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, May 4, 2012
Guest blogger Jim Gipe is the founder of the Florence-based digital photo studio Pivot Media
If you don’t already know this, the Smith College Museum of Art has been digitizing its art collection since 1998. I am part of a team that, in the last 14 years, has systemically photographed, cataloged, uploaded, and linked nearly 50,000 digital files of artwork and exhibitions.
Specifically, though, I am a DigiGuy. This is the affectionate name given my colleague, Stephen Petegorsky, and me by the Museum’s staff. When we arrive for our quarterly photo sessions you can often here a squawk over the security radios; “The DigiGuys are here” they announce, as we are led by staff, down stairs and through locked doors leading to “Deep Storage.”
It was here, deep in the basement of Tryon Hall, that I was first surprised by art. The date was June 10th, 2005, and we were in Phase II of the digitization timeline—direct digital capture using a Sinar four shot camera. Stephen was making the photographs and I was color correcting the digital files to match the original artwork. That day, the artwork was coming from the print room, stored in archival boxes and rolled in on a cart. I navigated my mouse to the next set of camera files and turned to open the grey box on top of the cart. As I lifted the lid, my first thought was “WOW”, followed by “Oh my!” I was looking at Ace of Spades by Salvador Dali. This was possibly the most phallic image I had ever seen in my life, and I’d seen roughly 14,000 pieces of art by this point. This image takes the word “perspective” to a new level that is neither flush nor straight. The piece is from the series, Playing Card Suite (1970), which is Dali’s depiction of the royalty from a common deck of playing cards. But, as you can see, there is nothing common about these aristocrats.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
In 1941 a group of Soviet writers and artists founded the TASS News Agency to create large-scale war-themed propaganda posters called “TASS Windows.” Over the next four years, the studio would create over 1,240 designs executed as multi-paneled stenciled screenprints. These posters were hung in windows across the Soviet Union, bringing fresh (and slanted) news and views of the Eastern front during World War II. Many of these posters were also sent to the US and Great Britain by the Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (VOKS), which was designed to build support for the war, but they were little studied (with few resources in English) until the exhibition Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945 mounted by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011. This exhibition presented new scholarship in English on this fascinating aspect of Soviet poster production. TASS posters were designed to be eye-catching and memorable, using humorous caricatures, painterly hand-cut stencils, and saturated colors.
Pyshki i Shiski (Pastry and Bruises) TASS Window #850 was designed by three artists known collectively as “Kukryniksy” (Mikhail Kupriyanov, Porfiri Krylov, and Nikolai Sokolov).
This poster was purchased for the SCMA collection in the wake of the exhibition Godless Communists: Soviet Anti-Religious Propaganda which focused on a little-known group of Soviet anti-religious posters which entered the collection in 1968. The exhibition also expanded our understanding of how propaganda posters can provide an unusually rich field for interdisciplinary investigation.
The image in Pyshki I Shiski is a graphic rendering of a section of a speech delivered by Josef Stalin on November 6, 1943, in which he proclaimed:
“Entering the war, the members of Hitler's bloc counted on a rapid victory. They divided the spoils in advance: who would get the pies and pastries, and who gets the bumps and bruises. Understandably, the bruises and the bumps were intended for their enemies, and the pies and pastries for themselves.
[Inscribed on the pastries in the picture are: "The Caucasus; Africa; Transylvania, the Kuban'; Moscow"]
But now it is clear that Germany and her lackeys will not get the pies and pastries; instead, they will have to divide the bumps and the bruises among themselves.”
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Drypoint prints are made by using an etching needle—a metal tool with a fine tip—to create incisions directly on a copper plate. When you etch the lines into the plate, the needle pulls up a fine burr of copper around the lines. Because of the burr, a drypoint line holds more ink than an etched or engraved line. It prints darkly and thickly, creating velvety black textures, deep shadows, and dramatic tonal variation.
Drypoint lines are more fragile than etching or engraving lines. They produce fewer impressions, because the burr wears down easily. This explains why Rembrandt’s marvelous drypoint print The Three Crosses exists in five states. The states are different versions of the same print; each state represents changes made to the copper plate because the burr had worn down and the plate needed to be touched up. Print lovers are obsessed with the little alterations you can find between different states of the same print. What distinguishes The Three Crosses is that the differences between the third and fourth states are dramatic. Rembrandt completely re-invents the print, not just compositionally, but tonally: the meaning changes.
Take a look at our fourth state of The Three Crosses:
Now compare it to this image of the third state.
In the fourth state, Rembrandt introduces new figures—two mounted soldiers to the left of the cross—and re-draws the group at the right, including St. John and Mary. The figure of the centurion changes, too. In early states, he kneels before Christ; in late states he is mounted on a horse. The second thief on the cross is obscured because Rembrandt has etched over the right side of the plate, creating a deep ominous shadow over the scene. The velveteen depth and intensity of those black lines comes from the amazing use of drypoint.
The story the print depicts is the crucifixion of Christ alongside two thieves (in the print, Christ is in the center, with one thief on each side). The crucifixion is ultimately a tale of redemption: Christ’s sacrifice brings about the salvation of humankind. But the fourth state is so dark and bleak, it casts doubt upon the redemption narrative. The looming shadow that threatens to engulf the whole scene, the rearing horse, the obscurity of the figures, and the emphasis on Christ’s suffering transforms The Three Crosses from an image of pathos and sacrifice to one of darkness, doubt and chaos.