There are many things in this world to love, but for Gisela Carbonell, nothing compares to art.
It is a multi-pronged instrument used for myriad purposes — from self-expression to the documentation of place and time.
Art and its history have become such a huge part of Carbonell’s life that she dedicated herself to the field, and it’s why she was brought on to serve as the Cornell Fine Arts Museum new curator.
“It’s been wonderful — it’s been great,” Carbonell said of her new post. “The team here at the Cornell has been so warm and welcoming. (There’s) the normal nervousness and anxiety of a new job, but at the same time, there’s happiness and a good kind of enthusiasm.”
As the new curator at Rollins College’s on-campus museum, Carbonell’s role includes a number of different duties, such as researching the permanent collection, acquiring new works for the collection and putting on new and exciting exhibitions.
Researching and familiarizing herself with the museum’s large collection has filled up much of these first few weeks for Carbonell, who moved to the Winter Park area just a couple of weeks before she started. Learning everything she can about the collection is the best plan when taking a curator’s position, she said, and also it helps her be able to best inform those visitors to the museum.
“I’m reading a lot of material and starting to work on projects that will probably be on view a few months from now,” Carbonell said. “And (I’m) starting to meet with faculty about projects for the new semester.”
FINDING HER PASSION
Although Carbonell has made a career out of her passion for art history, it wasn’t always the field she envisioned originally. Growing up in her native home in Puerto Rico, Carbonell had a passion for the arts — especially theater — but didn’t really plan on making a living out of it.
During her time at the University of Puerto Rico, where she graduated with a degree in political science, Carbonell picked up on a trend that she noticed throughout her studies — the constant use of art throughout the realms of politics, economics and society.
“Reading some of the traditional texts for some of the courses … learning a little about the history of the Roman Empire and emperors, and I realized throughout the years in college that many of these historical figures are using art to promote their political agendas,” Carbonell said. “Art was really a tool for propaganda … so I became very interested in the use of imagery —whether it was sculptures or paintings — to promote political ideology.”
With a rekindled love for art history sparked, Carbonell decided to go on to graduate school to pursue her master’s degree in art history from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, before attaining her doctoral degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
At Illinois, she took her first step into curatorial work at the school’s Krannert Art Museum. From there, she was hooked.
After graduating Carbonell moved back to Puerto Rico teaching art history to students at her alma mater, where she stayed for eight years before deciding to head back to the states and back into museum curating.
For the following four-and-one-half years, she served as the director of curatorial affairs at the Baker Museum at Artis-Naples. Carbonell said she enjoyed her time at the museum, but after the closure of the museum after to damage by Hurricane Irma, it was time to find something new.
While she is still just getting to know the museum and the surrounding area, Carbonell said the experience already has been a good one.
“This is a very talented group of people — very knowledgeable and very friendly, and I know this is going to be a great work experience with them,” Carbonell said. “And you can see that in the trajectory of the museum and the caliber of exhibitions that the Cornell organizes, so I’m very excited to be a part of this team.”