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.
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 1925in 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.
Hanging the exhibition
The exhibition Mapping the City is on view in the Cunningham Center corridor through September 25.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Guest blogger Zoe Dong is a Smith College student, class of 2018J, with a major in studio art. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. This is the second of a three-post series on contemporary works by Black women in the Center's collection.
Kara Walker was born in 1969 in California, the daughter of a painter father. She received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994 and then skyrocketed to national attention the same year when she debuted a mural called Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart. Just a few years after at the age of 27, she became one of the youngest people in history to receive a MacArthur genius grant. Working in stylized, cartoonish, delicately cut-paper silhouettes (an art form she has described as “sort of forgotten and small, female and domestic”), Walker’s work explores the violences of the history of slavery in the American antebellum South as she creates elaborate scenes of outlined slaves and masters, oppressors and the oppressed.
Her art has been lauded by many as being fearless in its discussion of sexual violence, exploitation and pain suffered by slaves, but has also been criticized, notably by prominent African-American artist Betye Saar. Saar called Walker’s work "revolting and negative and a form of betrayal to the slaves...[and] basically for the amusement and investment of the White art establishment" in 1999. Walker’s 2010 work The moral arc of history ideally bends towards justice but just as soon as not curves back around toward barbarism, sadism, and unrestrained chaos also stirred discussion and made national news when the library it was displayed at, the Newark Public Library, was so offended by its portrayal of oral sex that they covered the piece with a cloth that visitors had to lift to view. Whether one finds her work enlightening or degrading, truthful or harmfully stereotypical, Walker stands as an important figure in contemporary American art.
Freedom, a Fable: A Curious Interpretation of the Wit of a Negress in Troubled Times is one of the artist’s books in the collection. Made in 1997, Freedom, a Fable places Walker’s signature cut paper work into a pop-up book, telling the life story of a formerly enslaved woman.
Kara Walker. American, 1969-. Freedom, a Fable: A Curious Interpretation of the Wit of a Negress in Troubled Times. 1997. bound book with red leather covered cardboard covers containing printed text and black cut paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James A. Muspratt, through the generosity of Regina Taylor and Peter Norton. SC 1998:2
The Cunningham Center also owns several pieces from the Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) series.
Kara Walker. American, 1969-. Buzzard’s Roost Pass, from the portfolio Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) 2005. offset lithography and screenprint on Somerset Textured paper. Purchased with the Dorothy C. Miller, class of 1925, Fund. SC 2010:64-3.
In these large-scale lithograph/screenprints, Walker has placed silhouettes of portraits of slaves over reproductions of 1866 illustrations of the Civil War from Harper’s Magazine. With these works, Walker aims to bring to the forefront the histories left out of textbooks, the stories of the Civil War that have not been glorified by mainstream white American history.