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.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
“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 Colorin 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 Colorin its collection, the book is now widely available in its abridged form and serves as a fundamental text for artists, designers, and students today.
In 1961, inspired by his work developing Interaction of Color,Albers began making prints inspired by his famous Homage to the Squarepaintings. All of the Homage to the Squareimages 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-2is 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 Colorcan 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 Occuprintportfolio.
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 Watchingencourages 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.
Some posters like Occupy BMOREact 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.
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.
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 Occuprintportfolio, a unique language has been spawned that encourages a visual occupation both in our minds and on the streets.
Friday, March 15, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.”