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, March 2, 2017
Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Annie Titan '20 discusses her show "Not Your Forte? Exploring Depictions of Music" which will be on view FRIDAY, March 3 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you there!
Moorman, Charlottte; Kowal, Cal. American (Moorman 1934 - 1991) (Kowal 1956 - 1984). Charlotte Moorman performing on her "Cello Bomb", 1984. Gelatin silver Polaroid print. Gift of Carl Solway.
Music has always been a constant in my life; from my dad lulling me to sleep as a baby with the Grateful Dead, to discovering my love for piano in the 3rd grade, and continuing to now with the weekly playlists I make for the radio show I co-host. My love of music inspired this exhibition idea: to explore various depictions of music across cultures, time periods, and types of media.
Spanning Europe, Iran, the U.S, Asia, and Latin America, this show includes literal representations of music, such as prints and photographs of people playing instruments, posters advertising for musical events in the ‘60s, and a 15th century Italian manuscript page with bars of music. Abstract representations of instruments are also incorporated, such as the “Cello Bomb” and Cymbals, Harry Sternberg’s etching of two Olympian-like figures in a cloud of smoke with lightning going through the middle, evoking the visuals and sound of the percussion instrument.
I want to bridge the divide between contemporary and older works and create interesting dialogue between the two. What can one observe about the way music was represented 500 years ago as compared to now? What are people’s motivations behind playing music? In what way is music valued differently between cultures? How do different cultures present the idea of music in a visual context? What makes Street Musicians, by Italian-British photographer Felice A. Beato, an albumen print of Japanese people seen playing string instruments and dressed in traditional Japanese clothing, different from Native Music, by Guatemalan artist Carlos Mérida, a pochoir print of Guatemalans playing drums and flute while dressed in their native costumes? What do these varying representations say about the cultures that produced them?
Beato, Felice A. British born Italy (ca. 1825 - ca. 1904). Street Musicians, ca. 1868. Albumen print with hand coloring mounted on cream colored paperboard. Purchased with the Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy.
I hope this show inspires you to question the ways you previously thought music could be depicted, and excites you to listen to new types of music! Thank you so much to Colleen McDermott for her fantastic help in putting this show together.
Friday, February 10, 2017
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 April 2017.
Edvard Munch. Norwegian, 1863–1944. Woman in Black(Dame in schwarz). 1913. Woodcut printed in black on tan wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. SC 1972:50-75
Given the new interest in human psychology spurred by Sigmund Freud in the late nineteenth century, introspective art like the work by Edvard Munch (1863–1944) tapped directly into a new cultural awareness and exposed the hypocrisy of polite society. This new understanding of the human psyche led to a growing appreciation of Munch’s work, especially in more urban modernist environments like Berlin and Paris. As Munch said of his work, “I paint not what I see but what I saw.” His artwork became a direct outlet for suppressed emotions and anxiety, touching upon the darker side of human consciousness as his most famous painting The Scream attests.
(The Scream, 1893, National Gallery, Oslo, Norway).
Edvard Munch’s life was overcast with sickness, death, and mental instability. Born into a devout, cultured family in Norway, Munch lost both his beloved mother and eldest sister to tuberculosis at an early age and was raised by his obsessively religious and anxious father. The artist was plagued with bouts of melancholy and depression throughout his life and later battled alcoholism.
Munch’s success was hard-fought; his contemporaries in Norway originally rejected his psychological “realism” and attacked his lack of technical ability, criticizing his disregard for what they considered to be “good form.” They dismissed his work as “sick” and “an insult to art.”
Even though most of Munch’s work stems directly from the artist’s own troubled psyche, not all his work was autobiographical. Raised on literature, art, and music, Munch, like his father, was a great story teller, who wrote poetry and illustrated books and plays. Although originally ostracized by most of his fellow Norwegians, who rejected his work, he found a kindred spirit in the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, who personally encouraged Munch during one of his poorly-received exhibitions in Norway. Munch illustrated many of Ibsen’s plays, which, like Munch’s art, addressed societal hypocrisy and complex human emotions.
As the famous art critic Robert Hughes said of Munch’s self-portraits, “It is hardly surprising that someone as miserable and self-obsessed as Munch should have painted so many self-portraits.” The artist suffered from an unhappy childhood and seemed unable to escape the overriding gloom that dogged his life. His relationship to “his children”—as he called his artworks—as well as his own personal angst, affected his ability to have normal interactions with people, especially with women. Munch became his own, best subject, obsessively recorded in hundreds of self-portraits, including the famous painting, The Scream. Each of these images captured a different aspect of Munch’s troubled psyche.
Edvard Munch. Norwegian, 1863–1944. Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm. 1895. Lithograph with crayon, tusche, and needle on paper. Purchased. SC 1969:75
Munch’s first print was this early Self-Portrait with Skeletal Arm, created when he was 31 years old and living in Berlin. Beautiful in its simplicity and seemingly devoid of emotion, the pallid face rises from the black background. The simple skeletal arm at its base, however, evokes complex feelings. The use of a skeleton within a self-portrait, in combination with the inscription at the top, harkens back to memento mori (Renaissance portraits with skulls). The sitter’s contemplative stillness, surrounded by a black void, could therefore be interpreted as Munch’s acceptance of the inevitable end of life.
Edvard Munch. Norwegian, 1863–1944. Printed by Otto Felsing. German, 1854–1920s. Christiania Bohème I. 1895. Etching and drypoint printed in black on wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. SC 1972:50-69
This print depicts a group of Munch’s friends drinking absinthe and wine during one of their many gatherings. They represent Christiania Bohème, the Bohemian atheistic, anarchist movement of the 1880s in Oslo (formerly called Christiania) that promoted free love, modernist art, and literature. Playwright Henrik Ibsen was a major figure in the movement, but at that point had already been living abroad for sixteen years. Munch’s friend and mentor Hans Jäger was the group’s leader; his autobiographical novel From Christiania’s Bohemia gave the movement its name.The print lacks the usual anxiety of Munch’s other works even though some undefined dark shadows are looming behind the seated figures at the right. The casual expressions on their faces suggests an amicable assembly of kindred spirits.
Thursday, February 2, 2017
Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Laura Grant '17 discusses her show "The Candid Effect: Street Photography of Women" which will be on view FRIDAY, February 3 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you there!
How are women photographed in public spaces? This show examines the ways in which women are portrayed in street photography—a type of photography in which subjects are captured candidly participating in everyday activities. However, it is often difficult to determine the extent to which the photographs are actually candid. The photographs in this show demonstrate this ambiguity.
Lisette Model. American, born Austria (1901 - 1983). Woman with Veil, San Francisco, 1949. Gelatin silver print. Purchased with the gift of past and present members of the Visiting Committee in memory of Charles Chetham.
In Lisette Model’s Woman with a Veil, a nicely dressed older woman sits on a bench. The close-up shot suggests that the woman was aware she was being photographed, but her turn of the head and disregard for the camera give the sense that it is a candid shot.
Garry Winogrand. American (1928 - 1984). Two women with a child at the entrance to Central Park from Women are Beautiful, ca. 1975 negative; 1981 print. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall.
Other photographs also blur the line between chance encounter and posed scene. Garry Winogrand’s Two women with a child at the entrance to Central Park from his series Women are Beautiful is a much wider shot than Lisette Model’s photograph; it is possible the subjects were not aware Winogrand was taking a photograph focused on them.
Danny Lyon. American, born 1942. Port-au-Prince (woman carrying wood structure on shoulders, holding hand of another woman), 1983-1986 negative; 2007 print. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar.
The candid effect of street photography is even more apparent in Danny Lyon’s photograph Port-au-Prince where the subjects are seen from behind. It appears that Lyon captured this encounter without the subjects’ realization, and they do not seem posed.
Yet, the unposed quality of the photographs is not merely an innocent aesthetic choice. These photographs cause us to question whether the subjects knew their photograph was being taken and whether they wanted it to be taken and displayed.
Mikiko Hara. Japanese, born 1976. Still from the series These Are Days, 2009. C-print. Purchased with the Carroll and Nolen Asian Art Acquisition Fund.
Mikiko Hara’s still from the series These Are Days is the only photograph in which the subject looks directly at the camera. Her expression is difficult to read. Is she unnerved, annoyed, or surprised? Nevertheless, she is the only subject to look back and show any ambivalence towards her role as a subject of a street photograph.