Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Curator, Who Me?

Petru Bester and Janna Singer Baefsky are both Smith College students, class of 2015. Bester is majoring in Art History and minoring in Anthropology, and Singer-Baefsky is majoring in Art History with a concentration in Museum Studies. They are both Student Assistants in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

When we and other students registered for From Eyes to I: The Art of Portraiturewe were all pleasantly surprised to have the unique chance to play curator at the Smith College Museum of Art. With the guidance of Professor Brigitte Buettner, we selected a body of work from the Smith College Museum of Art’s Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs to display and analyze.

The exhibition, developed in conjuncture with Smith’s Celebrating Collaborations conference,was truly a collaborative effort. We began the exciting process in early February by selecting a genre of portraiture from which to work. This was perhaps the most difficult part as each of us articulated strong arguments as to why our choice would work best. Eventually a compromise was reached; the exhibition would feature portraits of women, including artist’s self-portraits and official portraits ranging from the 18th to the 21st centuries.

Working in pairs, we met in the Cunningham Center to select our desired prints and an exhibition title. After much deliberation, the seniors came up with a pun that swiftly ended the debate: gaze of our lives? The question led to laughter, a vote, and then the consensus that Gaze of Our Lives: Female Portraiturehad just enough seriousness and spontaneity.

No exhibition would be complete without labels. With the help of Maggie Lind, SCMA’s Associate Educator for Academic Programs, we learned the art of crafting individual labels and an introductory text. From here, Stephanie Sullivan, Exhibitions Installation Assistant, worked with us to create a miniature mock-up of the display. After the installation, all that was left was for us to prepare gallery talks to present on the opening day of Celebrating Collaborations – Friday, April 20.

Gaze of Our Lives: Female Portraitureincludes eight female portraits that encompass a variety of styles, media, and aesthetics unified in their portrayal of women. The exhibition’s intention is to explore different modes of artist representation, the changing social roles of women in society as seen in portraiture, and to convey the various gazes set upon them.

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The following are works which will be on view in "Gaze of Our Lives: Female Portraiture" along with quotes from the student curators explaining their selections.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. French, 1864 – 1901. Yvette Guilbert,ca. 1894. Crayon lithograph in olive green on beige wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:50-110.

“The way Toulouse-Lautrec rendered her pointed, upturned nose, sword-like umbrella, and designer handbag made her come across as a fierce, cut-throat, take-no-prisoners woman. We found this print so comical, we just had to know more!” - Jinan Martiuk, SC '14 and Janna Singer-Baefsky, SC '15

Robert Mapplethorpe. American, 1946 - 1989. Mary Maples Dunn,1985. Gelatin silver print. Purchased with the gift of the Smith College Museum of Art Members. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1985:18-1.

We selected this photograph out of a mutual familiarity with Mapplethorpe's work, recognizing its unusual departure from the more provocative imagery he is best known for. When we realized it was a portrait of former President of Smith, Mary Maples Dunn, we were enthralled by the question of what could have brought two such unlikely people together and decided immediately to investigate their story for the exhibition.” - Shama Rahman, SC '13 and Maggie Kean, SC '14

Oriole Farb Feshbach. American, born 1931. Self-Portrait in Mirror,1978. Offset lithograph printed in color on medium thick, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. Anonymous Gift. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:3-3.

“Oriole Farb Feshbach has ties to the Five College Consortium and was affiliated with the women's movement in the 1970s. We were interested in her use of the mirror as a means of self-reflection.” - Amanda Ferrara, SC ’13 and Frances Lazare, SC ‘14

Hung Liu. American born China, born 1948. Wildflower (Orchid),1999. Lithograph with gold aluminum leaf and collaged color copies of Old Chinese stamps on white Somerset wove paper with deckled edges. Gift of Frances Elk Scher, class of 1953, in honor of her friend, classmate and art mentor Judy Targan (Judith Plesser, class of 1953) on her birthday. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:23.

“We were drawn to this image because of its cultural complexity and critique on the Western gaze.” - Manzhuang Zheng, SC ’13 and Petru Bester, SC ‘15J

Nicola Tyson. English, born 1960. Self-Portrait with Floor,1998. Drypoint, sugar lift, aquatint, and spitbite on Somerset soft white paper. Purchased with the Richard and Rebecca Evans (Rebecca Morris, class of 1932) Foundation Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2000:22-3.

Nicola Tyson's self-portrait is striking and haunting. The bodily distortions and empty skull-like gaze intrigued us--why would the artist chose to represent herself in such a way?” - Honor Hawkins, SC '13 and Maggie Hoot, SC '16

Beth van Hoesen. American, born 1926. Mirror,1961. Aquatint and etching on cream-colored wove paper. Gift of Therese and I. Michael Heyman (Therese Thau, class of 1951). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:18-1.

“This print caught our attention because it is a seemingly straight-forward portrait. However, upon closer observation the sitter's multiple reflections in the mirror each convey a different emotion. We thought this composition would be interesting to analyze in the context of our class discussions concerning the various interactions in portraiture - between artist, subject, and viewer.” - Nona Morse, Mount Holyoke College '14, and Marley Smit, Hampshire College '14

Camus. French, 18th-century. Marie Antoinette Reine de France,ca. 18th-century. Engraving with hand color on paper. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:36-2.

Look at that dress. How could we not?” - Megan Lowry, SC ’14 and Isabella Pioli, SC ‘15

Cass Bird. American, born 1974. I Look Just Like My Mommy,2005. C-Print. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:41-1.

"We chose Cass Bird's I Look Just Like My Mommy because we wanted a work of art that contested ideas of womanhood, which, in every other work, are straightforward. So for us, it was an important point of view to include." - Hailey Hargraves, SC ’13 and Katie Wisniewski, SC ’13

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