Twenty years ago, TCU launched its M.A. program in art history. A two-year curriculum with an emphasis on the museum experience, the program continues to thrive due to its excellent faculty and special relationships with many fine museums in the area.
Since our first M.A. students graduated in 2000, graduate art history alumni have joined the work force at the Kimbell Art Museum, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Dallas Museum of Art, Sid Richardson Museum, and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and beyond our metroplex at other nationally-renowned institutions such as the National Museum of Women in the Arts, The National Gallery of Art, Christie’s, The Austin Norwood Gallery, Savannah College of Art & Design, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and more.
To celebrate two decades of success, we’re sharing a series of interviews with some of our M.A. graduates, beginning with a student from our first class: Andrea Karnes.
Alexis Meldrum, graduate social media assistant and second-year M.A. student, interviewed Ms. Karnes recently about her experience in the program and her subsequent professional successes.
Andrea Karnes ’00, Senior Curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Karnes earned her BFA at the University of North Texas, where she also minored in French. Her first job out of school was at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth as the receptionist. “I mean, I’ve basically had every job here.”
How did you discover TCU’s M.A. in art history program?
After serving as a registrar for five years, she heard about TCU’s new Master’s program.
“I approached Michael Auping [chief curator at the Modern]… I knew I wanted to be a curator, but before that, when I majored in art history at UNT, I had not a clue what anyone in museums did because there weren’t museum studies classes or internships.”
Because of her developing desire to be a curator, she began to apply for different graduate programs. She chose TCU because she could continue her duties at the Modern while attending school and was excited about the program’s offerings. She worked full-time as a registrar while completing her degree.
“I was interested and excited and very scared about being in the fledgling group at TCU because I knew that we would have a lot of attention [from] the professors. And we did!” Karnes felt this concentrated training from TCU’s professors was invaluable to her development as an art historian.
What aspects of the M.A. program were particularly impactful for you?
“Having to do presentations. I didn’t do that in undergrad and high school. There was a rigorous amount of that.” Karnes explained that presentations, critical review and exposure to women artists were three aspects of the program that particularly resonated with her.
Karnes felt that her experience doing presentations and speaking publicly while at TCU helped develop that skill for her profession. “My job involves, as much as anything else, public speaking and writing.”
She also commented that, “having someone tear apart everything I wrote was very impactful for me—and question everything and being critical—in a positive way.”
Karnes fondly recalled her newfound exposure to female artists she had not yet thoroughly explored in school. “I always liked that exposure to unrecognized women artists, which I got in a lot of [Dr. Bohn’s] classes. She really championed these artists like Vigée Le Brun and Artemisia Gentileschi, who I had only had a peripheral knowledge of, at best.” Dr. Babette Bohn, professor of art history at TCU is a Renaissance and Baroque scholar with a particular interest in artists who are women.
The academic intensity, paired with focused attention, provided a fruitful environment to expand her knowledge of the history of art. “Each of those professors had something to offer that was so valuable. And most of it had to do with rigor. They didn’t give me any slack. I worked full time and even so, they made clear to me if I forgot that my master’s was my priority.”
Karnes felt she could talk to any professor about any of her concerns or struggles, but, at the same time, they pushed her to be her best. “They were supportive, but honest.”
What sets TCU’s program apart? Why did you feel TCU was the right place for you?
For her, then and now, TCU combines comfort and attention. The program is small in size, lending to a lot of devoted attention; she didn’t feel like a small fish in a big pond. At the same time, Karnes noted that the level of academic expectations and seriousness persisted.
“I felt like the program offered a very strong combination of being nurturing while at the same time [being] rigorous. And that created a great learning environment.”
“The program helped me think critically… in graduate school you really learn how to refine those analytical skills on a deeper level. And you have to sort of question everything you see, and that was really invaluable to me.”
Karnes felt the program established a strong foundation of her knowledge of the field that isn’t provided in undergraduate studies. She credits this to TCU’s methodology courses and other seminars.
“The program prepared me in a way that I think was perfect for the career that I was moving toward, and had ambitions toward, and have now realized.”
What are your most important professional accomplishments since you’ve graduated?
“I think my biggest professional accomplishments have been in the form of exhibitions. And with those exhibitions come accompanying catalogues. So that means major essays and in-depth primary research.”
Karnes identified three exhibitions that held particular resonance for her:
México Inside Out: Themes in Art Since 1990, 2013-14
Exploring the art of twenty-three contemporary Mexican artists was important at that time and still is now. The works in the exhibition reflected not only political concerns but highlighted a strong and exciting visual component. “[It] felt really powerful to me because we are neighbors, as Texans, with a whole culture and a whole country outside of our own.”
Not only did the exhibition’s nearly sixty works show regional concerns, but they also spoke to universal human truths. “I had the platform to do it and was so grateful.” Karnes still receives visitor emails today about the impact this show had on its audience, especially among those in the Mexican-American community.
KAWS: Where the End Starts, 2016-17
As a curator, a focus show gives the chance to delve into deeper visual and conceptual issues with an artist perhaps not explored in previous shows. Karnes felt the KAWS show was a huge and rare opportunity to present twenty years of the artist KAWS’ work and “situate him art historically.”
“Not that I outed him, but presenting twenty years of his work made it very clear the seriousness of his career,” she said.
Showing a survey of that much visual material, with the resources in this size of an institution capable of presenting it, was an accomplishment for Karnes.
Laurie Simmons: Big Camera/ Little Camera, 2018-19
Karnes worked closely with Laurie Simmons for three years in preparation for the exhibition that presents forty hears of the artist’s work. “I personally adore her and professionally revere her.”
Karnes got to know Simmons’s work deeply, visit her studio and examine her back-log of photographic creations, some of which was never before seen by the public.
“A lot of times it’s bittersweet when a show opens, because it means it’s the beginning of the end, basically. But I’m really so honored to be the one who got to do the show with her.”
Read more from the series: Stefanie Ball ’07, Publications Manager at the Amon Carter Museum