RSS Feed

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 17, 2016

    Literary “Piracy” in the Fifteenth Century

    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 2016.

     

    Tyberias, leaf from pirated edition of Nuremberg Chronicle (Latin edition), 1497. Woodcut and ink on paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. SC 1976:54-376

    The Nuremberg Chronicle was enormously popular; however, it was also very expensive, because of its size and the number of illustrations. In the neighboring town of Augsburg, a rival printmaker named Johann Schönsperger sought to reach a new market—middle-class people who wanted printed books but could not afford the ones being produced at the time.

    Schönsperger made a reproduction of the Chronicle, but with a number of cost-cutting measures that made it accessible to the masses. The text was nearly identical to the original edition, but with more abbreviations and fewer, less detailed illustrations. The book itself was also significantly smaller, and printed on poorer quality paper. This adaptation was perfectly legal, since fifteenth-century Germany did not have the concept of copyright or intellectual theft as they are known today. In fact, much of the text of the original Nuremberg Chronicle was taken word-for-word from other classical and contemporary writings.

    These shortcuts, however, had consequences for the book’s long-term survival. Despite being produced in much larger quantities, there are fewer remaining copies of the pirated edition than the original.

    When comparing the image of the city of Tyberias from the pirated edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle with the image from the original (reproduced below), there is a notable difference in quality. The buildings in the pirated edition have no brickwork or shading, and seem to be hastily rendered. To fit the same images in a smaller space on a smaller budget, details clearly had to be sacrificed.

    Here are the images from the pirated edition place side-by side with those same images from the original. I encourage everyone to look closely and spot the differences!

    Detail of Tyberias als Tyberiadis (original top, pirated bottom)

                

         

    Detail of kings Janus and Saturnus (original top, pirated bottom)

     

    Selections from the Nuremberg Chronicle are currently on view on the second floor of the Museum. They will remain on view through mid-April 2016.

    Comments

  • Friday, March 11, 2016

    Uncanny Valley: Portraits of the Almost-Human

    As many of you may have noticed, last month my first exhibition, Uncanny Valley: Portraits of the Almost-Human went up on view at the museum! I’ve been excited about this project for a while. When looking through the Works on Paper collection, I found myself drawn to works that were a bit ambiguous and eerie, eventually landing in the realm of sculpture photography.

    Sally Gall. American, 1956–. Ravello. 1983. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Shearman, class of 1987, and Nicholas Fluehr. SC 2002:36-1

    The more realistic an image is, the more viewers tend to identify with it—up to a certain point. Lifelike sculptures often have a peculiar, unsettling quality, occupying a perceptual and emotional space known as the “uncanny valley.” This term first appeared in 1978 in Robots: Fact, Fiction, and Prediction by Jasia Reichardt and refers to the unease experienced in the presence of a human facsimile or look-alike, for instance in robotics or in computer animations. But what happens when photographers treat these figural objects as if they were living human subjects?

    Clarence Kennedy. American, 1892–1972. Kongō Rikishi (Buddhist Guardian Gods, Sanskrit: Vajirapani; mid-13th century). c. 1951. Gelatin silver print double mounted on paper. Gift of Mrs. Edwin H. Land. SC 1996:22-31

    Sculpture photography is an inherently difficult genre, as something is always lost when taking a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional object. But something new can be gained as well. These stand-ins for human beings—from dolls to votive figures and beyond—were created for a specific purpose, whether to advertise, to entertain, or even to inspire and honor. However, the act of photographing them allows for more complicated alternatives to arise. While people are occasionally visible in these photographs, they generally serve as accessories to their inanimate counterparts.

    This installation aims to capture the stark and strangely intimate world of human facsimiles. From the coy disaffection of fashion mannequins, to the spectacle of religious shrines, to the likeness of Lady Liberty herself, the way in which these figures were photographed gives life to the not-quite-living.

    Daniel Chauche. French-American, 1951–. San Simón, San Andres Itzapa, from La Santeria Chapina. (Volume I, Folio 9 of 12). 1978 negative; 2011 print. Gelatin silver print. Purchased with the Margaret Walker Purinton Fund. SC 2012:19-3

    In his series La Santeria Chapina, photographer Daniel Chauche explores the complex spirituality of Guatemala through its diverse shrines and altars.  Also known as Maximón, San Simón is a folk saint venerated in the highlands of western Guatemala. The story of Simón—likely an adaptation of earlier Mayan legends—was that he was a local priest, good-hearted but with a love for drinking and womanizing. Though the Catholic Church eventually excommunicated him for his vices, he was beloved by the community, and started his own church that became even more popular than the original. In deference to his less-than-saintly behavior, Simón’s effigies are dressed like cowboys or bandits, and traditional offerings include cigars and alcohol.

    Uncanny Valley will be on view in the Cunningham Corridor until May 13.  I hope you have the chance to see it!

    Comments

  • Thursday, March 3, 2016

    Student Picks: Zeal and Discontent

    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 Junmanee Cadenhead '16 discusses her show "Zeal and Discontent: Ecstatic Scenes in Japanese Art" which will be on view FRIDAY, March 4 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you there!

    Katsukawa Shun-ei, Japanese, 1762 - 1819. The Actor Danjûrô V in a Shibaraku Role, ca. 1790. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Purchased with the Winthrop Hillyer Fund. SC 1915:10-4

    Silly monsters and bored figures adorned in beautiful textiles are juxtaposed with overwhelming scenes of distress spattering the corners of the Cunningham Center. Japanese prints have inspired artists for centuries yet are seldom given the attention they deserve. 

    Unknown, Japanese. Monster, n.d. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. SC 1976:54-456

    This exhibition celebrates the bold and dynamic lines of Hokusai, the calm and mysterious landscapes of Hiroshige, and the glimpses of everyday life by Toyokuni. 

    Katsukawa Shun-ei, Japanese, 1762 - 1819. The Actor Danjûrô V in a Shibaraku Role, ca. 1790. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Purchased with the Winthrop Hillyer Fund. SC 1915:10-4

    This entire process of combing through the collection and pulling out the beautiful art work exhibited today has been a remarkable experience. I’m proud to bring these powerful pieces to light and relish in the opportunity to share them with the public. 

    Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760 - 1849. Faces, from Hokusai Manga (Random Sketches by Hokusai), Series VIII, 1818. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Gift of Mrs. Arthur B. Schaffner in memory of Louise Stevens Bryant, class of 1908. SC 1959:271a

    Comments