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, September 20, 2012
Guest blogger Laura Romeyn was a 2012 participant in the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies (SIAMS) at Smith College.
My summer as a SIAMS student provided me with a comprehensive and intensive education in museum studies. Both my time on the road and my days on campus afforded me unique opportunities to perfect my interpretive skills. Two art encounters in particular; the viewing of Robert Rauschenberg’s Canyon,and Title Sheetfrom Crackerjacksby artist Lorie Novak and an unidentified colleague, tested my ability to make connections between otherwise disparate works of art.
Earlier this summer I learned of the controversy surrounding Rauschenberg’s ‘combine’ work, Canyon.The term ‘combine’ describes a style of collage that incorporates found materials with two-dimensional paintings on canvas. Canyonis unique in that the stuffed bird atop the canvas happens to be an eagle. Under federal laws that prohibit the traffic in bald eagles (including their remains), Rauschenberg’s Canyoncannot be legally bought or sold. Yet the IRS is demanding that the heirs of the piece’s collector pay over $40 million in taxes.
I wasn’t aware that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was housing this ‘bald eagle-turned white elephant,’(as ART newsso aptly describes it), until I stumbled upon the controversial piece within the 20th-century galleries. Canyonis currently on long-term loan at the Metropolitan Museum, while my own subject of inquiry this summer, Title Sheetfrom Crackerjacks,permanently resides in the Smith College Museum of Art.
Title Sheetis the opening work from Crackerjacks,a 1977 graduate photography portfolio from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Title Sheetappears to be a flattened Cracker Jack box framed for the wall, but in reality is a painstaking reproduction of the familiar snack box. Although Title Sheetfeatures advertising slogans like “nobody loves a Cracker Jack box that’s empty,” the real surprise lies in the contents of the larger portfolio. The box that contains Title Sheethouses fifty-nine additional photographs. Images alluding to Sailor Jack and Bingo are presented through a pile of mangled dog fur and bone and in the photo of a woman with a buzzed head wearing a sailor suit. A single syringe taped to a sheet of white paper prefaces a Xerox color transfer of the jaunty sailor duo declaring, “gosh isn’t life fun.” This frank packaging of contemporary culture concludes with an image of a howling wolf.
Unfortunately, immediate viewers of Title Sheetdon’t have access to the accompanying works in the larger portfolio, and the implications of Title Sheetare enhanced by the additional contents. Yet situated as a single work, Title Sheetcommemorates how simple desires were once contained. By recreating the box though the labor-intensive process of photolithography—a printing method using plates made after a photograph—the artists render this everyday, throwaway Cracker Jack box one-of-a-kind.
Just as it can be said of Crackerjacks,the imagery in Canyonevokes nostalgia in the viewer. Large newspaper print letters and political posters are smeared and painted-over to create a dated effect. A rusty metal box has been opened, flattened, and then collaged, encouraging inquiry into the commonplace. Rauschenberg’s eagle extends into the space of the viewer while Title Sheettakes on a thematic space greater than the constraints of its framing.
On a purely aesthetic level, these two works of art have little in common. Viewers of our SIAMS exhibition, Outside the [Box]will view Title Sheetas the introduction to a discourse on consumerist culture, and knowledge of the accompanying portfolio isn’t requisite for enjoyment. Viewers of Canyonmay have no knowledge of the current tax debate surrounding this work, and perhaps that’s just as well. Both Canyonand Title Sheetposition contemporary art as an invitation to interpret, and a work’s immediate aesthetic impact is often just as powerful as its external implications.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
There is an unmistakable magic in Tara Donovan’s work. Her large-scale sculptural projects transform vast quantities of a single common material, such as plastic cups, drinking straws, adding machine paper, cellophane tape, or shirt buttons, into evocative and organic-looking accumulations.
Donovan studied sculpture at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and Virginia Commonwealth University. One of her first major projects, Moiré(1999; also a recent gift to SCMA) is composed of large rolls of adding machine paper draped in sinuous patterns. Another notable piece entitled Ripple,shown in the 2000 Whitney Biennial, consisted of small sections of copper electrical cable arranged in cascading dunes on the floor.
Her drawings are similarly focused on quotidian materials and biomorphic forms, but they seem to foreground process even more. Donovan initially resisted making 2-dimensional work when she was invited by David Lasry from Two Palms Press in New York to make a print. After visiting the shop she realized that Two Palms had equipment which would allow her to use one of her sculptural arrangements as a printing matrix. Her first unique print (or drawing, as she calls them) was made using rolls of adding machine paper arranged in a tray so that the edges could be inked and printed in relief. This type of unique two-dimensional work, using materials such as stickers, rubber bands, shattered plate glass, and dressmaker’s pins as either matrices or media, has been a regular part of her art ever since.
Untitledis a fairly early experimental two-dimensional work in which Donovan used soap bubbles as drawing tool. Combining ink and soap, the artist used a straw to blow bubbles in the liquid. She then carefully transferred bubbles of different sizes and patterns onto a sheet of white foam core. The bubbles were left to either pop or dissolve, leaving a unique image that captures an ephemeral occurrence.
This work will be on view in the Targan Gallery on the SCMA lower level until November 2012.
Friday, September 7, 2012
James Abbott McNeill Whistler. American, 1834–1903. The Bridgefrom the Second Venice Set.1879–80. Etching and drypoint on laid paper. Gift of Herbert and Ellen Fairbanks Bodman, class of 1945. SC 2003:1-2. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
This summer’s corridor exhibition is Image and After-Image: Whistler and Photography,on view until September 30, 2012. Featuring 20 prints and photographs from the permanent collection, Image and After-Imagelooks at James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s etchings and drypoints alongside the development of photography in the second half of the nineteenth century.
In 1879, Whistler accepted a commission from a London gallery to execute a dozen etchings of Venice over a three-month stay. Whistler lingered in Venice for fourteen months, producing over fifty prints as well as some paintings and pastels. The etchings were collected in two sets, known as the First Venice Set (1880) and the Second Venice Set (1886), and they represented a turning point in Whistler’s career. Doing away with any last remnants of anecdotal realism, these impressionist prints evoke a sense of everyday life in Venice using a spare and expressive visual shorthand. With the Venice Sets, Whistler began cutting his sheets at the plate mark, leaving only a tab for his trademark penciled butterfly signature denoting that the impression was printed by him.
Upright Veniceis among the first etchings Whistler made upon his arrival in Venice in 1879. He touched it up months later, adding the waterfront scene at the bottom and more gondolas in the distance. The lightly bitten lines, printed in brownish-black ink, are so delicate they have the effect of embroidery, echoing the fibers of the woven cream paper. Whistler also toned the sheet with a faint veil of ink to evoke the fall of light and shadow.
The vertical composition of the etching, which recalls a Japanese print or scroll, creates a gentle spatial disorientation. The waterfront in the foreground and background appear as two free-floating planes, with the empty expanse of the water between anchored by the gondolas and their shadows. Although the skyline panorama is topographically accurate—it shows the buildings around the Church of Santa Maria della Salute as seen from a window across the San Marco basin waterway—the focus is on atmosphere rather than historical monuments or picturesque landscape.