Majors on Site: Liam Otero at The Met

The following is the second installment of the “Majors On Site” student interview series. Liam Otero, FCRH ‘20, is an Art History major and American Studies minor, and is the Founder and President of the Fordham Art History Society. We met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he showed me his favorite artworks throughout the museum while discussing his reasons for studying art history, his artistic interests, the Fordham Art History Society, and his experience as an intern at the Japan Society.

Liam Otero entered college as a History major, and described himself as the “history guy” in high school. However, taking AP Art History his senior year of high school, and then taking classes with Dr. Ikeda and Dr. Heleniak at Fordham, he realized his love for Art History. To him, art represented people and histories in a special way, and he wanted to further explore that path. For example, as we began our discussion in the Ming room (Gallery 218) at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, he explained his appreciation for its ability to visually speak about certain elements of Chinese culture. He went on to explain how on the flip-side, an artwork can tell a story about a specific artist and reveal his or her “worldview.” He appreciates the fact that art can be a very personal experience: one can approach art with their own range of interests—pertaining to larger cultures, or to single artists—and can explore those interests through artistic works. These are the reasons why, Liam says, “I love art.”

An important component of Liam’s artistic interests is that they are not limited to one specific genre, but rather span an “eclectic” mix of artistic fields. Though he is technically under the Modern and Contemporary Art concentration in the Art History major, he appreciates art ranging from Dutch landscapes, to various styles of interior architecture and decorative arts, and beyond. Liam’s favorite artistic genres relate most strongly to music, film, and contemporary painting and installation, citing the California landscapes of David Hockney and the, “psychedelic art shows,” of Sam Francis. Liam appreciates the Metropolitan Museum of Art specifically for its encyclopedic nature, and the opportunity the museum provides to learn more about his myriad interests.

Liam discussing "The Beeches" by Asher B. Durand, painted in 1845 in oil on canvas, (Gallery 759).

Before moving on from the Ming room, we discussed the Fordham Art History Society (FAHS). I was interested in learning more about how the group formed, and in hearing more about Liam’s role as President. Liam explained that in the end of his first year at Fordham, Dr. Barbara Mundy, Dr. Asato Ikeda, and Katherina Fostano, Digital & Visual Resources Curator, presented the idea to him, as they were aware of his strong interest in art history. Liam embraced the opportunity to lead the organization, and has done so with great success. The group was officially established in May 2018, and currently has a Rose Hill membership of 321 people and a large group of Lincoln Center members.  Liam pointed out that the group does not hold a lot of meetings, but for good reason: he and his fellow FAHS officers would rather focus on organizing events around the city. Their most recent events were visits to the Play it Loud exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as the Art after Stonewall exhibition at Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. To organize audiences for these events, Liam notifies Fordham departments related to the events—reaching out to Fordham Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and the Fordham History department for Art after Stonewall, for example. Liam wants to create connections between the art historical subjects and the diverse interests of FAHS members, who have various academic focuses, but are all united by an interest in art and art history. Liam believes that art, “can be anything,” and so wants to illustrate that idea through the group’s programming. He expressed his gratitude for his fellow officers of the FAHS, and for the Fordham Art History faculty in their support of he and the organization.

Liam is also building his professional experiences in the art world. Liam has been working at the Japan Society as a Gallery Intern for almost a year, which he expressed has been an integral experience in his art historical education. Liam has had a long-standing interest in Japanese Art, and was introduced to the Japan Society through Dr. Ikeda’s A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints exhibition at the institution. After visiting the exhibition, he knew the Japan Society was a place he, “wanted to work,” and so he applied for an internship. He is now completing his third internship with the Society. His position has fostered his learning of a number of different museum skills through different projectsin the categories of, “curation, exhibition management, marketing, even education…” Through this experience, Liam has gained an understanding of the interconnectedness of museum departments. In terms of specific intern projects, one project Liam has especially enjoyed is an exhibition checklist he compiled with specifics on artwork locations, display conditions, and addition details for a 2021 exhibition surrounding, “esoteric buddhism.” He was excited to learn that each version of his checklist was sent to the director of the Nara National Museum in Japan, the institution that is partnering with the Japan Society for the exhibition. Liam is also happy that his internship has introduced him to Japanese art and artists he had not previously known, such as Yasumasa Morimura. Another significant takeaway of this experience has been the way in which Liam’s internship and his Fordham art historical studies, “complement each other,” well, and Liam believes that the skills he developed through his internship aided in his art historical studies at Fordham, and vice versa.

Liam pictured with artist Yasumasa Morimura at the Japan Society

Liam grew up surrounded by artistic influences, and began developing a love for art at a young age, long before he encountered AP Art History and Fordham Art History. He was born in Manhattan, and now commutes to Fordham from New Jersey, so he has been immersed in the arts and culture of New York City for a long time. Even when his family moved away for a few years during Liam’s childhood, he found himself experiencing art. He recounted a story to me his mother told him about their visit to the The Dali Museum while on vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida. A security guard at the museum explained to Liam’s mother that he had never seen a child look so intently at the art. Both Liam’s parents enjoy making art as well: his mother works with collage, and his father creates “pen and ink drawings inspired by religious imagery.”

When I asked Liam if he had any advice for our readers, he explained the benefit of the Fordham Core Curriculum, and the opportunity it provides students to test run art history courses for one or more of the requirements. He encourages our readers to take advantage of that opportunity, especially because one may discover the knowledge and skills that may ultimately apply to many fields of interest. He argues for art history’s applicability to a whole range of career paths.

Ending the bulk of our discussion in the Ming room, we travelled throughout the museum, and stopped at a number of Liam’s favorite artworks. We moved on to The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated, where we marveled at the beautiful folding screens, glittering gold and vibrant colors, and the incredibly delicate brushwork featured in the exhibition’s artworks. From there, we walked to the American Wing, then on to Modern and Contemporary Art, and concluded our tour in the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

Liam pictured in front of a trio of "Slit Gongs" (center by Tin Mweleun, 1960s, wood and paint) in the Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, Gallery 354.

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