The basketball hoop is ubiquitous. That was a quick conclusion for four Duke undergraduate students when they began to co-organize the exhibition Courtside: Photographs by Bill Bamberger. Janie Booth (T’19), Savannah Chauvet (T’18), Jessica Chen (T’20) and Brittany Halberstadt (T’19) took on the exhibition through a Curatorial Practicum class taught at the Nasher Museum last fall by assistant curator Molly Boarati.
One artist, one medium, one subject matter, in two galleries—it probably sounded easy enough. But the students soon discovered the hardest part: deciding which photographs to leave out. The process of removing works is just as difficult for a seasoned professional curator. In this case, the students were fortunate to work directly with artist Bill Bamberger, a Durham resident and instructor at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
After visits to Bamberger’s studio and consultations at the museum, students worked on the checklist and created a curatorial concept for the exhibition: “The basketball hoop is an object that often reflects and shapes the community in which it is placed. A hoop not only indicates a place where basketball is played, but it also signifies a location where communities and relationships are built.”
Bamberger’s personal stories about each photograph were important in the selection process, the students agreed. He took the photographs all over the globe, from Maine to Florida and Rwanda to Mexico. Many came with exciting stories about their making, including the people he met and the specific context of each court within its larger setting. Close-up photographs of hoops, the students realized, did not fit the exhibition’s narrative.
“The idea of being courtside,” Savannah said. “Does the image place the viewer in the court?” For the students, the concept of being “courtside” included the sport as well as the entire community around it.
With the narrative in good shape, they developed the checklist of about 25 works out of a possible 60. Halfway through the semester, the students decided that the words “basketball” and “hoop” should be removed from the working title. They also knew to stay away from such words as “slam dunk” and “swish,” because they did not want visitors to expect action shots of Duke Men’s Basketball players at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I personally think the word basketball is misleading,” Savannah said. “The process was challenging,” Janie said, because the students had to learn all the steps in the curatorial process. “It’s nice to have to defend our ideas,” Brittany added. “Our ideas,” Jessica said, “became clear.”