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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.

  • Thursday, October 29, 2015

    Fighting Injustice on a Cultural Front

    Anna Weston is a Smith College student, class of 2017, and worked at the Cunningham Center this summer.

    This fall, the Smith College Museum of Art is showing an exhibition of second wave feminist artists, among them a group of artists known as Guerrilla Girls. Formed in the early 1980’s, the group consists of anonymous women who wear gorilla masks, a choice that manages to feel both clandestine and brash, to protect their identity (they are artists and do their own work outside of Guerrilla Girls) as well as a device to keep attention away from their personal lives and instead centered on their message and their work.  Each woman goes by a pseudonym, paying homage to earlier female artists such as Kathe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo, managing to weld the past to the present all while attempting to change the future. Such a disguise seems cohesive with their art which aims to criticize and hold accountable an art world rife with racism, sexism and tokenization.


    Guerrilla Girls, American 20th century. The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist, from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985 - 2006, 1988. Lithograph printed in black on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2006:44-5

    Much of Guerrilla Girls art was protest art in the form of poster campaigns in New York City, with particular focus on SoHo and the East Village, where many of the art galleries were located. This piece sarcastically exposes the complex struggle of just existing as a woman artist as well as the near impossibility of making a traditionally successful living.

    As I was pulling these works for the upcoming show, I was particularly struck by the seeming disconnect between the artwork’s message and its form.  The art itself manifests as ephemera (posters, flyers, handouts), much like the zines that would later be associated with second wave punk musician/ feminist Kathleen Hanna. Despite the form however, the Guerrilla Girls make sure their work is snarky and audacious, not hesitating to name names or hand out blame, speaking uncomfortable truths that ultimately lent the art a kind of cultural staying power. Thus perhaps what I had first perceived as disconnected is in fact entirely coherent.

    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. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2006:44-7

    The latest statistics update on the disproportionate amount of work displayed by female artists vs the amount of female bodies on display. The image is a parody of Grande Odalisque, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ famous depiction of a concubine. Paired with the gorilla mask the concubine/female body becomes less of a commodity, less complacent and more active in dictating how women are represented.  Several older versions of this poster exist documenting how little these numbers have changed.

    Perhaps finding such a rich history here, in ephemera, is not so strange. Perhaps it is only logical that these marginalized histories and their critiques exist in works that were first posted on the streets instead of preserved in a museum. Art that was entrusted to the masses instead of a gallery. Art that is audacious, even insolent in order to be heard. Guerilla Girls and their work reject an art world that had never bothered to include them in the first place.


  • Wednesday, October 21, 2015

    José Luis Cuevas


       . . . I’d rather be a writer than a painter. My work is a diary. And I am neither denouncing

         nor sermonizing. I am a simple spectator. The world is a masquerade, all of it subject to

         satire. So I present humanity as it is, modified by circumstances.


    José Luis Cuevas (Mexican, 1934–) came of age as an artist during a period of transition in Mexican art and culture. The rise of an international art scene and the changing nature of Pan- American relations played a strong role in the development of his signature subjects and aesthetic. Cuevas and other Mexican expressionist artists who emerged in the 1950s were seen as rejecting the popular nationalism promoted by the “Big Three” Mexican muralists: Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.


    Diego Rivera. Mexican, 1886–1957. Reading Lesson. 1932. Lithograph printed in black on Rives wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. 1972:50-95


    Instead of focusing on a heroic vision of Mexico’s past and present, Cuevas and artists of “La Ruptura” (Rupture) turned their attention toward psychological states and the seamier sides of contemporary life. Their embrace of general themes related to the human condition was viewed as more universal than muralism’s focus on political and social subjects.


    Interior, from the Homage to Quevedo Suite. 1969. Lithograph printed in color on Arches wove paper. Gift of Donna Kargman Donaghy, class of 1959, and Walter E. Donaghy. SC 1982:24‑10


    When he first made an impact on the international scene with an exhibition at the Pan-American Union in Washington, D.C., in 1954, Cuevas was making grotesque figure drawings based on his observations of people on the margins of society, such as his study for Espagna.


    Study for “Espagna.”1961. Pen, ink, wash and collage on paperboard, Gift of the estate of Dr. Heather McClave, class of 1968. SC 1999:57


    As the decade progressed, Cuevas began to focus more on literary themes, creating complex and open-ended narratives drawn from his imagination. The Homage to Quevedo suite was inspired by the poetry of the seventeenth-century Spanish poet Francisco Gómez de Quevedo (1580–1645).

    Condicion Humana II, from the Homage to Quevedo Suite. 1969. Lithograph printed in color on Arches wove paper. Gift of Donna Kargman Donaghy, class of 1959, and Walter E. Donaghy. SC 1982:24‑7


    Like Cuevas’s art, Quevedo’s poetry was seen as critical of contemporary society; the writer switched easily between high and low art forms. Although none of Cuevas’s scenes are directly based on Quevedo’s writings, the images present a similar dreamlike and satiric quality that enhances the poetic texts.



    Desfile, from the Homage to Quevedo Suite. April 26, 1969. Lithograph printed in color on Arches wove paper. Gift of Donna Kargman Donaghy, class of 1959, and Walter E. Donaghy. SC 1982:24‑9


    SCMA’s prints from Cuevas’s Homage to Quevedo Suite are on view on the Museum’s second floor until January 10, 2016.


  • Thursday, October 8, 2015

    Dislocation/Urban Experience

    Dislocation/Urban Experience: Contemporary Photographs from East Asia is the first exhibition in SCMA’s new Carol T. Christ Gallery for Asian Art which opened Friday, October 9. Named in honor of the former president of Smith College, the gallery honors her commitment to Smith as a global community and acknowledges the exponential growth in SCMA’s collections of art from Asia.


    Shi Guorui, Chinese, 20th century. Shanghai Tower 10-11, August 2013. Gelatin silver print camera obscura. Courtesy of the artist.


    Curated by Samuel C. Morse, SCMA’s Curatorial Consultant for Asian Art, Dislocation/Urban Experience focuses on the phenomenon of the megacity in China, Japan, and Korea. Today, East Asia is home to some of the largest metropolises on the planet. The population of Shanghai, the greatest in China, tops 22 million, but it is just one of five Chinese urban centers with populations over 10 million. While metropolitan Tokyo is no longer the largest city in East Asia, the megacity of Greater Tokyo remains the most expansive urban conglomeration in the world; one quarter of Japan’s entire population resides there.  The population of Seoul is just over 10 million, yet the sprawling metropolitan area around the city houses more than 25 million people, almost half the residents of South Korea. Urbanization is not new in East Asia. However, its current scale is without precedent, and megacities are wreaking extreme pressures on the lives of people in China, Japan, and Korea.

    Recording these changes in a variety of ways is a generation of photographers who have come of age during this period of rapid and unchecked urbanization. Some photograph the changing face of their cities: the high rise towers, theme parks, and rebuilt neighborhoods.


    Seung Woo Back, Korean (born 1973). Real World I #47, 2006. Lamda print. Museum purchase with the Carroll and Nolen Asian Art Acquisition Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2015:5-3


    Others capture the lives of the residents, at home, on train platforms, or on the streets of the built-up landscape.


    Kim Taedong, Korean. #018 (Boy standing near concentric circles) from the Day Break Series, 2011. Digital pigment print. Courtesy of the artist.



    Mikiko Hara, Japanese (born 1976). Untitled, from the series Primary Speaking, 1999. C-print.  Museum purchase with the Carroll and Nolen Asian Art Acquisition Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2015:5-1


    Many reveal the disparities in the lives of the new urban dwellers. All capture the sense of dislocation that dominates the lives of the residents of East Asia’s megacities.


    Preparators Stephanie Sullivan and Nick Sousanis working on the installation


    Installation in progress—the Carol T. Christ Gallery for Asian Art at SCMA