April 2, 2003
Smith College Museum of Art
Editor's note: Images of the new acquisitions are available. Contact Laurie Fenlason at (413) 585-2190 or firstname.lastname@example.org. An online press kit about the Brown Fine Arts Center, which includes the Smith College Museum of Art, can be found at www.smith.edu/bfac.
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- During the two-year closure of the Smith College Museum of Art, more than 600 works of art were added to the museum's collection through donation or purchase. A number of these works will be featured in the museum's permanent collection galleries or in special exhibitions for the museum's April 27 grand reopening. Following are some highlights of the new acquisitions.
"The Adoration of the Shepherds,"
The museum's most important purchase while it was closed for renovation is a large, altarpiece-sized work by the 17th-century Flemish artist Erasmus Quellinus II, a collaborator of Peter Paul Rubens and his successor as the most important painter working in Antwerp. "The Adoration of the Shepherds" reflects the influence not only of Rubens but of a number of other artistic ideas and styles that informed Flemish baroque art of the period, particularly French classicism and the late work of Nicolas Poussin. The composition centers on the figures of the Virgin and Christ Child and a kneeling blond woman and child, while overhead flying putti swirl in a circle as light breaks through the clouds. Considered one of the artist's most accomplished and richly conceived works, the canvas is painted with a lush palette.
"Le Vieux Pont de Chelsea,
Londres" (Old Chelsea Bridge, London), 1890
This painting builds upon the museum's strong holdings in French 19-century art. Straddling the moment between impressionism and neo-impressionism, the work was created when Pissarro had lost confidence in impressionism's principles. A highly important gift from Smith College alumna Hope Aldrich (Rockefeller), Class of 1959, "Old Chelsea Bridge, London" was once part of a distinguished private collection assembled by Sir William Van Horne of Montréal over a hundred years ago. His collection also included the museum's early Monet painting, "Seine at Bougival, Evening." These paintings are reunited in the museum's new skylit galleries for the first time since 1946, when Van Horne's collection was sold at auction.
Oil Study for "The New Bonnet,"
This highly finished oil study for Eastman Johnson's well-known genre painting "The New Bonnet" (Metropolitan Museum of Art) depicts an old man warming his hands at a stove, which becomes a kitchen hearth in the final composition. The museum's first purchase approved during Smith College President Carol T. Christ's tenure, the study will be joined with the finished painting and other related figure and interior studies in a small focus exhibition titled "Inside Nantucket: Eastman Johnson Studies of Island Home Life."
"Tattered and Torn," 1886
This rare canvas by the little known 19th-century American genre painter Alfred Kappes was acquired at auction. "Tattered and Torn," a work of almost mesmerizing stillness, shows an African-American woman, dressed in rags, who holds a lighted match in her extended hand. Unlike other artists who sentimentalized African-American subjects, Kappes painted his neighbors with frankness and sensitivity.
"Pende Mask," 20th Century
The museum's holdings in African art have virtually doubled in the last several years as the result of efforts to support the college's more global curriculum by diversifying the collection. Most of the works, including this painted Pende mask, were gifts to the museum, although the museum also purchased a Yoruba beaded crown. These will be featured in a reopening exhibition titled "African Artistry: Insight and Imagination," organized by the museum's curatorial consultant for African art, John Pemberton III.
"Virginia Woolf," ca.
This painting, a "featureless" portrait of Virginia Woolf by her sister, Vanessa Bell, is unmistakably the author. The gift of alumna Ann Safford Mandel (Class of 1953), the portrait will be included in a small installation opening on May 13 in conjunction with an international symposium on Virginia Woolf to be held at Smith in early June.
"Just Before," 1974
In this monumental but lyrical painting by Helen Frankenthaler, the artist applies acrylic paint in large sweeping gestures of browns, blues and black across the canvas. The gift of alumna Janet Ketcham (Class of 1953), "Just Before" is the first painting by this important 20th-century artist to enter the collection.
"Revenge of the Goldfish,"
In 1999, the year the museum was closed for renovation and expansion, the museum purchased the room-sized installation "Revenge of the Goldfish" by Smith alumna Sandy Skoglund (Class of 1968) and, later, her photograph based on it. The installation, previously shown at the museum in 1998 as part of the artist's mid-career retrospective, is a blue bedroom dreamscape swarmed by giant ceramic goldfish. Although "Revenge of the Goldfish" will not be on view at the museum's reopening, it will be a centerpiece of the fall exhibition "Undomesticated Interiors," which will feature sculpture and installations by contemporary artists on the theme of domestic spaces and implements.
"Topsy Turvy," 1999
In keeping with its commitment to acquire works of art by women and artists of color, the museum purchased Alison Saar's sculpture, "Topsy Turvy," the figure of a little girl, white from the waist down and black above the waist. The sculpture, which is meant to be installed on the gallery ceiling and viewed from below, is based on "topsy turvy" dolls, traditionally two joined torso-length dolls, one black, the other white. According to Saar, the shadow cast by "Topsy Turvy" should be considered a part of the sculpture, reflecting the description of herself as "floating between two worlds" and her own transracial identity.
This bravura, 147-color silkscreen by Chuck Close of the photographer Lyle Ashton Harris is one of many works on paper that have been added to the collection while the museum was closed. This and other prints, drawings and photographs will be included in the summer exhibition "Gladly Received: Recent Gifts and Purchases." Another important acquisition, David Wojnarowicz's "Untitled ("One day this kid")," will also be highlighted in the exhibition. Wojnarowicz was a major figure among a group of politically active New York artists who came to prominence during the 1980s. Funded by the college's Dorius/Spofford Fund, the print deals with social injustices endured by the artist as a gay man and is the last available from a small edition of ten. Other new acquisitions in the exhibition include works by Eugène Bléry, Josef Breitenbach, Charles Demuth, Hung Liu, Malcolm Morley, Bridget Riley, Cindy Sherman, Benton Spruance and Nicola Tyson.
Artist Restrooms by Ellen Driscoll
and Sandy Skoglund
While it was closed, the museum commissioned a number of artists to create functional works of art for the ease, comfort and delight of visitors to its newly renovated building. The restrooms on the museum's lower level were created by Ellen Driscoll (women's room) and Smith alumna Sandy Skoglund (men's room). Driscoll's "Catching the Drift" highlights four works from the museum's collection in a blue, underwater world of sea creatures and plant life etched in a series of glass panels. Skoglund's "Liquid Origins, Fluid Dreams" features wall tiles with the artist's drawings of ten creation narratives from different cultures. The stories involve wet beginnings, loneliness, and sometimes death and violence. The restrooms were funded by a generous grant from the Kohler Trust for Arts and Education.*
The museum also commissioned 11 different furniture artists from New England, five of whom are local, to create gallery benches that will be used throughout the museum as seating. Ranging from Judy McKie's whimsical "Wild Beast Bench" to elegant examples of marquetry and carving skills, the benches will be installed in the galleries for the museum's reopening and will later be gathered and shown together in a summer exhibition. The benches were funded by grants from the LEF Foundation, the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, private donors and the Friends of the Museum, who commissioned a glass bench by Jason Berg for the museum's lobby.
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* These washrooms, created by Ellen Driscoll and Sandy Skoglund, were made possible by funding from the Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education and Kohler Co. The altered plumbing products were created by the artists in Arts/Industry, a program of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center of Sheboygan, Wis. Arts/Industry makes available the industrial pottery, iron and brass foundry and other facilities of Kohler Co. to artists so that they may create works not possible in their own studios. The plumbing fixtures installed in The Brown Fine Arts Center were donated by Kohler Co.