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, July 20, 2012
Nevelson, Louise. American 1899—1988. The Great Wall,1970. Intaglio series, assemblage of wood grained lead foil relief elements bonded to heavy rag paper. Gift of Louise Nevelson. SC 1973:27-2. Photograph by Julie Warchol.
Known for her large-scale wall assemblages, or “environments,” made entirely of wood boxes and debris usually painted a uniform black, Louise Nevelson’s work relentlessly defies categorization of both style and media. She was interested in African and pre-Columbian art, as well as Cubism for its treatment of space and form, but refused to be affiliated with any modern movements or “-isms.” Similarly, her unconventional explorations of diverse media – sculpture, painting, printmaking, and even tapestry – reflect her singular, noncompliant artistic practice. Blurring these boundaries with the utmost confidence, Nevelson began making prints in the early 1950s which informed and reflected upon her sculptures. It was not until the 1970s, however, that she created a union of sculpture and printmaking.
The Great Wallperfectly exemplifies this cross-media relationship. It is a part of the “Walls” series of six lead intaglio relief prints in which Nevelson integrated wood relief sculptures directly into the printmaking process. Built specifically for the prints, the relief sculptures were used to emboss, or physically imprint, the surface of the lead foil. Nevelson then arranged the lead foil pieces on paper to create the finished print that we see above. In the “Walls” series, Nevelson truly heightens and embraces the sculptural possibilities of her prints.
Detail from The Great Wall.Photograph by Julie Warchol.
Nevelson’s The Great Wallhighlights her obsession with the shifting subtleties of light, shadow, and surface texture. Reminiscent of her sculpture environments, each “cell” within the towering composition contains a microcosm of embossed organic shapes which protrude, capturing the impression of the wood grain from the original reliefs. With time, the surface will continue to evolve as the lead oxidizes, creating a unique patina. These mutable qualities lend an enigmatic aesthetic to her work that corresponds to the mystical nature of the artist herself. In her insistence on expanding the limits of printmaking and sculpture, Louise Nevelson exposes the amorphous space created at their intersection: “My total conscious search in life has been for a new seeing, a new image, a new insight. This search not only includes the object, but the in-between place. The dawns and the dusks. The objective world, the heavenly spheres, the places between the land and sea…”
Thursday, July 12, 2012
My summer corridor show, Image and After-Image: Whistler and Photography,pairs the etchings of James Abbott McNeill Whistler with nineteenth century photographs to look at the relationship between the revival of etching and the birth of photography in the Victorian era. Whistler, a pioneer of the Etching Revival movement that sought to transform etching from a medium for technological reproduction to an art form of spontaneity and refinement, brought a vivid new imagination to the aesthetic possibilities of the graphic line. But unlike etchers, early photographers were dealing with an entirely new technology.
Picturesque street scenes were seen both in etchings and in photographs during the Victorian period. While photographers could document the way city streets actually looked, they were also cramped by an odd limitation. The long exposure times required by early cameras made it impossible to record objects in motion. Photographs of street scenes during this period are usually eerily devoid of people. They might have walked down the street while the picture was being taken, but they don’t appear in the image: they slip outside of the camera’s view and melt out of sight.
Occasionally, however, moving objects are half-recorded by the camera, creating whitish blurs in the photograph known as “ghosts.” In this photograph by Gustave Lancelot, the ghost of a horse is discernible at the front of the carriage on the right side of the street. (The horse’s front legs are clearly articulated but its torso and head are out of focus.) Two other ghosts that mar the surface of the image—one on the sidewalk beside the horse, beneath the streetlamp, and one on the right-hand sidewalk at the first street corner, between the three square boxes—indicate the presence of people moving through the photograph. By contrast, a single figure, perhaps strategically placed by the photographer, is clearly represented on the left sidewalk, sitting in a chair.
Lancelot’s photograph is paired in the exhibition with Whistler’s first ever street scene, called Street in Saverne.Here, Whistler brings a more deliberate ghostliness to his depiction of a city street, using dramatic light and dark contrasts, a tunnel-like composition and apparitional shadows to create an unsettling intensity. The single ghostly figure, like the ghosts in the Lancelot print, seems to be melting into shadow. Whistler’s choice of a nocturnal scene reflects a singular change in urban planning in the mid-nineteenth century: the introduction of street lamps to European cities. Street lamps transformed nocturnal views, both in terms of the lived experience of cities at night and the possibilities for artistic representation. By reinforcing the mystery of the street seen by lamplight, both ominous and beautiful, Whistler depicts the ghostly uncertainty of his increasingly modern, industrial world.
Monday, July 2, 2012
Jay Bolotin. American, 1949–. Jack and Eve on Stage,still from The Jackleg Testament Part I: Jack & Eve.2004-2005. Woodcut motion picture. Smith College Museum of Art. Purchased with the Carol Ramsay Chandler Fund and with the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. Photograph courtesy of the artist.
I vividly remember the first time I laid eyes on Jay Bolotin’s The Jackleg Testament Part I: The Story of Jack and Eveat the 2008 Editions and Artist’s Book Fair in New York. At a special early opening event for collectors and curators, I, like everyone else, was making a beeline for the coffee and muffins which were stationed at the end of a long row of booths. While walking, I noticed many people in front of me stop halfway down the aisle, turn to the right, and stand, transfixed and open-mouthed. I soon joined them in the same posture. What we were all looking at was fairly astonishing; the booth of the Carl Solway Gallerywhich was densely hung with vigorous black-and-white woodcuts. At the center of the installation hung a video monitor, where the figures in the woodcuts, now in color, cavorted, singing an operatic score. What on earth WAS this thing? The first woodcut movie, I was told. Jay Bolotin, the majordomo behind the production, not only designed and cut the woodcuts and assembled the movie; he also wrote the music and libretto for the 62-minute opera, and was one of the featured singers. While I was initially astonished by this idea, I quickly learned that for Jay Bolotin, such immersive, complex, and sprawling projects are more the rule rather than the exception. As an artist Bolotin wears many hats; he is a singer, songwriter, writer, printmaker, sculptor, theater collaborator, installation artist, etc. All these roles are necessary to achieve his true vocation: that of a compelling and consummate storyteller.
This amazing marriage of the earliest means of printed communication (woodcut) with the latest (digital media) seemed a natural for an educational institution, and we quickly snapped up a copy of the portfolio (which includes 40 woodcuts and a copy of the opera on disc) for the SCMA collection.
Jay Bolotin. American, 1949–. Jack’s Entrance into Edenfrom The Jackleg Testament Part I: Jack & Eve.2005-2007. Woodcut. Smith College Museum of Art. Purchased with the Carol Ramsay Chandler Fund and with the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
We are pleased to finally be able to share this work with SCMA visitors, as Jay Bolotin: The Jackleg Testamentopens on June 29 (and runs through September 9). Featured in the exhibition are the woodcuts from the portfolio, a viewing theater where the opera will be running continuously during open hours, and a special sneak preview of Bolotin’s progress on Part II of The Jackleg Testament(which he sees as a trilogy of linked films). Part II includes drawings (annotated with text written on the wall by the artist), new prints (woodcut and relief etching) and a video showing tests for the animations that will make up the next film.
Bolotin will return to Northampton on Friday July 13 to give an illustrated lecture on his work as part of SCMA’s Free Second Fridays Program. The Museum will be open from 4-8, and the lecture will take place in Stoddard Hall at 7 pm. This is a program not to be missed!
Jay Bolotin. American, 1949–. Nobodaddyfrom The Jackleg Testament Part I: Jack & Eve.2005-2007. Woodcut. Smith College Museum of Art. Purchased with the Carol Ramsay Chandler Fund and with the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
Jay Bolotin. American, 1949–. Puppet Show with Ostrich Vision 2010. Graphite on illustration board. Collection of Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, 21c Museum, Louisville, Kentucky. Photograph by Tony Walsh.
Jay Bolotin. American, 1949–. The Puppeteer in his labyrinth,test sequence from the film The Jackleg Testament Part II: The Book of Only Enoch.2012. Lent by the artist, courtesy of Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photograph courtesy of the artist.
Jay Bolotin and Aprile Gallant speaking to SCMA members in the installation of Jay Bolotin: The Jackleg Testament.June 28, 2012. Photograph by Louise Kohrman.