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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.

  • Monday, December 19, 2011

    Boom BOOM! by Dread Scott

    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.

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  • Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Collecting 101

    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.

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  • Monday, December 5, 2011

    David Becker Day

    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.

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