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, November 8, 2012
Cass Bird, who graduated from Smith College in 1999, works as both a fine art and commercial photographer in Brooklyn, NY. Her commercial work is often featured in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, the New York Times Magazine, and many others. While her magazine work sensuously portrays celebrities, models, and pop culture icons, her photographs of friends, acquaintances, and inspirational figures are far more personal, challenging, and moving. Such portraits artfully explore the subjective and amorphous nature of gender in our contemporary society.
In I Look Just Like My Mommy,acquired by SCMA in 2011, Bird depicts her friend Macaulay on the rooftop of a Williamsburg apartment building. Macaulay stands shirtless, with breasts, tattoos, and underwear exposed. The portrait is strikingly beautiful; the sun’s soft glow illuminates both the Brooklyn skyline and the subject’s skin, but it is not just about mere aesthetics. With most of Macaulay’s face covered, we are left to explore the signs which we may typically associate with normative gender identities; breasts, hairless skin, and pink underwear exist alongside defined arm musculature, tattoos of guns, a bald eagle, and “ROCK & ROLL,” as well as a trucker hat which boldly states “I LOOK JUST LIKE MY DADDY.” (Of course, this last detail is even further complicated by the title of the photograph, which states the opposite.) Bird’s portrait asks viewers to acknowledge the inconsistencies of these signifiers in order to think beyond conventional, polarized ideas of gender, and ultimately, to recognize the individual underneath the posturing.
Regarding her work, Bird claims: “The photographs portray the beauty and the positive existence of these individuals, their male and female origins overridden by their own will to define their gender, sexuality, and place in society.” Cass Bird continues to photograph individuals whose lives and appearances operate outside the traditional gender dichotomy, as can be seen in her first book, Rewilding,which was published earlier this year.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Student Picksis a SCMA program in which Smith students are given the opportunity to organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Leah Santorine ’13 discusses the inspiration and concepts behind her show, “Between the Lines: Image and Prose in the 20th Century Avant-Garde,” which will be on view tomorrow, Friday November 2 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Max Ernst. German, 1891 – 1976. Étoile de mer,ca. 1950. Lithograph on paper. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1953:120
All the shadow bubbles
And the sea-anemones
Come down and breathe within my thoughts
- André Breton. French poet, 1896 – 1966. *
I love modern art and literature. These two worlds have always been intertwined, and in my Student Picks show I strove to create a conversation between the drawings and prints which I chose and the literature around it. Between the Lineswas born by drawing parallels and making connections between these worlds. As a Comparative Literature major, I have always perceived 20th century art to be a product of literature. From my very first glimpse at the Futurist Manifesto, I was convinced. The cultural melting pot that was the European art scene in the early and mid-20th century continued to only solidify my visions of art through literature. Between the Linesis my personal and academic exploration of the literature and art of this particularly intriguing and influential time period.
Texture and color, arguably two things that cannot be portrayed in textual literature, were important to me in choosing, arranging, and creating connections between the artworks. Subsequently, the serious or silly subject matter and the geometric patterns juxtaposed with seemingly directionless lines were important in creating a balance between the different moods that the pieces evoke.
Futurism, Surrealism, and Dadaism were three movements that revolutionized art and were highly attractive to me – either through their respective manifestos or the art that the movements themselves produced. Many of the works in Between the Linesrepresent these different movements and show the full extent of the range of these artists. By combining each work with poems, prose, and quotes from authors from the same period, often even their peers and friends, the combined works give the viewer a new perspective on the influential and interpretive relationship between 20th century art and literature. I hope that Between the Linesilluminates both, playing with how art and literature address the ideas of conceptualizing and being.
Student Picks is a program that I had always wanted to participate in. Every year I put my name in, just once or twice, but never really expected anything. This year, I put my name in only three times. When I received the e-mail that I was selected to be a student curator, I was completely surprised and excited to have the opportunity to not only participate, but also to really kick off my senior year. It’s an incredible opportunity that I have done my best to take full advantage of. See you on Friday!
Sophie Tauber-Arp. Swiss, 1889-1943. Abstraction,n.d. Etching on paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1977:32-228
the streams buck like rams in a tent.
whips crack and from the hills come the crookedly combed
shadows of the shepherds.
black eggs and fools’ bells fall from the trees.
thunder drums and kettledrums beat upon the ears of the
wings brush against flowers.
fountains spring up in the eyes of the wild boar.
- Hans/Jean Arp. German-French artist and poet, 1886 – 1966. **
Riccardo Licata. Italian, born 1929. Scrittura,1954. Charcoal and pencil on white paper. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1954:70
As cool as the pale wet leaves
She lay beside me in the dawn.
- Ezra Pound. American poet, 1885 – 1972. ***
* excerpt, "The Spectral Attitudes," in Collected Verse Translations of David Gascoyne.Edited by Robin Skelton and Alan Clodd. Oxford University Press, 1970.
** Dada poetry line: line from Arp’s poem "Der VogelSelbdritt," Hans Arp; first published in 1920; “Gesammelte GedichteI”, p. 41 (transl. Herbert Read); in Jours effeuillés: Poèmes,essaies, souvenirs,Gallimard, Paris 1966, p. 288.
*** Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations.Edited by Richard Sieburth. Library of America; First Edition (October 9, 2003).
Thursday, October 25, 2012
My nine-year-old daughter loves Halloween. She loves the thrill of being frightened under safe conditions and, of course, the free candy. Walking past ghouls and monsters, she pinches my hand in gleeful but nervous anticipation. She is not the only one; the love of the uncanny and creepy is innate and a way of dealing with the darker side of life for many of us. Fellow Halloween-lovers can see the creatures that live within the SCMA vaults in the current Cunningham Corridor installation Monsters.
I’m personally not a big fan of horror movies, but I love a good ghost story. We all have a relationship to the monsters we create in our subconscious or the ones we find in newspaper headlines. The obsession with modern day monsters, like serial killers, has only grown and has even made it to the mainstream, as TV shows like Dexterdemonstrate. Monsters have always been part of us. They are familiar and the ‘other’ at the same time. Throughout history and across all cultures monsters have found their place. They frequent our dreams and nightmares, and surface in our stories and visual arts. In ancient Greek myths, many fantastical beings were brought to life to embody the darker, internal struggles of the hero while infusing the tale with complexity and wonder.
Early Christianity, with its apocalyptic worldview, introduced a new visual vocabulary of monstrosities. In the course of their devout labors, monastic scribes would be ‘visited’ by grotesque and ribald creatures who were then inserted into the margins of their illuminated manuscripts. While some of these monsters appear to be light-hearted or trivial marginalia, other manifestations came to be directly equated with Satan, Hell, and the seven deadly sins. Meanwhile, in everyday life, disfiguring diseases and birth defects were taken as evidence of the sufferers’ depravity, making them seem like monsters themselves.
Non-western art was just as replete with monstrosities. Whether in early Japanese woodblock prints, Persian Mughal court painting, Inuit or African art, artists illustrated their own myths and folktales with colorful and complex demons and monsters.
The Japanese horror and anime genre has grown significantly in popularity in the West over the last twenty years. Originally an oral tradition, pre-air-conditioning Japan loved the ‘cold chills’ that came with the telling of horror or ghost stories on hot summer nights. Its roots can be found in ancient Japanese folklore which gave birth to innumerable yokaiand or mononoke(strange apparitions, i.e., monsters) rivaling our western fascination with monsters.
In contrast with the interpretation of monsters in the West, which relies heavily on the Christian doctrine of Good versus Evil, the Japanese yokaihave a deep connection to nature and depend on the Taoist principles of Yin-Yang (“shadow and light”). Japanese monsters are fluid and can fluctuate between being interpreted as good, bad, funny, or evil, or sometimes all of the above. They are there to remind us of the transmutability of all things uncertain and boundless. Yokairepresent the imperceptible things that surround us that are given form by the boundless fears, anxieties, and contradictions in our lives.
Today’s more secularized monsters, such as those terrorizing audiences of Japanese anime or Hollywood horror films, retain much of their former potency. The descent into the dark underbelly of human consciousness is still not a happy journey. Our fascination with monsters has hardly waned, and artists continue to invent wonderful new abominations that both fascinate and repulse us.
Monstersis on view on the second floor of the Smith College Museum of Art until February 3, 2013.