Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.
Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.
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 stereographis 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.