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.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Photographer, filmmaker, and Hampshire College Professor emeritus Jerome Liebling died on July 27 at the age of 87.
I was fortunate to have been able to work with Jerry, and have very fond memories of time spent both talking and looking at pictures. Asked any question, including the usually pro-forma “How are you?” would elicit Jerry’s trademark “Well. . . .” (an extended syllable, followed by a pause).
Jerry took you at your word: if you were going to ask a question, he would take it seriously and give you an honest answer. Not unkindly, but no sugar coating. This was, I think, one of his ways of ensuring that people were able to take full measure of their interactions with him, and by extension, with others: to encourage them to see clearly and act accordingly.Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Woman, Shopping Cart, Market Window, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1985 (printed in 2007). C-print. Purchased with a grant from the Artists’ Resource Trust
His students have said that he led by example, and his photographs do too. Jerry’s pictures have always driven home to me the fact that the world that we live in is both beautiful and terrible, filled to the brim with pain and joy. What we do in this world, as human beings, matters a great deal, but the key things that we MUST do, is to commit ourselves to truly seeing how things are and to embrace the commonality of our existence. Perhaps this is too grand a statement, but it is undeniable that there is something in these photographs that is profoundly moving.Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Man in Restaurant Booth, Weirton, W.V., 1982 (printed in 2007). Purchased with the Fund in honor of Charles Chetham.
The slumped posture of an unemployed man sitting in a restaurant booth, the tender mirrored gestures of a mother’s and baby’s hands, the warm light bathing a desolate corner of a broken city, an old woman both swallowed and framed by the signs of commercial culture—all of these indelible images are carefully chosen stanzas in Jerry’s magnum opus: a visual poem about what it means to be human in America in the 20th century.Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Mother, Baby’s Hand, Mexico, 1974 (printed 1976). Gelatin silver print. Purchased
Throughout his career, Jerry maintained this interest in the daily lives of regular people (or “folk” as he called them). While capturing this quality seems fairly straightforward, it clearly is not. He obviously felt for the people in his images, and I remember him musing on these interactions: the dignified Minnesota coal miner captured at work in the 1950s, or the day-dreaming old woman in Brighton Beach frozen mid-reverie.Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Woman & Scarf, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1980s
This openness toward his subjects was something I experienced as well. Jerry was not only generous with his time, but also with his regard. When you were with him you felt that as long as you were genuine and engaged you didn’t need to try to be impressive or display your accomplishments to gain his respect. Being human was enough.
But the sad fact of being human is, of course, that no one lives forever. I will miss Jerry. Fortunately, for us all, part of him lives on in his photographs.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Alfred Stieglitz. American, 1864 –1946. The Terminal, 1893. Photogravure on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
This year I became a curator for the first time: I organized a small exhibition of prints and photographs made in and about New York City in the early part of the twentieth century. I came to the topic through a fortuitous dove-tailing of ideas and events. First, I found myself learning about American prints for a separate collections research project, and as I paged through library books I became fascinated by the repetition and permutation of similar subjects: Brooklyn Bridge after Brooklyn Bridge, a myriad of skyscrapers and street corners. The documentary impulse in these works—representing real places in real time—seemed to give the landmarks they depicted a mythic stature. Second, I taught a session of a First Year Seminar called America in 1925in which the students and I discussed the similarities and differences between two photographs of New York City, one by Alfred Stieglitz (The Terminal, 1893) and one by Ralph Steiner (Misty Day on Fifth Avenue, 1922). The students raised such provocative and compelling points about the way Stieglitz and Steiner documented urban life that I knew immediately I couldn’t let go of these works or these ideas—I would have to return to them. Third, I fell deeply and totally in love with the New York City photographs of Alfred Stieglitz and the New York City etchings of Edward Hopper, and I wanted to learn as much as possible about the work and careers of these two artists.
With inspiration like this, the exhibition came together with amazing ease. I pursued a range of work that revealed some facet of New York City life, focusing on two primary circles of artists: the printmakers associated with what came to be known as the Eight or the Ashcan School (John Sloan, George Bellows, Edward Hopper), and those associated with the more avant-garde Photo-Secession (Alfred Stieglitz, John Marin). I selected work that seemed to engage the project of documenting real people and places, the spectacles and chance encounters the city produces. I began to understand the attempt to represent the varied dimensions of an urban reality as a kind of map-making—mapping time and space, the public and the private, gender and race, industry and expansion, the nodes of human relationships and encounters that urban spaces both contain and produce. And I read whatever I could get my hands on about this topic and these artists—monographs, textbooks, and exhibition catalogs; criticism, theory, and biography.
In spite of this surfeit of research, perhaps the most fruitful lesson I learned about organizing an exhibition is that the curator doesn’t have the final word; the art does. An exhibition extends the opportunity to look at works of art in a way that is simultaneously mediated and unmediated. I made decisions about what to show and where and beside what, and I wrote a few didactic labels to direct the viewer to certain facts and interpretations, but I also felt that every work I hung was more complex than anything I could say about it. Ultimately, I recognize this as a special quality of working with original objects. The curator’s job is to allow the art to speak. And if the art can be illuminated by an argument or concept, it can also resist, complicate and transcend the argument or concept. I loved working in this unsettled state.
Hanging the exhibition
The exhibition Mapping the City is on view in the Cunningham Center corridor through September 25.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Welcome to Paper + People, the blog of the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Smith College Museum of Art.
What is the Cunningham Center?
The Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs is a rich resource of works on paper created between the 15th century and the present day. Comprising over 70% of the holdings of the Smith College Museum of Art, the Cunningham Center allows visitors direct, barrier-free, interactions with prints, drawings, photographs and illustrated books of their choosing.
In many ways, a museum study center (sometimes also called a “print room”) is a physical version of this blog—a place to share information, learn about different things, and get people and paper together. If you check this blog regularly (and we hope you do) you will hear from many different voices: curators, students, conservators, professors, and artists, as well as about many different topics concerning works on paper at the Smith College Museum of Art and elsewhere. We will share updates on acquisitions, classes, special projects, new research on the collection, exhibitions, and programs, and lots and lots of pictures, among many other things. Let us know what YOU want to hear about! The collection includes over 16,000 prints, drawings, photographs and illustrated books, so there’s bound to be something of interest to you in our holdings.
Once you’ve explored us virtually, visit us in person: the Cunningham Center is open weekdays by appointment to anyone interested in accessing the rich works on paper at the Smith College Museum of Art.
Call 413-585-2764 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment.
Consider this your personal invitation, and this blog as a gateway to the works on paper collection of the Smith College Museum of Art.
Students looking at prints in the Cunningham Center