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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.

  • Friday, May 27, 2016

    The Viewer as Voyeur

    The Smith College Museum of Art is dedicated to bringing out works on paper into the main galleries, where all visitors can see them. Since works on paper are more sensitive to light than other mediums, SCMA has installed special Works on Paper cabinets throughout the galleries for the display of prints, drawings and photographs. Today’s post is part of a series about the current installations of the Works on Paper cabinets, which will remain on view through August 2016. Henriette's previous post on this cabinet can be seen here.

    Bénigne Gagneraux (1756-1795) French, Jupiter and Antiope, 1787.

    Ironically, the strictures that limited the way in which the female body could be shown also offered voyeuristic, titillating opportunities for the (presumably) male artist to exploit for the (presumably) male viewer. The “accidental” slip or placement of a garment or drapery could expose or accentuate bare flesh. The often-used trope of the back view of the female nude gave the illusion that the model had just turned away, making her “unaware” she was being viewed, and giving permission for the art lover/voyeur to stare.

     

    Pierre Auguste Renoir. French, 1841–1919. Untitled. n.d.. Red, white and black chalk on cream laid paper. Bequest of Rebecca W. Petrikin, class of 1925. SC 1981:18

    Controversy

    Artists could observe academic boundaries in representing the female nude but skirt them at the same time. For example, Ingres invoked the trope of the odalisque figure, used by Titian and many other artists, as an opportunity to display the female figure fully unclothed. In his Odalisque of 1842, the woman is placed in an exoticized harem setting, languidly lounging, with her gaze directed away from the viewer toward the slave serenading her.   

    In contrast, Edouard Manet’s Olympia of 1863 was based on the classical odalisque but breaks all the rules for the permissible visual presentation of the female nude. Manet contemporized the figure, making her a “real” rather than idealized woman who was recognized by the viewing public as a modern courtesan or prostitute gazing directly out at the viewer and waiting for her lover. This painting, when it was shown at the 1865 Paris Salon, shocked audiences and critics by its audacity.

     

    Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, French, Odalisque, 1842.

     

    Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863.

    Objectification of the Female Nude Body

    While avant-garde artists embraced modernity by showing actual rather than idealized female bodies in contemporary settings, women were still objectified in art as they were in society.

    Charles Despiau. French, 1874–1946. Seated Nude. n.d.. Red crayon on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred H. Barr Jr. SC 1968:26

    However, the famously acerbic artist Edgar Degas, who often portrayed the female nude, depicted bathers who were awkward rather than enticing and prostitutes who were shown in frank engagements with their clients. While these portrayals may not have been entirely sympathetic to their subjects, they represent a change in the representation of the female body.

     

    Edgar Degas. French, 1834–1917. The Serious Client, 1876–77. Monotype

    Edgar Degas. The Tub, 1886. Pastel (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

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  • Friday, May 20, 2016

    Making Space to Talk Back

    Guest blogger Emma Cantrell is the Brown Post-Baccalaureate Fellow in Museum Education.

    The new “Talk Back: Art in Conversation” space – conceptualized and overseen by the museum’s Education department – was developed as an opportunity for focused engagement and interaction with art from SCMA’s extensive collection of works on paper. This newly defined area at the heart of the lower level features a rotating work of art accompanied by a question, inviting people of all ages to post a response on the adjacent wall. Through this short and simple prompt, “Talk Back” invites visitors into dialogue - with each other, with the art, and with the museum.The artworks that populate the space are selected from the Museum’s extensive collection of works on paper. With the help of Aprile Gallant (Curator, Prints, Drawings, and Photographs) the Education team has chosen 3 diverse artworks in the first year of rotations for the space.

     

    Chuck Close. American, 1940–. Lyle. 2003. 147 color silkscreen on paper. Gift of the artist and Pace Editions, Inc. SC 2003:10    

    For the Education team, it was important that the artwork selected and the accompanying questions in “Talk Back” generate open-ended inquiry into both the object itself and the visitor’s relationship with the content of the work. For example, the first artwork displayed was Chuck Close’s Lyle, a enormous portrait of the artist Lyle Ashton Harris. To explore this spectacular 147 color silkscreen, we asked visitors to imagine connecting with the subject with the prompt “If I could ask or tell Lyle anything, I would say…”

    Talk Back responses

    As you can see, participation in “Talk Back: Art in Conversation” has been bountiful and diverse. Responses include writing, as short as one word and as long as a paragraph. Visitors young and old have also responded with drawings, which are used alone or to emphasize a written point. Some participants answer the prompt directly, others respond to a neighbor’s answers, and other responses are seemingly unrelated to the conversation at hand - perhaps just the record of a visitor's time in the Museum. One thing is for certain; visitors are eager to talk back.

    Going forward, “Talk Back” will continue to be an open-ended, participatory space for visitors to engage with works on paper. Flexible and frequently changing, Talk Back can grow and adapt to meet the needs of our visitors, and to explore what it means to be in dialogue with a work of art and with a museum. This week, we posed a new question for Sandy Skoglund’s Squirrels at the Drive-In, in hopes of exploring the visitors’ relationship with the content of this unusual photograph. We hope that the next time you are on the lower level, you will stop by to see what is on view, notice the diverse visitor responses, and to join in the conversation by telling us your squirrel story!

    Sandy Skoglund. American, 1946–. Squirrels at the Drive-In. 1996. Photolithograph printed in color on Ragote paper. Gift of Rita Rich Fraad (Rita Rich), class of 1937. SC 1997:23 

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  • Friday, May 13, 2016

    Reunion Class Gifts

    Judith Linhares. American, 1940–. Monarch. 2000. Gouache on paper. Gift of Susan L. Brundage, class of 1971, and Edward Thorp. SC 2013:802       

    Welcome back, reunion classes! We’re so excited to have you all on campus. Today and next Friday, the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs is open to the public on the second floor of the Museum. Art donated by your classmates is on view for you and everyone to see.

    Anne Brigman. American, 1869–1950. The Soul of the Blasted Pine. 1908. Gelatin silver print mounted on paper and paper board. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund, and gifts in memory of Therese Heyman (Therese Thau, class of 1951). SC 2005:26        

    In addition, admission fees are also waived for both Commencement and Reunion Weekends.

    Stop by between 10 AM – 4 PM today to take a look!

    Bartolomeo Pinelli. Italian, 1781–1835. Cupid and Psyche. n.d. Pen and dark brown ink over pencil on white paper. Gift of Agnes Mongan, (AM) class of 1929, (LHD) class of 1941. SC 1951:116

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