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Now everyone is an insider!

In order to provide an open forum for ALL of the museum’s collection and activities, the Paper + People blog is being renamed SCMA Insider. With its expanded focus, SCMA Insider will act as a go-to place for sharing information on the diverse collections and many voices and visions that shape SCMA.

If you want to contribute to the blog, please contact the Brown Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow, Shanice Bailey, at sbailey@smith.edu.

  • Monday, August 6, 2018

    Hijacked Art, Continued.

    There are certain works of art that do not require a degree in Art History to recognize that they are iconic. Famous works included in the Western canon find themselves in our daily lives as textbook covers or as posters in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices. Famous images from Art History have permeated every aspect of visual culture.

    Enrique Chagoya; Shark's Ink, Lyons, Colorado (published by). Abenteuer der Kannibalen Bioethicists, 2001. Lithograph and woodcut with black, ochre, blue, yellow, and green ink, chine colle and collage on paper. Purchased with the Arch W. Shaw Foundation, through the courtesy of Nancy Simonds Shaw, class of 1972, administrator. 2001 SC 2002:9

    This past semester I had the chance to create an exhibition that was about more than just the mere parody. Anyone can parody a work; these artists truly transform their inspirations, often turning them into activist symbols. In this exhibition, Hijacked Art, there are prints that echo American Gothic, Goya’s Los Caprichos, and Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans. Art is not created in a vacuum, as artists all have influences. This exhibition explores alternative representations of the Western canon in contemporary art. The exhibition title is drawn from the fact that the contemporary artists in this show have interpreted the work of deceased artists who cannot condemn or laud the appropriation of their work.One example is of Eric Avery’s Paradise Lost (right) and Dürer’s Adam and Eve (left), both in Smith’s collection.

    Left: Eric Avery. Paradise Lost, 2011. Linocut printed in three colors on Okawara paper with polymer plate text block printed in brown. Purchased through the efforts of students in the class “Collecting 101,” January 2012. Right: Albrecht Dürer. Adam and Eve, 1504. Engraving printed in black on antique laid paper. Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Murray Seasongood (Agnes Senior, class of 1911).

    Dr. Eric Avery is both a graphic artist and a physician. He became the Medical Director of the La Dhure refugee camp in Somalia where he began making art that dealt with issues of public health. When he returned to the United States the first case of AIDS had been recognized by the CDC. As an artist, gay man, and physician he was thrown into the center of the crisis.

    Albrecht Dürer was a late fifteenth and early sixteenth century printmaker of the German Renaissance. He is credited for introducing classical motifs into the Northern Renaissance, making him an important art historical figure. Dürer fanatically believed that the perfect human form was based on a system of measurements and proportions. In his print, Adam and Eve are nearly symmetrical in their poses, showing Dürer’s attempt to divine God’s system. Dürer’s Adam and Eve place the weight on one leg with the other leg bent. They both angle their arm slightly upward from the elbow and away from the body. Their bodies show the grace of God’s image. Contrastingly, Dr. Avery’s Adam and Eve are visibly diseased, showing the vulnerability of the human body. Adam and Eve have been kicked out of Dürer’s paradise and thrown into a modern urban landscape, surrounded by descriptions of fourteen detrimental infections. The title Paradise Lost foretells the suffering to come for mankind.

    Dürer was not the only artist that Avery referenced in his work. Dr. Avery’s The Sleep of Reason From Behind references the second most famous work in this exhibition, Francisco de Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (displayed on the right). This is perhaps one Goya’s most recognizable works.

    Left: Eric Avery. The Sleep of Reason from Behind, 1986. Linocut and screenprint printed in black and grey on medium thick, slightly textured, buff-colored paper. Purchased with the Eva Nair Fund. Right: Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. El sueño de la razón produce monstruos. (The sleep of reason produces monsters), Plate 43, Los Caprichos, 1799. Etching, burnished aquatint and drypoint printed in black on laid paper. Purchased with the gift of Albert H. Gordon.

    The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is a print from Goya’s Los Caprichos. This series satirized society and highlighted how commonplace brutality can be. The prints were seized and the Jesuit order vowed to destroy them. However, as Goya was a favorite painter of the king, they were instead taken out of circulation. In this print, Goya depicts bats and owls swarming in from all sides while a lynx lays quiet, but wide-eyed and vigilant. Over the man’s back, there is another creature that stares at us. The monster knows that we are a voyeur and threatens us to not get involved. Many of Goya’s prints including Los Caprichos and The Disasters of War dealt with Goya’s exhaustion with senseless, anti-enlightenment violence. Like Goya, Avery has witnessed a fair share of violence: Avery worked with Amnesty International to treat victims of war and torture from Central America who were detained in a refugee prison in Southern Texas. Avery stated: “In 1986, I appropriated Goya’s The Sleep of Reason to make a poster for the 15th ACLU Liberty Gala. I imagined myself standing inside Goya’s print, looking out at events (monsters) in 1986.”
     

    The re-interpretation of the “back side” of the print is not just to give the viewer an interesting perspective. It shows us the type of things that faced Goya’s man. Goya’s man was not just surrounded by monsters from behind but was bombarded by the bad news of the times from the front. When considering the perspective of both prints, we ourselves are the bearers of bad news. Where Goya may have put his The Disasters of War series in front of the sleeping man, Avery shows the horror of our time. On the upper right corner, you can see Ronald Reagan swimming. Clockwise underneath is a New York Times headline about the Supreme Court banning homosexual acts and abortion protest. In the lower left, he represents an En Salvador military officer. Above that, Reagan is at his desk with Ed Meese, Reagan’s Chief of Staff and later Attorney General, who cracked down on student protesting. In the upper left there is a Border Patrolman wearing night vision goggles, which were a new tool that was issued under the Reagan administration. Lastly, at the center, Nancy Reagan and Claudette Colbert play on the beach, completely oblivious to the suffering around them.

    I was inspired to create this show after discovering the work of Enrique Chagoya, who practices what he calls “utopian cannibalism” and “reverse anthropology.” Chagoya flips the lens on European artists who appropriate sculptural and artistic forms from African and Pre-Columbian cultures. He “cannibalizes” works from the Western canon to critique European and American appropriation and misrepresentation of indigenous communities.

    Enrique Chagoya. La Bestia’s Guide to the Birth of the Cool, 2014. Ten color lithograph with chine colle and gold metallic powder on handmade Amate paper, accordion book format. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund. SC 2015:1.

    Enrique Chagoya’s La Bestia’s Guide to the Birth of the Cool is the twelfth in a series of codices made at Shark’s Ink. This codex was created as a direct response to xenophobic reactions to the border crossing of unaccompanied children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. A train known as La Bestia travels from Southern Mexico to the Texas border. Chagoya uses Mondrian’s compositions in his work to show that immigrants should be welcomed in American culture, particularly considering “this country was created not just by immigration, but rather by illegal immigration, from the Pilgrims and Conquistadors to the recent immigrants from the Americas, Africa and Asia.” He claims that this book shows that diversity results in a wealth of culture, not a threat. Together, these prints show how artists can simultaneously reference iconic works and acknowledge the systems of oppression and repression they are tied to.

  • Tuesday, June 12, 2018

    Your Move: Kay Sage’s Surrealist Assemblages

    Guest blogger Renee Klann is a Smith College student, class of 2019. She was the 2015-2017 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    Kay Sage was an American Surrealist artist. After growing up in both the U.S. and Italy, she moved to France and met the Surrealists. Their movement, which drew on dreams and the subconscious, inspired Sage. In the late 1930s and early 1940s she developed a personal Surrealist style based on mysterious architectural forms in somber-colored settings. Although the forms are painted realistically, they convey an impression or feeling rather than actual objects.

     

     Kay Sage, American, 1898-1963. Cooling the Stars, 1957. Oil on canvas. Promised gift from a Private Collection, Houston. SC TR 7808.4

    In the late 1950s Sage developed cataracts, which made her eyesight too poor to paint. Rather than giving up on making art, Sage created assemblages and wrote poetry. In a letter to Marcel Duhamel, she said “I’ll have a show . . . of objects I’ve managed to make to replace paintings.” Her 17 small three-dimensional objects were shown at the Catherine Viviano gallery in November 1961.

    Sage almost never explained the meaning of her work, and the assemblages were no exception to this rule. The only clues to their meaning are their titles and the lines of Sage’s poem “Your Move” that they were paired with.

     

    Your Move

    These are games without issue

    some have been played

    and are therefore static

    others will be

    and can still be played

    there are no rules

    no one can win or lose

    they are arbitrary

    and irrelevant

    but there is no reason why

    anything should mean more

    than its own statement

    two and two

    do not necessarily make four

     

    If that is a scientist at my door

    please tell him

    to go away

     

    The lines “there is no reason why / anything should mean more / than its own statement” reflect Sage’s reluctance to offer explanations of her work. For her, a painting or assemblage spoke for itself, and she did not want to put precise meanings on her dreamlike images. The poem also suggests that Sage was probably influenced by Surrealist games such as Exquisite Corpse, in which each player added part of a drawing or a sentence without seeing the other players’ contributions to create an unexpected final product.

    Some of the assemblages included in the exhibition were Sourir D’hiver (Winter Smile), a piece of crinkled foil mounted in a wood frame with a magnifying glass; Your Move, which resembles a chess board with bullet cartridges instead of chess pieces; and Nuclear Tension, made of a spring and a ball bearing inside a glass tube.

     Kay Sage, American, 1898-1963. Tides Will Be High From Now On, 1961. 98 blue and clear glass beads, wood box with four stones, four convex lenses on wood ground. Promised gift from a Private Collection, Houston. SC TR 7808.5

     

    Tides Will Be High From Now On combines ninety-eight blue and clear glass beads with four stones resting on glass lenses, all in a wood box. The corresponding line of the poem is “there are no rules.” This piece can be seen as a game without rules because the beads are free to move in unpredictable patterns in response to a ‘player’s’ movements.

    The show Your Move was Sage’s last before she committed suicide in 1963. The objects she made in her final years demonstrate how even in the face of obstacles, Sage continued to make art that was true to her Surrealist vision.

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  • Friday, June 1, 2018

    Toulouse-Lautrec and Parisian Nightlife

    Guest blogger Raphaela Tayvah was a Smith College student, class of 2016, with a major in Art History and a Museums Concentrator. She was a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    Nightclub singers and performers were a favorite subject for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Born to a wealthy, artistically inclined family in 1864, Toulouse-Lautrec is known for his vibrant, theatrical depictions of turn of the century Parisian life and the characters that made it so vivid. Many of these characters were the singers and dancers of nightclubs such as the Moulin Rouge. Toulouse-Lautrec worked in a variety of media, experimenting in everything from watercolors and stained glass to prints and posters. The last of these are what he is probably best known for. These prints and posters were not only revolutionary in respect to their technique but they also formed an important early bridge between so-called high art and the commodity. They were often used to advertise events at what were thought of as low-brow establishments. In doing so, Toulouse-Lautrec’s works exemplify the early shift of art from an elitist context to one more accessible to the general public.

    The women depicted in Toulouse-Lautrec’s prints and posters were not only icons of this world of flashy nightlife, but also all had their own distinct personas. Three of these, Yvette Guilbert, Mary Belfort, and Louise Weber (more commonly known as La Goulue), can be seen in the collection at the Cunningham Center.

    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French (1864 - 1901). Yvette Guilbert, ca. 1913. Crayon lithograph printed in black with scraper on ochre wove paper. Purchased. SC 1958:72

    The first of these depicts Yvette Guilbert, a singer from an impoverished background who eventually made her way to the stage at the Moulin Rouge. She was a favorite subject of Toulouse-Lautrec. He did many portraits and caricatures of her throughout his career, even dedicating his second album of sketches to Guilbert. This print expresses the more nuanced aspects of the singer. With the gestural lines and lack of color, this print distinguishes itself from much of Toulouse-Lautrec’s more flashy, theatrical work.

    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French (1864 - 1901). May Belfort, ca. 1895 Crayon, brush and spatter lithograph printed in olive green, red, black and yellow on wove paper on fabric. Purchased. SC 1958:82

    Toulouse-Lautrec’s May Belfort shows another depiction of a Parisian nightclub singer. Belfort was an Englishwoman who moved to Paris to pursue her career as a performer. She is often depicted with a black cat, seen here curled up in her arms. Throughout Toulouse-Lautrec’s work he often highlights specific characteristics or objects associated with his subjects. This practice allowed him to establish personas around these people, which was especially useful when creating promotional posters.

     

    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French (1864 - 1901). La Goulue, ca. 1894. Brush, crayon and spatter lithograph printed in dark olive green with scraper on ochre wove paper. Purchased. SC 1958:78

    The third and final of Toulouse-Lautrec’s women under discussion here is La Goulue. This gestural work depicts one of the Moulin Rouge’s best known performers. A dancer and part-time prostitute, Louise Weber earned the nickname “La Goulue” due to her gluttonous  personality. Roughly six feet tall, she was known for her impressive appetite. Weber was a common subject for Toulouse-Lautrec, and he did numerous promotional posters of the dancer. The lack of color in this particular print combined with strong lines manages to convey her vibrant, flirtatious persona without overwhelming the viewer and turning her into too much of a caricature.

    The three of these prints show different facets of Toulouse-Lautrec’s nightclub performers. Each of the women he chose to portray give a sense of his ability to capture personality in slightly abstracted depictions of the human form. In addition, these prints serve as an excellent reminder that much of the work that is associated with Toulouse-Lautrec’s name today were created with the intention of function as advertisements for various night clubs. In doing so, he began to bridge the gap between high art and functional object. 

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