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, February 21, 2013
This spring we have two wonderful examples of Sol LeWitt’s elegant geometric compositions on view at Smith College. At SCMA, the current Cunningham Corridor installation Less is More: The Minimal Print(on view until May 5, 2013) contains a small LeWitt print from titled Circles(1973), while Burton Hall, home of the Smith College Mathematics department, houses LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides)(1972). Each represents important and complementary characteristics of his work: simple and complex, small and large, printed and drawn.
Sol LeWitt, who coined the term “Conceptual Art,” created many prints, drawings, and “structures” (his term for sculpture) which are more dependent on ideas and logic than visual qualities or expression. LeWitt envisioned his role in the creative process to be akin to that of a musical composer or an architect, as his work is often based on written plans that are physically executed by others. He built a seemingly infinite number of compositions using a basic vocabulary of lines, arcs, and grids. When these simple geometric components are combined, they transcend their rudimentary nature to become complex abstract patterns. Anonymous in character and detached from emotion or feeling, LeWitt’s work is nonetheless alluring and graceful.
As LeWitt began making his famous wall drawings in 1968, his work became increasingly ephemeral and collaborative. Beginning in 1970, printmaking provided LeWitt with the means of producing more permanent and reproducible images, while allowing him to relinquish control of the final appearance of the work through his collaboration with master printers. Like many of his prints, Circles(1973) was produced by a master printer from an original LeWitt drawing. With its black and gray lines, which resemble pen ink and pencil marks, this lithograph retains the impression of the drawing. The concentric circles and converging lines are not as exact and precise as they first appear. Contrary to the mechanical processes available to printmaking, LeWitt embraced subtle hand-produced imperfections such as the wavering lines in Circles.
In January 2013, Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides),an important early LeWitt wall drawing executed in black pencil, was installed on the third floor of Burton Hall. Integral to LeWitt’s artistic philosophy, his wall drawings are designed to be executed by anyone following his simple plans. Characteristic of LeWitt’s early work, its understated pencil-drawn style is similar to Circlesbut its grand scale and complex composition of overlapping lines and arcs makes its abstraction more apparent. As in its previous installation in the Museum in 2008, Wall Drawing #139was executed by Roland Lusk of LeWitt’s New York studio with the assistance of three Smith College students: Clara Bauman ’13, Mingjia Chen ’15, and Clara Rosebrock ’16. This impressive drawing was installed in just two weeks using simple tools such as pencils, rulers, compasses, levels, and plumb lines.
Join us on Thursday, February 28 at 4PM in Burton Hall in front of the LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides)to hear different perspectives on the current installation!
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Guest blogger Janna Singer-Baefsky is a Smith College student, class of 2015, with a major in Art History and concentration in Museum Studies. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
As the spring semester kicks into high gear, one thought is pulsing through every student’s mind: summer. As some scramble to finish applications for summer internships, jobs, and school, others are counting down the days until graduation or the first day of pure freedom. However, the piles of crusty brown salt-packed ice coated with a fresh dusting of clean, white snow are a constant reminder that summer is a long way away.
I had not caught the summer bug yet, until one afternoon at work. I came across a newly acquisitioned Joel Meyerowitz photograph. His piece, Empire State, Windmill,captures the very essence of the season and suddenly I was just as restless for some fun in the sun as my friends. It is not so much the main focus of the image itself – the windmill – that grabbed my attention, but instead what surrounds it: the wilting sunflowers, the clear blue sky, and the shadows from the trees.
Photographed in 1978, the image has now aged, coating the picture in a vintage hue which emphasizes the hazy atmosphere. The windmill blades sit frozen in the stagnant, hot summer air. Perhaps the streets are empty because the kids are in their last few days of classes, rushing through finals so they can play in the sprinklers, or maybe it is just too darn hot to move. Whatever the reason, we’ve all been there – that scorching summer day that starts at eight in the morning and carries through till the late evening.
That is beauty of Meyerowitz’s photograph. He captures a fixed scene from his time that is still tangible thirty-five years later. It does not just looklike summer, it feelslike summer. Staring at this work I can almost feel the sun on my face and a gentle warm breeze. And so as I sit in my scarf and sweater, awaiting the next snow storm but dreaming of bright summer day, I am comforted by the fact that it is never too cold for ice cream.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
“My works are my honest thoughts carved into wood. My ‘art in wood’ comes into being spontaneously in spite of me, just as joy, astonishment, and sadness often do bubble up.”
One of the many pleasures of having a collection of 16,000+ works on paper at my fingertips is the chance to delve deeper into the work of artists with whose work I am only minimally familiar. Such is the case with the work of Munakata Shiko (1903-1975), one of the most recognized and collected artists of sosaku-hanga,Japan’s so-called “creative print movement.” During the early 20th century Japanese printmakers actively sought to break with the tradition of ukiyo-eprinting in which cutter of the block was simply replicating the vision of the designer of an image. The sosaku-hangaartists wished to follow the European tradition of the peintres-graveurs(painter/printmakers) who were able to fully realize their vision by fully participating in all aspects of making a print.
My rediscovery of Munakata is related to research for a series of exhibitions highlighting SCMA’s Asian collections. Entitled Collecting the Art of Asia,this project, which is on view until May 26, 2013, features four installations of works from east, south, and central Asia arranged over three floors. The exhibitions are designed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of SCMA’s first acquisitions of Asian art, which were gifts from the famed collector Charles Freer in 1913.
The installation I worked on focuses on prints made between 1950 and the present day, which allows SCMA to showcase our expanding holdings in this area. A key component in our quest to build a strong collection of Asian art has been recent gifts of contemporary Chinese and Japanese prints. It has been fascinating to uncover the historical underpinnings of contemporary printmaking in Asia which emerged during the internationalization of print culture during the 1950s.
Born to a family of blacksmiths in Aomori, Munakata first learned about European art from local painters, and he was particularly enamored of Vincent van Gogh’s work. After becoming disillusioned with oil painting early in his career, Munakata found a way to combine his interest in Japanese tradition and modern Western art through printmaking. Although he devoted himself to woodcuts beginning in 1928, Munakata did not develop an international reputation for his prints until the 1950s, winning top prizes at print exhibitions in Lugarno (1952), São Paulo (1955), and Venice (1956).
Severely nearsighted from his childhood, Munakata kept his face very close to the block as he cut, sometimes following his drawing, but often creating the image spontaneously during the cutting process. He was equally idiosyncratic in his printing, titling, numbering, and dating of works, frequently reworking and printing blocks many years after they were first cut.
This is undoubtedly the case with this impression of Sand Nest,a work first created in 1938 as part of a series of thirty-one woodcuts illustrating the Nō play Uto No Hangasaku(Birds of Sorrow). Most of the blocks in this series were destroyed in an air raid during World War II, but this block is clearly registered as having been printed in 1957.
Another work by Munakata in the exhibition is one image from his series of views of the Tōkaidō. The Tōkaidō was the route that linked Tokyo and Kyoto, which were, at the time, the two largest cities in Japan. This subject was most famously treated by Hiroshige, who issued two volumes of 53 ukiyo-eprints of the Tōkaidō, in 1834. This series documented the 53 “stations” along the route which were marked by inns where travelers could rest or refresh their horses.
Hiroshige’s image is both illustrative and narrative in style, making use of the perspective of the winding road toward the distant Mount Fuji, using soft and modulated applications of water-based ink to provide naturalistic coloring.
Munakata’s version of the same scene, by contrast, is flat and expressive, using bright patches of color applied both to the back and the front of the image to enliven the surface of the print. In creating this series, Munakata made a number of trips along the Tōkaidō, seeking to record a modern version of this famed historic subject in quick ink sketches. These he translated into woodblocks in his studio, adding color.
Learn more about the Collecting Art of Asia exhibition and SCMA's growing collection of Asian art in our online catalogue.