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, March 24, 2017
Guest blogger Renee Klann is a Smith College student, class of 2019. She is the 2015-2017 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
What comes to mind when you hear the word grotesque? Monsters? Caricatures? The grotesque is a broad and continuously evolving category that helps people grapple with unnatural or repulsive things.
The term grotesque originated from the 15th-century discovery of ancient Roman murals, which were mistakenly believed to be in a grotto. The murals featured half-human, half-animal figures whose limbs transformed into foliage or ornamental scrolls. Many artists, including Jean Jacques François Lebarbier, adopted this style and made hybrid creatures popular ornaments.
Jean Jacques François Lebarbier. French, 1738-1826. Family Group, illustration for L’histoire de Xenophon, ca. 1797. Bistre on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lifton (Loretta Jane Silver, class of 1952) and Dr. and Mrs. Ernst Greif (Carol Lynn Silver, class of 1955). SC 1971:15-13
However, the grotesque includes not only fanciful decorations, but also depictions of the monstrous. Unnatural creatures were meant to frighten audiences, often conveying religious or moralistic messages. Sloth from the Seven Deadly Sins series includes a personification of the titular sin as well as demons that tempt and torment people. This disturbing scene was meant to remind viewers of the consequences of their actions.
Hieronymus Cock, Early Netherlandish, ca. 1510-1570. After Pieter Brueghel the elder, Early Netherlandish, 1525/1530-1569. Sloth, from The Seven Deadly Sins Series, 1558. Engraving printed in black on paper. Gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen (Bernice M. McIlhenny, class of 1925). SC 1957:82
There can be ambiguity between whimsical and disturbing grotesques, and in more recent times artists have drawn on both these traditions. This exhibit presents five types of grotesque: fantastical hybrids, unsettling hybrids, demonic creatures, monstrous beings, and mythical races. Come to the museum to learn more and to see the evolution of the grotesque for yourself.
Odilon Redon. French, 1840-1916. Printed by Just Becquet. Les Sciapodes: - La Tête le Plus Bas Possible..., from À Gustave Flaubert - la Tentation de St. Antoine, ca. 1889. Lithograph printed in black on chine appliqué on heavy white wove paper. Gift of Mrs. Bertram Gabriel Jr. (Helen Cohen, class of 1948) in memory of her parents, Sadie and Sidney S. Cohen. SC 1989:21-7
Trenton Doyle Hancock. American, 1974-. The Cult of Color, from The Ossified Theosophied, 2005. Etching printed in color on Hahnemühle Copperplate bright white paper. Purchased with the gift of Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, and the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund. SC 2006:13-3
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.