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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, May 10, 2012

    Picasso and the Minotaur

    Pablo Picasso. Spanish, 1881 – 1973. Minotaure Aveugle Guide par une Fillette dans la Nuit, 1934. Acquatint, scraper, drypoint and burin printed in black on Montual paper. Gift of Susan S. Small (Susan Spencer, class of 1948). 

    This print is based on the Greek myth of the minotaur, which can be read in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Like much of Metamorphoses,it is a tale of creativity and suffering.  The story takes place on the island of Crete, where lives the minotaur, the monstrous child of a human and a bull.  He is enclosed in a labyrinth constructed by the canny Daedalus, and each year he is appeased by a sacrifice of seven boys and seven girls from Athens.  The Athenians are not terribly pleased with this arrangement, so they send Theseus to kill the minotaur.  Ariadne, the woman who loves Theseus, gives him a gift before he leaves that saves his life: a golden thread that he can tie to a rock at the entrance of the labyrinth to guide him back out.  Theseus kills the minotaur and returns to Athens victorious.  But the story ends in tragedy: Theseus, in his jubilation, forgets to change the black sails of mourning to the white sails of victory, and when his father Egeus sees the boat from a high cliff approaching the city, he throws himself into the ocean out of grief. 

    Ovid’s tale is complex to begin with – all those layers of art and artistry, wildness and captivity, love and suffering.  Picasso reflects the many facets of the story in his composition, but he also alters them in significant ways.  There is the minotaur in the foreground, who here is blind, his unseeing eyes lifted powerfully towards the starry sky.  There is a young girl holding a dove, occupying the brightest area of the composition, perhaps an Ariadne figure.  We can see a man in a boat half-shrouded in his sail, reminding us of Theseus, Egeus, and the sad final notes of the tale. 

    In this work, Greek mythology collides with Picasso’s own personal mythology of artistic creation.  The minotaur is a motif in Picasso’s oeuvre, symbolizing the tortured artist.  Picasso’s minotaur is fierce and virile, yet also sympathetic and even fragile.  He is blind, which suggests that he is a visionary who transcends literal sight, but he also relies on the innocent girl who guides him. 

    Minotaure Aveugle Guide par une Fillette dans la Nuit is from Picasso’s Vollard suite, a series of 100 prints all made after themes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The series is named for Ambroise Vollard, the foremost French print dealer and publisher at the time. 

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  • Friday, May 4, 2012

    Observations From Deep Storage: The Art of Surprise

    Guest blogger Jim Gipe is the founder of the Florence-based digital photo studio Pivot Media

    If you don’t already know this, the Smith College Museum of Art has been digitizing its art collection since 1998. I am part of a team that, in the last 14 years, has systemically photographed, cataloged, uploaded, and linked nearly 50,000 digital files of artwork and exhibitions.

    Specifically, though, I am a DigiGuy. This is the affectionate name given my colleague, Stephen Petegorsky, and me by the Museum’s staff.  When we arrive for our quarterly photo sessions you can often here a squawk over the security radios; “The DigiGuys are here” they announce, as we are led by staff, down stairs and through locked doors leading to “Deep Storage.”

    It was here, deep in the basement of Tryon Hall, that I was first surprised by art.  The date was June 10th, 2005, and we were in Phase II of the digitization timeline—direct digital capture using a Sinar four shot camera.  Stephen was making the photographs and I was color correcting the digital files to match the original artwork.  That day, the artwork was coming from the print room, stored in archival boxes and rolled in on a cart.  I navigated my mouse to the next set of camera files and turned to open the grey box on top of the cart.  As I lifted the lid, my first thought was “WOW”, followed by “Oh my!”  I was looking at Ace of Spades by Salvador Dali.  This was possibly the most phallic image I had ever seen in my life, and I’d seen roughly 14,000 pieces of art by this point. This image takes the word “perspective” to a new level that is neither flush nor straight.  The piece is from the series, Playing Card Suite (1970), which is Dali’s depiction of the royalty from a common deck of playing cards.  But, as you can see, there is nothing common about these aristocrats.

    Salvador Dali. Spanish, 1904–1989. Playing Card Suite: Ace of Spades, 1970. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    Playing Card Suite: Queen of Spades, 1970. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    Playing Card Suite: King of Diamonds, 1970. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    Playing Card Suite: Jack of Diamonds, 1970. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

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    Salvador Dali - 07/02/2015

    playing cards

    I have them 2 decks of playing cards from Dali.
    But can you tell me howe many decks they made .
    Ihave the first and the second edition .
    1 st set is in a carton box.
    2 st set is in a wooden box .

    thank you P Verstijnen The Netherlands

    Jim Gipe - 05/06/2012

    Deep Storage

    This is so cool. How amazing it would be to own a deck of cards by Dali? Thanks for sharing,

    BJ Larson
    Deputy Director
    NEMA

    Kim Hicks - 24/05/2012

    Dali playing cards

    Thanks for giving us access to these little gems from deep storage--I'd love to see the originals on display, someday.

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  • Tuesday, April 24, 2012

    TASS Window #850

    In 1941 a group of Soviet writers and artists founded the TASS News Agency to create large-scale war-themed propaganda posters called “TASS Windows.” Over the next four years, the studio would create over 1,240 designs executed as multi-paneled stenciled screenprints. These posters were hung in windows across the Soviet Union, bringing fresh (and slanted) news and views of the Eastern front during World War II. Many of these posters were also sent to the US and Great Britain by the Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (VOKS), which was designed to build support for the war, but they were little studied (with few resources in English) until the exhibition Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945 mounted by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011. This exhibition presented new scholarship in English on this fascinating aspect of Soviet poster production. TASS posters were designed to be eye-catching and memorable, using humorous caricatures, painterly hand-cut stencils, and saturated colors.

    Pyshki i Shiski (Pastry and Bruises) TASS Window #850 was designed by three artists known collectively as “Kukryniksy” (Mikhail Kupriyanov, Porfiri Krylov, and Nikolai Sokolov).

    This poster was purchased for the SCMA collection in the wake of the exhibition Godless Communists: Soviet Anti-Religious Propaganda which focused on a little-known group of Soviet anti-religious posters which entered the collection in 1968. The exhibition also expanded our understanding of how propaganda posters can provide an unusually rich field for interdisciplinary investigation. 

    The image in Pyshki I Shiski is a graphic rendering of a section of a speech delivered by Josef Stalin on November 6, 1943, in which he proclaimed:

    “Entering the war, the members of Hitler's bloc counted on a rapid victory. They divided the spoils in advance: who would get the pies and pastries, and who gets the bumps and bruises. Understandably, the bruises and the bumps were intended for their enemies, and the pies and pastries for themselves.

    [Inscribed on the pastries in the picture are: "The Caucasus; Africa; Transylvania, the Kuban'; Moscow"]

    But now it is clear that Germany and her lackeys will not get the pies and pastries; instead, they will have to divide the bumps and the bruises among themselves.”

    Kukryniksy (Mikhail Kupriyanov, Porfiri Krylov, and Nikolai Sokolov). Pyshki i Shiski (Pastry and Bruises), 1943. Screenprint in color on paper. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund

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