Thursday, June 13, 2013
Guest blogger Janna Singer-Baefsky is a Smith College student, class of 2015, with a major in Art History and concentration in Museum Studies. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
“ …when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it… ” - Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ( 1865).
Joe McHugh. American, 20th Century. The White Rabbit in Wonderland, ca. before 1968. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:38-83.
The story of Alice in Wonderland began as a tale to pass the time on a long boat ride one lazy summer afternoon in 1862. English author, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, pen-name Lewis Carroll, recounted the adventure to Oxford University Vice-Chancellor Henry Liddell’s three daughters – one of whom, Alice, insisted he write it down for her. In late November 1864, he handed her the finished copy as an early Christmas present and by 1865 it had been published. The book, an international best-seller among adults and children alike has imagery, symbolism, and quotations that pervade every aspect of popular culture.
Readers of all ages developed theories to explain and understand the nonsensical conversations, whimsical scenery, and Alice’s perpetual dreamlike state. One likens her journey to an acid trip, and no piece of art better captures this idea than Joe McHugh’s psychedelic poster The White Rabbit in Wonderland, on view until September 15, 2013 in Summer of Love: Psychedelic Posters from SCMA. Printed before 1968, during a peak year in the use of mind-expanding narcotics, the poster features contrasting neon colors layered over one another and photographs of iconic Alice in Wonderland imagery. One does not need any drugs to feel the full effect of his hallucinogenic style.
Detail of Joe McHugh's The White Rabbit in Wonderland.
The photographs depict some of the most recognizable imagery from the story – the bottle labeled “DRINK ME,” the mushroom Alice eats to change size, a deck of cards scattered over a checkerboard floor, and a white rabbit. The rabbit (which looks suspiciously like my own…) stands on its hind feet in the center against an open black square suggesting the rabbit hole itself or the door that Alice falls through when she cries a flood of tears. The photographs alone form a collage of familiar iconography and there is little that is psychedelic about them. It is the overlapping neon colors and shapes that begin on the rabbit’s face and spiral out that create the hypnotic scene. The longer you stare, the more details become apparent. At the top, undulating green letters become clear and separate from the squiggly background shapes. The words form KEEP YOUR HEAD, perhaps as a tribute to the Queen of Hearts or the classic song by Jefferson Airplane, and arch over the central scene. The cork of the DRINK ME bottle is actually a mushroom. The turtle-like shape on the far left is a knight, who perhaps escaped from the chess board at the bottom.
Detail of Joe McHugh's The White Rabbit in Wonderland.
At first glance, the poster is overwhelmingly full of colors and images. As the eyes adjust to the brilliant shades of hot pink, lime green, orange, blue, purple, and red a narrative becomes clear. The rabbit is what prompts Alice’s adventure and similarly, his central placement pulls us in. The iconic pictures surrounding him in a circular fashion takes us on a journey throughout Wonderland and eventually spiral back into that endless black square. Like Alice, it is easy to become lost for several hours in a work this detailed and complex. The longer you stare at such an intricately kaleidoscopic piece you could begin to think you’ve gone mad. But, as Lewis Carroll himself once wrote: “I’ll tell you a secret. The best people are.”
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Guest blogger Jennifer Guerin is a Smith College student, class of 2014, majoring in American Studies and History with focuses in Public History and Social Movements. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Thomas Cornell. American, 1937-2012. Danton from The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf Before the High Court of Vendô me, 1964. Etching printed in black on paper. Gift of Elizabeth and John Scott. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2008:62-10.
The SCMA’s Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs has in its collection a set of etchings that artist Thomas Cornell completed for the Northampton-based Gehenna Press, run by Leonard Baskin, in 1964. The book for which they were produced, The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf Before the High Court of Vendôme, is a French text from 1797 translated by John Anthony Scott, a professor of History at Amherst College. The works were donated to SCMA by Scott and his daughter, Elizabeth.
François-Noel Babeuf took the name Gracchus as a reference to Roman tribunes Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi, famous for advocating land redistribution. As his choice of name suggests, Babeuf was the leader of a radical left wing faction of French revolutionaries who believed in policies such as division of lands, progressive taxation, and free and equal public education. These revolutionaries opposed the Directory and the government established by the Constitution of 1795, wanting instead to return to the more democratic-minded Constitution of 1793, and they attempted to foment a rebellion. Babeuf’s defense was given over the span of three days, and though it did not prevent his execution, it is particularly interesting because it does not attempt to deny the accusations, but instead argues that their action could not be considered conspiracy because they operated under the principle that opposition intended to remove an unjust government is always legitimate. Additionally, it is worth noting that Gehenna Press’s choice to publish a text which praised a socialist figure was a fairly radical move in Cold War America. Cornell’s twenty-one illustrations represent the major players in the trial, as well as other important figures of the Revolution. During his professional career, much of Cornell’s work focused on social justice issues, and these etchings are the predecessors of that work.
Thomas Cornell. American, 1937-2012. Marat from The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf Before the High Court of Vendô me, 1964. Etching printed in black on paper. Gift of Elizabeth and John Scott. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2008:62-17.
In creating these French Revolutionary portraits, Cornell referred to previous representations of the individuals but did not hesitate to reinvent the images. For instance, his portrait of Jean-Paul Marat works to present an alternative to the idealized images of Marat, most notably Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting The Death of Marat . While in David’s painting, Marat’s physical deformities and debilitating skin condition are only hinted at by his bandaged head and the bathtub he sits in, Cornell’s Marat is clearly deformed and appears grotesque. In his portrait of Diderot, Cornell’s transformation goes in the other direction— the Diderot shown in portraits becomes an idealized figured seemingly modeled after a Roman emperor. This allows the portrait of Diderot to represent not only the inspiration that the revolutionaries drew from Enlightenment figures, but also the huge influence of Greek and Roman history.
Thomas Cornell. American, 1937-2012. Diderot from The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf Before the High Court of Vendô me, 1964. Etching printed in black on paper. Gift of Elizabeth and John Scott. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2008:62-11.
Finally, Cornell’s images of Danton and Robespierre, two of the most controversial figures of the Revolution, depart from the conventional, neoclassical portrait to show two very human and conflicted figures. While Robespierre is nearly always show wearing a powdered wig, which was mocked by opponents as too aristocratic, Cornell’s image eliminates the wig, thereby making him appear more vulnerable and closer to the common people. In the portrait of Danton, Cornell’s use of light surrounds Danton with a sense of power and emotion, and his facial expression suggests an intense personal conflict.
Thomas Cornell. American, 1937-2012. Robespierre from The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf Before the High Court of Vendô me, 1964. Etching printed in black on paper. Gift of Elizabeth and John Scott. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2008:62-4.
Thomas Cornell (1937-2012), professor and artist, devoted much of the early years of his artistic career to drawing and etching, though he is generally well known for his paintings. Following his undergraduate work at Amherst College (B.A. 1959) and graduate work at the Yale School of Art and Architecture (1959-1960), Cornell explored the field of bookmaking, completing illustrations for Apiary, the Smith College student press, as well as Gehenna Press. He also founded his own publishing house in 1964, Tragos Press, through which he produced a number of publications relating to the Civil War, abolition, and the Civil Rights Movement. In 1962, Cornell was hired to establish a visual arts program at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and he would continue to teach there until he retired in June of 2012, shortly before he passed away in December.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Guest blogger Maggie Kean is a Smith College student, class of 2014, majoring in Art History with a concentration in Museum Studies. She is the Student Assistant to Maggie Lind, the Associate Educator for Academic Programs.
Edgar Degas; printed by Aglais Bouvenne. French, Degas 1834-1917. Program for the Soirée Artistique des Anciens Élèves du Lycée de Nantes, 1884. Transfer lithograph printed in black on wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:50-20.
French Impressionist Edgar Degas is regarded as one of the greatest painters of the nineteenth-century, producing an inspiring body of work thematically divergent from that of his predecessors, which earned him a posthumous reputation as the darling of the movement. A prolific draughtsman as well as painter, Degas’s vast output of drawings dynamically rendering his iconic dancers, bathing nudes, and jockeys are as distinctive as his paintings. Yet while many conceive Degas as the master of tulle and soft, luminescent flesh—daubed onto canvas in rich jewel-tones or lustily marked out with pastels—few realize that Degas was also a closet printmaker of great mastery.
Though his printmaking record indicates that his pursuit of the medium was patchy, extant works span Degas’s career from his nascent aspirations to history painting in the 1850s through to his late and most expressive works of the 1890s. His prints ranged in medium from etchings and lithographs pulled by professional printers to monotypes that he executed himself. A largely underappreciated and thus neglected form of printmaking, Degas is recognized for pioneering the monotype medium, which conflates painting with printmaking through the painterly application of ink directly onto a plate that is then pressed onto paper. While his printed subject matter did not vary much from his standard repertoire of women and horses, the works themselves reveal Degas’s virtuosity in a breadth of mastery unknown even at the time—only a handful of such prints were ever displayed during his lifetime.
Edgar Degas. French, 1834-1917. Study for a Program for an Artistic Evening (Projet de Programme), 1884. Soft-ground etching and drypoint on off-white wove paper. Gift of Abraham Kamberg. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1962:8-2.
The SCMA has two such prints in the works on paper collection at the Cunningham Center—a set of lithographs from 1884 entitled Program for the Soirée Artistique des Anciens Élèves du Lycée de Nantes (Program for the Evening for Former Art Students of Nantes Secondary School). One of the former students of the Lycée was a friend of Degas and asked him to create the program – a process that yielded four black chalk drawings, four etchings, and the final lithographs. Two of the drawings, which are a clear precedent to our lithographs, are among the works stolen in the famous heist of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With the recent efforts of the FBI to again publicize the crime and recover the works, we thought we’d highlight the parallel works in our collection in solidarity with the Gardner (To view the Gardner drawings and more information on the theft, please visit the FBI website: http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2013/march/reward-offered-for-return-of-stolen-gardner-museum-artwork/image/hi-res ).
The Program was directed toward a broad audience, and as such, the visual language Degas utilizes is straightforward in its reference to the entertainment promised for the Soirée, with some marginal imagery symbolic of the town of Nantes. The print was clearly thrown together quickly, a somewhat compositionally ambiguous and sketchy image; in 1891, when the École des Beaux-Arts displayed one of the lithographs in an exhibition surveying contemporary lithography without Degas’s permission, he was outraged that his body of printed work should be represented by such a poor example.
Nevertheless, the Program and his opinion of it offer a glimpse into the ways in which Degas’s work reached the general public. His major works were typically displayed at the Salon for an audience comprised primarily of the bourgeoisie, artists, and academics. A colloquial document such as Program not only enjoyed a wider viewership, but also illuminates how Degas consciously adjusted the quality of his work based on the audience he created it for.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Munio Takahashi Makuuchi. American, 1934-2000. On Boy’s Day I 'I.D.' with Rocky Mountain Salmon../...So where’s the Salmon? 1985. Drypoint and etching printed in black on paper. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2007:9
Artist/poet Munio Makuuchi (born Howard Munio Takahashi) was a third-generation Japanese-American born in Seattle. From 1941 to 1945, he and his family were confined in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in southern Idaho. This pivotal childhood experience became the basis for a lifetime of visual and poetic works. After their release from the camp, the artist and his family settled permanently in Idaho. Makuuchi studied art education, printmaking, and painting, and taught both in the U.S. and Africa. He retired from teaching and returned to Seattle in the mid-1980s.
Like all of Makuuchi’s visual works, On Boy’s Day relates directly to his life history. The twin images of Mount Rainier and Mount Fuji are visible in the background of this print, alluding to his dual Japanese/American identity. The central image of the print is a school of leaping fish bisected by a bamboo pole bearing a flag. The pole and flag are part of the rituals celebrating the Japanese festival “Boy’s Day” (Tango-no-sekku), in which paper carp (one per male child) are flown in celebration of the healthy growth of sons. The carp, a symbol of resilience and determination, is seen as an embodiment of male virtues. Makuuchi replaces the traditional carp with an image of salmon, a fish native to the Northwest coast, which he felt had more resonance with his past.
In the poem referred to in the title of this print, Makuuchi mourns what he saw as the cultural assimilation of many Asian Americans during the post-War period.
On boy's day I I.D.
with slant/Sockeyes of
Steelheads/hearts of the
Rocky Mountains rather
than flying paper Carp...
They tagged and released us
after four years
in a USA reeducation camp.....
They tried to drum out the drums of the Afro/Americans.....
And the Latino still speak
and eat Spanish
500 years later.....
We went 1000 miles
up inland Rocky Mountains
with special long enduring
genes and chromosomes
only to be watered down
Only a few are reaching
When it comes to our kind soul vittles -
“No you can't take that away from me!"
This work is on view in Collecting Art of Asia until May 26, 2013.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Guest blogger Maurine Collins Miller is a Smith College student, class of 2013, majoring in Art History and minoring in Spanish. She is a Student Museum Educator at the Smith College Museum of Art.
Diego Rivera. Mexican, 1868-1956. Yalalag Caminando con un Niño (Woman from Yalalag walking with a boy), 1948. Gouache on paper. Bequest of Anita V. Davis. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2009:3.
Designing and giving a tour at the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) is both exciting and unpredictable. So when I was presented with a group of sixth graders who had been studying Mexican culture, I decided to focus the tour around the SCMA’s Diego Rivera works. Rivera is generally interesting to kids since he is such a famous artist with a very aesthetically approachable style. For this particular tour, the Museum’s collection spanned beyond the paintings typically associated with Rivera; the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs is home to an impressive collection of works on paper by the Mexican artist. With some advanced planning, we were able to view a selection of these prints and drawings depicting a variety of daily life scenes and portraits. With a reasonable amount of knowledge on Rivera, I felt confident that I could answer almost any question and build off of what the kids already knew. As a tour guide, however, you can never fully prepare for what the kids will ask about the pieces.
Diego Rivera. Mexican, 1868-1956. Reading Lesson, 1932. Lithograph printed in black on Rives wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:50-95.
Much to my surprise, the students were more interested in the monetary value of Rivera’s work than what they looked like. Why and how art is valued is fascinating -- I don’t blame them for inquiring as to the value of the pieces. Unfortunately, I was prepared to talk about culture and why Rivera might have made some stylistic choices. I formulated an explanation “on the fly” to direct the discussion away from the monetary issue: when artworks are acquired by or donated to a museum, the purpose is not to put a price tag on them. Since museums build their collections based on what they’d like to show and conserve forever, accessioning works into a collection almost negates any monetary value. Their “worth” is not about money.
Diego Rivera. Mexican, 1868-1956. Flower Festival, 1931. Lithograph printed in black on cream laid paper. Gift of Elizabeth Langmuir (Elizabeth Cross, class of 1931), transferred from the Rare Book Room. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1980:39-19.
Sixth graders, however, are persistent. Thus, when they continued asking me about how much all of the Diego Rivera works on paper are collectively worth, “even if I was just guessing,” I explained that value is more than a monetary concept. Value also means how a work enhances a collection and, particularly in a teaching museum like SCMA, can be compared with other pieces for educational purposes. Value and price are not mutually exclusive.
I was eventually able to re-route the discussion back to Mexican culture, and the students finally settled into appreciating how amazing the SCMA and the Cunningham Center are. After all, how special is being in a room with only fifteen people and ten impressive works on paper—not behind glass or framed-- from such a phenomenal artist? Now that is a valuable experience.
Diego Rivera. Mexican, 1868-1956. Boy with Dog, 1932. Lithograph printed in black on Rives wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:50-96.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Guest blogger Petru Bester is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in Art History and minoring in Anthropology. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Honoré Victorin Daumier. French, 1808 – 1879. Les Baigneurs, No. 21, Parole d'honneur Mme Frenouillet... published 1841. Lithograph printed in black on paper. Gift of Mary A. Gordon, class of 1960. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1963:105-21
Honoré Victorin Daumier, a French caricaturist, began producing prints in 1830 and created over 4,000 lithographs before his death in 1879. Within this plethora of lithographs Daumier produced a series entitled Les Baigneurs, which provides humorous commentary on bourgeois bathers in the nineteenth-century. Before private restrooms were commonplace, various members of society would convene in large bath houses where one could exercise, soak, and relax with friends. Daumier’s political and social satires explore various contemporary issues through both comical and aesthetically interesting images. His characters are exaggerated and often stand in stark contrast to one another.
Les Baigneurs, No. 21, depicts two women about to enjoy the luxuries of their bath house. The figure on the left, tall and lanky, prepares to toast to the short and stocky figure on the right. Daumier magnifies the differences between the two women in their contrasting facial features. The tall figure’s linear physique is reflected in her long pointed nose which protrudes from her angular face which sits precariously on a pencil-like neck. The short figure’s round body is echoed in her equally round face with a rounded nose and full lips.
Detail of Daumier's Les Baigneurs.
The inviting pool appears on their left and a bucket resting on the wooden counter behind them holds various bottles of libations. (Although Daumier’s objective is to stimulate thought about social change, I can’t help but feel envious of the bathers and can only hope my summer involves friends, a pool, and a cold beverage!) Daumier frames the image in text with both a title above and a caption below. The text verifies his intentions by poking fun at the two self-indulging women: one says to the other, “Seeing us (swim) one would swear we were two fish… a carp and an eel.”
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Allen Jones; after Joshua Reynolds. British, Jones 1740-1797; Reynolds 1723-1792. Miss Kemble, n.d. Engraving and mezzotint on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:288.
Before the invention of the camera in the 1820s and the even more recent explosion of digital photography and the Internet in the 1990s, printmaking was the only means of reproducing and disseminating images in large quantities. While many printmakers throughout history created original compositions and were famous in their own right, some teamed up with painters to reproduce their paintings in great numbers. For both the painter and the printmaker it was a mutually beneficial partnership which increased the reputations of both artists through the broad distribution of these prints after paintings.
Mezzotint, a printmaking technique invented by the German amateur artist Lugwig von Siegen in 1642, created unprecedented capabilities for translating paintings into prints. Its name comes from the Italian mezzo-tinto, meaning “half-tone” Mezzotint is the first intaglio technique which could create a range of shades between black and white without the exclusive use of lines, such as the cross-hatching of engraving and etching. Mezzotint is also unique in that the artist creates the image from dark to light. The metal printing plates are first worked with an instrument called a “rocker” to create the darkest tone. The mezzotint-engraver subsequently scrapes particular areas which will print in shades of gray or, finally, the brightest white. (Click to see videos of a mezzotint-engraver performing these first and second stages in the process.) Mezzotints are characterized by their velvety blacks and incredibly rich tones, which make mezzotint an ideal print medium for meticulously recreating the soft manner and texture of paintings. However, for this reason, mezzotint (unlike engraving and etching) was rarely used by artists to create original compositions.
James McArdell; after Joshua Reynolds. British, McArdell ca. 1729-1765; Reynolds 1723-1792. Mrs. Turner of Clints in Yorkshire, n.d. Gift of Clara Culver Gilbert, class of 1892. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1953:76.
Mezzotint reached its peak in popularity during the 18th and early 19th-centuries, mainly in Britain. In the 18th-century, prints after paintings by such famous British painters as Sir Joshua Reynolds (above) and Joseph Wright of Derby (below) circulated throughout Europe, increasing the visibility and reputations of these artists. The mezzotint technique brilliantly captures and translates the elegant, flowing clothing of Reynolds’ British nobility portraits as well as the dramatic chiaroscuro (light-dark) contrast of Wright’s scenes which depict the Age of Enlightenment. Mezzotint-engravers were often known for their unique skill in transcribing the work of particular painters, such as British mezzotint-engraver William Pether’s reputation for recreating Joseph Wright of Derby’s paintings.
William Pether; after Joseph Wright (Wright of Derby). British, Pether 1731/38-1821; Wright 1734-1797. A Philosopher Reading a Lecture on the Orrery, 1768. Mezzotint on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1953:16.
William Pether; after Joseph Wright (Wright of Derby). British, Pether 1731/38-1821; Wright 1734-1797. An Academy by Lamplight, 1772. Mezzotint on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1954:44.
By the early nineteenth century, mezzotint was appropriated by a new generation of British painter-printmakers, such as J.M.W. Turner and John Martin (both shown below), who were both more devoted to depicting landscapes than figures. Unlike their predecessors, Turner and Martin were painters and mezzotint-engravers who used this print medium for original expression. Turner was particularly successful for his work in both painting and printmaking. His collection of seventy landscape mezzotints called Liber Studiorum (Book of Studies) was very widely circulated. Both Turner and Martin exploited mezzotint’s capabilities to create expressive landscapes, full of drama and motion.
Mezzotint fell out of style by the middle of the 19th-century, perhaps in favor of other printmaking techniques, because of the invention of photography, or other unknown reasons. Regardless, this idiosyncratic technique, which beautifully transcribes the softness, expressiveness, and motion inherent to painting, serves as a reminder to us today of the importance of and skill behind creating reproductions before the age of photography.
John Martin. British, 1789-1854. Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still, from Illustrations of the Bible, n.d. Etching and mezzotint on white wove paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1968:44.
Joseph Mallord William Turner. British, 1775-1851. The Deluge, Plate 82 from Liber Studiorum, n.d. Mezzotint on cream-colored wove paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:54-288.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Amanda Garcia ‘16 discusses her show “From Tissot to Toulouse-Lautrec: Fashion Focus in 19th-century French Art” which will be on view this Friday, April 2t6 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!
Jacques Villon (Gaston Duchamp). French, 1875-1963. La Parisienne, c. 1903. Aquatint, etching, and drypoint in color on paper. Gift of the New Gallery. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1953:128.
Impressionists wanted to depict what was actually in front of them - that is, landscapes and figures in contemporary life - rather than reimagining religious or historical scenes. For their interest in representing contemporary life, they are a vital force which allows us to glimpse the French fashion of their time. Post-Impressionists, a term coined by artist and art critic Roger Frye, was Frye’s way of addressing any artist after Manet. While Post-Impressionists created more distorted shapes and lines than their predecessors, they still stuck to the main Impressionist ideals, and are just as vital in representing the fashion in late 19th-century France. From Degas’ depiction of dancers, to Mary Cassatt’s rendition of social life and mother-daughter bonds, to Toulouse-Lautrec’s images of prostitutes at the Moulin Rouge, they all allow us to muse over the garments worn at the time by every kind of person in the social spectrum.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. French, 1864-1901. Jane Avril, c. 1893. Brush and splatter lithograph printed in olive green, yellow, orange, red and black on beige wove paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1958:74.
French 19th-century Fashion History:
By 1860, there were many inventions that led to a revolutionized fashion industry: the sewing machine, synthetic dyes which produced intense colors, the new crinoline skirt shape (a flat-domed skirt silhouette), the department store, as well as the fashion magazine.
By 1867, the cage/crinoline was completely out of style, leaving bustles (frameworks which expanded the back of a woman’s skirt) and tournures (“dress improvers” in English) to take their place. Bustles were often stiffened with horsehair to retain shape and give shape of the dress. As seen in many of these prints, the waterfall bustle was particularly popular, which had a cascading bustle down the back. As the skirts were narrower and flatter in the front, more emphasis was placed on the waist and hips. This meant that the corset needed to mold the body to the desired hour-glass shape, and was achieved by making the corsets longer and made of many different pieces of fabric. Whalebone and pieces of leather were also used to increase the rigidity of the corset.
James Jacques Joseph Tissot. French, 1836-1902. Soirée d'été, 1881. Etching and drypoint on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1968:1-1.
James Jacques Joseph Tissot. French, 1836-1902. Printemps, 1878. Etching and drypoint on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1968:1-2.
Featured in many of the prints, parasols had also become a fashion staple, while bonnets, the women’s headpiece of the earlier 19th-century, decreased in popularity due to their reduced functionality. Hats, like the Glengarry Highland cap, Tyrolean style peaked crown hat, and little doll hat were reintroduced at the end of the 19th-century. Women who wanted a more modest appearance wore bonnets, but these were later associated with a more matronly appearance. Very tall hats (called 3-story or flowerpot hats) soared atop very high hairstyles.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. French, 1864-1901. La Modiste (Renée Vert) ,c. 1893. Brush and splatter lithograph in two shades of olive green on ochre wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:50-99.
Paul César Helleu. French, 1859-1927. Woman in Profile Wearing a Hat, n.d. Drypoint on modern laid paper. Gift of Lessing J. Rosenwald. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:18.
I hope you can begin to notice all of the different garments and styles included in the 19th-century prints which will be presented in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at SCMA on Friday!
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Petru Bester and Janna Singer Baefsky are both Smith College students, class of 2015. Bester is majoring in Art History and minoring in Anthropology, and Singer-Baefsky is majoring in Art History with a concentration in Museum Studies. They are both Student Assistants in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
When we and other students registered for From Eyes to I: The Art of Portraiture we were all pleasantly surprised to have the unique chance to play curator at the Smith College Museum of Art. With the guidance of Professor Brigitte Buettner, we selected a body of work from the Smith College Museum of Art’s Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs to display and analyze.
The exhibition, developed in conjuncture with Smith’s Celebrating Collaborations conference, was truly a collaborative effort. We began the exciting process in early February by selecting a genre of portraiture from which to work. This was perhaps the most difficult part as each of us articulated strong arguments as to why our choice would work best. Eventually a compromise was reached; the exhibition would feature portraits of women, including artist’s self-portraits and official portraits ranging from the 18th to the 21st centuries.
Working in pairs, we met in the Cunningham Center to select our desired prints and an exhibition title. After much deliberation, the seniors came up with a pun that swiftly ended the debate: gaze of our lives? The question led to laughter, a vote, and then the consensus that Gaze of Our Lives: Female Portraiture had just enough seriousness and spontaneity.
No exhibition would be complete without labels. With the help of Maggie Lind, SCMA’s Associate Educator for Academic Programs, we learned the art of crafting individual labels and an introductory text. From here, Stephanie Sullivan, Exhibitions Installation Assistant, worked with us to create a miniature mock-up of the display. After the installation, all that was left was for us to prepare gallery talks to present on the opening day of Celebrating Collaborations – Friday, April 20.
Gaze of Our Lives: Female Portraiture includes eight female portraits that encompass a variety of styles, media, and aesthetics unified in their portrayal of women. The exhibition’s intention is to explore different modes of artist representation, the changing social roles of women in society as seen in portraiture, and to convey the various gazes set upon them.
The following are works which will be on view in "Gaze of Our Lives: Female Portraiture" along with quotes from the student curators explaining their selections.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. French, 1864 – 1901. Yvette Guilbert, ca. 1894. Crayon lithograph in olive green on beige wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:50-110.
“The way Toulouse-Lautrec rendered her pointed, upturned nose, sword-like umbrella, and designer handbag made her come across as a fierce, cut-throat, take-no-prisoners woman. We found this print so comical, we just had to know more!” - Jinan Martiuk, SC '14 and Janna Singer-Baefsky, SC '15
Robert Mapplethorpe. American, 1946 - 1989. Mary Maples Dunn, 1985. Gelatin silver print. Purchased with the gift of the Smith College Museum of Art Members. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1985:18-1.
“ We selected this photograph out of a mutual familiarity with Mapplethorpe's work, recognizing its unusual departure from the more provocative imagery he is best known for. When we realized it was a portrait of former President of Smith, Mary Maples Dunn, we were enthralled by the question of what could have brought two such unlikely people together and decided immediately to investigate their story for the exhibition.” - Shama Rahman, SC '13 and Maggie Kean, SC '14
Oriole Farb Feshbach. American, born 1931. Self-Portrait in Mirror, 1978. Offset lithograph printed in color on medium thick, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. Anonymous Gift. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:3-3.
“Oriole Farb Feshbach has ties to the Five College Consortium and was affiliated with the women's movement in the 1970s. We were interested in her use of the mirror as a means of self-reflection.” - Amanda Ferrara, SC ’13 and Frances Lazare, SC ‘14
Hung Liu. American born China, born 1948. Wildflower (Orchid), 1999. Lithograph with gold aluminum leaf and collaged color copies of Old Chinese stamps on white Somerset wove paper with deckled edges. Gift of Frances Elk Scher, class of 1953, in honor of her friend, classmate and art mentor Judy Targan (Judith Plesser, class of 1953) on her birthday. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:23.
“We were drawn to this image because of its cultural complexity and critique on the Western gaze.” - Manzhuang Zheng, SC ’13 and Petru Bester, SC ‘15J
Nicola Tyson. English, born 1960. Self-Portrait with Floor , 1998. Drypoint, sugar lift, aquatint, and spitbite on Somerset soft white paper. Purchased with the Richard and Rebecca Evans (Rebecca Morris, class of 1932) Foundation Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2000:22-3.
“ Nicola Tyson's self-portrait is striking and haunting. The bodily distortions and empty skull-like gaze intrigued us--why would the artist chose to represent herself in such a way?” - Honor Hawkins, SC '13 and Maggie Hoot, SC '16
Beth van Hoesen. American, born 1926. Mirror, 1961. Aquatint and etching on cream-colored wove paper. Gift of Therese and I. Michael Heyman (Therese Thau, class of 1951). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:18-1.
“This print caught our attention because it is a seemingly straight-forward portrait. However, upon closer observation the sitter's multiple reflections in the mirror each convey a different emotion. We thought this composition would be interesting to analyze in the context of our class discussions concerning the various interactions in portraiture - between artist, subject, and viewer.” - Nona Morse, Mount Holyoke College '14, and Marley Smit, Hampshire College '14
Camus. French, 18th-century. Marie Antoinette Reine de France, ca. 18th-century. Engraving with hand color on paper. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:36-2.
“Look at that dress. How could we not?” - Megan Lowry, SC ’14 and Isabella Pioli, SC ‘15
Cass Bird. American, born 1974. I Look Just Like My Mommy, 2005. C-Print. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:41-1.
"We chose Cass Bird's I Look Just Like My Mommy because we wanted a work of art that contested ideas of womanhood, which, in every other work, are straightforward. So for us, it was an important point of view to include." - Hailey Hargraves, SC ’13 and Katie Wisniewski, SC ’13
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Guest blogger Clara Bauman is a senior at Smith College majoring in Art. She assisted in the installation of Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides), currently on the third floor of Burton Hall at Smith College until 2018.
Clara Bauman '13 (top) and Clara Rosebrock '16 (bottom) install Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides) in Burton Hall at Smith College, January 2013. Photography by Julie Warchol.
My experience assisting in the installation of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #139 is among the highlights of my Smith career. LeWitt’s directions for this drawing – Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides – translates, in this version which we created in the Burton Hall’s Math Department, into approximately 1,550 graphite lines. It took our team of four people (Roland Lusk of the LeWitt studio, and three Smith students) nearly eight full days of drawing work to complete. The process was meditative, all consuming, and unique – something which very few people ever experience. Those eight days have transformed my reading of the final drawing, as my view is infused with the stories and perspectives of our diverse installation team, as well as my own musings on the drawing’s development.
There were six phases to our drawing process. Each set of lines – the verticals of the grid, the horizontals of the grid, and the arcs from each midpoint – felt very different to make. Each time we established a different rhythm to our line-making. We watched as the drawing became increasingly dense and complex. Each layer complicated the patterns in the drawing. As the arcs intersected, giant S-shaped waves emerged and intricate diamond patterns decorated the wall. At the center of the drawing, the grid remained dramatically untouched and became increasingly prominent.
Detail of the center of the current installation of Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing #139 .American, 1928-2007. Graphite. Photography by Julie Warchol. SC 2000:27
Our eyes quickly became attuned to the subtleties of this process. We learned about the particular density and thickness of the 6H pencil mark, about the way the lead reacted to the textured surface of the wall, and about the small hand movements necessary for controlling the line.
Detail of the current installation of Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing #139 .American, 1928-2007. Graphite. Photography by Julie Warchol. SC 2000:27
It is rare to experience a work of art through the eye of its maker. Whilst drawing, I wondered if LeWitt went through a similar experience of acquainting himself with the materials the first time he drew an arc drawing. Perhaps he spent hours testing the accuracy of the plumb lines as we did, and perhaps he was also concerned about whether the arc’s midpoint was going to meet the grid’s midpoint. In the eight days I spent with Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides), I built a relationship with it. This drawing taught me patience and diligence and about the importance of simplicity. I am blessed to have a relationship with this drawing and to have insight into Sol Lewitt’s artistic process. This insight into the makings of Lewitt’s Wall Drawing #139 is one of the most amazing gifts I have ever received.
The current installation of Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing #139 in Burton Hall at Smith College. American, 1928-2007. Graphite. Photography by Julie Warchol. SC 2000:27
Monday, April 1, 2013
Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Suzu Sakai ‘16 discusses her show “Beauty by Design: The Art of Japanese Kimono” which will be on view this Friday, April 5 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. Suzu will also be presenting an original miniature kimono designed specifically for this exhibition, along with a brief and fascinating account of the history of Japanese kimono design. We hope to see you here!
Despite being a Japanese, I have never been as interested in learning about my own traditional culture as much as foreign cultures. However, my way of thinking changed last semester, in taking Smith College’s Costume Design I class. While working on a project which involved researching feudal Japanese costume, I fell in love with the beautiful and exotic Japanese kimonos. This helped me realize how wonderful and serene Japanese culture was.
In my Student Picks exhibition Beauty by Design: The Art of Japanese Kimono, I have selected certain woodblock prints focused on the design of kimonos, mainly during the 1800s. These woodblock prints feature women’s kimonos and kimonos worn as costumes by actors, who at the time were all men.
The term kimono, the T-shaped traditional Japanese garment we know today, in Japanese means simply ‘a thing to wear.’ This term kimono was actually invented in the Meiji era (1868-1911), when Westerners asked the Japanese to name their style of dress. The history of the kimono goes as far back as the eighth-century, when the Emperor proclaimed that all garments in the Imperial Court were to be worn strictly overlapped from right to left. This style reflected the style in the Tang dynasty (618-907) of China, and it was in the Heian period (794-1185) that the Japanese started developing their own distinctive culture and style.
Looking at these artworks on Friday, I hope viewers will leave with some kind of interest in Japanese culture, and may be even be as mesmerized by the beauty and richness of these kimonos as I am.
Chikanobu Toyohara. Japanese, 1838-1912. Tea Ceremony, 1896. Woodcut printed in color on three sheets of medium weight cream-colored paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:54-455a,b,c.
Toyota Hokkei. Japanese, 1780-1850. Surimono: The Hell Courtesan (Jigokudayu), from Three Prints of Courtesans series, mid-1820s. Woodcut printed in color on embossed paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Barker (Margaret Clark Rankin, class of 1908) "The Margaret Rankin Barker - Isaac Ogden Rankin Collection of Oriental Art." Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1968:478.
Utagawa Kunisada. Japanese, 1786-1865. Two Seated Geisha, One Playing the Biwa ,ca. 1850. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Gift of Helen D. La Monte, class of 1895. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1970:14-2.
Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi. Japanese, 1798-1861. Geisha by the Sumida River from Popular Customs of the Present Age (Tosei Fuzoku Konomi), 1830s. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Barker (Margaret Clark Rankin, class of 1908) "The Margaret Rankin Barker - Isaac Ogden Rankin Collection of Oriental Art." Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1968:499.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Josef Albers. American, born Germany, 1888 – 1976. Homage to the Square – MMA-2, 1970. Screenprint in four colors on Mohawk Superfine Bristol paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1983:44-2
“What counts here – first and last – is not so-called knowledge
of so-called facts but vision – seeing.”
– Josef Albers, Interaction of Color (1963)
The grandfather of Minimalism, Josef Albers was a prolific painter, printmaker, designer, and teacher who illuminated the importance of astute perception and restrained expression. Formerly a teacher at the Bauhaus in Germany, Albers profoundly influenced twentieth-century American art as a teacher at Black Mountain College and Yale University. His famous color course took a radical approach to the application of color in art and design. Rejecting traditional theory, Albers stressed that color is inherently unstable and dependent on its relationship to adjacent colors. He taught his students, many of whom later became influential artists in their own right (Eva Hesse, Robert Mangold, Chuck Close, Richard Serra, and others), to trust their vision and use color in experimental ways.
The culmination of Albers’s seminal color theory, which he developed along his thirty-six year teaching career, was the publication of his book Interaction of Color in 1963. The book is a lengthy summary of his teachings in the form of poetic instruction and theory accompanied by a stack of 80 sheets which serve as the visual representation of Albers’s principles and exercises. Because Albers distrusted the inaccuracies of reproduction produced by conventional commercial printing processes, each color for his illustrations was instead individually mixed in ink and screenprinted. Consequently, each sheet is an original screenprint. This process was the gateway for Albers into the world of screenprinting as an important aspect of his own work, which he continued until his death in 1976. Originally the book with screenprinted illustrations was produced as a limited edition publication, but began being distributed as a paperback book with only 10 high-quality (but not screenprinted) color plates selected by Albers in 1971. While SCMA is fortunate enough to have one of the original 1963 editions of Interaction of Color in its collection, the book is now widely available in its abridged form and serves as a fundamental text for artists, designers, and students today.
Josef Albers. American, born Germany, 1888 – 1976. Interaction of Color, 1963. Book and paper-covered cardboard portfolio containing eighty screenprints on paper. Gift of Mrs. Albert L. Arenberg (Claire Strauss, class of 1922). Photography by Julie Warchol. SC 1975:3-2 (1-80). View of book (left), book case (center), and stack of screenprinted illustrations (right).
Josef Albers. American, born Germany, 1888 – 1976. Interaction of Color, 1963. Book and paper-covered cardboard portfolio containing eighty screenprints on paper. Gift of Mrs. Albert L. Arenberg (Claire Strauss, class of 1922). Photography by Julie Warchol. SC 1975:3-2 (1-80). View of several screenprinted illustrations in Interaction of Color.
In 1961, inspired by his work developing Interaction of Color, Albers began making prints inspired by his famous Homage to the Square paintings. All of the Homage to the Square images use his standard square composition to display the visual effects of innumerable color variations. Working with master printers to execute his graphic works, the artist relished the meticulous and collaborative printmaking process. Since Albers’s prints required precise execution, printers were often driven to create new technical approaches to satisfy his needs. Master printer Kenneth Tyler, of Gemini G.E.L. and Tyler Graphics Ltd., worked with Albers on many of his prints and subsequently worked with many Minimalist artists. According to Tyler, “Albers’s geometry had to be whistle clean. And this placed a new demand on the medium.” This was extremely different from prints made by “the sloppy school of the Abstract Expressionists, where whatever shapes are found by accident are made images.”
In his screenprints and lithographs, Albers found a technical means to negate the artist’s hand and create images which are arguably more inexpressive than their hand-painted cousins. Albers believed that removing all evidence of individual expression creates a more powerful visual impact. In Homage to the Square – MMA-2, Albers constructs a subjective experience for the viewer, who perceives each shade of saturated red ink in relation to its adjoining colors. It is an endless exercise of subtle comparison.
Homage to the Square – MMA-2 is currently on view in Less is More: The Minimal Print (Feb. 3 – May 5, 2013) on the second floor of the Smith College Museum of Art. The original 1963 edition of Interaction of Color can be viewed by appointment at the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Guest blogger Petru Bester is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in Art History and minoring in Anthropology. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
On September 17, 2011 protesters famously started their occupation of New York City’s Zuccotti Park as a part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, born in the wake of the Arab Spring and the Spanish Indignants. This impulsive, spontaneous movement took the country by storm and by October 2011, 95 cities across 82 countries experienced “#Occupy” protesting. In the United States alone there were over 600 communities involved with the movement. By October 2012 every continent except Antarctica found itself in the thrashes of a now organized and united democratic occupation.
Over the years the organization has transitioned from purely physical activism to activism through word and image. Understanding the growing power of prints and social media, Occupy participants across the world have adopted poster-making as their main networking strategy. Occupy print labs have pop up everywhere under a single name: #Occuprint. These labs produce prints that contest violence, display solidarity, and inform viewers. Many print lab posters are made specifically for and distributed to educational institutions like the Smith College Museum of Art, who has recently acquired an Occuprint portfolio.
Marx Aviano. Occupy Earth, Big Mother is Watching, from Occuprint portfolio, 2012. Screenprint in two colors on thick, smooth, beige paper. Purchased with the Katherine S. Pearce, class of 1915 Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:30-14.
The movement is involved in everything from Storm Sandy recovery to wage inequality and corporate personhood. Like the Occupy movement itself, the posters created are diverse in subject but similar in style. The prints often employ iconographic images to recall memories and the feelings associated with those memories in contemporary viewers. By doing so, these artists are able to create something more than a print. One such print by Marx Aviano is all-encompassing and advocates for all #Occupy causes. Occupy Earth, Big Mother is Watching encourages any and every viewer to occupy the Earth. This idea is by no means revolutionary. The human occupation of Earth has been ongoing for thousands of years. The poster, however, asks the viewer to think what true occupation in modern contexts should look like.
The phrase, “Big Mother is watching” personifies the Earth. As a mother would she be proud of the way we live, use, and treat her? Would she find how we treat each other acceptable? Or would we be put into a “time-out”? A life time of memories floods my mind from the occasional time-out as a child and my relationship with my own mother, to my various history and anthropology classes, to my rare moments of personal protesting and occupation.
The print, no doubt, also is in reference to George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the satirical book portraying a tyrant called “Big Brother”. The people under his control are subject to constant surveillance. In this respect the phrase “Big Mother” emits an eerie sensation of observation and alludes to the oppression felt in both the book and by contemporary occupiers.
Keith Lowe. Occupy BMORE, from Occuprint portfolio, 2012. Screenprint in color on thick, cream colored, smooth paper. Purchased with the Katherine S. Pearce, class of 1915, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:30-18.
Some posters like Occupy BMORE act on a sense of community and pride of place. Keith Lowe’s print is commercial and brands the movement in Baltimore through a well-known local: the crab. The visual language is simple and easily understood.
Many of these prints embody specific ideology behind #Occupy and #Occuprint. In Untitled [Monopoly figure dancing on American flag], Brad Kayal caters to the #Occupy’s specific aim to spread the resources of the so-called “1%.” Kayal makes the viewer aware of the inequality and overt capitalism by placing the globally recognizable Monopoly man, a symbol of the 1%, dancing on top of the American flag, a symbol of the “99%.” By representing the 99% with the flag, Kaval also implies that the 99% are who really represent, compose, and sustain America.
Brad Kayal. Untitled [Monopoly figure dacing on American Flag], from Occuprint portfolio, 2012. Screenprint in color on thick, beige, smooth paper. Purchased with the Katherine S. Pearce, class of 1915, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:30-2.
Artist Jeanne Verdoux presents the idea of social wealth through another iconic image: $ Occupy Wall Street . The tearing down of Saddam Hussein’s statue in al-Fardus Square is a scene many of us will never forget. Saddam’s statue is replaced here with America’s suppressor: money. It too is being pulled down, this time by the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The relaxed, plain composition and design of this print hides the complex and emotional message.
Jeanne Verdoux. $ Occupy Wall Street, from Occuprint portfolio, 2012. Screenprint in color on thick, bright white, smooth paper. Purchased with the Katherine S. Pearce, class of 1915, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:30-19.
No matter the message, the works by #Occuprint maintain an amalgamated aesthetic. By keeping the images relatable #Occupy is able to outwardly convey the messages of their internally unified organization. The carefully considered designs and cohesive output prevent prints from appearing too radical or obscure. This image-consciousness is an attempt to guarantee a popular display that won’t be off-putting to viewers. Within the Occuprint portfolio, a unique language has been spawned that encourages a visual occupation both in our minds and on the streets.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Dmitri Baltermants. Russian, 1912 – 1990. After Tchaikovsky, 1945; print 2003. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:84-125.
Soviet photographer Dmitri Baltermants (1912 – 1990) created unexpected beauty out the conflict, destruction, grief, and loss experienced in World War II. Born in Warsaw, Poland, Baltermants’s family moved to Russia in 1915, where his father served as an officer in the Russian tsar’s army and was killed in World War I. Growing up during the Russian Revolution in a military family meant that Baltermants was unfortunately accustomed to living amongst turmoil and conflict, and perhaps this created a predisposed ability to confront the most intense moments in war. Although he intended to teach math in a military academy, Baltermants instead found a passion in photography. He began his career as a photojournalist in 1939, the year World War II began in Western Europe.
Dmitri Baltermants. Russian, 1912 – 1990. Battle on the Streets of Berlin, 1945; print 2003. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:84-126.
It took another two years for war to spread to the Soviet Union. In 1941, the German-led forces launched “Operation Barbarossa,” in which 4 million Axis soldiers invaded the Soviet Union. Known to Soviets as “the Great Patriotic War” and to Germans as “the Eastern Front” (including Northern and Eastern Europe), it was the largest and most gruesome military struggle in history. While a majority of the deaths in World War II occurred on the Eastern Front, not all were in combat alone – many were due to starvation, the extremely harsh Russian winters, disease, etc. Civilian deaths in the war also reached catastrophic numbers in the Eastern Front, particularly in German-occupied areas (cities, towns, ghettos, and concentration camps). Baltermants was no stranger to these terrible conditions, having admitted that he lost many of his comrades in arms (both photographers and soliders) in these years. Yet the losses were terrible on both sides – the German military experienced 80% of its losses in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, which was a leading cause of the Allies’ victory in 1945.
Dmitri Baltermants. Russian, 1912 – 1990. Soldier in the Road, Smolensk Front, 10 Minutes from Moscow, 1941; print 2003. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:84-118.
From 1941 until Allied victory in 1945, Baltermants, like many of his contemporary Soviet war photojournalists, “fought armed only with [a] camera.” He was wounded twice and was lucky to escape with his life. Baltermants travelled in the Red Army, fearlessly photographing battles throughout the Soviet Union and the Ukraine, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the 1944 invasion of Berlin. He captured the Soviets’ riveting and proud moments in battle, quiet moments in the downtime between the fighting, as well as devastation of military and civilian deaths. During and after the war, many of these photographs were censored by Soviet propaganda officials, unable to be shown until the Khrushchev period of the 1960s. It was not until almost 20 years later that Baltermants publicly presented such images as a dead soldier left on a muddy road outside of Smolensk, where the Soviets lost their first major battle on the Eastern Front, or women pushing a cart of their dead husbands who were victims of a 1942 Nazi massacre of Jews in Kerch, Crimea.
Dmitri Baltermants. Russian, 1912 – 1990. Carting the Dead, Kerch, Crimea, January 1943; print 2003. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:84-122.
The same year the Berlin Wall fell, signaling the end of the Cold War, and a year before his death in 1990, Baltermants wrote in an interview for Aperture magazine: “We photographers make magnificent shots of wars, fires, earthquakes, and murder: the grief of humanity. We would like to see photographs about joy, happiness and love, but on the same level. I realize, though, that this is difficult.”
Dmitri Baltermants. Russian, 1912 – 1990. Entertaining the Troops, 1941 – 1945; print 2003. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:84-119.
Dmitri Baltermants. Russian, 1912 – 1990. Soviet Policewoman Directing Traffic, Berlin, 1945; print 2003. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:84-129.
Friday, March 8, 2013
Guest blogger Jennifer Guerin is a Smith College student, class of 2014, majoring in American Studies and History with focuses in Public History and Social Movements. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Eric Avery. American, born 1948. Paradise Lost, 2011. Three linoleum blocks printed on Okawara paper with lithography ink in yellow ochre, green ocher, and black. An additional polymer plate text block was printed with lithography ink in brown. Purchased through the efforts of students in the class “Collecting 101,” January 2012. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:14.
While Eric Avery was working towards his Bachelor’s Degree in Art at the University of Arizona, one of his professors encouraged him to apply for medical school, explaining that “since [he] would always be making art and since art comes from life, [he] should make [his] life interesting.” Avery chose to pursue an M.D. in Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), which he completed in 1974, and from then on his work as an artist has been intimately connected to his experiences in the medical profession.
In 1991, he turned his attention to medical education, particularly in connection with the AIDS pandemic, which he did through his professorship at UTMB and through his art. In the medical field, Avery currently specializes in HIV/AIDS patient mental health care, correctional mental health care, and transgender health. As an artist, he is primarily a printmaker, producing prints about human rights abuses, disease, death, sexuality, and the body, though he has also completed a series of what he calls “art/medicine actions” – public performances of medical knowledge in unconventional spaces.
Albrecht Dürer. German, 1471-1528. Adam and Eve, 1504. Engraving printed in black on antique laid paper. Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Murray Seasongood (Agnes Senior, class of 1911). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1983:20-4
One of Eric Avery’s more recent pieces, Paradise Lost (2011), appropriates the image of Adam and Eve from a famous print by Albrecht Dürer (above), both of which are in the SCMA collection. While Dürer portrays the couple in the Garden of Eden immediately before the fall, reaching out to take the apple from the snake, Avery instead places them in a modern landscape, afflicted with the worst diseases historically faced by humanity. Instead of facing a single evil in the form of the snake, Avery’s Adam and Eve are completely surrounded by danger. The industrial background hints at the rapid spread of diseases facilitated by urban spaces.
The animals in Dürer’s garden are also transposed into Avery’s image, in a way that seems to replace an old system of medical knowledge with a new, modern one. The bull, the rabbit, the elk, and the cat in the original image represent the four humors: phlegmatic, sanguine, melancholic, choleric. The humors were believed to influence people’s personalities, and an imbalance of the humors was thought to be the cause of both changes in behavior and physical illness. Paradise Lost eplaces these symbolic animals with a multitude of other animals, such as rats, mosquitoes, and pigs, which are now recognized as reservoirs or vectors for infectious diseases.
Detail of Avery’s Paradise Lost.
Ultimately, Avery’s Paradise Lost transforms the traditional image of Adam and Eve in to a modern source of basic medical knowledge. The print itself represents some of the major ways to contract diseases in our modern world: urban environments, animals, travel (the plane), improperly prepared food (the restaurant, Pho 8), and areas of conflict (the physical divide between the figures of Adam and Eve). Surrounding the image, Avery gives a paragraph description of each of the 14 worst infections faced by mankind, describing the causes and symptoms as well as available preventative methods and treatment options. Some descriptions give recent, relatable examples, such as the description of typhoid, which cites an incident in 2005, when “after eating in a North Carolina restaurant, 300 people became ill from eating undercooked turkey.” At the bottom of the print, a broad overview of infectious diseases focuses on the importance of spreading this information like this: “understanding how infectious diseases immerge and survive in populations is important for disease prevention and control.” Perhaps to facilitate this education process, as well as to provide additional credibility, Avery also cites his medical sources within the piece.
This desire to provide information to the public and to enact positive change in the world is central to Avery’s view of his purpose as an artist. In his explanation of why he chose to work within both the medical and art worlds, he states that “If you believe that information can lead to chance, then bearing witness is the narrative function of art and serves a social purpose. If one person, after seeing one of my art actions, were motivated to change an HIV risk behavior and did not get HIV, then this would be my evidence that art can save lives.”
The art of a healing is a sacred art
Thanks Jennifer for your close reading of my print. I am honored that it is in your Museum's collection. Your text reminds me of the importance of working to make the world a better place. Understanding how our relationship to animals has contributed to emerging infectious diseases was a revelation to me. Durer represents this in his print. Death entered his print when Adam's lifted foot released the mouse to the waiting cat.
Your text also reminded me of the importance of words. There is a typo in text on my website which I will correct. "... If information can lead to chance" should read ... If information can lead to change, then bearing witness is the narrative function of art and serves a social purpose.
Monday, February 25, 2013
Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Sharon Pamela Santana ‘14 discusses her show “Details: Finding Patterns in Nature” which will be on view this Friday March 1 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!
Edward Weston. American, 1886-1958. Cabbage Leaf from Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio 1902-1952, 1931; printed 1951. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Mrs. Edwin H. Land. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1996:22-2a.
Have you ever stopped to absorb and contemplate your surroundings? Have you ever paid attention to the elements that make up your existence?
My Student Picks exhibition is inspired by patterns found in nature: simple, complicated, regular, and irregular. While images of very different elements such as vegetables and landscapes are included in the exhibition, they all speak to the splendor of the simple things in our environment. Viewers will find that in the end, nature comes together beautifully and even an artichoke on our plates can be an admirable work of art. I would like you to join me in the observation and appreciation of patterns in nature.
Works by artists such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston are included in Details: Finding Patterns in Nature primarily for their sharp and contrasted attention to detail and their overall beauty. I enjoyed viewing and choosing these exquisite photographs, and I hope that viewers too will enjoy looking at them. I would like to thank the Smith College Museum of Art for the wonderful and fun opportunity to curate this Student Picks exhibition.
As viewers can take the time to view these photographs, they may reflect on the following: If you ever think your life has become uneventful, and your everyday activities lose their excitement, think again. Observe, identify, and appreciate the shapes and colors in your surroundings. You will find that there is actually so much more to your daily routines when you open your eyes and look at the world around you with intention.
Ansel Easton Adams. American, 1902-1984. Death Valley from Zabriski Point , 1942. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:189.
Ansel Easton Adams. American, 1902-1984. Water and Foam from Portfolio Three: Yosemite Valley , 1942. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1973:80-8.
Edward Weston. American, 1886-1958. Artichoke Halved , 1930. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Mrs. Edwin H. Land. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1996:22-6.
Ansel Easton Adams. American, 1902-1984. Trees and Snow from Portfolio Three: Yosemite Valley , print 1960. Gelatin silver print. Date and source of acquisition unknown. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1973:80-4
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Sol LeWitt. American, 1928 – 2007. Circles, Plate 14 from the New York Collection for Stockholm, 1973. Lithograph printed in black and gray on white moderately thick, slightly textured paper. Gift of Robert Rauschenberg. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:56-14
This spring we have two wonderful examples of Sol LeWitt’s elegant geometric compositions on view at Smith College. At SCMA, the current Cunningham Corridor installation Less is More: The Minimal Print (on view until May 5, 2013) contains a small LeWitt print from titled Circles (1973), while Burton Hall, home of the Smith College Mathematics department, houses LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides) (1972). Each represents important and complementary characteristics of his work: simple and complex, small and large, printed and drawn.
Sol LeWitt, who coined the term “Conceptual Art,” created many prints, drawings, and “structures” (his term for sculpture) which are more dependent on ideas and logic than visual qualities or expression. LeWitt envisioned his role in the creative process to be akin to that of a musical composer or an architect, as his work is often based on written plans that are physically executed by others. He built a seemingly infinite number of compositions using a basic vocabulary of lines, arcs, and grids. When these simple geometric components are combined, they transcend their rudimentary nature to become complex abstract patterns. Anonymous in character and detached from emotion or feeling, LeWitt’s work is nonetheless alluring and graceful.
As LeWitt began making his famous wall drawings in 1968, his work became increasingly ephemeral and collaborative. Beginning in 1970, printmaking provided LeWitt with the means of producing more permanent and reproducible images, while allowing him to relinquish control of the final appearance of the work through his collaboration with master printers. Like many of his prints, Circles (1973) was produced by a master printer from an original LeWitt drawing. With its black and gray lines, which resemble pen ink and pencil marks, this lithograph retains the impression of the drawing. The concentric circles and converging lines are not as exact and precise as they first appear. Contrary to the mechanical processes available to printmaking, LeWitt embraced subtle hand-produced imperfections such as the wavering lines in Circles.
Detail of Sol LeWitt’s Circles (1973) showing hand-drawn imperfections which translated into the print.
In January 2013, Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides), an important early LeWitt wall drawing executed in black pencil, was installed on the third floor of Burton Hall. Integral to LeWitt’s artistic philosophy, his wall drawings are designed to be executed by anyone following his simple plans. Characteristic of LeWitt’s early work, its understated pencil-drawn style is similar to Circles but its grand scale and complex composition of overlapping lines and arcs makes its abstraction more apparent. As in its previous installation in the Museum in 2008, Wall Drawing #139 was executed by Roland Lusk of LeWitt’s New York studio with the assistance of three Smith College students: Clara Bauman ’13, Mingjia Chen ’15, and Clara Rosebrock ’16. This impressive drawing was installed in just two weeks using simple tools such as pencils, rulers, compasses, levels, and plumb lines.
Lusk and students draw the initial grid of Wall Drawing #139 in Burton Hall, January 2013. Photography by Julie Warchol.
Clara Rosebrock cleans the lines and smudges on Wall Drawing #139 , January 2013. Photography by Julie Warchol.
Mingjia Chen evens out the darkness of the lines in Wall Drawing #139 using masking tape, January 2013. Photography by Julie Warchol.
Detail of Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides ). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 200:27
Join us on Thursday, February 28 at 4PM in Burton Hall in front of the LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides) to hear different perspectives on the current installation!
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Guest blogger Janna Singer-Baefsky is a Smith College student, class of 2015, with a major in Art History and concentration in Museum Studies. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Joel Meyerowitz. American, born 1938. Empire State, Windmill, 1978. Vintage chromogenic contact print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. SC 2012:84-49
As the spring semester kicks into high gear, one thought is pulsing through every student’s mind: summer. As some scramble to finish applications for summer internships, jobs, and school, others are counting down the days until graduation or the first day of pure freedom. However, the piles of crusty brown salt-packed ice coated with a fresh dusting of clean, white snow are a constant reminder that summer is a long way away.
I had not caught the summer bug yet, until one afternoon at work. I came across a newly acquisitioned Joel Meyerowitz photograph. His piece, Empire State, Windmill, captures the very essence of the season and suddenly I was just as restless for some fun in the sun as my friends. It is not so much the main focus of the image itself – the windmill – that grabbed my attention, but instead what surrounds it: the wilting sunflowers, the clear blue sky, and the shadows from the trees.
Photographed in 1978, the image has now aged, coating the picture in a vintage hue which emphasizes the hazy atmosphere. The windmill blades sit frozen in the stagnant, hot summer air. Perhaps the streets are empty because the kids are in their last few days of classes, rushing through finals so they can play in the sprinklers, or maybe it is just too darn hot to move. Whatever the reason, we’ve all been there – that scorching summer day that starts at eight in the morning and carries through till the late evening.
That is beauty of Meyerowitz’s photograph. He captures a fixed scene from his time that is still tangible thirty-five years later. It does not just look like summer, it feels like summer. Staring at this work I can almost feel the sun on my face and a gentle warm breeze. And so as I sit in my scarf and sweater, awaiting the next snow storm but dreaming of bright summer day, I am comforted by the fact that it is never too cold for ice cream.
Hi Liz. Thank you for your comment. Work by Joel Meyerowitz will be on view at the Smith College Museum of Art this summer, from 7/12/2013 - 10/13/2013 in an exhibition called "Eye on the Street: Trends in 1960s and 1970s Photography." We hope you can check it out!
Thank you, Janna, for this taste of summer - and for the introduction to Joel Meyerowitz. I want to see more of his photographs and will look him up now.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
“My works are my honest thoughts carved into wood. My ‘art in wood’ comes into being spontaneously in spite of me, just as joy, astonishment, and sadness often do bubble up.”
One of the many pleasures of having a collection of 16,000+ works on paper at my fingertips is the chance to delve deeper into the work of artists with whose work I am only minimally familiar. Such is the case with the work of Munakata Shiko (1903-1975), one of the most recognized and collected artists of sosaku-hanga, Japan’s so-called “creative print movement.” During the early 20th century Japanese printmakers actively sought to break with the tradition of ukiyo-e printing in which cutter of the block was simply replicating the vision of the designer of an image. The sosaku-hanga artists wished to follow the European tradition of the peintres-graveurs (painter/printmakers) who were able to fully realize their vision by fully participating in all aspects of making a print.
My rediscovery of Munakata is related to research for a series of exhibitions highlighting SCMA’s Asian collections. Entitled Collecting the Art of Asia, this project, which is on view until May 26, 2013, features four installations of works from east, south, and central Asia arranged over three floors. The exhibitions are designed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of SCMA’s first acquisitions of Asian art, which were gifts from the famed collector Charles Freer in 1913.
The installation I worked on focuses on prints made between 1950 and the present day, which allows SCMA to showcase our expanding holdings in this area. A key component in our quest to build a strong collection of Asian art has been recent gifts of contemporary Chinese and Japanese prints. It has been fascinating to uncover the historical underpinnings of contemporary printmaking in Asia which emerged during the internationalization of print culture during the 1950s.
Born to a family of blacksmiths in Aomori, Munakata first learned about European art from local painters, and he was particularly enamored of Vincent van Gogh’s work. After becoming disillusioned with oil painting early in his career, Munakata found a way to combine his interest in Japanese tradition and modern Western art through printmaking. Although he devoted himself to woodcuts beginning in 1928, Munakata did not develop an international reputation for his prints until the 1950s, winning top prizes at print exhibitions in Lugarno (1952), São Paulo (1955), and Venice (1956).
Severely nearsighted from his childhood, Munakata kept his face very close to the block as he cut, sometimes following his drawing, but often creating the image spontaneously during the cutting process. He was equally idiosyncratic in his printing, titling, numbering, and dating of works, frequently reworking and printing blocks many years after they were first cut.
This is undoubtedly the case with this impression of Sand Nest, a work first created in 1938 as part of a series of thirty-one woodcuts illustrating the Nō play Uto No Hangasaku (Birds of Sorrow) . Most of the blocks in this series were destroyed in an air raid during World War II, but this block is clearly registered as having been printed in 1957.
Munakata Shiko. Japanese, 1903-1975. Sand Nest, 1938 (printed in 1957). Gift of Priscilla Van der Poel, class of 1928. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1977:32-195
Another work by Munakata in the exhibition is one image from his series of views of the Tōkaidō. The Tōkaidō was the route that linked Tokyo and Kyoto, which were, at the time, the two largest cities in Japan. This subject was most famously treated by Hiroshige, who issued two volumes of 53 ukiyo-e prints of the Tōkaidō, in 1834. This series documented the 53 “stations” along the route which were marked by inns where travelers could rest or refresh their horses.
Hiroshige. Japanese, 1797-1858. Yoshiwara, Station 15 from the series Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō(Kyoka edition), late 1830s. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:54-436 (15)
Hiroshige’s image is both illustrative and narrative in style, making use of the perspective of the winding road toward the distant Mount Fuji, using soft and modulated applications of water-based ink to provide naturalistic coloring.
Munakata Shiko. Japanese, 1903-1975. Yoshiwara from Munakata’s Tōkaidō Road, 1963-64. Woodcut printed in black with hand coloring on thin cream-colored Asian paper. Gift of the estate of Mrs. Sigmund W. Kunstadter (Maxine Weil, class of 1924). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:56-25
Munakata’s version of the same scene, by contrast, is flat and expressive, using bright patches of color applied both to the back and the front of the image to enliven the surface of the print. In creating this series, Munakata made a number of trips along the Tōkaidō, seeking to record a modern version of this famed historic subject in quick ink sketches. These he translated into woodblocks in his studio, adding color.
Learn more about the Collecting Art of Asia exhibition and SCMA's growing collection of Asian art in our online catalogue.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Camille Kulig ’13 discusses her show “Conceal/Reveal: The Exquisite Art of Masking and Costuming” which will be on view this Friday February 1 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Paul Cordes. American, 1893 - ?. Portrait of Gene Loring of the Ballet Caravan, c. 1937. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Gift of Paul Cordes. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1938:8-10
People have long exploited the power of costuming and masking as a means to both reveal and conceal parts of their identities. Masking and costuming have provided an outlet in which changing and altering appearances is made possible, questioning how we see ourselves and in turn, how others see us.
In the literal sense, masks have been used throughout time in a variety of contexts as a way to transform the appearance of a person often for the sake of a performance, as seen in featured works, Barnum and Bailey and Portrait of Gene Loring of the Ballet Caravan. This idea of transformation is one that has made the art of masking and costuming in the figurative sense a great source of agency and fascination. In the 1970’s performance artist and photographer Martha Wilson harnessed the power of costume in her Portfolio of Models series, in which she takes on the personas of six female stereotypes through the device of dress and masking. A decade later Cindy Sherman, as seen in her work Untitled #95, further utilized the power of costuming and masking to challenge the viewer’s perception of reality, artifice and the performance of femininity through her staged vignettes in which artist stands in as actor. In Cuban artist Eduardo Hernandez Santo’s, series El Muro (The Wall) he captures the underworld of drag and the integral role make-up and dress play in transforming the body, making the question “Que Trajo la Metamorfosis?”—“What Brought on the Change?” particularly fitting. In masking the exactitude of knowing one’s identity is brought into question, or as Goya so aptly summed up with the title of his 1799 work Nadiese Conoce — “Nobody Knows Anybody.”
Ironically, the artifice masking enables, grants people access to their truest selves. Through the guise of costuming and masking, people are allowed freedom otherwise inaccessible. In this way, masking and costuming paradoxically and simultaneously conceal and reveal.
Martha Wilson. American, born 1947. The Goddess from A Portfolio of Models, 1974; printed 2008. Gelatin silver print with typewritten text. Purchased with the Dorothy C. Miller, class of 1935, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:27-2
Cindy Sherman. American, born 1954. Untitled #95 from Centerfolds series, 1981. C-print. Gift of the Honorable Ann Brown (Ann Winkelman, class of 1959) and Donald Brown. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2000:20
Eduardo Hernandez Santos. Cuban, born 1966. El Muro (The Wall) , 2005; printed 2008. Gelatin silver print with applied presstype. Purchased with funds from the Dorius-Spofford Fund for the Study of Civil Liberties and Freedom of Expression. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:48-6b.
Eduardo Hernandez Santos. Cuban, born 1966. El Muro (The Wall) , 2005; printed 2008. Gelatin silver print with applied presstype. Purchased with funds from the Dorius-Spofford Fund for the Study of Civil Liberties and Freedom of Expression. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:48-6a.
Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes. Spanish, 1746 – 1828. Nadie se conoce (Nobody knows anybody) , Plate 6 from Los Caprichos ,1799. Etching and burnished aquatint printed in black on laid paper. Purchased with the gift of Albert H. Gordon. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1964:34-6
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Unknown. Japanese, 19th century. Stencil, n.d. Cut washi paper with silk threads. Gift of Mrs. Howard M. Morse. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1966:76-2
These 19th century Japanese stencils in our collection prove that, contrary to what one might expect, the tools used to create an artwork can be just as beautiful and impressive as the finished works themselves. Unlike in Western traditions, stencil-making (or katagami ) was a renowned art form in Japan. Stencils were most often used for the decoration of kimonos and other textiles.
After Japan’s 200-year long period of cultural isolation ended in the mid-19th century, Westerners were fascinated by the arts of Japan, most notably ukiyo-e woodblock prints. However, tourists were also interested in Japanese textile stencils as art objects themselves for their high level of technical mastery and aesthetics. Artist Blanche Ostertag wrote in 1899 for Brush and Pencil magazine: “What possibilities of color arrangements are suggested by some of these designs! Cotton dresses would be an endless joy were they adorned with any of these stencils, and our silk fabrics, both for household and personal adornment, might become doubly attractive.” The appeal of Japanese stencils lay in the sophisticated integration of the organic with the geometric, using images of birds, flowers, and vegetation as the basis for their designs. In the stencil below, the rhythmic arrangement of flowers and outlines of birds arranged on diagonal axes set against a background of vertical lines creates a sense of stylized motion.
Unknown. Japanese, 19th century. Stencil, n.d. Cut washi paper with silk threads. Gift of Mrs. Howard M. Morse. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1966:76-1
This high regard for the art of Japanese stencil-making historically coincided with the Arts and Crafts movement which was a late-19th century design reform movement in Europe and America. Such artists responded to increased industrial production by creating hand-made furniture, wall-paper, and ceramics. British Arts and Crafts wall-paper designer George R. Rigby (who made stencils himself) remarked in 1900 that “Japanese stencilling is, to my mind, the only thoroughly successful and considerable use of the craft.”
The process by which the stencils are created is remarkable and is the primary reason why 19th-century Westerners and Japanese alike regarded these objects as artworks themselves. An artist would draw and cut a design by hand, using anywhere from two to six sheets of extremely thin washi paper for one stencil. The sheets were then adhered together with a brown glue made from persimmon, which makes the stencil waterproof and durable. The sheets are often glued with a matrix of raw silk threads between the layers for further reinforcement. Without these threads, the complex designs which often employ lines no thicker than a pencil mark, would not withstand more than one printing. Luckily, the silk threads are so thin, in fact, that they do not show up in the printing. This painstaking process is made even more complicated by creating a brand new stencil each time a different color is to be printed.
Detail of 19th century Japanese stencil showing threads.
These are some of my favorite pieces in the whole collection. Thank you for sharing them.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
The obsessive act of reasserting my ties with the earth is an objectification of my existence.
– Ana Mendieta
Ana Mendieta. American, born Cuba, 1948 – 1985. Untitled from the Silueta series in Mexico, negative 1973, printed posthumously from Ana Mendieta’s original slides in 1991. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund and the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:22-7
I have always been enchanted by the work of late Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta, and the more I get to know her work, the more mysterious, unsettling, and wonderful it seems. Perhaps her most famous series, the Siluetas were sculptural performances (which she called “earth-body works”) in which Mendieta would imprint or outline her silhouette into or onto natural elements, such as sand, earth, snow, trees, grass, ice, or rocks. These works are now known only through the hundreds of documentary photographs taken by the artist. Her performances of the 1970s showcase the inherent contradictions which make her work so captivating; they are simultaneously performative and static, expressive and stoic, beautiful and haunting, autobiographic and universal.
Ana Mendieta was born in Cuba in 1948 and came to the United States in 1961, living in exile in the Midwestern United States for much of her life. First receiving a graduate degree in painting from the University of Iowa, Mendieta subsequently earned a second MFA through their famous Intermedia department, where she learned to create her own fusion of the emerging media which were to define the art of the 1970s – performance, land art, and photography. While she did not physically return to Cuba until her visit eighteen years later, her work was always inspired by the heritage of her lost homeland and the feeling of being uprooted or, in her words, “cast out of the womb.” The subtle act of imposing her body on the earth is an effort to physically and spiritually reconnect with history and nature.
Ana Mendieta. American, born Cuba, 1948 – 1985. Untitled from the Silueta series in Mexico, negative August 1974, printed posthumously from Ana Mendieta’s original slides in 1991. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund and the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:22-3
Mendieta traveled to Mexico every summer between 1973 and 1980, where she made hundreds of Siluetas, either in private or in the presence of a very intimate audience. The works are imbued with symbolism drawn from indigenous religions, such as Santeria – a Cuban hybrid of Catholicism, West African, and Caribbean spiritual beliefs, archetypal nature imagery, and Mexican funerary decorations. Mendieta believed she had more in common with indigenous artists than with her contemporaries, proclaiming “[My work] has very little to do with most earth art. I’m not interested in the formal qualities of my materials, but their emotional and sensual ones.”
The true power of the Siluetas lies in what Mendieta chooses not to show us. Apart from a few early works, such as the first in the series Imagen de Yagul (above), the artist’s physical body is not present, but is suggested by her silhouette created from her body or a plywood cut-out used in later works. While these photographs preserve the immediate and timeless memory of the earth-body works, they were in fact methodically planned, quickly executed, and ephemeral. The pieces produced in Mexico were often created within protected cultural sites – such as Zapotec graves and abandoned church complexes – and were left to deteriorate and return to the earth.
Ana Mendieta. American, born Cuba, 1948 – 1985. Untitled from the Silueta series in Mexico, negative August 1976, printed posthumously from Ana Mendieta’s original slides in 1991. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund and the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:22-4
Ana Mendieta. American, born Cuba, 1948 – 1985. Untitled from the Silueta series in Mexico, negative 1976, printed posthumously from Ana Mendieta’s original slides in 1991. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund and the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:22-2
In 1985, Ana Mendieta fell to her death from a window in her thirty-fourth floor New York apartment, where she lived with her husband Carl Andre, the famous Minimalist sculptor. Whether her death was the result of a suicide or murder is still a mystery. While many like to claim that the visceral and morbid nature of Mendieta’s art foreshadowed her own tragic and untimely death, there is so much more to her work than a conveniently romantic tale of a troubled artist who died too young. She states: “My art is the way I reestablish the bonds that tie me to the universe.” In the photographs, her physical and spiritual presence is felt long after the works disappear, but the Siluetas are not mere autobiography. Mendieta expresses powerful universal truths by employing themes of birth, growth, death, and rebirth, which resonate across all histories and cultures.
Ana Mendieta. American, born Cuba, 1948 – 1985. Untitled from the Silueta series in Mexico, negative August 1976, printed posthumously from Ana Mendieta’s original slides in 1991. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund and the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:22-10
Ana Mendieta. American, born Cuba, 1948 – 1985. Untitled from the Silueta series in Mexico, negative May 1977, printed posthumously from Ana Mendieta’s original slides in 1991. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund and the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:22-9
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Currently on view at SCMA, Juxtapositons is the collaborative work of On Display: Museums, Collections, and Exhibitions , a first-year seminar taught by Barbara Kellum, Department of Art. The course explored many different kinds of museums and collections, their missions, and the logic of their displays. By bringing together objects from SCMA storage, the Archives, and the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs with works in the galleries, Juxtapositions asks intriguing questions about what is usually on view in art museums—and what is not.
In Juxtapositions, Smith students find unusual and exciting connections between works of different media and periods. For example, a mid-20th century 3-speed bicycle is paired with Loren MacIver’s 1959 abstract painting Subway Lights, and an Occupy Wall Street poster is shown alongside a 19th-century French bronze sculpture, to name a few. Kellum’s students selected their juxtapositions and wrote an accompanying text for each pairing that highlights the works’ surprising similarities and differences.
Isabella Galdone ’16 juxtaposed this Edvard Munch woodcut and Thomas Eakins painting, currently on view together in the third floor Chace Gallery:
Edvard Munch. Norwegian, 1863 – 1944. Woman in Black, 1913. Woodcut printed in black on tan wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Julie Warchol. SC 1972:50-75
Thomas Eakins. American, 1844 – 1916. Mrs. Edith Mahon, 1904. Oil on canvas. Purchased with the Drayton Hillyer Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1931:2
Galdone’s juxtaposition wall label:
What does melancholy look like? For both Thomas Eakins and Edvard Munch, it took the form of a woman in black. When Eakins painted Edith Mahon, a family friend, she had recently experienced a painful divorce, and it is the emotional devastation that it brought her that Eakins chooses to portray. Less is known about Eva Kittelson, Munch’s model, but it may be that her eerie, chilling image was a mirror of Munch’s past experience with mental illness. The juxtaposition of these two works is fascinating because, although they are executed in very different styles and media, they evoke the same feeling in the viewer.
The image of Edith Mahon, pallid and exhausted in her black dress, with sagging eyelids and carefully tightened lips, coupled with the solitary, angular frame and mask-like countenance of Munch’s anonymous Woman creates a powerful two-part portrait of human suffering. The important elements that these two pieces share are accentuated by their juxtaposition. The black dresses that both women wear suggest that their identity and image is enveloped in and merged with the melancholy they express. The convergence of these two figures only highlights their solitude and the existential angst that it signifies. It is the raw aloneness of these women that draws the viewer in so powerfully to their individual worlds to empathize with them. Mrs. Edith Mahon and Woman in Black are works of art that give universal form to individual anguish. Seeing them side-by-side reveals that they are significant for the same reason: they take negative human experience and turn it into something of beauty and artistic value.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Everywhere you go these days people are talking or writing about the concept of “mindfulness.” A key component of Buddhism, and, increasingly, Western psychology, mindfulness is focused on an active awareness of the reality of things, and a close and disciplined attention to the present moment. A person can do just about anything “mindfully:” washing dishes, brushing teeth, walking, or breathing. My current mindfulness practice takes full advantage of our special exhibition, Drawn to Excellence: Renaissance to Romantic Drawings from a Private Collection. Each day the exhibition is open to the public, I have been selecting a single drawing to examine, mindfully, for at least 30 minutes. Slowing down and losing myself in a single work of art is a deeply rewarding experience, especially when faced with such a rich array of complex, beautiful, and moving works such as those on exhibit. Drawings, in particular, are a perfect focus for such an exercise—after all they are simply marks on a piece of paper made by a human hand that somehow, magically, coalesce into an image.
My drawing for today was Annibale Carracci’s Study of a Tree:
Annibale Carracci. Study of a Tree, c. 1600. Pen and brown ink over black chalk. Private collection.
Annibale Carracci was one of three related artists who were instrumental in the development of art in Italy during the 17th century. Eschewing the excesses of the mannerist style (including high-keyed color and exaggerated body proportions), the Carracci (Agostino, Annibale, and Ludovico) advocated a return to the artistic inspirations of classical antiquity, artists of the High Renaissance, and direct observations of nature.
Study of a Tree is a large sheet featuring a portrait of a tree drawn in brown ink. What struck me instantly about this work was the specificity of the tree—this is not some generic or idealized view, but one that the artist closely observed. The idiosyncratic formation of the trunk and branches, the unbalanced massing of leaves, and the free handling of the foliage all combine to capture the essence of the natural world rather than a mere description of it. Carracci is here attempting to capture the form and spirit of the tree rather than make a scientifically accurate rendering.
Paying close attention to the various quality of lines—the swift, parallel strokes that add depth and fullness to sections of overlapping leaves, or the wild and snaky lines forming bare branches that extend from the top or right side of the tree—gave me greater appreciation for Carracci’s genius in translating visual experience to paper.
Detail of Study of a Tree illustrating the very top of the tree.
The experience of looking closely at this work can also provoke experiential responses. Take, for example, the subtle passages of black chalk visible under the ink. In the upper branches, these areas animate the leaves, like a breeze rustling the tree’s top. When applied to the trunk, the chalk provides additional texture, adding a bulk and solidity that is almost palpable. Thick ink lines outlining clumps of leaves punctuate the surface, as if they are picked out by bright sunlight.
Detail of Study of a Tree illustrating the use of black chalk and ink in the trunk.
I always leave one of these viewing experiences feeling refreshed and energized. An added bonus in the case of spending time with Carracci’s Study of a Tree is the fact that it allowed me to look at the trees on the Smith campus with new eyes.
I invite you to try this mindfulness practice. There are 86 works to choose from in Drawn to Excellence and each of them will greatly benefit the patient and mindful viewer.
Thanks Aprile, for the suggestion of this thoughtful exercise.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Smith students practicing drawing with iron gall ink and quill pens. Photography by David Dempsey.
Two weeks ago, Paper + People featured a blog post on the Smith College colloquium French and Italian Drawings: Renaissance through Romanticism, which is currently being taught by Suzanne Folds McCullagh, the Anne Vogt Fuller and Marion Titus Searle Chair and Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago. The class of six students organized and wrote wall texts for an installation of French and Italian Drawings from the SCMA collection. This installation is on view in the Nixon gallery on the Museum’s second floor until December 16, which is fast approaching – be sure to check it out!
The course takes a very hands-on approach to learning about drawings. Not only did the students spend the first half of their semester in the Cunningham Center working directly with the drawings and writing labels which are now in the Museum’s installation (a selection are shown below), but they also had the rare opportunity to actually make some of the materials which those drawings employed. In one of classes in November, the students and Professor McCullagh were joined by David Dempsey, SCMA’s Associate Director of Museum Services, and Phoebe Dent Weil, a retired conservator and expert on historic methods and materials. The class learned how to chemically create iron gall ink as it would have been made centuries ago, with some surprising results:
Labels written by the French and Italian Drawings Class
Benedetto Luti. Italian, 1666 – 1724. Head of an Apostle, 1712. Pastels on moderately textured grey antique laid paper. Purchased with the Beatrice Oenslager Chace, class of 1928, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1989:33
Label written by Maddy Barker, class of 2015:
Benedetto Luti was famous for his work in pastel. His use of the medium can be traced back to 1703 and is considered among the earliest pastel paintings in Italy. This work is for a series of the twelve apostles. The identity of this figure is uncertain, but the presence of the open book makes it likely to be one of the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The viewer is drawn in by the careful attention to tactility of the hair and beard of the apostle. Luti mastered color to create volume and luminosity reminiscent of the art of Correggio.
Jacques Callot. French, 1592 – 1635. Beggar, n.d. Red chalk on cream antique laid paper. Gift of Eugene Victor Thaw. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1959:210
Label written by Sara Ottomano, class of 2015:
Renowned as a printmaker and draftsman, this French artist spent most of his career in Italy. Many of his works capture the diverse social classes within Italian society. One series of works focused on the life of beggars. Rather than depicting them as parasitic and resentful, a common practice at the time, Callot drew the beggars as feeble and harassed.
This delicate drawing is stamped with large and unsightly collectors’ marks, including a crowned P, indicating this drawing was once part of Tsar Paul I’s and Catherine the Great’s collection in Russia.
Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Tiepolo. Italian, 1696 – 1770. Angelica and Medoro, early 1740s. Pen and bistre ink with brush and bistre wash over black chalk on white antique laid paper. Purchased with the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin H. Land in honor of Clarence Kennedy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1960:43
Label written by Amanda Manocherian, class of 2015:
Giambattista Tiepolo, a renowned eighteenth-century Venetian painter, was considered an exemplar of the monumental pictorial tradition in Italian art. Favoring heroic and religious themes, he had a unique talent for depicting forceful visual dramas through dynamic, theatrically staged scenes.
In this drawing Giambattista aggressively uses washes of differing intensities to model space and form along with bold brush-strokes and brilliant highlights that clash with deep shadows to illustrate the love story of Angelica and Medoro. Angelica, the princess of Cathay, fell in love with the wounded Moorish soldier Medoro, whom she nursed back to health. Sharply contrasting planes of shadow and light meet over the lover’s stylized bodies and, in combination with Giambattista’s sweeping brush strokes, create an almost painfully dynamic composition that breathes fiery life into the scene.
Andrea Boscoli. Italian, 1550 – 1606. Christ on the Mount of Olives, n.d. Red chalk with gray wash on buff colored antique laid paper. Gift of Jere Abbott. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:27
Label written by Ellen Monroe, class of 2015:
This fantastically angular drawing is characteristic of the late sixteenth-century Florentine artist Andrea Boscoli. The same crisp lines can be seen in his sketch after a fifteenth-century Benozzo Gozzoli fresco, currently part of the Drawn to Excellence exhibition on SCMA’s first floor. Boscoli’s precise lines animate both compositions, but here Boscoli layered gray wash on top of his red chalk drawing. This was a technique Boscoli frequently used to create dramatic shading. Indeed, the tree on the right casts a shadow on the foreground figure, while Christ’s kneeling form is illuminated.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Last year in this blog I suggested that everyone observe David Becker Day on December 11 in honor of the late print scholar, curator, collector, and philanthropist. Well, that day has rolled around again, presenting the perfect occasion to interact deeply with a work of art (preferably, a print or an illustrated book), and particularly a work of art that speaks deeply to your personal values or beliefs.
As a scholar, one of David’s specialties was the French eccentric printmaker Rodolphe Bresdin, whose works feature fantastical scenes rendered in painstaking detail. Here is one example of Bresdin’s etchings, donated by David to SCMA in honor of his mother, Helen Pillsbury Becker, class of 1928.
Rodolphe Bresdin. French, 1822-1885. My Dream (Version II), 1883. Etching on dark cream-colored wove Japan paper. Gift of David P. Becker in memory of Helen Pillsbury Becker, class of 1928. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2002:20-1
David’s enthusiasms as a collector were significantly broader. One opportunity to get an idea of the breadth of his interests is an engaging exhibition drawn from the 1,500 objects he donated to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine. On view until March 24, 2013, Printmaking ABC: In Memorium David P. Becker showcases significant prints in beautiful impressions made between the 16th and 21st centuries.
However you decide to observe David Becker Day, I hope you will take the time to acknowledge and appreciate the things you love and the people that have nurtured and mentored you. While I see this day as an opportunity to encourage people to engage directly with works of art, ultimately, the day also honors someone whose ability and desire to share his knowledge and passion impacted many people (myself included) on a deep and lasting level. Pass on what you know and love, and have a wonderful David Becker Day.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Maggie Hoot ’16 looks closely at a Fragonard drawing. Photography by Julie Warchol.
Here at the Smith College Museum of Art, Smith students are given many amazing opportunities to be deeply involved in their collection. This semester, one such chance was given to six students who enrolled in the colloquium French and Italian Drawings: Renaissance through Romanticism, taught by Suzanne Folds McCullagh, who is this year’s Ruth and Clarence Kennedy Professor of Renaissance Studies. A Smith alumna herself (class of 1973), McCullagh is the Anne Vogt Fuller and Marion Titus Searle Chair and Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago. As a specialist in French and Italian prints and drawings from the Renaissance and Baroque, she provides extensive knowledge of drawings in terms of connoisseurship, techniques, conservation, provenance, and collecting, as well as her invaluable experience as a curator at a world-renowned museum.
As an important part of the course, Professor McCullagh and her students developed an installation of French and Italian Drawings from the SCMA collection, which is on view in the Nixon gallery on the second floor of the Museum until December 16. To develop their installation, the class met here in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, where the students acquired unique hands-on experience of working directly with these drawings. Students learned how to tell more about the history and provenance of these drawings by identifying materials, paper type, watermarks and collectors marks. Using all of this information and much outside research, students wrote their own wall labels for the installation (a selection is shown below). Professor McCullagh and her students’ installation of SCMA’s drawings also creates a dynamic conversation with our exhibition Drawn to Excellence: Renaissance to Romantic Drawings from a Private Collection, on view on the first floor until January 6.
Maddy Barker ’15 researches this Moreau le Jeune drawing with its curatorial file. Photography by Julie Warchol.
Suzanne Folds McCullagh ’73 examines two drawings by Carmontelle. Photography by Julie Warchol.
Labels written by the French and Italian Drawings Class
Lodovico Cardi, called il Cigoli. Italian, 1559 – 1613. Study of Jacob from the painting "Jacob's Dream" (recto); Study for the painting "Jacob's Dream" (verso), n.d. Red chalk on cream laid paper. Purchased with the Ruth and Clarence Kennedy Endowment, the Diane Allen Nixon, class of 1957, Fund, and the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1996:23
Label written by Suzanne Folds McCullagh (B.A., Smith College ‘73; Ph.D., Harvard University ‘81), the Anne Vogt Fuller and Marion Titus Searle Chair and Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago:
Cigoli was a prolific and expressive draftsman who brought a new naturalism and clarity to his vast corpus of drawings, many of which were preparatory for paintings and espoused Counter Reformation decorum and piety.
This double-sided drawing is comprised of red chalk (recto) and pen and brown ink (verso) studies for The Dream of Jacob, one of his early masterpieces—probably the 1593 version (the painting pictured here) now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy.
Discovered mounted in a book in 1996 at an antiquarian book sale in Northampton, the sheet joins an impressive list of at least nine studies for that composition, which Cigoli executed several times in oil. The red chalk study is clearly drawn from a studio model in contemporary dress.
Théodore Géricault. French, 1791 – 1824. Landscape with Stormy Sky (recto), ca. 1817. Pen and brown (iron gall) ink with brush and ink, watercolor and gouache over graphite on cream wove paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1960:92
Label written by Carol Kaminsky:
Géricault’s short life spanned the rise and fall of Napoleon and the shift from rigid Classicism to the intensity of Romanticism. His short apprenticeship in the former style was followed by a period of self-study in Paris copying paintings in the Louvre and two years (1816–17) in Florence and Rome. This brooding landscape, possibly made in Italy, is transformed by sharp contrasts between light and dark. Bands of clouds race across the horizon; a glow emanates from a hidden moon and lights a crenellated tower as smoke rises to merge with the midnight blue of the sky. Landscapes are relatively rare within the artist’s drawn oeuvre, but another landscape by Géricault appears in the exhibition Drawn to Excellence on SCMA’s first floor.
Agostino Carracci, Annibale Carracci. Italian, Agostino 1557 – 1602; Annibale 1560 – 1609. Landscape: Hillock with Trees, n.d. Pen and brown ink on cream laid paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1955:30
Label written by Maggie Hoot, class of 2016:
The Carracci family of artists reformed art in late sixteenth-century Italy, moving from the sterility of Mannerism to the drama of the Baroque, emphasizing drawing from nature and living subjects. While this landscape is surely from the Carracci dynasty, it is highly debatable which family member made this small sketch. A past collector attributed it to “Antonio Caracie” (as inscribed), but most scholars believe it to be by Antonio’s father, Agostino, or his uncle Annibale. Drawings representing trees by both of these artists are featured in the exhibition Drawn to Excellence downstairs and provide an intriguing comparison and foundation for this work’s origins.
Anne K. Socolow, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
Gericault drawing "Landscape with Stormy Sky"
An extraordinary label by Carol Kaminsky - in SCMA French and Italian Drawings Class - of young Gericault's work. Her explanation of detail of chiarascuro and swirling romantic movement in this drawing prefigures Gericault's later painted oeuvre.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Cass Bird. American, born 1974. I Look Just Like My Mommy, 2005. C-print. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. © 2011 Cass Bird. SC 2011:41-1
Cass Bird, who graduated from Smith College in 1999, works as both a fine art and commercial photographer in Brooklyn, NY. Her commercial work is often featured in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, the New York Times Magazine, and many others. While her magazine work sensuously portrays celebrities, models, and pop culture icons, her photographs of friends, acquaintances, and inspirational figures are far more personal, challenging, and moving. Such portraits artfully explore the subjective and amorphous nature of gender in our contemporary society.
In I Look Just Like My Mommy, acquired by SCMA in 2011, Bird depicts her friend Macaulay on the rooftop of a Williamsburg apartment building. Macaulay stands shirtless, with breasts, tattoos, and underwear exposed. The portrait is strikingly beautiful; the sun’s soft glow illuminates both the Brooklyn skyline and the subject’s skin, but it is not just about mere aesthetics. With most of Macaulay’s face covered, we are left to explore the signs which we may typically associate with normative gender identities; breasts, hairless skin, and pink underwear exist alongside defined arm musculature, tattoos of guns, a bald eagle, and “ROCK & ROLL,” as well as a trucker hat which boldly states “I LOOK JUST LIKE MY DADDY.” (Of course, this last detail is even further complicated by the title of the photograph, which states the opposite.) Bird’s portrait asks viewers to acknowledge the inconsistencies of these signifiers in order to think beyond conventional, polarized ideas of gender, and ultimately, to recognize the individual underneath the posturing.
Regarding her work, Bird claims: “The photographs portray the beauty and the positive existence of these individuals, their male and female origins overridden by their own will to define their gender, sexuality, and place in society.” Cass Bird continues to photograph individuals whose lives and appearances operate outside the traditional gender dichotomy, as can be seen in her first book, Rewilding , which was published earlier this year.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students are given the opportunity to organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Leah Santorine ’13 discusses the inspiration and concepts behind her show, “Between the Lines: Image and Prose in the 20th Century Avant-Garde,” which will be on view tomorrow, Friday November 2 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Max Ernst. German, 1891 – 1976. Étoile de mer, ca. 1950. Lithograph on paper. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1953:120
All the shadow bubbles
And the sea-anemones
Come down and breathe within my thoughts
- André Breton. French poet, 1896 – 1966. *
I love modern art and literature. These two worlds have always been intertwined, and in my Student Picks show I strove to create a conversation between the drawings and prints which I chose and the literature around it. Between the Lines was born by drawing parallels and making connections between these worlds. As a Comparative Literature major, I have always perceived 20th century art to be a product of literature. From my very first glimpse at the Futurist Manifesto, I was convinced. The cultural melting pot that was the European art scene in the early and mid-20th century continued to only solidify my visions of art through literature. Between the Lines is my personal and academic exploration of the literature and art of this particularly intriguing and influential time period.
Texture and color, arguably two things that cannot be portrayed in textual literature, were important to me in choosing, arranging, and creating connections between the artworks. Subsequently, the serious or silly subject matter and the geometric patterns juxtaposed with seemingly directionless lines were important in creating a balance between the different moods that the pieces evoke.
Futurism, Surrealism, and Dadaism were three movements that revolutionized art and were highly attractive to me – either through their respective manifestos or the art that the movements themselves produced. Many of the works in Between the Lines represent these different movements and show the full extent of the range of these artists. By combining each work with poems, prose, and quotes from authors from the same period, often even their peers and friends, the combined works give the viewer a new perspective on the influential and interpretive relationship between 20th century art and literature. I hope that Between the Lines illuminates both, playing with how art and literature address the ideas of conceptualizing and being.
Student Picks is a program that I had always wanted to participate in. Every year I put my name in, just once or twice, but never really expected anything. This year, I put my name in only three times. When I received the e-mail that I was selected to be a student curator, I was completely surprised and excited to have the opportunity to not only participate, but also to really kick off my senior year. It’s an incredible opportunity that I have done my best to take full advantage of. See you on Friday!
Sophie Tauber-Arp. Swiss, 1889-1943. Abstraction, n.d. Etching on paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1977:32-228
the streams buck like rams in a tent.
whips crack and from the hills come the crookedly combed
shadows of the shepherds.
black eggs and fools’ bells fall from the trees.
thunder drums and kettledrums beat upon the ears of the
wings brush against flowers.
fountains spring up in the eyes of the wild boar.
- Hans/Jean Arp. German-French artist and poet, 1886 – 1966. **
Riccardo Licata. Italian, born 1929. Scrittura, 1954. Charcoal and pencil on white paper. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1954:70
As cool as the pale wet leaves
She lay beside me in the dawn.
- Ezra Pound. American poet, 1885 – 1972. ***
* excerpt, "The Spectral Attitudes," in Collected Verse Translations of David Gascoyne. Edited by Robin Skelton and Alan Clodd. Oxford University Press, 1970.
** Dada poetry line: line from Arp’s poem "Der VogelSelbdritt," Hans Arp; first published in 1920; “Gesammelte GedichteI”, p. 41 (transl. Herbert Read); in Jours effeuillés: Poèmes,essaies, souvenirs, Gallimard, Paris 1966, p. 288.
*** Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations. Edited by Richard Sieburth. Library of America; First Edition (October 9, 2003).
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. Spanish, 1746-1828. Disparate de Miedo (Folly of Fear), Plate 2 from Los Proverbios, 1864. Etching and aquatint on heavy wove paper. Purchased with the gift of Mrs. Roger Williams Bennett (Margaret Rand Goldthwait, class of 1921). Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1964:25-2
My nine-year-old daughter loves Halloween. She loves the thrill of being frightened under safe conditions and, of course, the free candy. Walking past ghouls and monsters, she pinches my hand in gleeful but nervous anticipation. She is not the only one; the love of the uncanny and creepy is innate and a way of dealing with the darker side of life for many of us. Fellow Halloween-lovers can see the creatures that live within the SCMA vaults in the current Cunningham Corridor installation Monsters.
I’m personally not a big fan of horror movies, but I love a good ghost story. We all have a relationship to the monsters we create in our subconscious or the ones we find in newspaper headlines. The obsession with modern day monsters, like serial killers, has only grown and has even made it to the mainstream, as TV shows like Dexter demonstrate. Monsters have always been part of us. They are familiar and the ‘other’ at the same time. Throughout history and across all cultures monsters have found their place. They frequent our dreams and nightmares, and surface in our stories and visual arts. In ancient Greek myths, many fantastical beings were brought to life to embody the darker, internal struggles of the hero while infusing the tale with complexity and wonder.
Elliot Offner. American, 1931 - 2010. Griffin, 1974. Woodcut printed in color on deckle edge paper. Bequest of Phyllis Williams Lehmann. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2005:11-39
Early Christianity, with its apocalyptic worldview, introduced a new visual vocabulary of monstrosities. In the course of their devout labors, monastic scribes would be ‘visited’ by grotesque and ribald creatures who were then inserted into the margins of their illuminated manuscripts. While some of these monsters appear to be light-hearted or trivial marginalia, other manifestations came to be directly equated with Satan, Hell, and the seven deadly sins. Meanwhile, in everyday life, disfiguring diseases and birth defects were taken as evidence of the sufferers’ depravity, making them seem like monsters themselves.
Non-western art was just as replete with monstrosities. Whether in early Japanese woodblock prints, Persian Mughal court painting, Inuit or African art, artists illustrated their own myths and folktales with colorful and complex demons and monsters.
Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Japanese, 1798 - 1861. Kuwana, Station 43 , from the series Fifty-three Pairs of the Tokaido, n.d. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Purchased with the Winthrop Hillyer Fund. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1915:10-25
The Japanese horror and anime genre has grown significantly in popularity in the West over the last twenty years. Originally an oral tradition, pre-air-conditioning Japan loved the ‘cold chills’ that came with the telling of horror or ghost stories on hot summer nights. Its roots can be found in ancient Japanese folklore which gave birth to innumerable yokai and or mononoke (strange apparitions, i.e., monsters) rivaling our western fascination with monsters.
In contrast with the interpretation of monsters in the West, which relies heavily on the Christian doctrine of Good versus Evil, the Japanese yokai have a deep connection to nature and depend on the Taoist principles of Yin-Yang (“shadow and light”). Japanese monsters are fluid and can fluctuate between being interpreted as good, bad, funny, or evil, or sometimes all of the above. They are there to remind us of the transmutability of all things uncertain and boundless. Yokai represent the imperceptible things that surround us that are given form by the boundless fears, anxieties, and contradictions in our lives.
Unknown. Japanese. Man in the Grip of a Beast, n.d. Black ink with green, yellow, gray, and rose watercolor on paper. Purchased with the Winthrop Hillyer Fund. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1938:12-19
Chester J. Michalik. American, born 1935. Osaka Japan, 1996. Cibachrome print. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1998:21-2
Today’s more secularized monsters, such as those terrorizing audiences of Japanese anime or Hollywood horror films, retain much of their former potency. The descent into the dark underbelly of human consciousness is still not a happy journey. Our fascination with monsters has hardly waned, and artists continue to invent wonderful new abominations that both fascinate and repulse us.
Monsters is on view on the second floor of the Smith College Museum of Art until February 3, 2013.
Odilon Redon; printed by Just Becquet. French, Redon 1840 - 1916, Becquet 1829 - 1907. Le Sphinx: ... mon regard, que rien ne peut dévier..., from Gustave Flaubert - La Tentation de St. Antoine, ca. 1889. Lithograph printed in black on chine appliqué on heavy white wove paper. Gift of Mrs. Bertram Gabriel Jr. (Helen Cohen, class of 1948) in memory of her parents, Sadie and Sidney S. Cohen. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1989:21-3
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Romare Bearden. American, 1911-1988. Untitled, ca. 1947. Watercolor on beige moderately thick textured paper. Gift of Yona (Donner) Hermann, class of 1957. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:9
Romare Bearden was a master of the art of synthesis. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden grew up in the heart of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s and 30s. He created artworks which brilliantly fused his vast array of interests and influences: Cubism, jazz, folk art, Renaissance painting, African sculpture, Social Realism, Dutch painting, classic literature, and many others. Despite the composite nature of his work, it is remarkably and distinctly his own. Part artist and part art historian, Bearden was not only a renowned painter and collagist, but he also uncovered and published scholarship on previously unknown and undervalued Afro-American artists, forging an increased sense of respect and appreciation throughout the 20th-century.
Bearden’s Untitled watercolor drawing, which entered our collection this year, was produced during a transitional moment in the artist’s career. Between 1945 and 1950, Bearden briefly broke away from his subjective paintings of his Southern youth in order to visually interpret classic works of literature like the Bible, Homer’s Iliad, and Garcia Lorca’s Lament for a Bullfighter. The watercolor drawings Bearden produced during these years were his most abstract works to date. Their fragmented treatment of space was particularly influential to his famous collages, which he began in the 1960s.
In the process of researching Untitled (ca. 1947), I was struck by its stylistic similarity to Bearden’s so-called “Iliad variations” watercolor series of sixteen works exhibited in 1948. While Bearden’s preceding biblical drawings depict distinguishable narrative moments, the Iliad watercolors are called “variations” because they lack specificity, including only vague references to warriors and the city of Troy. The watercolors often share the same bright palette with black lines delineating the forms, evoking the open, shimmering shapes of stained glass, as seen in this work or this work known to be from the series.
The static figures posed in shallow space in Untitled and in the Iliad watercolors seem to recall classical figures on ancient Greek vase paintings chronicling the Trojan War. Here, the figure on the left is greatly stylized, much like the figure of Achilles on this sixth-century vase by Exekias, with the legs shown from the side and the torso simultaneously twisted to be seen from the front. It would come as no surprise that Bearden was influenced by the work of classical vase painters, given his broad art historical knowledge and referential nature. What is surprising, however, is Bearden’s ability to veil this mythical tale beneath so many layers of visual and narrative abstraction that without a title or exact date, it now proves difficult to concretely define its relationship to the Iliad variations. It makes one wonder, is this actually a work from the series exhibited in 1948 or simply a contemporary drawing which is only related stylistically?
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Guest blogger Kendyll Gross was a 2012 participant in the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies at Smith College. She also served as the 2012 Brown SIAMS Fellow with a month-long internship in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
W. Eugene Smith. American, 1918-1978. Spanish Wake, 1951. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1977:28-6.
After choosing to concentrate on photojournalism, a young W. Eugene Smith remarked, “My station in life is to capture the action of life; the life of the world, its humor, its tragedy. In other words, life as it is. A true picture, unposed and real.” Humanism and social responsibility are strong themes found within Smith’s body of work. He often lived among his subjects for weeks, completely immersing himself within their everyday life. Smith passionately committed himself to capturing intimate scenes that revealed the essence of his subjects and hoped that his images would help to stir the emotions and conscience of his viewer.
The "Spanish Village" series concluded a European trip that had begun in Great Britain. On May 2, 1950, Smith crossed the Spanish border with an assistant and an interpreter. Life wanted Smith to report on problems with the food supply in Franco’s Spain. However, Smith was determined to do something with a much more political angle; the timing of the photo-story coincided with the United States’ discussion of allying themselves with Spain although the country was under fascist rule. Smith wanted to highlight the poverty and fear within Spain brought on by Francisco Franco. It took him two months of wandering all over Spain to find the village of Deleitosa, a rural town suffering from severe economic difficulties caused by the burdens of the Franco regime. An article by Gomez de la Serna in the daily paper ABC convinced him that this was where he should look for the reality of life in Spain.
The dramatic lighting in Spanish Wake complements the somber subject matter. The photograph shows an elderly man upon his deathbed surrounded by six women covered in veils and headscarves. Among these women are his wife, daughter, and granddaughter. In Spanish Wake, Smith makes compelling use of what is called chiaroscuro lighting, which dates back to Renaissance paintings. It pertains to depicting stark contrasts between light and shadow to emphasize space and depth as well as a sense of drama. The scene’s intense lighting creates a dominant mood of mourning and sadness. The deceased man’s face seems to radiate its own glow among the darkness, creating a halo effect while the distressed, pale faces of the women are clear and poignant among the setting’s shadows. The expressive contrast between light and dark intensifies the already tragic scene and immediately pulls the viewer into the emotional turmoil of the photograph.
Detail of Spanish Wake.
Although Smith sought to create “a true picture, unposed and real,” he was known to manipulate the negatives of his images. Two of the women from Spanish Wake, the wife (see detail above) and the daughter, were looking almost directly at Smith when he took the image, but Smith solved this problem in the final print. He printed their eyes almost totally black then with a fine-tipped brush applied bleach to create new whites. The result was to redirect the pupils of the two women’s eyes downward and to the side. Had Smith decided to leave the photograph as it was, the mood of the image would have changed drastically. This manipulation of the women’s eyes makes the scene more accessible as it appears the viewer is peering into an undisturbed and confidential moment. While Spanish Wake itself may not be completely honest, it channels Smith’s desire for uninhibited photography that captures the emotional reality of a situation.
i would love to know in which newspaper/magazine was published this photo for the first time?
Thanks a lot!
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Daniel Chauche. French-American, born 1951. Maximón Militar,Sololá from La Santeria Chapina. Negative 1989; printed 2011. Gelatin silver print. Purchased. SC 2012:19-9. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
The Maximón is obviously a complex product of the mixture, at several levels and at various times, of Maya and Roman Catholic ritual and beliefs. – Michael Mendelson, Maximón: An Iconographical Introduction (1959)
Guatemalan saints, beatos (blessed people) and deities usually represent holiness, innocence and purity of heart, yet the enigmatic Maximón, with his taste for alcohol and tobacco, is an unorthodox figure among Guatemalan congregations. Despite his unsavory character, Guatemalans’ worship of Maximón increased after 1880, especially in the highlands.
This folk saint has been venerated in a range of forms and dressed in different costumes for public rituals, especially during Holy Week, by Ladinos (people with indigenous and Spanish heritage) and indigenous people. In Chauche’s photograph, however, Maximón is wearing a military uniform and newly polished combat boots. He is holding an elongated object which appears to be a rifle and a rustic tray, which contains his favorite offerings: agua ardiente (alcohol), soda and cigarettes. Chauche only reveals the lower half of Maximón’s body. It is here where Maximón Militar – a deity, a doll, a figure, a religious hybrid – not only embraces two different religious worlds, the Maya and the Spanish, but goes a step further into a new ritual, war.
Daniel Chauche, while avoiding capturing the face of Maximón, finds a way to depict the shame and fear of the Guatemalan people and perhaps, as long term resident, his own, as well as the consequences of a long civil war that plagued the country.
Guatemala, like the majority of the countries in Latin America, gained its independence from Spain in the 1820s yet, at least for the Guatemalans, independence from European tyranny did not assure economic prosperity or peace among its people. Moreover, after independence, Guatemala had been a victim of authoritarian governments, harmful foreign interventions, and an unprecedented military coup in 1954. The coup not only established the modus operandi of foreign and domestic policy aimed at any political party that sympathized with communist or socialist ideals, but it also destabilized the country and unleashed one of the bloodiest civil wars in Latin America lasting nearly forty years.
Daniel Chauche took Maximón Militar in 1989 during the civil war in Guatemala, seven years before the peace accord between the government and rebel groups was signed. The sense of shame and fear is clear, however, questions still are unanswered. What was the real reason why Chauche omitted the upper body of Maximón? Or is perhaps the man/figure wearing the military uniform and the shiny boots not Maximón at all but is instead a member of the military force and the Maximón is depicted only by the two pictures of San Simón/Maximón placed at the feet of the military figure?
I just ran across this entry today. As to the question of why not the face, two reasons, the doll like face does not emanate the menace implied in the rest of the image and concentrating on the objects around the shrine was very important, so once I backed up enough to take the whole figure these objects became too small. I do have an image of the whole figure but it is not nearly as cool as this image. I do think it very important that people think about why a photographer makes the operational choices he (she) does.
Friday, September 28, 2012
It’s that time of year again! Here in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, we have been gearing up for the 2012-2013 Student Picks program for the last month. In case you aren’t familiar with Student Picks, this unique program offers seven Smith students per year the opportunity to organize their own one day art show using SCMA’s collection of 16,000 works on paper! It’s always amazing for us to see what students choose to show to their fellow students, friends, family, and professors.
SCMA Director Jessica Nicoll drawing names
For the month of September, students could enter the Student Picks lottery at ballot boxes around campus. This year, we received a whopping 629 ballots! From those entries, SCMA Director Jessica Nicoll drew the names of seven winners and two alternates. This year’s student curators are:
Nov. 2, 2012 - Leah Santorine '13
Dec. 7, 2012 - Camille Kulig '13
Feb. 1, 2013 - Yvonne Ho '16
Mar. 1, 2013 - Sharon Pamela Santana '14
April 5, 2013 - Suzu Sakai '16
April 26, 2013 - Amanda Garcia '16
Oct. 4, 2013 - Mina Zahin '15
Congratulations to this year’s Student Picks curators! The shows occur on the first Friday of every month from 12 – 4PM in the Cunningham Center. Student Picks shows are one of the few chances in which we can welcome visitors to view our collection of prints, drawings, and photographs without an appointment, so we hope you will stay tuned and come by!
The winning ballots!
The Most Creative Ballot Award goes to Jean Eisenman '14, whose name was drawn as an alternate, for including this lovely portrait on the back of her ballot entry.
Speaking of approaching Student Picks exhibitions, Laila Phillips ’15 is the student curator for October. Her show, “In Felinity: The Domestic Cat as a Subject, Symbol, and Character” will be on view on Friday, October 5, from 12 – 4PM in the Cunningham Center. Laila has chosen some wonderful works by artists including Francisco Goya, Sandy Skoglund, Philippe Halsman, Richard Billingham, and others. We hope you will join us! For information, visit the event Facebook page .
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Guest blogger Laura Romeyn was a 201 2 participant in the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies (SIAMS) at Smith College.
My summer as a SIAMS student provided me with a comprehensive and intensive education in museum studies. Both my time on the road and my days on campus afforded me unique opportunities to perfect my interpretive skills. Two art encounters in particular; the viewing of Robert Rauschenberg’s Canyon, and Title Sheet from Crackerjacks by artist Lorie Novak and an unidentified colleague, tested my ability to make connections between otherwise disparate works of art.
L.N./C.H. American. Title Sheet from Crackerjacks, 1977. Photolithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Nancy Waller Nadler, class of 1951. SC 2007:34-1b. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Earlier this summer I learned of the controversy surrounding Rauschenberg’s ‘combine’ work, Canyon. The term ‘combine’ describes a style of collage that incorporates found materials with two-dimensional paintings on canvas. Canyon is unique in that the stuffed bird atop the canvas happens to be an eagle. Under federal laws that prohibit the traffic in bald eagles (including their remains), Rauschenberg’s Canyon cannot be legally bought or sold. Yet the IRS is demanding that the heirs of the piece’s collector pay over $40 million in taxes.
I wasn’t aware that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was housing this ‘bald eagle-turned white elephant,’(as AR T ne w s so aptly describes it), until I stumbled upon the controversial piece within the 20th-century galleries. Canyon is currently on long-term loan at the Metropolitan Museum, while my own subject of inquiry this summer, Title Sheet from Crackerjacks, permanently resides in the Smith College Museum of Art.
Fred Endsley. American. Untitled from Crackerjacks, 1971-77. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nancy Waller Nadler, class of 1951. SC 2007:34-1 (15). Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Unknown. American. Unknown from Crackerjacks, 1977. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nancy Waller Nadler, class of 1951. SC TR 6932.56. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
T itl e Sheet is the opening work from Crackerjacks, a 1977 graduate photography portfolio from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Title Sheet appears to be a flattened Cracker Jack box framed for the wall, but in reality is a painstaking reproduction of the familiar snack box. Although Title Sheet features advertising slogans like “nobody loves a Cracker Jack box that’s empty,” the real surprise lies in the contents of the larger portfolio. The box that contains Title Sheet houses fifty-nine additional photographs. Images alluding to Sailor Jack and Bingo are presented through a pile of mangled dog fur and bone and in the photo of a woman with a buzzed head wearing a sailor suit. A single syringe taped to a sheet of white paper prefaces a Xerox color transfer of the jaunty sailor duo declaring, “gosh isn’t life fun.” This frank packaging of contemporary culture concludes with an image of a howling wolf.
Rus Gant. American. Hi there I’m a XEROX color transfer image… from Crackerjacks, 1977. Xerox color transfer image on paper. Gift of Nancy Waller Nadler, class of 1951. SC 2007:34-1 (21). Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Diana Olson. American. Untitled from Crackerjacks, January 1977. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nancy Waller Nadler, class of 1951. SC 2007:34-1 (41). Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Unfortunately, immediate viewers of Title Sheet don’t have access to the accompanying works in the larger portfolio, and the implications of Title Sheet are enhanced by the additional contents. Yet situated as a single work, Title Sheet commemorates how simple desires were once contained. By recreating the box though the labor-intensive process of photolithography—a printing method using plates made after a photograph—the artists render this everyday, throwaway Cracker Jack box one-of-a-kind.
Just as it can be said of Crackerjacks, the imagery in Canyon evokes nostalgia in the viewer. Large newspaper print letters and political posters are smeared and painted-over to create a dated effect. A rusty metal box has been opened, flattened, and then collaged, encouraging inquiry into the commonplace. Rauschenberg’s eagle extends into the space of the viewer while Title Sheet takes on a thematic space greater than the constraints of its framing.
On a purely aesthetic level, these two works of art have little in common. Viewers of our SIAMS exhibition, Outside the [Box] will view Title Sheet as the introduction to a discourse on consumerist culture, and knowledge of the accompanying portfolio isn’t requisite for enjoyment. Viewers of Canyon may have no knowledge of the current tax debate surrounding this work, and perhaps that’s just as well. Both Canyon and Title Sheet position contemporary art as an invitation to interpret, and a work’s immediate aesthetic impact is often just as powerful as its external implications.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Tara Donovan. American, born 1969. Untitled, 2003. Ink on foam core. Gift of Tony Ganz. 2011:62-2. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
There is an unmistakable magic in Tara Donovan’s work. Her large-scale sculptural projects transform vast quantities of a single common material, such as plastic cups, drinking straws, adding machine paper, cellophane tape, or shirt buttons, into evocative and organic-looking accumulations.
Donovan studied sculpture at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and Virginia Commonwealth University. One of her first major projects, Moiré (1999; also a recent gift to SCMA) is composed of large rolls of adding machine paper draped in sinuous patterns. Another notable piece entitled Ripple, shown in the 2000 Whitney Biennial, consisted of small sections of copper electrical cable arranged in cascading dunes on the floor.
Her drawings are similarly focused on quotidian materials and biomorphic forms, but they seem to foreground process even more. Donovan initially resisted making 2-dimensional work when she was invited by David Lasry from Two Palms Press in New York to make a print. After visiting the shop she realized that Two Palms had equipment which would allow her to use one of her sculptural arrangements as a printing matrix. Her first unique print (or drawing, as she calls them) was made using rolls of adding machine paper arranged in a tray so that the edges could be inked and printed in relief. This type of unique two-dimensional work, using materials such as stickers, rubber bands, shattered plate glass, and dressmaker’s pins as either matrices or media, has been a regular part of her art ever since.
Untitled is a fairly early experimental two-dimensional work in which Donovan used soap bubbles as drawing tool. Combining ink and soap, the artist used a straw to blow bubbles in the liquid. She then carefully transferred bubbles of different sizes and patterns onto a sheet of white foam core. The bubbles were left to either pop or dissolve, leaving a unique image that captures an ephemeral occurrence.
Tara Donovan. American, born 1969. Untitled, 2003. (detail) Ink on foam core. Gift of Tony Ganz. 2011:62-2. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
This work will be on view in the Targan Gallery on the SCMA lower level until November 2012.
Friday, September 7, 2012
James Abbott McNeill Whistler. American, 1834–1903. The Bridge from the Second Venice Set . 1879–80. Etching and drypoint on laid paper. Gift of Herbert and Ellen Fairbanks Bodman, class of 1945. SC 2003:1-2. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
This summer’s corridor exhibition is Image and After-Image: Whistler and Photography , on view until September 30, 2012. Featuring 20 prints and photographs from the permanent collection, Image and After-Image looks at James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s etchings and drypoints alongside the development of photography in the second half of the nineteenth century.
In 1879, Whistler accepted a commission from a London gallery to execute a dozen etchings of Venice over a three-month stay. Whistler lingered in Venice for fourteen months, producing over fifty prints as well as some paintings and pastels. The etchings were collected in two sets, known as the First Venice Set (1880) and the Second Venice Set (1886), and they represented a turning point in Whistler’s career. Doing away with any last remnants of anecdotal realism, these impressionist prints evoke a sense of everyday life in Venice using a spare and expressive visual shorthand. With the Venice Sets, Whistler began cutting his sheets at the plate mark, leaving only a tab for his trademark penciled butterfly signature denoting that the impression was printed by him.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler. American, 1834–1903. Upright Venice from the Second Venice Set . 1879–80. Etching printed in black on paper. Purchased. SC 1969:45. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Upright Venice is among the first etchings Whistler made upon his arrival in Venice in 1879. He touched it up months later, adding the waterfront scene at the bottom and more gondolas in the distance. The lightly bitten lines, printed in brownish-black ink, are so delicate they have the effect of embroidery, echoing the fibers of the woven cream paper. Whistler also toned the sheet with a faint veil of ink to evoke the fall of light and shadow.
The vertical composition of the etching, which recalls a Japanese print or scroll, creates a gentle spatial disorientation. The waterfront in the foreground and background appear as two free-floating planes, with the empty expanse of the water between anchored by the gondolas and their shadows. Although the skyline panorama is topographically accurate—it shows the buildings around the Church of Santa Maria della Salute as seen from a window across the San Marco basin waterway—the focus is on atmosphere rather than historical monuments or picturesque landscape.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Guest blogger Nathan Rubinfeld was a participant in the 2012 Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies at Smith College.
Master ZBM; Marco Angelo del Moro (thought to be). Italian, active 1565 – ca. 1586. Pandora’s Box or An Allegory of Les Sciences qui Éclairent l'esprit de l'homme (The Sciences that Illuminate the Human Spirit), 1557. Etching on paper. Gift of Sue Welsh Reed, class of 1958, in honor of Priscilla Cunningham, class of 1958. SC 1973:19. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Master ZBM’s exquisite print, Pandora’s Box or An Allegory of Les Sciences qui Éclairent l'esprit de l'homme (The Sciences that Illuminate the Human Spirit) is an ideal point of entry into the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies’ current exhibition Outside The [Box] (on view in the Nixon Gallery at the Smith College Museum of Art from July 27 to September 30, 2012). Gathering fifteen students together from across the country for a six-week museum boot camp, the SIAMS program is a Pandora’s box of sorts. It has certain defined limits – like the four sides of a box – that both contain and open onto innumerable and mysterious fragments of knowledge for its participants.
Coming from a range of schools, and having studied in a variety of disciplines, the fifteen students were brought together to live and learn every aspect of the daily life of a museum and its staff. In addition to weekly assignments, we were given a room, roughly thirty objects thematically selected by the Smith College Museum of Art, and the task of mounting all aspects of a professional exhibition. The fifteen became three groups of five, as the students were divided into teams to take on the tasks that would make up the exhibition: Curatorial, Design and Public Presentation, and Education.
As a member of the Curatorial Team, I had the opportunity to experience the difficulties that go into an exhibition’s conception. Handed a considerably large gallery and thirty-some boxes, or artworks related thereto, we were presented with a challenge in defining the thematic overview of the exhibition. How could we make such a seemingly banal, everyday object be seen as exciting and enticing? How were we to adequately address the differing cultural origins of many of the works, as well as being sensitive to alternative meanings given to the box within cultures?
As our conversation began, one piece we had been given quickly became a pivotal work: Master ZBM’s print, Pandora's Box. We latched onto the etching for the story it enclosed, rather than for a primarily aesthetic reason. We saw Pandora’s box as the first box, as a paradigmatic box. But more than this, we saw in the myth of Pandora an instance in which a box had served as more than a box, functioning outside the realm of the purely utilitarian. The underlying themes that became guiding for us in defining the parameters of the exhibition were the box as an object that could excite curiosity, and the box as an everyday object that would invite thoughtful reconsideration and reinterpretation.
The myth of Pandora is definitive in Western ideas of the box as an object of curiosity and a container of mysterious contents. The myth is also a prime example of the historical transformation of a particular box. Though “Pandora’s box” is a common idiom today, it was not always a box, but rather a large and immovable earthenware vessel. Pandora, linked with the Biblical Eve as a woman unable to avoid temptation, was taken up by the Fathers of the Church who were influential in the transmission of the myth and the transformation of her vessel into a box. Just as Eve was understood to be responsible for the fall of man in delivering the apple to Adam, so Pandora became responsible in turn, as her cumbersome vessel was turned into a portable box.
Detail from Pandora’s Box or An Allegory of Les Sciences qui Éclairent l'esprit de l'homme (The Sciences that Illuminate the Human Spirit).
Marco Angolo del Moro’s print differs from other representations of Pandora in three important ways, as lucidly described by art historians Dora and Erwin Panofsky in Pandora's Box: The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol. First, though her box traditionally held exclusively good or evil, del Moro’s Pandora released a strange combination of both. From the box emerge symbols of evil, as well as symbols of knowledge. Second, the figure of Pandora is blind, as made clear by her hand gesture, which reveals the absence of pupils. Pandora is not acting upon willful curiosity, but rather unseeingly or unwittingly. Finally, Panofsky describes Pandora’s ignorant action is a blessing in disguise, setting “in motion the powers of light that drive away the creatures of darkness.” The powers of light are personified in the leftmost figure, with her alert gaze and brilliant torch (see above), and the sun-god Apollo, seated in the sky (see below). Apollo points to Aquarius, the zodiacal sign of January, which marks the “Ascent of the Sun” after the peak of winter, symbolizing, in Panofsky’s words, “the beginning of a new year and a new era.” Marco Angolo del Moro’s print allegorically portrays Pandora as Ignorance, an instrument of blind fate bringing about an age of light from which she herself is forever excluded.
Detail from Pandora’s Box or An Allegory of Les Sciences qui Éclairent l'esprit de l'homme (The Sciences that Illuminate the Human Spirit).
Beyond Apollo, and depicted in his infamous descent, is the angel Lucifer (see below). The inclusion of this Christian figure serves to make explicit the theological redefinition of the Pandora myth by the Fathers of the Church. Lucifer, in falling from the heavens, presents a visual analogy to the aforementioned fall of man. Del Moro’s etching, dated to 1557, coincides with the Renaissance and the revival of classical humanist ideals. The archetypal and all-knowing “Renaissance man” of the time presents an analogous embodiment of light to that of the torch holding figure beside Pandora. The print portrays the pursuit of knowledge during the Renaissance as a force of literal enlightenment combating the black night of ignorance feared by the Church. After all, “an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.”
Detail from Pandora’s Box or An Allegory of Les Sciences qui Éclairent l'esprit de l'homme (The Sciences that Illuminate the Human Spirit).
Thursday, August 23, 2012
William T. Wiley is something of a cult hero among artists. He is associated with the West Coast Funk Art scene, the irreverent and whimsical anti-establishment art movement that blossomed at the University of California, Davis in the 1960s. His sculptures, paintings, watercolors and performance art works combine Zen philosophy, political commentary, satire, visual and verbal puns and quirky personal symbolism.
Wiley began working in watercolor in 1968, after a six month artist’s block. Small and delicate, and eminently out of fashion in the contemporary art world, watercolor allowed Wiley to work in a personal, searching, off-beat manner. His watercolors, like his sculptures, are assemblages of sorts, contrasting exquisitely rendered drawings, often of an assortment of curiously grouped objects, with hand-written text. Influenced by Zen koans, statements of questions that resist linear thought, Wiley produced images and texts that blur the line between wisdom and whimsy.
William T. Wiley. American, b. 1937. Where Do You Put the Emphasis, 1971. Watercolor and ink on cream colored paper. SC 2012:1-21. Photography by Amanda Shubert.
Our watercolor and ink drawing Where Do You Put the Emphasis depicts a series of blue circles against a craggy background that resembles desert topography. The text reads: “Where do you put the emphasis? Providing there is such a thing.” The reference to “emphasis” suggests punctuation (especially since there is no final period in the text), but visually the circles evoke marbles or billiard balls more than periods, games of strategy, and chance.
This little drawing is one of my favorite objects from our new Pokross Collection of modern and contemporary art from Shared Inspiration: The Muriel K. and David R. Pokross Collection. As I researched Wiley for the exhibition, trying to learn more about this object, I was pulled into the labyrinth of associations that is Wiley’s personal mythology. For starters, I found that the circle motif kept cropping up elsewhere in Wiley’s work during 1971.
In Random Remarks and Digs (pictured below), he conceived of the circles as atoms and molecules visible to the naked eye:
I even found the motif elsewhere in our collection. Coast Reverse, printed on chamois leather, was made in 1972:
William T. Wiley. American, b. 1937. Coast Revere, 1972. Chamois printed on special Arjomari with hand acrylic painting and drawing. SC 1972:38-8b. Photography by Amanda Shubert.
Read more about Shared Inspiration: The Muriel K. and David R. Pokross Collection here and here. Then come see Where Do You Put the Emphasis and Coast Revere by making an appointment at the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Guest blogger Kendyll Gross was a 2012 participant in the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies at Smith College. She also served as the 2012 Brown SIAMS Fellow, which offers one SIAMS student a four-week internship in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
The Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies class of 2012 at the opening reception for Outside the [Box]. Photograph by Julie Warchol.
When I was accepted into the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies (SIAMS)program, I could wrap my mind around the weekly readings and writing assignments, the extensive traveling, and the career exploration days we would be doing. However, I could not fully grasp the concept of putting on an exhibition in only six weeks, something that usually takes years of planning and work. It was not until I set foot in the museum’s Nixon gallery for the first time that the imminence of our exhibition seemed so real. It was exciting to see the objects that we could include in our show, but it was also overwhelming knowing how much work we had to do in so little time.
Our class of fifteen was divided into three groups of five: Curatorial, Education, and Design and Public Presentation. After choosing thirty-three pieces, Curatorial was then faced with the challenge of weaving together these diverse objects into a single theme. How would we tie together a twentieth-century W. Eugene Smith photograph with an eighteenth-century French snuff box? The Master ZBM print, Pandora’s Box or An Allegory of Les Sciences qui Éclairent l'esprit de l'homme (The Sciences that Illuminate the Human Spirit), was a great inspiration for our theme. The myth of Pandora’s Box has popularized the notion of the box as an object of curiosity as it conceals its contents from the viewer. We wanted our exhibition to challenge the idea of what a box was by evoking a dialogue between objects from diverse cultures and time periods in a respectful manner. Just like Pandora, we wanted our audience to be fascinated by our boxes and to question them - to truly think outside the [box].
With our theme and object checklist established, it was time for Design and Public Presentation and Education to make the gallery come alive. Design and Public Presentation were responsible for the overall design of the show and the marketing materials, choosing a color scheme that would complement the objects, organizing the layout of the gallery, and installing the art. As a member of the Education team, I worked closely with fellow classmates to create the didactic materials for outside the [box]. We did not want the labels to dominate the viewer’s experience, so we mixed a few extensive labels of varying lengths with short “tombstones” labels. We also refrained from using words and concepts that appeared too academic. An alcove within the gallery serves as a place for families to reflect upon what they see in the exhibition. It also gives them the chance to tack sticky notes on the museum’s wall while reading an adorable story about a bunny with a grand imagination. While the introductory wall text sets the tone of the exhibition, the kids’ pamphlet and audio tour serve as guides to help the audience interact with the show.
It was an honor to work with such an enthusiastic and bright group as a part of the SIAMS class of 2012. Together, we constructed an entire exhibition from scratch in six weeks, utilizing each other and our resourceful SCMA mentors for guidance and support. We truly hope that the Northampton community will enjoy our show as much as we enjoyed creating it.
Outside the [Box] is on view in the Nixon gallery until September 30, 2012. Read more about the exhibition here.
This installation shot features works by Larry Bell, Robert Rauschenberg, Marcel Duchamp, and many others. Photograph by Julie Warchol.
SCMA staff members check out works by Claes Oldenburg, Max Peckstein, and Jane Hammond. Photograph by Julie Warchol.
The Education alcove space, where visitors can create and post their own responses to the show. Photograph by Julie Warchol.
out of the [box] and SIAMS 2012
Can you imagine living and working with 16 total strangers for six summer weeks? : through sickness and health, richer and poorer, heat and cold, Lamont and Hillyer, Hubbard and hiking Mount Holyoke? Not only to live, learn, and travel together with all that it implies, but to develop a full exhibition project together in a very short time frame?
The Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies Class of 2012 was the “sure, we can do that” class; the “not a problem” class; they had together a great can-do attitude. But they had much much more than positive attitude; each one is extremely smart and deeply thoughtful. They both taught and learned from each other just as their four teachers have taught and learned from them.
But this class of strangers came together particularly to ‘protect and honor’ their boxes, the objects which you may see at the Smith College museum in their show “out of the [box]”. They united in their recognition that the objects in the show -- which originate from all around the globe and from many cultural traditions -- should be allowed to tell their own stories and not to have their heritage consumed by an overly didactic organizing theme. That intelligent respect for the boxes, and for each other, is what we mean by ‘protect and honor’.
One participant succinctly summed up the impact of the SIAMS program: “How could I explain that we didn’t do it for the final destination?” So yes, DO imagine living and working for six weeks with total strangers because quite quickly you find, as they did, a common creative purpose and become friends and colleagues.
Thanks to everyone, and to Kendyll Gross and Julie Warchol for their posts, Marion Goethals, Director, SIAMS
Taming of a Garden
Is a gallery boundless? Due to the free form aestheticism of its composition, one would guess so. Yet this characteristic is often overlooked; and by many art exhibitioners, may even be denied.
A gallery is a living collection of artistic specimens. Carefully crafted by an artist, each art piece is enveloped in its own aura. Like a seed, each piece waits for its surface to be scratched by the gallery's viewership. With more visitors, more activity, the gallery starts to come alive.
Galleries' pieces take root in their respective places. They grow, develop an aesthetic presence which, overtime, become interwoven in that of the other works.
Once established, a gallery is its own garden; a box, if you will, whose own dynamic aura interchanges with the particular environment it is suited to. But like every garden, there is a gardener. Who picks out the pieces, arranges them, has an often intuitive sense of which will grow well near what. The success of the box is dependent on this gardener, yet, need only be fed resources once it has blossomed and been enriched by the feet, breath, and energy of its visitorship.
However, the SIAMS gallery is anything but boxed by the planks of a single mind, the masonry of a set of hands. Still groomed, still intricately arranged and planted, it is not wild. But is it boundless? I would argue yes, and rightfully so.
The SIAMS participants have given way to nature of the gallery-creating process. Their exhibit holds a respect for the erection of these five pillars: Curation, Education, and Design and Public Presentation; which uphold the institution of formalized human aestheticism. With ripe and ever vigorous professionalism, depth has been given to the notion, "out of the box".
For this, I offer the utmost esteem and gratitude for Ms. Kendyll Gross and the rest of the SIAMS class of 2012.
Your work will and should be remembered. Good luck with your future endeavors, though from here they appear very bright.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Did you know...?
The Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs is an incredible resource for groups and individuals interested in viewing works on paper in an intimate environment. Housed within the Smith College Museum of Art, the Cunningham Center allows visitors to experience direct, close encounters with prints, drawings, and photographs. Our collection includes over 16,000 works on paper dating anywhere from the 15th century to the present, and the number is constantly growing as we acquire new works! Visiting the Museum is just seeing the tip of the iceberg; prints, drawings, and photographs comprise over 70% of the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection.
This blog is our virtual tool with which we can share highlights from our collection of works on paper, as well as behind-the-scenes experiences of those who work in or visit the Cunningham Center. The best way to access our extraordinary collection is, however, to come visit us in person! We strongly encourage all visitors – individuals or groups; art enthusiasts; families; students, scholars, and classes of any level or discipline.
The Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs is open by appointment Tuesday-Friday from 10 AM – 4 PM, year-round. You are invited schedule a time to view specific prints, drawings, and photographs of your choosing which can be found using our online database (make sure you specify that you are searching the Smith College collection in the drop-down menu). To make an appointment, or for further information, please call 413.585.2764 or e-mail email@example.com. We, the staff of the Cunningham Center, hope you will take this amazing opportunity to discover, explore, and personally engage with our collection!
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Japan and Photography in the 19th-Century
When American Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed in Yokohama, Japan in 1854, the country had been in a state of isolation for over 200 years. Wary of the influences of Western civilizations, the island nation sought to preserve its culture and autonomy by shutting out the rest of the world, beginning in 1635. This era of Japanese history is known as the Edo or Tokugawa Period, when Japan was a feudal society, ruled by daimyo (lords), shoguns (generals), and samurai (aristocratic warriors). In 1868, the Tokugawa shogunate was overthrown and a traditional monarchy was reinstated, beginning the period known as the Meiji Restoration, after the ruling Emperor Meiji. After re-opening its gates to the world, Japan was in a state of rapid modernization and Westernization, which were considered synonymous at times.
Photography, a modern invention, was introduced to Japan in the 1850s. (The first datable photographs taken in Japan were shot in 1854 by daguerreotypist Eliphalet Brown, Jr., who accompanied Commodore Perry on his expedition.) Originally met with widespread hostility and resistance, it was not until the 1860s that photography grew in popularity. The Japanese word for “photograph” is shashin, meaning “reproducing reality” – a translation that is only partially true. There was a significant Western market for tourist photographs of Japan, particularly since no foreigners were previously able to enter the country for hundreds of years. These photographs were often contrived, exoticized images of feudal Japan, sold as both landscapes and studio portraits of “native types.” However realistic or not they actually were, these photographs are fascinating documents of an antiquated, romantic view into a culture that was changing at breakneck speed.
Felice A. Beato. British, born Italy, ca. 1825 – ca. 1904. Samurai of the Satsuma Clan, ca. 1868. Albumen print with hand coloring. Purchased with the Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1982:38-2 (31)
The most well-known and influential photographer in 19th-century Japan was actually not Japanese at all. Felice Beato was an Italian-British photographer who worked in Japan from 1863 until 1884. His photographic albums are unique visual documents of the last years of the country’s feudal period, 1865-68. His work was hugely influential to all subsequent 19th-century Japanese photography, particularly with his albumen prints which were hand-colored by Japanese artists. Many of these artists were formerly employed by coloring woodblocks for the production of ukiyo-e prints; Beato photographed one such painter from his studio (see below). (Click here to see Amanda Shubert’s discussion of this popular art form, which photography supplanted in popularity in the second half of the 19th-century.) Beato’s work is closely related to the ukiyo-e tradition in production and aesthetics; his studio portraits of geisha and tradespeople are quite unlike the picturesque and sentimentalized commercial photographs of his time.
Felice A. Beato. British, born Italy, ca. 1825 – ca. 1904. The Belle of the Period, ca. 1868. Albumen print with hand coloring mounted on cream colored paperboard. Purchased with the Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1982:38-2 (13)
Felice A. Beato. British, born Italy, ca. 1825 – ca. 1904. Our Painter, ca. 1868. Albumen print with hand coloring. Purchased with the Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1982:38-2 (45)
Baron Raimund von Stillfried
Felice Beato’s legacy was carried on by his contemporary competitor, Baron Raimund von Stillfried, an Austrian nobleman. From 1871 until 1885, Stillfried lived and worked in Yokohama, the largest city for exporting photographs, where Beato also had his studio. He was the first European photographer to use Japanese apprentices. Stillfried’s most famous photographic album, Views and Costumes of Japan, includes the last depictions of samurai warriors taken before they were no longer allowed by law to wear their topknot hairstyle or carry swords, symbols of their aristocratic status which was dismantled with demise of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Baron R. von Stillfried. Austrian, 1839 – 1911. Three Japanese ladies with hands entwined, 1875-1885. Albumen print with hand coloring. Purchased with the Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1982:38-1014
Baron R. von Stillfried. Austrian, 1839 – 1911. Portrait: Old Beggar, 1875-1885. Albumen print with hand coloring. Purchased with the Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1982:38-1016
One of Stillfried’s Japanese apprentices was Kusakabe Kimbei, who became a commercial photographer with his own studio in Yokohama. His and Stillfried’s photographs are instilled with a psychological sense of their subjects that is lacking in the work of Beato. While he worked in relative obscurity during his lifetime, Kimbei is now one of the most renowned Japanese photographers of the 19th-century. Pictured below are works by Kimbei which the Smith College Museum of Art acquired recently.
Kusakabe Kimbei. Japanese, 1841 – 1934. Umbrella Maker, 1880s. Albumen print with hand coloring. Purchased with the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. SC 2011:31-1
Kusakabe Kimbei. Japanese, 1841 – 1934. Vegetable Pedler, 1890. Albumen print with hand coloring. Purchased with the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. SC 2011:31-2
I am grateful to Smith College Museum and the Cunningham Center for the inspiration to recognize the value of this work and to pursue purchase of it.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
A couple of years ago I ventured out on a small personal pilgrimage to visit the hometown and gravesite of an artist whom I consider to be one of Belgium’s best; James Ensor (1860-1949).
Since I’m originally from the Netherlands, I’m quite familiar with the neighboring country of Belgium, however I had never been to the seaside town of Oostende. I was very excited to discover Ensor’s old stomping grounds.
Ensor spent most of his life in Oostende with the exception of two years where he studied at the Academie Royal des Beaux-Arts in Brussels only to return completely disillusioned, referring to the Academy as the” establishment of the near blind.” It was in Oostende where he was inspired to create his unique artistic vision.
Oostende is one of many interesting but forgotten Northern seaside places which used to draw a rather sophisticated crowd in the 19th-century.
Its glorious past lingers only faintly in the large, now dilapidated, buildings which immediately bring on a rather melancholic feeling, especially on a dreary fall day.
While known for its seasonal lively carnival crowds, a spectacle often displayed in Ensor’s art, historically, it is a rather dark place. Coveted because of its strategic location, it was frequently destroyed by invading armies. It was also the site of the bloodiest battle of the Eighty Years War and it is rumored that human bones are still to be found in its dunes. Ensor was clearly intrigued by these battles, as he drew quite a few of them. The Smith College Museum of Art owns a small etching called La Bataille des Èperons d'Or (The Battle of the Golden Spurs) from 1895 – a darkly comical, cartoonish rendition of a famous Flemish battle which took place in 1302.
James Ensor, Belgian, 1860 - 1949. La Bataille des Èperons d'Or. 1895. Etching on paper. Purchased. SC 1949:23. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Detail of La Bataille des Èperons d'Or.
For many years, Ensor fought his own personal battles with the local arts establishment, until finally the tide turned in his favor. During his early years, his work was mostly rejected and he was regarded to be eccentric and quite a loner. Later in life, after he had turned into an old, dignified, and white-bearded man, he was often seen wandering the broad boulevard.
Society finally caught up with him and his art and he came to enjoy the fruits of his labor during his lifetime – an outcome not often enjoyed by such a recalcitrant visionary artist.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Richard Diebenkorn. Untitled #25 , 1981. Gouache and crayon on two sheets of heavyweight glossy white paper. Gift of The Pokross Art Collection, donated in accordance with the wishes of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 by her children, Joan Pokross Curhan, class of 1959, William R. Pokross and David R. Pokross Jr. in loving memory of their parents, Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 and David R. Pokross. SC 2012:1-6
Richard Diebenkorn grew up in San Francisco and attended Stanford University and the California School of Fine Arts, where he studied with the artist David Park. Together, Diebenkorn and Park were two founders of the Bay Area Figurative School, choosing figuration over abstraction, the prevailing style of the time. Unlike Park, however, Diebenkorn embraced abstraction in the mid-60s, when he embarked on the series of works for which he is best known: more than 140 monumental paintings that he titled Ocean Park after the Santa Monica neighborhood where his studio was located. With their linear planes and luminous, broadly-brushed glazes, the Ocean Park paintings dispensed of figures but resembled landscapes.
Untitled #25 comes from a series of drawings Diebenkorn executed during a hiatus in the Ocean Park series. Made in 1981 and 1982, they are based on playing card figures such as clubs and spades, shapes that had fascinated Diebenkorn since childhood.
Diebenkorn embarked on the playing card drawings after his mother, Dorothy Diebenkorn, became severely ill during the early 1980s. Finding it difficult to maintain the intense concentration required for the Ocean Park paintings, he turned to the new medium as a temporary diversion. Ultimately, the project occupied a steady year and a half of work. Untitled #25 was one of fifty sheets exhibited at the Knoedler Gallery in New York City in 1982.
Like the Ocean Park paintings, #25 gives the sense of something seem outside a window, perhaps an abstracted landscape. The loops of the club could be abstract forms, but the recognizable shape also ties this drawing back to the representational sphere. In doing so, it links Diebenkorn’s early figurative work with his later abstract work.
Untitled #25 is currently on view in Shared Inspiration: The Muriel K. and David R. Pokross Collection until July 29. If you cannot make it before then and would like to see this or other works from our vast collection, the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs is open on weekdays by appointment. Call 413-585-2764 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a visit.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Nevelson, Louise. American 1899—1988. The Great Wall, 1970. Intaglio series, assemblage of wood grained lead foil relief elements bonded to heavy rag paper. Gift of Louise Nevelson. SC 1973:27-2. Photograph by Julie Warchol.
Known for her large-scale wall assemblages, or “environments,” made entirely of wood boxes and debris usually painted a uniform black, Louise Nevelson’s work relentlessly defies categorization of both style and media. She was interested in African and pre-Columbian art, as well as Cubism for its treatment of space and form, but refused to be affiliated with any modern movements or “-isms.” Similarly, her unconventional explorations of diverse media – sculpture, painting, printmaking, and even tapestry – reflect her singular, noncompliant artistic practice. Blurring these boundaries with the utmost confidence, Nevelson began making prints in the early 1950s which informed and reflected upon her sculptures. It was not until the 1970s, however, that she created a union of sculpture and printmaking.
The Great Wall perfectly exemplifies this cross-media relationship. It is a part of the “Walls” series of six lead intaglio relief prints in which Nevelson integrated wood relief sculptures directly into the printmaking process. Built specifically for the prints, the relief sculptures were used to emboss, or physically imprint, the surface of the lead foil. Nevelson then arranged the lead foil pieces on paper to create the finished print that we see above. In the “Walls” series, Nevelson truly heightens and embraces the sculptural possibilities of her prints.
Detail from The Great Wall. Photograph by Julie Warchol.
Nevelson’s The Great Wall highlights her obsession with the shifting subtleties of light, shadow, and surface texture. Reminiscent of her sculpture environments, each “cell” within the towering composition contains a microcosm of embossed organic shapes which protrude, capturing the impression of the wood grain from the original reliefs. With time, the surface will continue to evolve as the lead oxidizes, creating a unique patina. These mutable qualities lend an enigmatic aesthetic to her work that corresponds to the mystical nature of the artist herself. In her insistence on expanding the limits of printmaking and sculpture, Louise Nevelson exposes the amorphous space created at their intersection: “My total conscious search in life has been for a new seeing, a new image, a new insight. This search not only includes the object, but the in-between place. The dawns and the dusks. The objective world, the heavenly spheres, the places between the land and sea…”
Thursday, July 12, 2012
My summer corridor show, Image and After-Image: Whistler and Photography , pairs the etchings of James Abbott McNeill Whistler with nineteenth century photographs to look at the relationship between the revival of etching and the birth of photography in the Victorian era. Whistler, a pioneer of the Etching Revival movement that sought to transform etching from a medium for technological reproduction to an art form of spontaneity and refinement, brought a vivid new imagination to the aesthetic possibilities of the graphic line. But unlike etchers, early photographers were dealing with an entirely new technology.
Gustave Lancelot. French, 1830 – 1906. Departement de l’Aube Archeologique & Pittoresque. n.d. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1982:38-838. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Picturesque street scenes were seen both in etchings and in photographs during the Victorian period. While photographers could document the way city streets actually looked, they were also cramped by an odd limitation. The long exposure times required by early cameras made it impossible to record objects in motion. Photographs of street scenes during this period are usually eerily devoid of people. They might have walked down the street while the picture was being taken, but they don’t appear in the image: they slip outside of the camera’s view and melt out of sight.
Detail from Departement de l’Aube Archeologique & Pittoresque.
Occasionally, however, moving objects are half-recorded by the camera, creating whitish blurs in the photograph known as “ghosts.” In this photograph by Gustave Lancelot, the ghost of a horse is discernible at the front of the carriage on the right side of the street. (The horse’s front legs are clearly articulated but its torso and head are out of focus.) Two other ghosts that mar the surface of the image—one on the sidewalk beside the horse, beneath the streetlamp, and one on the right-hand sidewalk at the first street corner, between the three square boxes—indicate the presence of people moving through the photograph. By contrast, a single figure, perhaps strategically placed by the photographer, is clearly represented on the left sidewalk, sitting in a chair.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Street in Saverne. 1858. Etching printed in black on paper. Gift of Jean MacLachan, class of 1937. SC 1969:30. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Lancelot’s photograph is paired in the exhibition with Whistler’s first ever street scene, called Street in Saverne. Here, Whistler brings a more deliberate ghostliness to his depiction of a city street, using dramatic light and dark contrasts, a tunnel-like composition and apparitional shadows to create an unsettling intensity. The single ghostly figure, like the ghosts in the Lancelot print, seems to be melting into shadow. Whistler’s choice of a nocturnal scene reflects a singular change in urban planning in the mid-nineteenth century: the introduction of street lamps to European cities. Street lamps transformed nocturnal views, both in terms of the lived experience of cities at night and the possibilities for artistic representation. By reinforcing the mystery of the street seen by lamplight, both ominous and beautiful, Whistler depicts the ghostly uncertainty of his increasingly modern, industrial world.
Great looking sepia photos and nice article! Thanks.
Monday, July 2, 2012
Jay Bolotin. American, 1949–. Jack and Eve on Stage, still from The Jackleg Testament Part I : Jack & Eve. 2004-2005. Woodcut motion picture. Smith College Museum of Art. Purchased with the Carol Ramsay Chandler Fund and with the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. Photograph courtesy of the artist.
I vividly remember the first time I laid eyes on Jay Bolotin’s The Jackleg Testament Part I: The Story of Jack and Eve at the 2008 Editions and Artist’s Book Fair in New York. At a special early opening event for collectors and curators, I, like everyone else, was making a beeline for the coffee and muffins which were stationed at the end of a long row of booths. While walking, I noticed many people in front of me stop halfway down the aisle, turn to the right, and stand, transfixed and open-mouthed. I soon joined them in the same posture. What we were all looking at was fairly astonishing; the booth of the Carl Solway Gallery which was densely hung with vigorous black-and-white woodcuts. At the center of the installation hung a video monitor, where the figures in the woodcuts, now in color, cavorted, singing an operatic score. What on earth WAS this thing? The first woodcut movie, I was told. Jay Bolotin, the majordomo behind the production, not only designed and cut the woodcuts and assembled the movie; he also wrote the music and libretto for the 62-minute opera, and was one of the featured singers. While I was initially astonished by this idea, I quickly learned that for Jay Bolotin, such immersive, complex, and sprawling projects are more the rule rather than the exception. As an artist Bolotin wears many hats; he is a singer, songwriter, writer, printmaker, sculptor, theater collaborator, installation artist, etc. All these roles are necessary to achieve his true vocation: that of a compelling and consummate storyteller.
This amazing marriage of the earliest means of printed communication (woodcut) with the latest (digital media) seemed a natural for an educational institution, and we quickly snapped up a copy of the portfolio (which includes 40 woodcuts and a copy of the opera on disc) for the SCMA collection.
Jay Bolotin. American, 1949–. Jack’s Entrance into Eden from The Jackleg Testament Part I : Jack & Eve. 2005-2007. Woodcut. Smith College Museum of Art. Purchased with the Carol Ramsay Chandler Fund and with the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
We are pleased to finally be able to share this work with SCMA visitors, as Jay Bolotin: The Jackleg Testament opens on June 29 (and runs through September 9). Featured in the exhibition are the woodcuts from the portfolio, a viewing theater where the opera will be running continuously during open hours, and a special sneak preview of Bolotin’s progress on Part II of The Jackleg Testament (which he sees as a trilogy of linked films). Part II includes drawings (annotated with text written on the wall by the artist), new prints (woodcut and relief etching) and a video showing tests for the animations that will make up the next film.
Bolotin will return to Northampton on Friday July 13 to give an illustrated lecture on his work as part of SCMA’s Free Second Fridays Program. The Museum will be open from 4-8, and the lecture will take place in Stoddard Hall at 7 pm. This is a program not to be missed!
Jay Bolotin. American, 1949–. Nobodaddy from The Jackleg Testament Part I : Jack & Eve. 2005-2007. Woodcut. Smith College Museum of Art. Purchased with the Carol Ramsay Chandler Fund and with the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Jay Bolotin. American, 1949–. Puppet Show with Ostrich Vision 2010. Graphite on illustration board. Collection of Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, 21c Museum, Louisville, Kentucky. Photograph by Tony Walsh.
Jay Bolotin. American, 1949–. The Puppeteer in his labyrinth, test sequence from the film The Jackleg Testament Part II: The Book of Only Enoch. 2012. Lent by the artist, courtesy of Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photograph courtesy of the artist.
Jay Bolotin and Aprile Gallant speaking to SCMA members in the installation of Jay Bolotin: The Jackleg Testament. June 28, 2012. Photograph by Louise Kohrman.
Friday, June 15, 2012
Guest blogger Julie Warchol was a participant in the 2011 Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies and is currently a curatorial volunteer in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
The Adoration of the Magi , a recently acquired engraving by Cristofano di Michele (1462 – after 1534), simply known as Robetta, offers an intriguing and enlightening view of artistic influences and the painter-engraver relationship at the turn of the 16th-century. Robetta was born in Florence in 1462, the son of a hosier, or stocking maker. Like many men of his time, he worked in his father’s trade until 1498 when, at the age of 36, he decided to instead pursue a career as a goldsmith and artist. This kind of career change was quite unusual, as most Renaissance artists and craftsmen started apprenticing in their early teens for a lifelong career. While relatively little is known about his life, except for his public records and a brief mention in Vasari’s Lives of the Artists , we do know that he produced only about three dozen engravings, including his masterpiece The Adoration of the Magi .
Cristofano di Michele, called Robetta. Italian, 1462 – after 1534. The Adoration of the Magi . 16th century. Engraving printed in black on beige, medium weight, moderately textured paper. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund and the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927.
The Adoration of the Magi was a popular subject for Italian artists because it allowed the artist to showcase their ability to create an elaborate composition filled with animals, sumptuously clothed figures, and often a vast landscape. While Robetta does all of these things somewhat successfully, a closer examination of the print reveals the unabashedly referential nature of his work. The composition and many of the figures are directly borrowed from Filippino Lippi’s Adoration of the Magi (1496) , now in the Uffizi Gallery, in a manner which raises questions about the relationship between the painter, Filippino, and the engraver, Robetta. Rather than creating an exact copy of the entire painting, Robetta’s print contains several mirror-image imitations of Filippino’s figures — particularly the kneeling Kings and the long-haired figure on the right, thought to be a portrait Lorenzo de Medici, the young cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent, from whom a crown is being removed (see details below). Other figures in the foreground are reminiscent of those in Filippino’s painting, but with slight variations of clothing, expressions, and gestures. Both works exhibit a centralized composition surrounding the Holy Family, yet Robetta creates a more unified arrangement by eliminating several figures seen in Filippino’s Adoration , including two members of the Medici family which appear in the left foreground of the painting. Although the painted Adoration was completed for the Convent of San Donato agli Scopeti at least five to ten years before Robetta’s print, scholars believe that these deliberate and discriminatory quotations of Filippino’s work point to the fact that Robetta worked from Filippino’s preparatory drawings rather than the finished painting. Whether Robetta worked in Filippino’s studio or acquired his drawings independently is unknown, but this shared relationship between painter and engraver was certainly not uncommon.
Detail from The Adoration of the Magi . Photograph by Julie Warchol.
Detail from The Adoration of the Magi . Photograph by Julie Warchol.
Detail from The Adoration of the Magi . Photograph by Julie Warchol. This figure is thought to be a portrait of Lorenzo de Medici, the cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Robetta was an artist with diverse influences; he not only culled figures from many of Filippino’s paintings throughout his career, but also integrated elements of Northern printmaking, which was beginning to impact Italian artists at this time. In his Adoration , Robetta references Albrecht Dürer in his landscape of rolling hills and bulbous tree forms. A more subtle allusion is the small hat at the bottom of the print, directly above Robetta’s signature (see detail below), which is a direct quotation from Martin Schongauer’s engraving of the same subject . Although Robetta’s work is often deemed stylistically amateurish and naïve because of the late start to his artistic career, the true value of his engravings lie in how they illuminate the popular tastes at the beginning of the 16th-century, and offer modern viewers insight into the liberties of quotation taken by Renaissance artists.
Detail from The Adoration of the Magi . Photograph by Julie Warchol.
Monday, June 4, 2012
The art of dying well
In our youth-obsessed Western society death has become taboo, hidden away in sterile funeral homes and shiny caskets. Death, a friend only to the old and the sick, not to be talked about, not to be seen. Death throughout history was never a welcome visitor. However, in times of war, famine, or disease, when death was personal, undiscriminating, and close, visual representations of death in many forms were more commonplace. A long life was for the few and fortunate, and so the emphasis was placed on the one thing inevitable in a poor soul’s life: death.
Käthe Kollwitz. German (1867 - 1945). Tod (Death); Plate II from the series Ein Weberaufstand (A Weavers' Rebellion), 1897. Lithograph on yellow-brown chine collé mounted on thick white wove paper. Purchased. SC 1958:44
The Ars Moriendi was an originally Rhenish (German) “manual” on the art of dying well. The Cunningham Center owns an illustrated page from this intriguing piece of human history. The work highlights the medieval culture of death, which sprung up in Northern Europe around the time of the black Plague. The page in question is a 15th-century woodcut mounted on an oak panel. The book originally contained six chapters, which addressed the various elements of a good Christian death, from what to feel, how to behave, and which prayers to choose. The work was very popular at the time, widely distributed and translated in many languages. It clearly fulfilled a practical need in dire times.
Unknown. Rhenish. The Temptation by Avarice, Plate IX from Ars moriendi. 1460-1470. Woodcut printed in grey-brown ink on paper mounted to oak board. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund. SC 2005:20.
The virtuous dead
While the Ars Moriendi was written for the literate few, the illiterate would find their comfort in the churches. Catholic churches were filled with examples of “good deaths” all centered around the crucified Christ. Venerable martyrs would cover the walls, often depicted in their moment of (mostly gruesome) death or portrayed with the actual instruments of their demise by their side. Unlike saints whose lives would serve as examples, the martyr found his or her glory solely in their moment of death.
Cherubino Alberti. Italian (1553 - 1615). Martyrdom of Santa Cristina de Bilsena, by January 1605. Engraving printed in black on medium-thick moderately textured cream-colored paper. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund. SC 2011:30-2
Death and the Maiden
In the 16th and 17th centuries the image of death remained present in art. However, death took on many new guises. German artists like Hans Baldung Grien (whose work is displayed below) turned death into a “seducer” and lover of young maidens. The virginal pallid white female is “kissed” or actually bitten by death. In Dutch there is an old saying that something has suffered from “de tand des tijds” (the tooth of time). Here death’s “kiss” could be a kiss of aging or a kiss of death. A beautiful contemporary print from our collection titled “Death and the Maiden” clearly finds its inspiration in this age-old theme.
Jiri Anderle. Czech (1936 - ). Death and the Maiden, 1983. Soft-ground etching and drypoint printed in black and red on paper. Gift of Andrew Carron and Cathy McDonnell Carron, class of 1979. SC 2007:53-1
Hans Baldung. German, 1485 - 1545. Death and the Maiden , 1518/20. Oil on panel. Kunstmuseum Basel.
Vanity and death were also a favorite pairing. In this Hans Thoma print from 1912 this old theme is repeated. Death holds up a mirror to the young woman reminding her of her own mortality. In turn the young fancy man in his plumed hat in this 16th century engraving by Lucas van Leyden reminds the viewer of his own mortality by pointing at the skull kept under his cloak. There is some debate among scholars regarding the true meaning of these vanitas portraits. I believe that since Christian virtues of modesty were highly praised in Protestant Dutch society the wealthy had to account somehow for their wealth by advertising their humility. While the Protestant Church believed one was already predestined to go either to heaven or hell at birth, it did not stop people from demonstrating their virtues and modesty to convince others that they were among the elect. The vanitas portrait could therefore be regarded as a sort of 16th/17th century afterlife insurance.
Lucas van Leyden. Early Netherlandish (1494 - 1533). Young Man with Skull, n.d. Engraving on paper. Gift of the estate of Mrs. Charles Lincoln Taylor (Margaret Rand Goldthwait, class of 1921). SC 1994:20-16.
Hans Thoma. German (1839 - 1924). Reminder, 1912. Drypoint on ivory wove paper. Gift of Lessing J. Rosenwald. SC 1951:41
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Guest blogger Julie Warchol was a participant in the 2011 Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies and is currently a curatorial volunteer in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Danny Lyon. American, born 1942. West Street between Jay and Duane Streets from The Destruction of Lower Manhattan . 1967; printed 2007. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
In 1966-1967, several decades before the World Trade Center attacks, sixty acres of Lower Manhattan were systematically demolished and few, except Danny Lyon, seemed to notice or care. A Brooklyn native and young documentary photographer, Lyon had just returned to New York City after spending two years photographing and riding with outlaw motorcyclists for a series called The Bikeriders . He settled into a loft apartment at the corner of Beekman and Williams Streets, on the outskirts of a neighborhood that was to be destroyed. This portion of Manhattan contained some of New York’s oldest streets which were constructed in the 19th-century. In their prime, they had been bustling centers of mercantile activity, but were in an apparent state of decline by the 1960s. Many of these Lower Manhattan buildings, which were deemed architecturally insignificant, were razed in order to construct Battery Park City and the World Trade Center as well as other new buildings which have come to characterize the city. In the midst of this rapid leveling, Danny Lyon took to the streets with his large format camera to document the buildings in their final days, the looters and few remaining occupants, and the eventually demolition itself.
The views of New York City presented in these photographs are jarring; the desolate brick buildings and cobble-stone streets seldom contain people, cars, or any other signs of life. Simultaneously dilapidated and majestic, they stand as symbols of a past century that were sacrificed for the creation of more modern structures – a classic American strategy of development. Recognizing the symbolic importance of these neighborhoods and their fate, Lyon takes a subjective, and therefore novel, approach to his documentary photographs. Publishing journal excerpts alongside the photographs in his book The Destruction of Lower Manhattan , Lyon maps the progression of his work and encourages the viewer’s sympathy. By the end of the project, Lyon had shifted his focus from the ill-fated buildings to the demolition workers themselves, those unsung heroes who take great pride in their work. In these photographs, Lyon finds somber beauty not only in the architectural remnants of 19th-century New York, but also in their destruction.
“I came to see the buildings as fossils of a time past. These buildings were used during the Civil War. The men were all dead, but the buildings were still here, left behind as the city grew around them. Skyscrapers emerged from the rock of Manhattan like mountains growing out from the earth. And here and there near their base, caught between them on their old narrow streets, were the houses of the dead, the new buildings of their own time awaiting demolition. In their last days and months they were kept company by bums and pigeons.
For a hundred years they have stood in the darkness and the day. In the morning the sun has shined on their one side, and in the evening on another. Now, in the end, they are visited by demolition men. Slavs, Italians, Negroes from the South, American workers of 1967 drinking pop-top soda on their beams at lunch time, risking their lives for $5.50 an hour, pulling apart brick by brick and beam by beam, the work of other American workers who once stood on the same walls and held the same bricks, then new, so long ago.” – Danny Lyon, The Destruction of Lower Manhattan
Danny Lyon. American, born 1942. Washington Street. View North from Chambers Street from The Destruction of Lower Manhattan . 1967; printed 2007. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Danny Lyon. American, born 1942. Eddie Grant and Cleveland Sims. Washington Street maintenance men for the New York City Department of Urban Renewal from The Destruction of Lower Manhattan . 1967; printed 2007. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Danny Lyon. American, born 1942. 185 West Street at Chambers from The Destruction of Lower Manhattan . 1967; printed 2007. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Danny Lyon. American, born 1942. Dropping a wall from The Destruction of Lower Manhattan . 1967; printed 2007. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Danny Lyon. American, born 1942. Housewrecker from The Destruction of Lower Manhattan . 1967; printed 2007. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Pablo Picasso. Spanish, 1881 – 1973. Minotaure Aveugle Guide par une Fillette dans la Nuit , 1934. Acquatint, scraper, drypoint and burin printed in black on Montual paper. Gift of Susan S. Small (Susan Spencer, class of 1948).
This print is based on the Greek myth of the minotaur, which can be read in Ovid’s Metamorphoses . Like much of Metamorphoses, it is a tale of creativity and suffering. The story takes place on the island of Crete, where lives the minotaur, the monstrous child of a human and a bull. He is enclosed in a labyrinth constructed by the canny Daedalus, and each year he is appeased by a sacrifice of seven boys and seven girls from Athens. The Athenians are not terribly pleased with this arrangement, so they send Theseus to kill the minotaur. Ariadne, the woman who loves Theseus, gives him a gift before he leaves that saves his life: a golden thread that he can tie to a rock at the entrance of the labyrinth to guide him back out. Theseus kills the minotaur and returns to Athens victorious. But the story ends in tragedy: Theseus, in his jubilation, forgets to change the black sails of mourning to the white sails of victory, and when his father Egeus sees the boat from a high cliff approaching the city, he throws himself into the ocean out of grief.
Ovid’s tale is complex to begin with – all those layers of art and artistry, wildness and captivity, love and suffering. Picasso reflects the many facets of the story in his composition, but he also alters them in significant ways. There is the minotaur in the foreground, who here is blind, his unseeing eyes lifted powerfully towards the starry sky. There is a young girl holding a dove, occupying the brightest area of the composition, perhaps an Ariadne figure. We can see a man in a boat half-shrouded in his sail, reminding us of Theseus, Egeus, and the sad final notes of the tale.
In this work, Greek mythology collides with Picasso’s own personal mythology of artistic creation. The minotaur is a motif in Picasso’s oeuvre, symbolizing the tortured artist. Picasso’s minotaur is fierce and virile, yet also sympathetic and even fragile. He is blind, which suggests that he is a visionary who transcends literal sight, but he also relies on the innocent girl who guides him.
Minotaure Aveugle Guide par une Fillette dans la Nuit is from Picasso’s Vollard suite, a series of 100 prints all made after themes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses . The series is named for Ambroise Vollard, the foremost French print dealer and publisher at the time.
Friday, May 4, 2012
Guest blogger Jim Gipe is the founder of the Florence-based digital photo studio Pivot Media
If you don’t already know this, the Smith College Museum of Art has been digitizing its art collection since 1998. I am part of a team that, in the last 14 years, has systemically photographed, cataloged, uploaded, and linked nearly 50,000 digital files of artwork and exhibitions.
Specifically, though, I am a DigiGuy. This is the affectionate name given my colleague, Stephen Petegorsky, and me by the Museum’s staff. When we arrive for our quarterly photo sessions you can often here a squawk over the security radios; “The DigiGuys are here” they announce, as we are led by staff, down stairs and through locked doors leading to “Deep Storage.”
It was here, deep in the basement of Tryon Hall, that I was first surprised by art. The date was June 10th, 2005, and we were in Phase II of the digitization timeline—direct digital capture using a Sinar four shot camera. Stephen was making the photographs and I was color correcting the digital files to match the original artwork. That day, the artwork was coming from the print room, stored in archival boxes and rolled in on a cart. I navigated my mouse to the next set of camera files and turned to open the grey box on top of the cart. As I lifted the lid, my first thought was “WOW”, followed by “Oh my!” I was looking at Ace of Spades by Salvador Dali. This was possibly the most phallic image I had ever seen in my life, and I’d seen roughly 14,000 pieces of art by this point. This image takes the word “perspective” to a new level that is neither flush nor straight. The piece is from the series, Playing Card Suite (1970), which is Dali’s depiction of the royalty from a common deck of playing cards. But, as you can see, there is nothing common about these aristocrats.
Salvador Dali. Spanish, 1904–1989. Playing Card Suite: Ace of Spades , 1970. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Playing Card Suite: Queen of Spades , 1970. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Playing Card Suite: King of Diamonds , 1970. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Playing Card Suite: Jack of Diamonds , 1970. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
This is so cool. How amazing it would be to own a deck of cards by Dali? Thanks for sharing,
Dali playing cards
Thanks for giving us access to these little gems from deep storage--I'd love to see the originals on display, someday.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
In 1941 a group of Soviet writers and artists founded the TASS News Agency to create large-scale war-themed propaganda posters called “TASS Windows.” Over the next four years, the studio would create over 1,240 designs executed as multi-paneled stenciled screenprints. These posters were hung in windows across the Soviet Union, bringing fresh (and slanted) news and views of the Eastern front during World War II. Many of these posters were also sent to the US and Great Britain by the Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (VOKS), which was designed to build support for the war, but they were little studied (with few resources in English) until the exhibition Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945 mounted by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011. This exhibition presented new scholarship in English on this fascinating aspect of Soviet poster production. TASS posters were designed to be eye-catching and memorable, using humorous caricatures, painterly hand-cut stencils, and saturated colors.
Pyshki i Shiski (Pastry and Bruises) TASS Window #850 was designed by three artists known collectively as “Kukryniksy” (Mikhail Kupriyanov, Porfiri Krylov, and Nikolai Sokolov).
This poster was purchased for the SCMA collection in the wake of the exhibition Godless Communists: Soviet Anti-Religious Propaganda which focused on a little-known group of Soviet anti-religious posters which entered the collection in 1968. The exhibition also expanded our understanding of how propaganda posters can provide an unusually rich field for interdisciplinary investigation.
The image in Pyshki I Shiski is a graphic rendering of a section of a speech delivered by Josef Stalin on November 6, 1943, in which he proclaimed:
“Entering the war, the members of Hitler's bloc counted on a rapid victory. They divided the spoils in advance: who would get the pies and pastries, and who gets the bumps and bruises. Understandably, the bruises and the bumps were intended for their enemies, and the pies and pastries for themselves.
[Inscribed on the pastries in the picture are: "The Caucasus; Africa; Transylvania, the Kuban'; Moscow"]
But now it is clear that Germany and her lackeys will not get the pies and pastries; instead, they will have to divide the bumps and the bruises among themselves.”
Kukryniksy (Mikhail Kupriyanov, Porfiri Krylov, and Nikolai Sokolov). Pyshki i Shiski (Pastry and Bruises) , 1943. Screenprint in color on paper. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Drypoint prints are made by using an etching needle—a metal tool with a fine tip—to create incisions directly on a copper plate. When you etch the lines into the plate, the needle pulls up a fine burr of copper around the lines. Because of the burr, a drypoint line holds more ink than an etched or engraved line. It prints darkly and thickly, creating velvety black textures, deep shadows, and dramatic tonal variation.
Drypoint lines are more fragile than etching or engraving lines. They produce fewer impressions, because the burr wears down easily. This explains why Rembrandt’s marvelous drypoint print The Three Crosses exists in five states. The states are different versions of the same print; each state represents changes made to the copper plate because the burr had worn down and the plate needed to be touched up. Print lovers are obsessed with the little alterations you can find between different states of the same print. What distinguishes The Three Crosses is that the differences between the third and fourth states are dramatic. Rembrandt completely re-invents the print, not just compositionally, but tonally: the meaning changes.
Take a look at our fourth state of The Three Crosses :
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn. Dutch, 1606-1669. The Three Crosses, 1660. Drypoint and burin in black on cream laid paper. Gift of the Studio Club and Friends.
Now compare it to this image of the third state .
In the fourth state, Rembrandt introduces new figures—two mounted soldiers to the left of the cross—and re-draws the group at the right, including St. John and Mary. The figure of the centurion changes, too. In early states, he kneels before Christ; in late states he is mounted on a horse. The second thief on the cross is obscured because Rembrandt has etched over the right side of the plate, creating a deep ominous shadow over the scene. The velveteen depth and intensity of those black lines comes from the amazing use of drypoint.
The story the print depicts is the crucifixion of Christ alongside two thieves (in the print, Christ is in the center, with one thief on each side). The crucifixion is ultimately a tale of redemption: Christ’s sacrifice brings about the salvation of humankind. But the fourth state is so dark and bleak, it casts doubt upon the redemption narrative. The looming shadow that threatens to engulf the whole scene, the rearing horse, the obscurity of the figures, and the emphasis on Christ’s suffering transforms The Three Crosses from an image of pathos and sacrifice to one of darkness, doubt and chaos.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
This blog post was written in conjunction with the exhibition Shared Inspiration: The David R. and Muriel Kohn Pokross Collection , on view at the Smith College Museum of Art through July 29.
David R. Pokross (1906 – 2003)
David Ralph Pokross was a lawyer, mentor, community leader, art collector, avid tennis player, and family man. He was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, and was the first graduate of his high school to enter Harvard College, from which he graduated magna cum laude , majoring in French literature, in 1927. He went on to earn a degree from the Harvard Law School in 1930, having financed his entire education on his own.
In 1939, David was named a partner at the prominent Boston firm, Peabody, Brown, Rowley & Storey (now Nixon Peabody), where he practiced law for 70 years, including chairing the firm's Executive Committee. He was regarded by many as a “lawyer's lawyer,” whose colleagues sought out for advice. Although he practiced labor law, securities, corporate law, estate planning, and litigation, he was particularly known for his public utility work, also serving as a trustee and member of the Executive Committee of Northeast Utilities, and for his role as lawyer to the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Beloved as a mentor to younger lawyers, he served as counsel to the firm until six months before his death.
David’s lifelong philanthropic work revealed his deeply-rooted commitment to social justice. A community leader of unbounded energy, he devoted countless hours to numerous non-profit and charitable organizations in Boston. He held leadership positions in many organizations including serving as president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, director of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, board member of The Boston Foundation (where he established a special fund for children in need), overseer of The Boston Symphony Orchestra, president of the American Jewish Historical Society, and trustee of the Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School. David also served as the chairman of the Board of Overseers of the Florence Heller Graduate School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare at Brandeis University where a chair in law and social policy was endowed in his name. Among numerous honors that he received, David was the first recipient of The Alexis de Tocqueville Society Award of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay.
Self-taught in his artistic interests, David carefully studied works of art and artists before making a purchase, and sought the advice of professionals in the art world. He and Muriel were avid travelers, and they connected with the art world wherever they went. In his memoir, David described how they discovered new artists:
"We walk around a museum, and then I will ask if a director or an assistant director is available. I would say, ‘I don’t own any art of local painters. If you will name five (and I always said five) young painters who have been recognized in your museum but who have not become top artists, I would like to look at their art and perhaps buy some of it.’
I never had a negative response from a director, and so we would receive recommendations."
Over years of traveling and collecting, David and Muriel developed friendships with museum directors and curators, such as Carl Belz, formerly director of Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum, and the artists they patronized, among them William T. Wiley, Gregory Gillespie, William Beckman, Joseph Floch and Barnet Rubenstein. According to their daughter, Joan, “My parents would have been delighted that the heart of their collection now resides in the Smith College Museum of Art as The Pokross Collection.”
Muriel Kohn Pokross (1913 – 2011)
Muriel Kohn Pokross, social worker, community leader and art collector, who was also devoted to her family, was born in Boston. She was educated at the Girl’s Latin School and Smith College, where she graduated in 1934 with a degree in French Literature. Reflecting on her years at Smith, Muriel cited her junior year in France as her most valuable college experience. “A whole world opened up,” she recalled.
After raising three children—Joan P. Curhan, William R. Pokross, and David R. Pokross, Jr.—Muriel returned to her academic pursuits. She received a master’s degree in Education at Boston University, with a major in rehabilitation counseling. Muriel went on to spend the next 25 years as a social worker with the Boston Guild for the Hard of Hearing, aiding hearing-impaired children and adults, and teaching nurses, teachers, parents and caregivers how to communicate with the hearing-impaired. She was instrumental in persuading Channel 2, Boston’s public TV station, to caption their programming for the hearing-impaired, an unprecedented practice for public television at the time.
The Pokross home was always open to their many friends, whom Muriel entertained with her lively conversation and home-cooked meals. According to Muriel, “We particularly enjoyed and helped many European doctors (especially psychoanalysts), lawyers and teachers, whom David helped bring to the U.S., to settle in and begin new lives after immigrating to Boston in the late 1930's and early 1940s.” In the late 1930’s, David had prepared affidavits to help Jews from Vienna to escape the Nazis. Among the people he helped to immigrate to the United States was the artist Joseph Floch, from whom David and Muriel purchased a number of works, including a portrait painted of Muriel.
Muriel was an active community leader, serving as a volunteer, committee member and trustee for charitable organizations and non-profit agencies in the Boston area. These included the Board of Overseers of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, and the Dean's Leadership Council and Nutrition Round Table at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Muriel also held leadership roles at Smith College, serving as the Chair of Planned Giving and Alumnae Representative for the class of 1934 for almost twenty years. She remained active in the Belmont Smith Club throughout the years, serving as President in 1950. On the occasion of her 80th birthday, her family established the Muriel Kohn Pokross 1934 Kew Garden Travel/Internship Fund at the Botanic Garden of Smith College in her honor. This fund sends two students each year for ten weeks of botanical research with scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.
Muriel and David’s marriage, lasting 67 years until David’s death in 2003, was a truly loving partnership. In addition to three children, they had four grandchildren: Jenifer Curhan Panner, Jared Curhan, and Benjamin and Samuel Pokross; as well as seven great grandchildren: Samuel, Elizabeth, Harry, David, and William Panner, and Hannah and Joshua Curhan.
Muriel Kohn Pokross at her 75th Smith College reunion.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
This month saw the opening of Shared Inspiration: The David R. and Muriel Pokross Collection . Shared Inspiration celebrates a generous gift from the family of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934, and David R. Pokross. Comprised of paintings, drawings and prints by major artists of the post-World War II period, The Pokross Collection is a marvelous and exciting addition to SCMA’s collection.
After receiving the gift this winter, my colleagues and I spent months studying, researching and enthusing about these new objects, and looking for the correspondences between them. Several works in the collection—a drawing and a painting by William T. Wiley, drawings by David Park and Richard Diebenkorn—were by California artists. This concentration allowed me to learn about the contemporary art that came out of California in the 1960s and 1970s: the Bay Area Figurative Movement, of which Diebenkorn and Park were founding members (our new David Park drawing is a beautiful example of the work that came out of this movement), and the California Funk Art Movement, of which William T. Wiley was a member.
In this installation shot, you can see our Richard Diebenkorn (Untitled #25 , 1981) on the far left paired with an Elizabeth Murray drawing.
The gift also includes four works by the Pioneer Valley artist Gregory Gillespie. Gillespie is known as a Pioneer Valley Realist, but it was a designation he rejected, and when you look at the works in the Pokross Collection, you can see why: they run the gamut from the real to the strange to the absurd. Here are two paintings from the collection:
Gregory Joseph Gillespie. American, 1936 – 2000. Greg and Peg , 1991. Oil on wood. Gift of The Pokross Art Collection, donated in accordance with the wishes of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 by her children, Joan Pokross Curhan, class of 1959, William R. Pokross and David R. Pokross Jr. in loving memory of their parents, Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 and David R. Pokross. SC 2012:1-8. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Gregory Joseph Gillespie. American, 1936 – 2000. Trees and Figures (Surviving the Flood) , 1980/81. Oil and collage on board. Gift of The Pokross Art Collection, donated in accordance with the wishes of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 by her children, Joan Pokross Curhan, class of 1959, William R. Pokross and David R. Pokross Jr. in loving memory of their parents, Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 and David R. Pokross. SC 2012:1-9. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Tune in next week to read more about the collectors, David R. and Muriel Pokross.
Monday, March 19, 2012
William Henry Fox Talbot. English, 1800 - 1877. The Open Door, Plate VI from The Pencil of Nature, 1843. Salt print from a calotype negative on paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Perry W. Nadig in honor of their daughter, Claudia Nadig, class of 1985.
This photograph, The Open Door , is the oldest in our collection. William Henry Fox Talbot was the inventor of the negative-positive photograph, and one of the earliest practitioners (some say the inventor) of photography as we know it today. This is a plate from Talbot’s series The Pencil of Nature , the first publication to explain and illustrate the scientific and practical applications of photography.
The Open Door is among the most celebrated images from The Pencil of Nature . Maybe this is because it seems less “scientific and practical” than pictorial or aesthetic. The photograph is a subtle play on interior and exterior. The open door gives us a glimpse into an old barn that then gives us a glimpse back outside through two shuttered windows. The outside of the barn is suffused with light, the interior opaque with shadow. The broom leaning in the doorway in the foreground offsets the windows in the background. The calculated asymmetry of the image is perfectly picturesque.
To explain the picture, Talbot invoked the seventeenth century Dutch painters who were popularly hailed as masters of realism in Talbot’s time. “A painter’s eye will often be arrested where ordinary people see nothing remarkable,” he wrote.
The Open Door was hailed by the British press for its “microscopic execution that sets at naught the work of human hands.” As far as praise goes, I’m partial myself to Talbot’s mother’s description of the photograph: she called it the “soliloquy of the broom.” What would the broom be saying? Why does this picture seem so eloquent, so expressive, when all of its subjects (a broom, a barn, a hanging lantern) are mute?
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Guest blogger Karysa Norris (Dartmouth College '12) was a participant in the 2011 Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies. She also served as the 2011 Brown SIAMS Fellow, a four-week internship in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints Drawings and Photographs.
White. Why. Kidney. It roasts.
What if these were the only words left of our language? In a time when it seems new words are added to the English dictionary every day thanks to the internet and the growth of international communication it’s difficult to imagine that our language could ever dwindle down to a few disjointed, trivial phrases. For the Ubykh people of Turkey, however, this is a harsh reality – their language is extinct, only to be heard in recordings saved in anthropological databases.
Language death like that of Ubykh is the focus of Susan Hiller’s The Last Silent Movie , a compilation of recordings of extinct and endangered languages from around the world. As a student who grew up in Hawaii before studying at Dartmouth College, I am more sensitive to language death than most; the rehabilitation of the endangered Hawaiian language has been ongoing since the fifties and Dartmouth, an institution initially chartered to educate Native American youth, has a large population of Native American students dedicated to preserving their culture and language. Still, I have not inherited these native languages, so I have had a fringe awareness of the topic at best.
The first time I wandered into the Nixon gallery to see The Last Silent Movie , I wasn’t expecting very much. I rarely find digital media pieces entertaining enough to hold my attention for very long, and I was only curious about the project because I had been told that Hiller had been inspired by a recording made at Dartmouth of the Lord’s Prayer in Wampanoag, an extinct language that is currently being revived. I sat down in the darkened room and was immediately captivated by the words flashing across the screen, translating the speech playing from the speakers. As unfamiliar sounds were translated into meaningful words in front of me, over and over I found myself thinking, “What if this was all that was left of my language? What if this was the only representation left of my culture?” Even though I had an appointment to get to I couldn’t pull away, I simply had to stay and listen to these lost languages because people were speaking and someone needed to be there to hear them. When the film ended with a speaker of Comanche, a language listed as “seriously endangered,” saying “From now on we will speak Comanche forever” in her native tongue, I was overcome with a strange mixture of hope, pity, and horror, caught between wanting to believe the truth in the words and knowing their futility.
Over the next few weeks I found myself being constantly drawn back to Hiller’s project. She also produced twenty-four etchings of sound waves from a few phrases heard in the movie, and I spent a lot of time looking at the print of the South African Kulkhassi language. The sound wave of this extinct language clearly has a rhythm, but the translation is unknown. It’s easy for me to dismiss an untranslated voice as mere sound, but this print was visible, tangible proof that Kulkhassi wasn’t just random noise, it had a structure and meaning that is now lost. I thought of Hawaiian and the native languages of the students at Dartmouth, and I realized that they too could soon become just sine waves on paper.
Language death is an issue that I have been aware of for years, but it wasn’t until I experienced The Last Silent Movie that I really understood the impact it has on people. It reminded me of something that I had almost forgotten: even if you think you know all about a subject, art can reveal it to you in new ways.
Image credits: Susan Hiller. American, b. 1952. Ubykh, plate 21 from The Last Silent Movie. Jerriais, plate 10 from The Last Silent Movie. Livonian, plate 11 from The Last Silent Movie. 2007. Etching on 270 gsm Moulin de Gué (Rived de Lin) paper. Purchased with the Janet Wright Ketcham, class of 1953, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Edgar Degas. French, 1834 - 1917. Mary Cassat at the Louvre: The Etruscan Gallery, 1879-1880. Soft ground etching, etching, aquatint and drypoint printed in black on thin Japan paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
The artists Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt shared a forty-year friendship, both emotionally turbulent and deeply sympathetic, that ended with Degas’ death in 1917. Struck by Cassatt’s paintings, Degas was moved to invite her to exhibit with the Impressionists in 1877, making her the first American artist to become an established member of their group.
Degas’ dynamic portraits of Mary Cassatt at the Louvre express the admiration he felt for her. In Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Etruscan Gallery , Cassatt is caught in a moment of contemplation. Degas shows us the vitality of her attention as she looks as the art: she appears forthright and mesmerized, demanding and elegant. Unlike the woman to her left, who sits sideways on a bench and peers tentatively up at the sculpture from behind her book, Cassatt’s whole body is open to the art. And, since the perspective of the print hides her face from us, it is her body that expresses her experience in this moment—the way, say, she leans against her umbrella but also seems to float just above the ground.
This print also reminds me of the experience of going to a museum and getting side-tracked by the other visitors in a crowded gallery. Looking at people looking at art becomes part of the museum experience. In Degas’ print, the viewer is the voyeur, watching Cassatt watching; we can’t know what she’s thinking while she looks at the sculpture, but her engagement becomes a model for our own.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
David Dempsey, Associate Director for Museum Services, describes the process of conserving several of our nineteenth century French posters for the exhibition Debussy's Paris: Art, Music and Sounds of the City.
The Debussy's Paris exhibition was a great opportunity to have several nineteenth century posters conserved. The posters were never meant to last very long, so they were printed on poor quality paper that is full of impurities and turned acidic and weakened over time. In the past they had been glued onto a thin linen cloth to give them some strength and to protect them. They had never been framed and were generally stored rolled up and then unfurled for classes and exhibition. This had caused a lot of wear and tear over the years.
We asked Leslie Paisley of the Willliamstown Art Conservation Center to work on conserving them and mounting them in a more formal manner. Leslie and her team began by checking to see if the inks were water soluble, which they were to some extent, so that limited our options. But by working from the back of the linen they were able to soften the glue enough to gently pull the linen off the back. Once it was completely removed they used wheat starch paste as a “poultice” (a thick gel that wet the remaining glue without causing the inks to run) to soften the remaining glue so that it could be carefully removed from the back of the posters.
The linen was replaced with Japanese tissue paper, which is very light and strong. Paste was applied to the back of the poster and the tissues placed on the back and pressed to make sure they adhered. Then the posters were mounted on larger temporary panels by stretching the Japanese tissue around the edges of the panels. They were then left to dry for two months to make sure the posters had a chance to relax and adjust to their new mounts. After drying they were transferred to custom built panels that are acid-free and very resistant to warping. New metal frames were ordered and the completed pieces are now a focal point of the exhibition.
REBECCA JOHNSTON, JENNIFER McGLINCHEY Removing the old mounting linen from the back of the poster.
LESLIE PAISLEY, REBECCA JOHNSTON applying wheat starch paste in preparation for relining
LESLIE PAISLEY, REBECCA JOHNSTON Applying wheat starch paste in preparation for relining
LESLIE PAISLEY, REBECCA JOHNSTON Smoothing wheat starch paste in preparation for relining
REBECCA JOHNSTON, JENNIFER McGLINCHEY Aligning new Japanese paper lining
LESLIE PAISLEY, REBECCA JOHNSTON Checking the alignment of the edges of tears
LESLIE PAISLEY, REBECCA JOHNSTON Replacing loose and separated edge pieces
This is very very cool to see!
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
In this post, guest blogger Kelly Holbert, SCMA Exhibition Coordinator explains the process of mounting our new exhibition, Debussy's Paris.
Debussy’s Paris: Art, Music, and Sounds of the City (February 3 – June 10, 2012) is an exhibition that celebrates the life and culture of Paris around 1900, the era of the composer Claude Debussy. Of the 60 works on view, 35 are works on paper from SCMA’s own collection.
The planning process began with the curator selecting the works of art and placing them within the thematic sections of the show (Dance ; Correspondences: Art and Music ; and Noise and Popular Music ), both conceptually in the catalogue and physically in the design of the gallery’s layout. Guest essayists and curatorial consultants also contributed to the catalogue.
The installation itself took about 3 weeks, starting with moving the gallery’s partitions and painting the color bands on the walls. Loans arrived and were unpacked by the registrar, Louise Laplante. Bill Myers and Stephanie Sullivan installed the art and worked on the lighting. David Dempsey fabricated the housings for the ambient music and listening stations, which were installed by RBH Multimedia. Last to go up were the title, wall texts, and labels.
It takes several years to plan and mount an exhibition, involving staff from Education, Membership and Marketing, and other Museum departments, so be sure to come by and enjoy a little piece of Paris in Northampton!
Bill Myers hangs an aquatint and etching by Jacques Villon
David Dempsey installs the support for the touchscreen station while Claude Debussy looks on
Adam Guerrin, from Visionsignworks, adheres the vinyl title to the wall
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Winsom’s Shells , 1985. Offset lithograph and screenprint printed in eleven colors on Arches Cover paper. Printed by John Hutcheson and Dwight Pogue at the Smith College Print Workshop. Gift of Janet Fish, class of 1960, through the Smith College Print Workshop. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
When I began volunteering at the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs in August, 2011, I was totally unaware of the amazing opportunities I would be given in the coming months. As a 2011 participant in the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies (SIAMS) at Smith College, I had been exposed to the Cunningham Center during class time and as part of the curatorial team, which conceptualized, organized, and researched the SCMA exhibition Surface Tension: Reconsidering Water as Subject , which was the culmination of the program. Given my brief exposure to the Cunningham Center, I was excited at the possibility of becoming a volunteer here after the program ended. As a person with artistic and scholarly interests, I found the prospect of being able to handle and research artworks on a daily basis incredibly invigorating. What I did not know then was that I would be given the rare and wonderful chance to act as a guest curator of an exhibition, including picking artworks and writing wall labels. I would be able to apply all that I had learned at SIAMS to my own curatorial project. While SIAMS gave me a whirlwind introduction to curatorial work, this is my first singular venture into the process.
The exhibition I have been working on is in honor of Janet Fish, one of Smith College’s most successful artist-alumnae. Fish is to be awarded a prestigious 2012 Smith College Medal, which is awarded annually to alumnae whose lives and work exemplify a devotion to a liberal arts education. Selecting the works to be displayed was the easiest part; the Museum owns three finished prints by Fish from three distinct points in her printmaking career: the 1970s, 1980s, and 2000s. The first, Cherries in Brandy (1973), is actually Fish’s first print of her professional career. The other two were both produced as part of the Smith College Print Workshop , separated by almost twenty years.
Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Cherries in Brandy , 1973. Lithograph printed with black and gray ink with hand-colored white crayon on gray Canson wove paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
One of these works from the Print Workshop, Winsom’s Shells (1985), was particularly fascinating to me because it is accompanied by almost twenty working proofs which were produced during the printing process. As part of the Print Workshop, Fish made the print in just a few days on the Smith College campus and students were able to drop into the studio at any time to observe and ask questions. The Museum displayed these working proofs as they were produced. They serve to dissect and illuminate Fish’s use of lithography and screenprinting, as they explicitly show the order in which she printed the 11-color work, as well as insight behind purposeful and accidental changes made along the way. To me, the existence of these working proofs is incredibly instructive and exciting. I mean, how often do you get to see the working progression of a print in a museum? Seeing these proofs as evidence of Fish’s process really helped me better understand and greatly appreciate the finished print. I hope that other viewers, artists or not, will have a similar experience.
Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Proof for Winsom’s Shells , 1985. Offset lithograph and screenprint printed in four colors on Arches Cover paper. Printed by John Hutcheson and Dwight Pogue at the Smith College Print Workshop. Lent by the Smith College Department of Art. Photography by Julie Warchol.
Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Proof for Winsom’s Shells , 1985. Offset lithograph and screenprint printed in eleven colors on Arches Cover paper. Printed by John Hutcheson and Dwight Pogue at the Smith College Print Workshop. Lent by the Smith College Department of Art. Photography by Julie Warchol.
Janet Fish will be on view at the Museum from February 10 through June 3, 2012. Janet Fish will be awarded the Smith College Medal at the celebration of Rally Day on February 23.
Monday, February 6, 2012
Albrecht Dürer’s Melancholia I, on display in the exhibition Albrecht Dürer: Genius and Fame , intrigues me. As a psychologist researching the complex relationship between creativity and emotional wellbeing, I know some worry that equating mood and artistry could distract attention from an artist’s work. However, if we retreat to 1514, the year Dürer created his iconic engraving, people who suffered the pains of depression had more pressing image problems.
At the time, health was considered to be a balance between four vital fluids or humors - blood, yellow and black bile, and phlegm. The humors affected both body and mind and were the basis for individual health and personality. Melancholia was the result of excess black bile. According to art historian Erwin Panofsky, the afflicted were: “Thin and swarthy…‘awkward, miserly, spiteful, greedy, malicious, cowardly, faithless, irreverent, and drowsy.’” Add ‘surly, sad, forgetful, lazy, and sluggish,’ and it becomes clear that melancholics did not offer much for society to respect. Worst of all, physicians believed that insanity was caused by extreme excess of black bile. If you were melancholic, you were partway there.
Melancholia I excites, in part, because Dürer presented a new perspective on melancholia that challenged the prevailing stereotype. Typical images of the day included a farmer asleep by his plow or a housewife dozing at her distaff, but Durer gives us a woman with wings, signifying her superiority. She represents the intellectual power of applied geometry with the capacity to brood. Her energy, says Panofsky, “is paralyzed not by sleep but by thought.” Her struggle, and Dürer’s too, is the painful dialectic between theory and practice. Life seems futile when you have ideas you cannot actualize or problems you do not have the skills to solve.
Dürer’s Melancholia I was renowned across the European continent for more than three centuries. I wonder how its popularity might have influenced, even in subtle ways, people’s opinions about those who suffer from the symptoms of mood disorder. How an image on paper affects an image in flesh.
Albrecht Dürer. German, 1471–1528. Melancolia I , 1514. Engraving on paper. Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Lent by Priscilla Joyce Engle. Photograph by Laura Weston. 1974.L1.4
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Will Barnet. American, 1911–. Study for The Golden Frame , 1990-1995. Carbon on synthetic vellum. Gift of Will Barnet and Elena Barnet. SC 2008:53-10. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
It’s easy to see why drawing is so important to Will Barnet’s paintings. His layered textures are balanced by spare yet expressive lines that delineate the firm, almost geometric forms that make up his figures. Born in 1911 and still painting at 100, Barnet received a classical art training at the Boston Museum School, then under the direction of the painter Philip Hale.
It took Barnet two years to paint The Golden Frame , which was preceded by twelve compositional studies. This group portrait of the artist and his siblings is part of a series of paintings called My Father’s House . This body of work was conceived in 1990 when Barnet, the youngest of his siblings by 11 years, returned to his family home in Beverly to visit his sister Eva who was living in the family home alone following the death of their sister Jeanette. During his visit he observed Eva, in the throes of a fever, wandering through the house imagining the presence of their departed family members. An evocation of how memory and history surround us, Barnet’s paintings are both highly personal, yet also very inclusive. We may not know all the characters of his story, but we are given enough information to parse it all out, as well as become emotionally involved in the scene.
The surround of The Golden Frame is based on a mirror which hung in the hallway of Barnet’s family home; in it we see the reflections of the artist, his elder brother Benjamin, and his two sisters. It is clear that he struggled with the composition for some time—in each drawing the figures are arranged differently, their positioning, posture, and gazes changing, sometimes quite markedly. A group portrait is not just a collection of likenesses, but of relationships between figures, and the success of the picture hinges on the accurate representation of such qualities.
Will Barnet. American, 1911–. Studies for The Golden Frame , 1990-1995. Carbon on synthetic vellum. Gift of Will Barnet and Elena Barnet. SC 2008:53-18. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
In the final painting, Barnet’s solution seems effortless and fitting; the artist, the tallest member of the group is in back with his sketchpad, surrounded by his brother and sisters (both living and dead). Looking straight ahead at the viewer, the artist’s gaze is calm, probing, and frank; recording both present circumstances and memories from the past.
Will Barnet. American, 1911–. The Golden Frame , 1990-1995. Oil on canvas. Gift of Will Barnet and Elena Barnet. SC 2008:53-1. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Käthe Kollwitz. Selbstbildnis (Self-Portrait), 1934. Lithograph on buff wove paper. Purchased.
Käthe Kollwitz (1867 – 1945) was a German printmaker and sculptor. The first woman admitted to the academy of arts, Kollwitz flourished during the Weimar Republic. Her fortunes changed after Hitler came into power and she petitioned against the Nazis. She lost her studio and was forced to leave the academy. Kollwitz’s commitment to social justice permeates her graphic work, particularly in her portrayals of the working class, the poor, and the effects of war.
Kollwitz’s prints are haunting, unsettling and provocative, but even as they show scenes of suffering, pain, death and loss, they are not unrelentingly grim. Empathy suffuses Kollwitz’s work, as though art were a way of identifying faces among the masses, drawing them out of anonymity. The sense of figures drawn out of darkness is also a compositional idea in Kollwitz’s prints. Often shrouded in dark, shapeless clothes, her figures come to life in their faces and hands, both communicators of feeling and experience. Take a look at this print called Battlefield , from the series The Peasant’s War:
Käthe Kollwitz. Schlachtfeld (Battlefield), Plate VI from series Bauernkrieg (The Peasants' War), 1907. Etching, mechanical grain, aquatint and engraving on paper. Gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen (Bernice M. McIlhenny, class of 1925).
In the dark of night, a woman holding a lamp searches for a face she recognizes among the dead. (Given Kollwitz’s frequent depictions of mothers and children, I always imagine this woman is looking for her son.) Notice the dramatic illumination of her hand and the man’s face. I love the expressive use of shadow, light and tone in this print that allows Kollwitz to picture this interaction between the living and the dead, the hand and the face. Kollwitz’s art is, in a sense, a recovery of the dead: like the woman seeking her son, she shines her lamp on the obscure, the victimized and the suffering. This act of bringing light to darkness is, I think, both an act of empathy and of political engagement. She lends dignity to the sufferers and gravitas to those willing to face difficult truths. Her lithograph Call of Death suggests that facing death, even facing one’s own death, can be a moment of connection.
Käthe Kollwitz. Ruf des Todes (Call of Death), 1934-1935. Lithograph printed in black ink on cream-colored wove paper. Gift of Mary B. Mace, class of 1935, in memory of Jere Abbott.
Käthe Kollwitz: Darkness and Light
Thanks for a thoughtful piece. I wonder whether the upraised hand with the barely extended index finger of the figure in Ruf des Todes is a quotation from Michelangelo's Creation scene at the Sistine Chapel, essentially a moment of connection, but one of origination rather than call to death.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Kitagawa Utamaro. Japanese, 1753 – 1806. A Man and a Woman , 1803. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Barker (Margaret Clark Rankin, class of 1906).
Uikyo-e is a form of woodblock printmaking that flourished between in Japan the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The word Uikyo-e means “pictures of the floating world.” Traditionally, these prints depict a world of sumptuous colors, elegant women, and dazzling theatrical illusions.
Toyukuni III (Utagawa Kunisada). Woman Standing in Bow of Boat, Winter , 1820s. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Gift of Helen D. La Monte, class of 1895.
The “floating world” of Ukiyo-e refers to the pleasure quarters of Edo. Edo, a modest fishing village, became the capital of Japan under the warlord government called the Tokugawa shogunate that held power from 1603 until 1868. The village was transformed into a vibrant metropolis known for its entertainment culture, featuring music, Kabuki and puppet theater, geishas, and woodblock prints.
Edo flourished. Within a little over a century of this new government rule, it became the largest city in the world. When the Meiji Restoration abolished the shogunate in 1868, Edo was renamed Tokyo, meaning “eastern capital.” Thus, Japanese printmaking and its tradition of beauty and elegance is tied up in the history and rise of the city we now know as Tokyo. Ukiyo-e is an art of ethereal and ephemeral beauty and pleasure, but it is also very much an urban tradition – both a product of this urban expansion and its visual record.
The Japanese print scholar Sandy Kita points out that Ukiyo-e presents a paradox in its name and its history. “Ukiyo ” means “floating world,” and “-e” means “pictures, paintings or illustrations.” But the word ukiyo , as a common noun, precedes the pleasure quarters of Tokugawa Japan by seven or eight centuries, carrying a rather different definition: “the present” or “here and now.” Therefore, Ukiyo-e refers simultaneously to pictures of the floating world and pictures of the here and now, pictures of the illusory and pictures of the real. This print of fireworks over the water nicely encompasses this blend of the ephemerality of the here and now and the almost fantastical beauty of reality:
Ichiryusai Hiroshige. Japanese, 1797 – 1858. Fireworks at Ryogoku, No. 98 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo .
This second translation of Ukiyo-e as “the here and now” might help explain the preponderance of landscape prints in the Ukiyo-e tradition, particularly those by nineteenth century artists Ando Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai. These artists are most famous for their series’ of Edo landscapes – for example, Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido and Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji – which exhibit a documentary style that seems far removed from the Floating World of fantasy and illusion.
These landscape prints are more realism than fancy. Occasionally, however, they combine realism with legend or myth, as in this print of the New Year’s Eve Foxfires from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo :
Hiroshige, Ando. Japanese, 1979 – 1859. New Year's Eve Foxfires at Nettle Tree, Oji, No. 118, from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo , late 1830s. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Barker (Margaret Clark Rankin, class of 1908).
The centrality of Ukiyo-e in Japanese culture began to wane in the 1850s, when Japan opened up trade with the west and photography, a newly minted technology, gained currency in Japan. At the same time, artists like Pierre Bonnard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas were becoming fascinated by Japanese prints, incorporating the aesthetic and sensibility of ukiyo-e into their paintings and prints. It is easy to imagine how ukiyo-e, with its view of reality as ephemeral and subjective, appealed to these Impressionist artists.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. French, 1864 – 1901. L’anglais Warner au Moulin Rouge , ca. 1892. Brush and spatter lithograph in olive green, aubergine, blue, red-orange, yellow and black on originally buff, now brown, Van Gelder laid paper. Gift of Thomas A. Kelly.
The floating world and Hiroshige
Amanda is writing about Hiroshige's realism.
This is most obvious in his landscapes with active "active" weather images. Snow, rain, mist and wind.
<a href="http://www.japaneseprintappraisal.com/2007/05/utagawa-hiroshige-1797-1858-snow-scen.html">Snow, Kinryuzan Temple in Akasaka</a>
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Virgil Solis. German, 1514 – 1562. After Albrecht Dürer. German, 1471 –1528. Christ Shown to the People. 1540-1562. Woodcut on paper. Gift of Susan B. Matheson (Class of 1968). Lent by the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Massachusetts. MH 1994.12.1
This past semester, I had the great privilege to take the class The Print and Visual Communication in Early Modern Italy with the Visiting Kennedy Professor of Renaissance Studies Michael Bury. I think I can speak for the entire class and say that we are so grateful that Professor Bury shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with us last semester; we were all sad to see him return to Scotland! Before taking the class, I had never heard of Albrecht Dürer or seen any of his unbelievably magnificent woodcuts and engravings. Furthermore, I had no experience whatsoever with writing exhibition labels or helping to curate an art show, despite my interest in museum studies. Over the course of the semester, I had the wonderful opportunity to not only learn about the fascinating world of Renaissance printmaking, but also to apply my new knowledge to writing the labels for our exhibition at the Smith College Museum of Art entitled Albrecht Dürer: Genius and Fame . The fact that I had the opportunity to focus entirely on three prints from the exhibit, Dürer’s Crucifixion and Christ Shown to the People and Goltizus’s pastiche Circumcision , allowed me to develop a holistic understanding of each. It was amazing that I began the assignment looking closely at the real, authentic impressions in the Cunningham Center and finished the semester presenting the prints and my labels to my friends and family in an official Smith Museum gallery.
Hendrik Goltzius. Dutch, 1558 – 1617. After Albrecht Dürer. German, 1471 – 1528. Circumcision . 1594. Engraving on paper. Purchased with the F.J. Woodbridge (Class of 1921) Memorial Fund. Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts. AC 1979.46.4
I learned so much from my extended analysis of my three prints, as well as my experiences in helping to curate the exhibition. In writing the labels, I was able to apply my new knowledge about Renaissance printmaking techniques, history and culture. However, I also learned how to look closely at every single detail in the prints and was amazed by the fact that each time I looked at them, I saw something new; they are open to endless interpretation and never ceased to capture my curiosity. Furthermore, I also experienced how challenging it is to write exhibition labels, but also how rewarding it is to communicate the most important points about a work of art in only 150 words! The assignment caused me to reflect on the role of labels in exhibitions and the importance of placing yourself in the visitors’ position when deciding what information to include.
Finally, the opportunity to help decide where to place the prints in the exhibition gallery and witnessing the curator’s process gave me a unique window into the world of museum exhibitions. I learned a lot about how to arrange an effective exhibit taking into many different factors and opinions, and I was proud to observe the successful final result. The whole experience reminded me of how lucky we are as Smith students to have amazing resources like the Cunningham Center and the Smith College Museum of Art that provide us with invaluable learning opportunities.
Professor Michael Bury and students at opening of Albrecht Dürer: Genius and Fame
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
A recent and favorite discovery of mine in the Cunningham Center’s collection is this complete collection of American travel stereographs of Egypt made during the early twentieth century.
A stereograph is a pair of photographs—two of the same image—mounted side by side on a rectangular card, like this:
Stereograph. American, 1904. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photograph by Amanda Shubert.
You view them through a stereoscope , an elaborate pair of glasses with magnifying lenses. There is a slot behind the lenses where the stereograph fits.
Stereoscope viewer. French, 1855. Purchased. SC 1950:85. Photograph by Amanda Shubert.
You look through the viewfinder, and the lenses trick your eye into combining the two photographs into one three-dimensional image of astonishing depth. The images merge, and then they kind of “pop”—suddenly you are seeing in 3D. It’s almost like looking through the small end of a telescope, at a tiny but perfectly clear scene way in the distance.
Stereoscopic photographs, or stereographs, were invented in 1849 by Sir David Brewster and unveiled in 1851 at London’s Great Exhibition, the first ever World’s Fair. Series of collectable travel stereographs like this one were undertaken by publishers who employed photographers to make them on site. The photographers worked both with the publisher and with the author of the accompanying text, an expert in the field, who gave the photographers a list of locations with detailed maps, plans and instructions. The author then wrote commentary for each image printed on the reverse side of the stereograph.
You might see this series of travel stereographs as the Victorian equivalent of a television travel documentary: providing a panoramic view of the major Egyptian tourist sites, and the typological version of a voice-over commentary. The production of stereoscopes fed off of the Victorian appetite for travel, democratizing travel for the growing middle class prevented from elaborate vacations by domestic or professional responsibilities or financial restraints.
Nice piece, but in actual fact stereopsis was first described by Charles Wheatstone in 1838. In 1840 he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society for his explanation of binocular vision, a research which led him to make stereoscopic drawings and construct the stereoscope. He showed that our impression of solidity is gained by the combination in the mind of two separate pictures of an object taken by both of our eyes from different points of view. Thus, in the stereoscope, an arrangement of lenses or mirrors, two photographs of the same object taken from different points are so combined as to make the object stand out with a solid aspect. Sir David Brewster improved the stereoscope by dispensing with the mirrors, and bringing it into its existing form with lenses.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Dread Scott. American, b. 1965. Boom BOOM! , 2001. Screenprint in printed in color on Stonehenge white paper. Purchased through the efforts of students in the class “Collecting 101,” January 2011. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
This post is written by Julie Bomba ’11. Julie assisted in the acquisition of “Boom BOOM!” for the SCMA collection as part of the January Term class Collecting 101 . To read more on Collecting 101, click here .
Art isn’t always going to make you feel comfortable; in fact, most of the greatest masterpieces have been the cause of upheaval and revolution. Some have posed questions about the very foundation of institutions, crumbing their credibility and authority. Other artworks, with stubborn one-sided opinions and relentless messages, have created a different kind of discomfort. Dread Scott’s Boom BOOM! demonstrates both kinds of discomfort.
The print is propaganda in its true definition, “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.”* This is a word that has extremely negative connotations, bringing fascism and other horrific regimes to mind, but in reality we are surrounded by it daily, whether it be a governmental campaign, religious billboard, or even a commercial for diet pills. Furthermore, the most compelling contemporary art has critiqued museums, modernism, society, homophobia, and the gender binary.
Scott’s artwork is in-your-face with its anger and unmistakably leftist views: he juxtaposes images of a booming stock market with its indirect consequence, violent revolution in Nepal. What are these women fighting for? And what does capitalism have to do with it? The answer divides many, for challenging the capitalist institution is seen as clichéd and unpatriotic among most while essential for progress among others. Although Scott is asserting his opinion with this print, you don’t have to agree with him to appreciate it.
Whether or not the message resonates with you is irrelevant—its merit is in the fact that you cannot help but talk about it. Picking this print to propose for the J-term class Collecting 101 was a risk; my group knew the work’s political leanings were unpopular and unforgiving. Yet, we saw in it great potential for dialogue as well as a historical presence, which has become even more relevant considering what is happening in Egypt, Tunisia, and in the Middle East. Scott’s print is more than just propaganda —it is a historic document recording the current political climate, which now can be remembered and studied by fellow and future Smithies.
* Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2010.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
SCMA launched a new course in January 2011 called “Collecting 101.” Designed to be an introduction to the issues and practical matters of collecting for an institution, “Collecting 101” allowed students to directly participate in researching and purchasing a work on paper for the SCMA collection.
During the inaugural teaching of the course, twelve students (representing all classes) learned about the SCMA’s policies and aspects of collecting in general. They also learned about printmaking, as the works to be considered for purchase were contemporary prints. As a group the class assembled a list of important criteria to consider while deciding on their purchase, which included the work’s educational value from an interdisciplinary perspective, that the work be intellectually stimulating and visual appeal, and that it fit well into the current collection.
On January 13, the class hosted Jamie Miller, Master Printer and Program Director at the Lower East Side Printshop, who introduced eleven possible choices of contemporary prints for purchase. After narrowing the field to four items, students researched and presented purchase proposals, arguing the merits of each print.
Competition was fierce, and all of the proposals were well argued and presented. The final work selected, Dread Scott’s Boom BOOM! is the first work by the artist to enter the SCMA collection. “Collecting 101” will be offered again in January 2012.
Jamie Miller and students in “Collecting 101” consider selected works from the Lower East Side Printshop, January 2011.
Monday, December 5, 2011
David Becker at the Print Council of America meeting in New Haven, June 2010. Photograph by Carolyn Peter.
December 11, 2010 was declared “David Becker Day” by the outgoing Governor of Maine John Baldacci. Personally, I think David Becker Day should be an annual observance, and I, for one, plan to celebrate it every year.
For those of you not familiar with David, he was the Pamela and Peter Voss Curator in the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a notable independent print scholar. The national print community lost a valued member with David’s premature death in November 2010. He was devoted to the study of prints and illustrated books; his alma mater, Bowdoin College; issues of social equality; and his adopted home, the state of Maine.
David was also a mentor for young curators. At the beginning of my career at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, he was a role model for me; someone who loved prints as much as I did and who never tired of sharing both his considerable knowledge and loans from his exceptional collection. He was an active participant in virtually all of my professional firsts: first exhibition (as an advisor and lender); first catalogue (as a contributor), as well as my sponsor for membership in the professional print curator’s organization the Print Council of America. But even more than this, he was the kind of curator (and person) I wanted to be: knowledgeable, exacting, curious, generous, and kind.
In 2002 David donated several works to SCMA in honor of his mother, Helen Pillsbury Becker, a member of the class of 1928, including this lovely Bléry.
The Large Burdock is one of a series of four large plant studies that Bléry created based on his observation of plants in the forest of Fontainebleau, France. This particular impression of the print features significant additions in black and brown ink, which indicates that it was a trial proof pulled in between states (most probably between the second and third of five states). Working this way allowed the artist to re-think areas of the composition by drawing directly upon a printed impression. One of the major alterations in the final state of the print was the change of the tree in the background from an oak to a beech.
This print will always remind me of David. Its formal beauty, quirky rarity (although a fine printmaker, Bléry is hardly a household name), and subject matter capture some of the things he loved: the study of graphic processes, 19th century French prints, and nature.
Eugène Bléry. French, 1805-1887. The Large Burdock , 1842. Etching and drypoint, heightened in brown and black ink on cream wove paper. Gift of David P. Becker in memory of Helen Pillsbury Becker, class of 1928. SC 2002:20-3. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
So, how should you celebrate David Becker Day? Visit a museum (one excellent option is to visit the MFA Boston to see Two Masters of Fantasy: Bresdin and Redon , on view until January 16). Or, visit your local print room, such as the Cunningham Center , choose an object you love and spend time looking at it closely. Learn something new. Share it with others. Read a book. Spend time outdoors. Donate to a cause you feel passionate about. Have dinner with friends. Enjoy yourself to the fullest.
I don’t think that David would approve of my suggestion that we create a modern-day “saints day,” in his honor (he was too modest for that), but I’m positive that he would support the idea that everyone take the time for these activities.
I hope you all have a wonderful David Becker Day.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Guest blogger Karysa Norris (Dartmouth College '12) was a participant in the 2011 Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies (www.smith.edu/siams ). She also served as the 2011 Brown SIAMS Fellow, a four-week internship in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints Drawings and Photographs.
One day during the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies, our Teaching Assistants Betsy and Jason brought us to the Cunningham Center to discuss issues of sexism and racism in art museums.To aid in our discussion, several prints and posters by the Guerrilla Girls were on display. I knew that a lot of the work had been produced in the 1980s and 90s, so I assumed that much of it would be outdated or irrelevant. As we perused the collection, however, one print in particular immediately caught my eye: Top Ten Ways to Tell if You’re an Art World Token from the Most Wanted collection. The first two examples made me smile: “Your busiest months are February (Black History Month), March (Women’s History), April (Asian-American Awareness), June (Stonewall Anniversary) and September (Latino Heritage)” and “At openings and parties, the only other people of color are serving drinks.” I immediately wanted to grab the nearest person, point, and say, “That’s me!”
Guerrilla Girls. American, 20th century. Top Ten Ways to Tell if You’re an Art World Token , from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985-2006 , 1995. Lithograph printed in black and grey on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. SC 2006:44
Far from being irrelevant, this 1995 print made me feel that my disappointment in the lack of diversity in museums was validated. I have only been a part of the museum world for a few short months but I have never been as aware of my minority status as I was while touring the museums of New England with SIAMS. Not one of the professionals we met with had an ethnic background similar to my own, and I was suddenly hyper-aware of how overwhelmingly white the art historical field is. Even at my home institution, the only faculty member of color is, not surprisingly, the professor of Asian art. Although I was happy to know that other people are aware of the issue of diversity, I was simultaneously saddened that it didn’t seem like much had changed in the past 16 years. Museums and art history departments are still largely dominated by upper-class white women, and it is still far too easy to see an individual of a different ethnicity or background such as myself as a “token” staff member.
I wasn’t the only one in the class who had a strong reaction to these protest posters. The Guerrilla Girls jumpstarted a conversation on diversity that continued long after our session with Betsy and Jason was over. I’m not exactly shy about bringing up topics of sexism and race with my peers, but having voices from women speaking about them for over twenty years supporting me certainly made my points more compelling!
Second Test 12/7/11
This is a seocnd tes on DEW.
Test comment 12/6/11
This is a test.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Alfred H. Barr (founding director of The Museum of Modern Art) and Jere Abbott (founding associate director of MoMA and director of the Smith College Museum of Art from 1932-1946) met as graduate students at Harvard University.
George Platt Lynes. American, 1907-1956. Jere Abbott . c. 1932. Gelatin silver print. Transfer from Smith College Archives. 1979:51
During the winter of 1927, Barr and Abbott traveled through Europe. Their primary destination was the Bauhaus, the modernist art and architecture school located in Dessau, Germany, but on a whim they decided to also visit the Soviet Union, easily obtaining visas in Berlin. Both Barr and Abbott kept diaries during their time in the Soviet Union, which lasted from January through March 1928.
Barr’s diary was published (with a preface by Abbott) in October (Winter 1987). SCMA owns both Jere Abbott’s diary from the trip as well as his guidebook.
Abbott’s text recalls mostly theater and musical performances (often with detailed notes on the sets and staging), although they also visited museums and purchased some art. On January 6, Abbott recalled: “Went in the afternoon with Roz[insky] to an exhibit of paintings by peasants and untutored workers in the First University. Arranged to buy possibly four later. One by a young Russian peasant boy of 16. Met him.” Exhibitions such as this were part of the Soviet attempt to support the development of a native proletarian-based art that eschewed dependence on formal training.
This drawing, donated to SCMA by Abbott in 1979, is presumed to be by the boy mentioned in his diary.
T. Menyof. Russian, c. 1911—?. Study of Three Boys . June 30, 1927. Gouache and pencil on tan wove paper. Gift of Jere Abbott. SC 1979:16
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Julia Margaret Cameron. British, born India, 1815-1879. Mother Mary (Mary Hilliers) , 1866. Albumen print. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
I began working at the Cunningham Center as a student assistant when I entered Smith College as an Ada Comstock Scholar in the autumn of 2009. I had recently researched the photographic artist Julia Margaret Cameron, who was the aunt of Julia Stephen and the great-aunt of her daughter, Virginia Woolf. As a non-traditional student, I was impressed by Cameron's life because she began her career during her middle-aged years. She produced an enormous body of photographic art that included significant portraits of Victorian authors, artists, and scientists such as Alfred Tennyson, William Holman Hunt, and Charles Darwin. She created studies of women depicted as biblical and classical literary figures, along with images for Tennyson’s Idylls of the King- often developing her own soft focus and dramatic lighting techniques that were advanced for the time. Her passion for gathering a community of creative intellectuals on the Isle of Wight, near London, was a precedent for the Bloomsbury Group in which her great-niece, Virginia Woolf would one day take part. When I decided to complete my college education at nearly 50 years of age, Julia Margaret Cameron became my inspiration.
The Cunningham Center houses over 16,000 works on paper that includes over 5,000 photographs by artists such as Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, Robert Doisneau and hundreds of others – including Julia Margaret Cameron. When students begin their assistant positions here, the first thing that they are taught to do is to handle the objects in the collection correctly in order to prepare them for viewing by individuals, students, professors, and classes from local schools and colleges. Curator Aprile Gallant and Manager Henriette Kets de Vries carefully emphasize that these objects are to be used – not merely stored – in the Cunningham Center. That means that when you visit here by appointment, we have placed up to 15 objects of your choice on the tables in the study room for your own private viewing – you may not touch, but your use of a magnifying glass is encouraged! You may take your time to browse the objects, research the files, ask the staff questions, and even choose to make another appointment to view more objects. It is an unusually rare and fortunate opportunity in a museum environment to work so closely with museum objects and many people are unaware of its availability.
My experience as a student assistant at the Cunningham Center has been extraordinary. I have been privileged to work with some of the most fascinating objects in the museum and to do so with an opportunity to research and study them, as well. In my first few days here, I tentatively asked – did the Cunningham Center own any of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs? Yes, they did, I was told. Could I see them, I wondered? Yes, I was assured, of course I could. This left me so overwhelmed with emotion that I went home that afternoon and telephoned my favorite family and friends (who had all been subjected to many conversations with me regarding all things Julia Margaret Cameron) and told them this news. I was going to actually see several of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs at the Cunningham Center! When I returned the next day, I reverently brought Mother Mary (Mary Hilliers) out from its storage location and set it on the table in the study room. I was so moved that I found my eyes quickly filling up with tears and I smiled in embarrassment when Aprile and Henriette found me there. I said I was sorry to be so silly. They smiled back and said that it was perfectly okay, as long as I didn’t get tears on the photograph. We laughed together and I composed myself. Aprile said that one of Julia Cameron’s photographs would be on view in our Nixon Gallery soon and Henriette asked me if I would like to write the label for it. I said yes, but by then I was undone. So, I resumed my crying with much happiness, making sure that I didn’t spill any tears on my beloved Julia’s photograph.
Julia Margaret Cameron
Postscript to previous comment: It appears that I misunderstood the "subject" and "author" fields on the comment form. Perhaps "author" means the person who is commenting? The previous comment to Robin Acker's post was submitted by Annie Bissett.
Julia Margaret Cameron
Beautiful article. I relate as someone who is starting a fine art career as a late bloomer, and I relate as someone who had also cried at the Cunningham! Thanks for introducing me to Julia Margaret Cameron.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i' the air; strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatch'd to the woeful time: the obscure bird
Clamour'd the livelong night: some say, the earth
Was feverous and did shake.
Marcantonio Raimondi. Italian, circa 1470/1482 - 1527/1534. Or: Agostino Musi, called Veneziano. Italian, 1490-1540. Probably after Giulio Romano, Italian, circa 1499-1546, or Raphael Sanzio, Italian, 1483-1520. Lo Stregozzo (B. XIV, 426) or La Carcasse, n.d. Engraving on paper laid down on a second sheet of paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred H. Barr Jr. in memory of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1969:25. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
With the approach of Halloween, and the days getting shorter and darker, I got inspired to investigate the story behind one of the more grotesque and interesting Italian prints in our collection. This large print treats a highly unusual subject for Italian art, one you would normally find in the work of German or Dutch Renaissance artists like Baldung Grien or Hieronymus Bosch in darker and colder Northern European regions.
The print reveals an impossible parade of grotesque figures, with an old woman at the center with open mouth and wild flowing hair seated on a skeletal creature. The witch in question is squeezing the life out of little children while strapping young attendants noisily lead the way through a marsh like environment, disturbing the geese or ducks out of their nesting ground. You can almost feel and hear the impact of this unholy procession.
The subject of the work is quite mysterious. However, it conjures up images of Nordic sagas of the “Wild Horde” or possibly harkens back to portrayals of the cannibalistic Roman god Saturn as in the one by Virgil Solis seen below:
Virgil Solis, German, (1514-1562) Saturn, n.d. from Illustrated Bartsch.
The history of the Smith print is far from straightforward. It has been named La Carcasse ("The Carcass")or Ill Stregozzo ("The Witches' Procession"), both titles emphasizing different parts of the composition. Scholars are also not quite sure of the identities of the artist and printmaker for this print. Most commonly it is ascribed to Agostino Veniziano Musi or Marcantonio Raimondi after a work by Raphael.
While trying to make sense of this art historical mystery I came across a wonderful drawing by an unknown Italian artist commonly called the Master of the Victoria and Albert Museum Diableries from about the same period as the print in question. The drawing is loosely titled A Witches Sabbath and shows definite similarities to La Carcasse . While more chaotic in composition, all the pivotal elements of La Carcasse appear. The carcass, with its devilish horned head, seems to be an amalgamation of various creatures in the Veneziano/Raimondi print, and the prominent headless buttocks is clearly a direct derivative. However, the central female figure is now replaced by various androgynous figures and at least one (fallen) angel.
Anonymous Italian artist/Bandinelli Bacci (1500-1560), also known as the Master of the Victoria and Albert Museum Diableries. Florentine School. A Witches' Sabbath, mid 16th century. Drawing. Repository: Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom.
It is almost as though the printmaker decided to clean up the composition of the drawing and create a more orderly display, while simultaneously trying to maintain the wild energy within the work.
Another smaller print in our collection has a more established relationship to La Carcasse. There seems to be little doubt among scholars that Albrecht Dürer’s A Witch Riding to the Sabbath was used as a model for the murderous hag that rides the skeleton.
Albrecht Dürer. German (1471 - 1528). A Witch Riding to the Sabbath, ca. 1500-1501. Engraving printed in black on paper. Gift of Mary Bates Field, class of 1904. SC 1959:70. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
While the Dürer’s witch rides backwards on a goat, an animal often equated to the devil, the witch in the Italian print rides an unidentifiable large carcass, a clear symbol of death. These “wild women” represent another interesting example of an inherent fear of the power of women. These mature witches are naked, they are wild, they are in charge, and they have the power of life and death. It seems obvious that in a patriarchal society this image was one of many nightmares…
I found this very interesting!
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The works of art that remain inexhaustibly interesting draw us not by their meanings but by their ambiguities - their refusal to submit to a single interpretation. And no artist was more attuned to this complexity than the Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
Jan Duetecum, after Pieter Bruegel the elder. Duetecum: Flemish, ca.1558-ca.1593; Bruegel: Flemish, ca. 1525-1569. The Fair on Saint George's Day (The Kermis of St. George) , n.d. Etching and engraving on paper. Purchased with the gift of Priscilla Cunningham, class of 1958. SC 1973:12-1. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
This print after Bruegel depicts a kermis—the peasant celebration surrounding a Catholic religious feast—in all its carnival excess. Men and women cavort together, overrun by animals and children; there is music, a sword dance, and a fight; a stage is erected on beer barrels in front of a church; adults gather to play children’s games.
Seen by the upper classes as a license for debauchery, kermises were much in contention in the Netherlands throughout the sixteenth century. Peasant revelry was associated with pagan bacchanalia - its drunken feasts were thought to undermine the sanctity of the Last Supper, while its disorderly dancing invoked the idolatry of the dancers around the golden calf.
Does this print reinforce the disapproval of the upper classes, or challenge it? Is Bruegel satirizing these peasants and their drunken sport, or is he honoring the exuberance and spontaneity of their celebration? Looking for answers in the print’s iconography only reveals contradictions. While dances, feasts and games may be allegories of vice and folly, they also represent merriment and community. The flag in the right foreground reads “Let the Farmers Have Their Fair” - we could read this as a protest in favor of the kermis, or as a condescending dismissal of the peasants’ fun.
Bruegel turns the subject of the kermis and its usual didactic message about good Christian behavior on its head. The two pairs of spectators who frame the composition in the foreground of the print draw our attention not only to the follies of the peasants but to how we see them, and the complex relationship between judgment and sympathy.
In the two details that have been picked out in Bruegel and the Art of Ambiguity above show men pointing. They may be pointing to the whole scene of folly but the man with his mouth open is pointing directly to the backside and head between legs of boys tumbling the other observer to the revels is pointing to a bowles-player who is also pointing at his ball. In another drawing called The Feast of Fools Bruegel makes a direct link between the wooden balls and the numbskulls of the players. Bruegel was a quiet, serious artist but he was also known for a sense of humour by scaring his apprentices with strange noises. He was also known to dress up as a peasant to attend country weddings. So I think he was happy for the time for recreation and play acting - he includes so many details - but by also including the critics he gives a truer picture and the print a wider market.
Monday, October 17, 2011
I first saw Eduardo Hernández Santos’s El Muro photographs in 2008 during a studio visit with photographer and Hampshire College faculty member Jackie Hayden. Jackie and her husband, printmaker Steve Daiber, had been visiting and working in Cuba since 2001 as part of Hampshire College’s study abroad program, and they had been assisting Cuban artists by introducing their work to U.S. audiences since 2004. At the time, Steve and Jackie were working on publishing a book on El Muro through Steve’s imprint, Red Trillium Press . The pictures completely knocked me out.
Eduardo Hernández Santos. Cuban, born 1966. Triptych from El Muro(The Wall) , 2005 (printed 2008). Gelatin silver prints with applied presstype. Purchased with funds from the Dorius-Spofford Fund for the Study of Civil Liberties and Freedom of Expression
Hernández Santos began El Muro in 2005, when he discovered that a block of the Malecón, the five-mile sea wall extending from Old to Central Havana, had been claimed as a place where gay and transgendered Cubans congregated on a nightly basis. He photographed at El Muro (the wall) over the next year, engaging in discussions with his subjects, many of whom had no other public social outlet to express this part of their identities. Although Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of current Cuban president Raul Castro and Director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, is a vocal supporter of gay rights in Cuba, there is a strong sense that even minor gains (like being able to gather safely in public) may soon disappear. The late-night revelers, caught in the flash of Hernández Santos’s camera, display themselves fully, making the most of their current (albeit limited) freedom.
El Muro consists of a series of ten photographic triptychs. Most of the triptychs includes two images of the wall itself shown alongside portraits of people at the wall. On the left-hand image, the artist has spelled out fragments from “La isla en peso (The Island Burden)” a poem by the well-known gay Cuban writer Virgilio Piñera (1912-1979). Piñera’s poem charts, in scathing language, what he saw as the often repressive, violent, and insular nature of Cuban culture, and he portrayed his native land as doomed and malignant. [La maldita circunstancia del agua por todas partes (the damned circumstance of water everywhere)]. Hernández Santos’s project strives to represent, in his words “the inner essence of a people who struggle to define and defend their right to be themselves, to have a space of their own.”
Eduardo Hernández Santos. Cuban, born 1966. Triptych from El Muro(The Wall) , 2005 (printed 2008). Gelatin silver prints with applied presstype. Purchased with funds from the Dorius-Spofford Fund for the Study of Civil Liberties and Freedom of Expression.
The prints Jackie and Steve showed me were made in 2006 with expired photo paper and chemistry in the artist’s bedroom/darkroom (black and white photography supplies are difficult to obtain in Cuba). The circumstances under which the photographs were printed are important to the meaning of the work: the economic realities of making art in Cuba often require a make-shift ingenuity to successfully realize projects that would be easier accomplished outside the country. The use of expired materials also contributes to the grainy texture of Hernández Santos’s images and the relative lack of contrast, which heightens the sense of people emerging from the darkness. The artist printed three more editions (also on expired paper, but with fresh chemistry), one of which was acquired by SCMA in 2010.
El Muro will be on view at SCMA from September 2 -November 20 which will coincide with a residency by the artist at Hampshire College (dates TBA).
Monday, October 10, 2011
What about this drawing intrigues you?
Help SCMA improve our interpretive labels!
The goal of interpretive labels is to give visitors information about works of art. The problem, of course, is that not everyone is interested in the same thing.
What do YOU want to know? Here’s your chance to share your ideas and help us create more effective and interesting labels.
What questions do you have about this drawing?
What is the first thing you notice?
What words come to mind when looking at this drawing?
What function do you imagine this drawing may have had?
Please record your questions, comments, ideas, or observations in the comments section. You can use the questions we’ve provided or formulate your own: all observations are welcome.
Your feedback will also help us in planning an exhibition of French and Italian drawings scheduled to be on view during the Fall of 2012.
We will post some test labels based on your comments and ideas, and hope you will check Paper + People to see (and rate!) our labels for clarity, interest, and effectiveness.
An installation featuring this drawing will be on view on the Museum’s second floor until November.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Albrecht Dürer. German, 1471 – 1528. Adam and Eve , 1504. Engraving printed in black on antique laid paper. Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Murray Seasongood (Agnes Senior, class of 1911). SC 1983:20-4. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Marcantonio Raimondi. Italian, ca. 1480 – ca. 1535. Venus and Adonis , n.d. Engraving on paper. Purchased. SC 1940:16-1. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
The Cunningham Center harbors a wonderful collection of old master prints that is especially strong in the area of Northern European Renaissance works. One of the eye-opening experiences you can have when working with old master prints is uncovering their insights into the history and philosophy of a past culture.
The portability of prints in the early Renaissance made them the perfect medium to propagate cultural beliefs, as well as subjects and trends in art. Prints travelled easily and were relatively affordable, enabling a cross-pollination of art and ideas between northern and southern Europe. Relatively egoless, printmakers of the early fifteenth century readily shared with and copied works from other artists. One such well-known and respected copyist was Marcantonio Raimondi, considered an important innovator in the history of Italian printmaking. While most Italian printmakers of the time copied directly from known painted works, Raimondi was also famous for his free interpretations of works by other artists.
Raimondi’s Venus and Adonis is a fascinating example of this practice. Raimondi re-works portions of Adam and Eve , an engraving by the famous German artist Albrecht Dürer. In Venus and Adonis, Raimondi depicts a nude man and woman situated in a landscape composed similarly to Dürer’s in Adam and Eve , and directly copies Dürer’s lazy-eyed stag, which appears in both prints from behind a centrally located skinny tree.
Detail from Adam and Eve
Detail from Venus and Adonis
In a way, these iconographic borrowings transform Raimondi’s Venus and Adonis into a southern “pagan” equivalent to Dürer’s northern Christian Adam and Eve.
The correlation between Adam and Eve and Venus and Adonis is not as farfetched as it may seem at first glance. In Ovid’s story of Venus and Adonis it is Venus who actively seduces Adonis. Often portrayed as a manipulative seductress, Venus’s attributes were easily transposed onto the biblical Eve, who, according to Saint Augustine (354 – 430), probably the most influential Christian theologian of all time, used her womanly charms to entice the innocent Adam into sin, ultimately leading to the Fall of mankind.
That Eve used her womanly charm to achieve this feat leads us to an interesting detail that connects the two stories in these prints even further. In Raimondi’s print, Adonis is holding Venus’s breast. The breast is easily confused in this context with the seductive round apple Eve offers to Adam, a correlation that has been made in other works of art.
Hans Baldung Grien. German, 1484/85-1545. Adam and Eve , 1511. Chiaroscuro woodcut. Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington. 1943.3.907
Comparing these two works by Raimondi and Dürer reveals how artists of the time made interpretive choices to convey cultural and religious ideas, in this case regarding the cunning and destructive sexual power of women—an idea that had currency in both northern and southern Europe, and that unfortunately still resonates in our time.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Congratulations to the Student Picks winners for the 2011 - 2012 academic year! These Smith students will get to organize an art show using the Cunningham Center's collection of prints, drawings and photographs.
October 7, 2011 – Nicole Teitelbaum ‘14
November 4, 2011 – Elizabeth Stewart ‘13
December 2, 2011 – Maggie Weiler ‘15
February 3, 2012 – Margot Lurie ‘12
March 2, 2012 – Gabrielle Morrison ‘15
April 6, 2012 – Catherine Popovici ‘13
May 4, 2012 – Jasmine Setoodehnia ‘14
October 5, 2012 – Laila Phillips ‘15
After collecting all five ballot boxes on Friday from their locations around campus, we poured the many entries into our infamous big red bucket (courtesy of the Education Department!). SCMA Director Jessica Nicoll picked the seven names, and two alternates.
Meanwhile, we're close on the heels of our first Student Picks show of the year. Nicole Teitelbaum '14, whose name was drawn last year, will show her picks on the Friday after next -- October 7, from 12 to 4 PM. The topic is depictions of mental illness and disorder in art, which relates to Nicole's work as the chair of Smith's chapter of Active Minds as well as her Psychology major.
I will post an invitation on the SCMA Facebook page next week, so remember to "like us" on Facebook if you want to receive updates on upcoming Student Picks exhibitions.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
This week you'll see a double-bill of posts about Student Picks , our student exhibition program, to mark this Friday's fast approaching deadline for Smith students to enter to win the chance to organize an art show at SCMA. In today's post, guest blogger Lori E. Harris AC '11 reflects on her Student Picks experience in the spring of 2011.
Martin Puryear. American (b. 1941). Avey , from portfolio Cane, 2000. Woodblock printed in black ink on Kitakata paper. Purchased with the gift of the Arch W. Shaw Foundation, through the courtesy of Nancy Simonds Shaw, class of 1972, administrator, and other individuals. SC 2000:36-6
I was selected to participate in the Student Picks program in the Fall of ‘10. Although I was very excited that I had been one of seven students chosen to develop and curate my own art exhibition in the Smith College Museum of Art’s Cunningham Center, I anticipated that the process would be very structured and formal. However, upon attending my first Student Picks meeting with Amanda Shubert of the Cunningham Center, I soon discovered that the staff at the Cunningham Center’s goal was to make our experience both educational and enjoyable. Amanda let us know early on in the process that each Student Picks would have the full support of not only the staff but also the resources of the Cunningham Center in selecting and organizing our prints for our final exhibition.
What I found most helpful in this process was that the staff at the Cunningham Center allowed us to define for ourselves what we viewed as artistically creative. The one-on-one conversations with Amanda about my individual interests allowed me to synthesize and focus my ideas and draw on themes and coursework that I had studied throughout previous semesters. I was able to connect that coursework with works of art that make up the vast collection within the Cunningham Center. I became aware that the Cunningham Center owned a volume of woodblock illustrations created by Martin Puryear. By creating abstract portraits of female characters from Jean Toomer’s Cane, Puryear’s illustrations situate the viewer in the historical context of the period, calling attention to the connections between words, community, relationships and culture. Similarly, Japanese Ukiyo-e , or “pictures of the floating world,” was an important vehicle for and reflection on narrative — representing scenes from folk stories and Kabuki plays as well as a cultural narrative of place. Although Puryear’s style is completely different from Ukiyo-e , both can be viewed as the nexus of many complex layers of text, narrative and history.
The staff of the Cunningham Center gave me an opportunity to develop, shape and curate an exhibition that was a transformational experience for me. By supporting my process from the very beginning until the closing of the show, they gave me the confidence to believe that I could create an exhibition that was not only engaging and educational for the audience but also enjoyable. Student Picks is a unique and progressive concept. I would argue that it is one of the few programs on campus that brings together students from every discipline and gives them an opportunity to integrate their academic interest with art. There were a good number of students who attended my exhibition and the primary question they asked before they left was “how can I become a Student Picks!?” I believe the success of the Student Picks Program is evident in that very question.
Toyota Hokkei. Japanese, Surimono: The Hell Courtesan (Jigokudayû) , from series Three Prints of Courtesans , mid-1820s. Woodcut printed in color on embossed paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Barker (Margaret Clark Rankin, class of 1908). SC 1968:478
Monday, September 19, 2011
This week you'll see a double-bill of posts about Student Picks , our student exhibition program, to mark this Friday's fast approaching deadline for Smith students to enter to win the chance to organize an art show at SCMA. In this post, guest blogger Kendyll Gage-Ripa, Smith College class of 2012 reflects on the process of putting together her Student Picks exhibition, held in December 2010.
Carrie Mae Weems. American, born 1950. Portrait of a Woman Who Has Fallen from Grace and into the Hands of Evil , 1988. Gelatin silver print. Purchased. SC 1991:2. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
My name is Kendyll, and I am a Smith College senior studying Studio Art and African-American Studies. Getting selected to create a Student Picks exhibition was a wonderful (and initially a bit overwhelming) surprise. I didn’t begin seriously thinking about my exhibition until late October. At the starting point I had no idea where the project would lead me—I was full of questions that I could only answer by beginning the process. Although I knew I wanted to create an exhibition that would be thought provoking for others, I would later realize that the experience would be a profound source of learning for me as well.
Because I had a specific collection of objects to work with, whatever theme I might choose would have to be informed by the art. Therefore, my first step was to browse SCMA’s online database of artworks so I could get a sense of the material I had to work with. This proved difficult, as the database is not set up for “browsing:” although works of art are easy to search out when you know what you are looking for, if you don’t, you have to get creative.
In the midst of the mysterious process of “getting creative,” I began to feel that images I was pulling up from SCMA’s collection were strongly connected to ideas from one of my classes, conversations I had been having, and my own private musings. Slowly, along with my discovery of certain images from the collection, an exhibition theme revealed itself to me from my mess of thoughts and feelings.
The theme and title for my show gradually emerged from questions I had about images of women’s bodies. As I thought about the role women’s bodies play in western art and contemporary visual culture, I began searching for artists whose work attempts to resist, critique, and even subvert the way the female body has traditionally been depicted. This process led me to consider much broader ideas that were, nonetheless, intimately tied to the specific topic I was trying to explore. For example, works from the collection like Carrie Mae Weems’s Portrait of a Woman Who Has Fallen from Grace and into the Hands of Evil , and Imogen Cunningham’s The Unmade Bed drew my attention to the process of representation itself, and how it shapes our society’s reading of the female body.
I decided to center my show on “questions”: questions the artists ask, questions I posed, and questions the viewer might ask. I wanted to ask “who is she, really?” as a way to start a conversation between images and audience. Putting together this exhibition taught me that while asking questions is the beginning of interpretation and understanding, perhaps it is the final goal as well. Maybe critical thinking means moving from question to question—gathering meaning, without necessarily reaching concrete answers. In putting a stop to the process of questioning, a fixed “answer” might actually cut off the flow of learning. Questions leave us open to the fullness of the world. Perhaps questions are the closest we can come to the truth. In a sense, I ended where I had begun in October—with a beautiful mess of questions, and not an answer in sight.
Imogen Cunningham. American, 1883–1976. The Unmade Bed , 1957. Purchased. SC 1976:19-14. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Guest blogger Judith Keyler-Mayer is a Senior Lecturer in the German Department at Smith College.
Käthe Kollwitz. German, 1867 - 1945. Weberzug (March of the Weavers); Plate IV from the series Ein Weberaufstand (A Weavers' Rebellion), 1897. Etching on thick cream wove paper. Purchased. SC 1958:45. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
My classes and I have been fortunate to benefit from the Cunningham Center for many years and in many ways. I usually bring students of advanced German language and culture (300-level) to “private showings” at the CC towards the end of each semester. These classes are geared towards special topics in German society and history and culture like “War and Peace in German culture,” “Growing up in German Speaking Europe,” or “Made in Germany.”
In the last five years, I worked mostly with Henriette Kets de Vries, who selected and assembled the relevant artifacts and meticulously prepared a custom tailored exhibition of prints for my groups weeks before the actual showing.
It is in the nature of advanced language classes that the students mostly work with a lot of ready-produced texts in written form (i.e. articles, fiction etc). They also might acquire special vocabulary by listening to songs or by watching movies.
There is, however, a great challenge for the students to deal with non-verbal media like pictures, since these require the students to produce their own formulations, without reproducing ready-made building blocks. The confrontation with a selection of prints relevant to the class’s topic gives them the opportunity to perceive their topic in a new way - visually and without words.
For me as the teacher, a lesson in this custom tailored art environment offers an abundance of teaching opportunities in regards to language and culture, or ideally “language through culture.”
After a short introduction given by Henriette the students have the opportunity to closely inspect the 10 to 16 presented artifacts. During the lesson, the students are encouraged to describe and compare the prints, verbalize their own impressions, interpretations, and emotions. Typically, class discussions develop by themselves when students speculate about the artist’s intentions, the cultural relevance of the work and/or its connections to the class’s topic. Sometimes students with knowledge of art history can contribute background information, and Henriette is around to answer specific questions (yes, in German!).
For me as the teacher, these lessons are normally very rewarding, because I can observe how much knowledge and means of language the students have acquired throughout the course, and whether they are able to bring cultural information together and find the connection to the class’s topic.
Beyond direct benefits to the classroom, a visit to the Cunningham Center can have some other desirable side effects, like a welcome break from the class routine. For many students, this is their first visit to the Smith Art Museum, and for some even the first encounter to an art exhibition at all. My hope is that they feel encouraged to have a closer look, get an “eye-opener” or at least an introduction to the language of art and maybe come back again.
Monday, August 29, 2011
“The look of a wall or a window is a look into time and space. Windows are symbols. They are openings in. The wall carries its history. What we seek is not the moment alone.” –Robert Henri
Edward Hopper. American, 1887–1967. Evening Wind, 1921. Etching on white wove paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm G. Chace Jr. (Beatrice Ross Oenslager, class of 1928). SC 1975:66-2. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
The image above is Evening Wind by Edward Hopper. Best known for his paintings, Hopper began his career as a printmaker, and it is for the extraordinary etchings he produced between 1915 and 1923 that he first gained critical acclaim. His prints, like his paintings, are subtle vignettes of urban experience, rendered with psychological acuity and an eye to formal abstraction. We see solitary nocturnal figures prowling the shadows of empty parks and cafés, and nudes with mask-like faces at the windows of tenement apartments. His etchings are part social record of a time and place, and part portraits of a timeless interiority, a project perhaps best expressed by Hopper’s most frequent and seemingly contradictory claims about his work: that all he is trying to do is “paint sunlight on the side of a house” and that he chooses subjects he believes will be “the best mediums for a synthesis of my inner experience.” In Evening Wind , as in so many of Hopper’s prints and paintings, the way light suffuses a house is a study of inner experience.
Hopper was part of the same generation of printmakers as George Bellows and John Sloan—all three studied at the Art Students League in New York City with Robert Henri, who encouraged them to go out into the city and make quick sketches from memory of what they saw there. Popularly known as the Ashcan School, they were notorious for their crude urban realism.
Consider this etching Turning Out the Light from Sloan’s series “New York City Life”:
John Sloan. American, 1871-1951. Turning Out the Light , 1905. Etching. Courtesy of Connecticut Valley’s Wetmore Print Collection.
This print is is likely a source for Hopper’s Evening Wind . They share a subject – a woman getting into bed at the end of the day – and they are compositionally similar, both illuminated by a single dramatic light source that cuts, like the line of the women’s bodies, diagonally across the print. Sloan’s work, which was rejected from the American Water Color Society in 1906 for its “vulgarity,” shows a woman in the playful euphemistic act of turning out the light; she glances over her shoulder at her lover, and begins to peel down the strap of her nightgown.
Evening Wind is similarly sexually charged, but where Sloan’s print is narrative - and thereby perhaps even more scandalous for the time, asking us to imagine what comes next—Hopper’s is more ambiguous. What has this woman stopped to see? What is she thinking about? The light from the window (mysteriously, since it is evening) seems to symbolize something, but it’s not clear what—it is suggestive, but it can’t be pinned down. And Hopper’s subject, instead of sharing a knowing look with another person, is fixated on the window. She might be watching a lover leave her apartment, or she might just be surprised by the wind that floods the room and engulfs her body. The uncertainty here is important: we can’t see what she sees. The window is blank to us. It illuminates the print, but obscures its meaning; it casts light on the subject, but conceals the object of her perception. The frame of the window suggests the frame of a painting or print—an image-within-an-image, like the painting hanging on the wall behind the curtain, barely perceptible in the shadows – but it’s a private vision, an image only this woman can see.
Sloan’s subject, as his title indicates, is “New York City Life.” The label applies nicely to Hopper’s work as well, but, then again, in Evening Wind , isn’t New York City life precisely what Hopper doesn’t show? It’s what’s happening out in the street - the cars and buses, pedestrians and sidewalks, the urban drama the young woman gazes out at, the area of the print that remains unetched and wiped clean of ink. You might say that Hopper’s vignette of New York City life is a woman looking at a vignette of New York City life. He turns the Sloanian social record, like the light, into an interior experience.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Student Picks is SCMA’s student exhibition program. Each year, seven students are selected by lottery to organize individual monthly exhibitions using the collection of prints, drawings and photographs. Exhibitions are held in the Cunningham Center from 12 - 4 on the first Friday of the month during the academic year.
Student Picks allows students to engage with works of art from a perspective that isn’t necessarily art historical—they simply follow their enthusiasm through the collection, and what they come up with is always exciting and often extraordinary. Our students help us see the collection fresh, through new eyes; they light on objects we rarely use or pair works we never would have thought of pairing.
Stay tuned for posts from our Student Picks curators on creating their own art exhibition! For now, you can read more about Student Picks on the website , on the Grécourt Gate , and in the Sophian . And take a look at these pictures from last year's Student Picks exhibitions. This should get you geared up to enter the lottery yourself this academic year!!! Ballot boxes will start appearing around campus on September 5 . (Ready, get set, GO!)
Guests mingle at Yollian DaSilva ‘13’s October exhibition “Perspectives in Theater, Perspectives on Theater” - the first of the academic year!
Kendyll Gage-Ripa ‘12’s December exhibition “Who Is She Really?: Interrogating Representations of the Female Body”
Nellie Knox ’11 and her family at her February exhibition “Advertising in Art”
Monday, August 15, 2011
I love books. I came from a “bookish” family: people who hoarded and treasured books and spent more time reading than speaking. In college, I adopted a second major in English simply to provide an excuse to read more literature. Like many English majors, I sought a job in publishing after graduation, and luckily ended up in the Department of Publication and Sales at the Whitney Museum of American Art. There I learned that I loathed publishing but loved art. It was also there that my love of books as literature morphed into a fascination with books as visual art. At first I channeled this into a mania for book arts, taking as many classes as I could afford in letterpress, book conservation, and hand-book binding at the Center for Book Arts in New York. To my dismay, I was terrible at it: it is hard to imagine a future as a bookbinder when you can’t cut a straight line, even using a board cutter.
I still firmly believe that all books, to some degree, are works of visual art; even the most mundane book communicates through visual means: typeface, leading (the space between lines), page size, margins, paper, binding; not to mention any cover art—all these elements are deliberately selected to create specific visual meaning that adds to the personal experience that is reading a book.
SCMA has a wonderful small collection of livres d’artiste : French artist’s books created between the 19th and 20th centuries where image and text are integrated. My very favorite among these books is Toulouse-Lautrec’s Yvette Guilbert . Even if one cannot read French, it is easy to get a sense of the life of the eponymous cafe singer as she shops, dresses, and performs, as well as that of turn-of-the-century Paris. The images, printed in a soft olive green seep into the text (which is printed in the same color) creating a unified visual whole that pulls the viewer both into and through the book.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. French, 1864-1901. Yvette Guilbert , 1894. Lithographs printed in olive green on ivory laid Arches paper. Printed by Edward Ancourt (lithographs) and Frémont (typography). Published by L'Estampe Original [Andre Marty]. Copy 34 from a numbered edition of 100. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927
Monday, August 8, 2011
Education Department Intern Maggie Kean '14 writes about a tour she led in the Cunningham Center for Smith students.
Guerrilla Girls. American, 20th century. Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985 - 2006, 1989. Photolithograph printed in color on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. SC 2006:44-7. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
On March 25, the first of a series of museum tours geared toward college students was rolled out for a small focus group of Smithies in order to get a feel for the students’ response to this new idea. The tour, entitled “Girl Power,” is a theme-based guided tour designed to generate discussions about art and imagery that are relevant to students’ lives. Here at Smith College we are known for our commitment to the empowerment of women. Our administrators, educators, and students all strive to embody a sense of acceptance and outward confidence. The question that this tour focuses on is how this mentality manifests itself in the artworks that the Smith College Museum of Art acquires. The discussion touches on a number of varying perspectives on womanhood and what exactly it means to be an empowered woman. Half of the tour takes place in the main galleries, while the other half is held in the Cunningham Center. For this particular tour the featured works on paper were: “Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get Into the Met Museum?,” a print by the Guerrilla Girls; and a photograph by Lauren Greenfield : “Sarah, 19, Walks Down the Street.” Some of the issues the students touched upon were sexism in the art world, feminism, body image and self-confidence, and the idea of taking advantage of beauty vs. brains. The students were particularly enthusiastic about how these various factors combine to make an ‘intimidating woman’ and how that was reflected in the artworks.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Photographer, filmmaker, and Hampshire College Professor emeritus Jerome Liebling died on July 27 at the age of 87.
I was fortunate to have been able to work with Jerry, and have very fond memories of time spent both talking and looking at pictures. Asked any question, including the usually pro-forma “How are you?” would elicit Jerry’s trademark “Well. . . .” (an extended syllable, followed by a pause).
Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Coal Worker, Minnesota , 1952 (printed 1976). Gelatin silver print. Purchased
Jerry took you at your word: if you were going to ask a question, he would take it seriously and give you an honest answer. Not unkindly, but no sugar coating. This was, I think, one of his ways of ensuring that people were able to take full measure of their interactions with him, and by extension, with others: to encourage them to see clearly and act accordingly.
Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Woman, Shopping Cart, Market Window, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, N.Y. , 1985 (printed in 2007). C-print. Purchased with a grant from the Artists’ Resource Trust
His students have said that he led by example, and his photographs do too. Jerry’s pictures have always driven home to me the fact that the world that we live in is both beautiful and terrible, filled to the brim with pain and joy. What we do in this world, as human beings, matters a great deal, but the key things that we MUST do, is to commit ourselves to truly seeing how things are and to embrace the commonality of our existence. Perhaps this is too grand a statement, but it is undeniable that there is something in these photographs that is profoundly moving. Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Man in Restaurant Booth, Weirton, W.V. , 1982 (printed in 2007). Purchased with the Fund in honor of Charles Chetham.
The slumped posture of an unemployed man sitting in a restaurant booth, the tender mirrored gestures of a mother’s and baby’s hands, the warm light bathing a desolate corner of a broken city, an old woman both swallowed and framed by the signs of commercial culture—all of these indelible images are carefully chosen stanzas in Jerry’s magnum opus: a visual poem about what it means to be human in America in the 20th century. Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Mother, Baby’s Hand, Mexico , 1974 (printed 1976). Gelatin silver print. Purchased
Throughout his career, Jerry maintained this interest in the daily lives of regular people (or “folk” as he called them). While capturing this quality seems fairly straightforward, it clearly is not. He obviously felt for the people in his images, and I remember him musing on these interactions: the dignified Minnesota coal miner captured at work in the 1950s, or the day-dreaming old woman in Brighton Beach frozen mid-reverie. Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Woman & Scarf, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1980s
This openness toward his subjects was something I experienced as well. Jerry was not only generous with his time, but also with his regard. When you were with him you felt that as long as you were genuine and engaged you didn’t need to try to be impressive or display your accomplishments to gain his respect. Being human was enough.
But the sad fact of being human is, of course, that no one lives forever. I will miss Jerry. Fortunately, for us all, part of him lives on in his photographs.
Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Johnstown, Pennsylvania , 1984. C-print. Purchased
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Alfred Stieglitz. American, 1864 –1946. The Terminal , 1893. Photogravure on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
This year I became a curator for the first time: I organized a small exhibition of prints and photographs made in and about New York City in the early part of the twentieth century. I came to the topic through a fortuitous dove-tailing of ideas and events. First, I found myself learning about American prints for a separate collections research project, and as I paged through library books I became fascinated by the repetition and permutation of similar subjects: Brooklyn Bridge after Brooklyn Bridge, a myriad of skyscrapers and street corners. The documentary impulse in these works—representing real places in real time—seemed to give the landmarks they depicted a mythic stature. Second, I taught a session of a First Year Seminar called America in 1925 in which the students and I discussed the similarities and differences between two photographs of New York City, one by Alfred Stieglitz (The Terminal , 1893) and one by Ralph Steiner (Misty Day on Fifth Avenue , 1922). The students raised such provocative and compelling points about the way Stieglitz and Steiner documented urban life that I knew immediately I couldn’t let go of these works or these ideas—I would have to return to them. Third, I fell deeply and totally in love with the New York City photographs of Alfred Stieglitz and the New York City etchings of Edward Hopper, and I wanted to learn as much as possible about the work and careers of these two artists.
With inspiration like this, the exhibition came together with amazing ease. I pursued a range of work that revealed some facet of New York City life, focusing on two primary circles of artists: the printmakers associated with what came to be known as the Eight or the Ashcan School (John Sloan, George Bellows, Edward Hopper), and those associated with the more avant-garde Photo-Secession (Alfred Stieglitz, John Marin). I selected work that seemed to engage the project of documenting real people and places, the spectacles and chance encounters the city produces. I began to understand the attempt to represent the varied dimensions of an urban reality as a kind of map-making—mapping time and space, the public and the private, gender and race, industry and expansion, the nodes of human relationships and encounters that urban spaces both contain and produce. And I read whatever I could get my hands on about this topic and these artists—monographs, textbooks, and exhibition catalogs; criticism, theory, and biography.
In spite of this surfeit of research, perhaps the most fruitful lesson I learned about organizing an exhibition is that the curator doesn’t have the final word; the art does. An exhibition extends the opportunity to look at works of art in a way that is simultaneously mediated and unmediated. I made decisions about what to show and where and beside what, and I wrote a few didactic labels to direct the viewer to certain facts and interpretations, but I also felt that every work I hung was more complex than anything I could say about it. Ultimately, I recognize this as a special quality of working with original objects. The curator’s job is to allow the art to speak. And if the art can be illuminated by an argument or concept, it can also resist, complicate and transcend the argument or concept. I loved working in this unsettled state.
Ralph Steiner. American, 1899 - 1986. Misty Day on Fifth Avenue , from Portfolio III: Twenty-two Little Contact Prints from 1921 - 1929 Negatives , negative 1923; print 1981. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Gift of Thomas R. Schiff. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Hanging the exhibition
The exhibition Mapping the City is on view in the Cunningham Center corridor through September 25.
Mapping the City
I have long been fascinated with the photographic depictions of New York and Montreal during this precise era. I would love to see this exhibit. Congratulations to you, Amanda, for both this exhibit, and for the class that you taught. It would seem that the students were quite fascinated by the topic, the photos, and the questions raised. That's just plain great teaching.
Best wishes for your continued success in this area.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Welcome to Paper + People, the blog of the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Smith College Museum of Art.
What is the Cunningham Center?
The Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs is a rich resource of works on paper created between the 15th century and the present day. Comprising over 70% of the holdings of the Smith College Museum of Art, the Cunningham Center allows visitors direct, barrier-free, interactions with prints, drawings, photographs and illustrated books of their choosing.
In many ways, a museum study center (sometimes also called a “print room”) is a physical version of this blog—a place to share information, learn about different things, and get people and paper together. If you check this blog regularly (and we hope you do) you will hear from many different voices: curators, students, conservators, professors, and artists, as well as about many different topics concerning works on paper at the Smith College Museum of Art and elsewhere. We will share updates on acquisitions, classes, special projects, new research on the collection, exhibitions, and programs, and lots and lots of pictures, among many other things. Let us know what YOU want to hear about! The collection includes over 16,000 prints, drawings, photographs and illustrated books, so there’s bound to be something of interest to you in our holdings.
Once you’ve explored us virtually, visit us in person: the Cunningham Center is open weekdays by appointment to anyone interested in accessing the rich works on paper at the Smith College Museum of Art.
Call 413-585-2764 or email email@example.com for an appointment.
Consider this your personal invitation, and this blog as a gateway to the works on paper collection of the Smith College Museum of Art.
Students looking at prints in the Cunningham Center