former home, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, an eighteenth century palace on the Grande Canal.

In 1999, Schmidt-Scheuber visited the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and was astounded by what it held. The experience, coupled with visits to other museums as a child, sparked her interest in the role of such cultural institutions in society and ultimately influenced her to become an art history major. Consequently, with support and guidance from the art history department and skills gained from her student job at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Schmidt-Scheuber knew that she wanted to pursue museum work during her last summer as a Mount Holyoke student.

"I wanted to explore more of the museum world. I wanted to experience the difference between working for a college museum and working for a private collection that turned into an exhibit," she said.

In Venice, Schmidt-Scheuber's tasks included giving gallery talks about selected artworks and Peggy Guggenheim's life—in both Italian and English—in addition to presenting seminars on other prominent American women collectors of the twentieth century to her fellow interns, and answering a variety of questions from the international visitors while guarding the galleries. In the middle of it all, she was able to learn a lot about the collection itself.

"I was able to see how the public interacted with the space, and it really fascinated me. For instance, I was able to find out which paintings attracted visitors and which paintings had the opposite effect," she said.

When she wasn't working at collection, Schmidt-Scheuber did the next best thing: exploring the beautiful city of Venice.

"The other thing I loved was freely going about in the environment that was Venice," she said. "Whenever I wandered without a map, I saw new or unexpected thing. I also valued seeing the city with the locals who befriended me."

Schmidt-Scheuber's experience at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection was undoubtedly a success. The skills she gained from Venice carried over to the other leg of her summer adventure when she did a curatorial internship at the Art Institute of Chicago, the second largest encyclopedic art museum in the United States.

"It's so important to get out there, to gain experiences that will help you think things through. Your experiences will help you decide what you want to pursue in life. It is also good to remember what values you want to bring back from your experiences," she said.