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Art History

Denise Shkurovich ’22: Peggy Guggenheim Internship in Venice

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2022

Navigating maintenance and engagement art museum operations at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy.

About the Internship

With support from the Benenson Award for the Arts, I interned at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy. Between daily interactions with both the visitors and staff members of the museum, I delved into the nitty-gritty of how to run a museum.

The interns arrived bright and early to prepare for the daily opening of the museum. My tasks often included dusting the Picasso’s, removing the coverings (which we affectionately called PJs) from the artworks, and making sure that no elements remained on the Giocometti’s from the storm the night before. After I reveled in the excitement of being face to face with the artworks and having the galleries to myself, I helped open the museum and spent most of the day reminding visitors to maintain a respectful distance from the artworks.

During the beginning of the internship, I heavily relied on my English to help the visitors navigate around the exhibition. But within a couple of days, I was alternating between Italian, Spanish, and Hebrew (though by the end I was still explaining to French visitors that, despite my French name, I do not speak French). I learned to handle the chaos of museums (by collecting the dripping umbrellas and damp rain jackets in the cloakroom during the rainstorms in Venice) and how to share my passion for art by curating and delivering talks about the life and works of artists like Piet Mondrian or Jackson Pollock.

I also had the opportunity to work with visitor services by staffing the ticket office and managing the galleries. I met with the Registrar Department, the Special Events Department, and the Membership Department to learn about how each department contributes to the collective museum. Furthermore, I collaborated with the Education Department as I gave tours of the permanent collection and weekly talks about the life of Peggy Guggenheim and the temporary exhibition, Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity.

Beyond the museum, we traveled to Padova to visit the Scrovegni Chapel and its Giotto Frescos and the worlds’ oldest anatomical theatre in the University of Padova. We visited the Fondazione Querini Stampalia to experience Carlo Scarpa’s integration of 20th century architecture with a Venetian Palazzo.

What changes did you notice in your summer experience due to COVID-19?

Learning the ins and outs of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection was an incredible opportunity to apply the skills I acquired through my Art History and Italian classes at Duke. However, the most memorable aspect of the internship will be my relationships with my intern class. The other interns (or my friends as I now call them) came from Brazil, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Australia, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, and Spain, just to name a new countries. More than representing our countries, each one of us had our own stories. Laugh and smiles spilled out of the interns’ room everyday as we shared about our lives, our favorite foods, and our experiences which had led us to this internship. These conversations carried on as we ventured out to explore the city after the museum closed.

Following this unique insight into a world-renowned museum and experiencing it alongside friends, I’m now more certain than ever about the importance of art. As I experienced visitors and my colleagues travel from all ends of the world to the museum, I was reminded of how art brings people together and facilitates cross-cultural communication. Not only do the artists themselves express their vision of the world, but art also gives those around it room for their own interpretation and for conversation. This idea of creating space for discourse is one I’ll carry with me wherever I go.