New Acquisitions

Leonard Baskin

Leonard Baskin. American, 1922–2000. Aeneas and Anchises, 1972. Lithograph printed in black on paper. Gift of Jennifer R. S. Grogan in memory of Cynthia Propper Seton, class of 1948. SC 2011:25-6. Copyright The Estate of Leonard Baskin

 ** Currently available to view by appointment in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.**

This lithograph by the sculptor, printmaker and book illustrator Leonard Baskin exemplifies the artist’s fascination with narrative and myth.  As a student at Yale, Baskin founded the Gehenna Press. The name came from Milton’s Paradise Lost, the inspiration from William Blake’s synthesis of visual art, poetry and bookmaking.  Like Blake, Baskin interweaves Biblical, classical and personal mythology, and word and image, in his prints.  His first printed book was a selection of his own poems, and, after moving to the Pioneer Valley to teach at Smith College, he began a decades-long collaboration with the English poet Ted Hughes.  Overturning traditional notions of pictures illustrating text, Baskin and Hughes created works in conversation with each other, Hughes’ poems responding to Baskin’s woodcuts, and Baskin’s woodcuts to Hughes’ poems.

Aeneas and Anchises depicts a scene from Virgil’s Aeneid.  Aeneas is the Prince of Dardania, a territory neighboring Troy.  When the city falls to the Greeks in the Trojan War, Aeneas escapes with his father, Anchises, and his wife and son.  Anchises is old and lame, and Aeneas carries him from Troy on his shoulders, holding his young son with one hand and his gods in another.  His wife follows behind, but she dies during the flight.  Baskin foregrounds the relationship between father and son, though the cluster of small black figures at the bottom of the print evokes the broader narrative of destruction, flight and exile.  (The dramatic shading of Aeneas’ torso doubles as an abstracted vision of the burning city of Troy.)  

 

John Chamberlain

John Chamberlain. American, 1927–1960. Homer, 1960. Painted tin and wood base, 16 x 13 ½ x 11 in. Purchased with funds from the bequest of Isabel Brown Wilson, class of 1953 (2013). Image, courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York.

Press Release  (pdf)

**Homer is on view in a special installation on the third floor along with prints from SCMA’s collection by Robert Rauschenberg through January 12, 2014**

John Chamberlain’s early sculpture Homer (1960) is a major recent acquisition made possible by the generous bequest of Isabel Brown Wilson (class of 1953). The sculpture, purchased from the Rauschenberg Foundation, was formerly in the personal collection of artist Robert Rauschenberg  (1925–2008), who amassed an important collection of the work of three generations of American artists of the twentieth century, including visual and performing artists as well as choreographers.

Chamberlain’s work is identified not only with Abstract Expressionism and Pop, but with Minimalism and sub-genres of the sixties, including “trash art.” Homer marks a critical moment of transition in the artist’s career and belongs to a series of brightly colored, small-scale sculptures from the late 1950s and 1960s.  Constructed from crushed and folded metal domestic containers, it forecasts the work for which Chamberlain is best known:  assemblages of bent and crushed car parts.

The artist’s first sculptures resembled the monochromatic bent and welded metal constructions of David Smith. While at the Black Mountain College in the mid-1950s Chamberlain was influenced by poets Charles Olson and Robert Creeley and began to make word collages while still creating basically linear and planar sculptures. His “epiphany” came in 1957 during a visit to artist Larry Rivers’ home in Southampton, New York. Pulling the front fenders from an old Ford, Chamberlain crushed and assembled them, then ran over the sculpture. The resulting work—titled Shortstop—was the first sculpture Chamberlain created from car parts, later to become his signature medium. 

Chamberlain’s Homer represents a bridge from Abstract Expressionist painting to Pop art and will find an immediate place in the Museum’s collection as a link from SCMA’s fine group of Abstract Expressionist paintings to works from the sixties.  Chamberlain broke barriers by introducing color into sculpture. Homer’s distinctly different facades have different color palettes: one side, with bright yellows, reds, and blues, forecasts Pop colors, while the more subdued palette and imprinted text and patterns of the opposite face recall Cubist collages.

Homer realizes Mrs. Wilson’s intention to enable the Museum to acquire an important work of twentieth-century American art for the collection, reflecting her personal artistic taste as well as her commitment to supporting the academic interests of Smith faculty and students.  Among her many volunteer and philanthropic activities, Mrs. Wilson served Smith College as a member of the Board of Trustees and the Museum’s Visiting Committee.  With her sister, the late Maconda Wilson, and cousin Louisa Stude Sarofim ’58, she donated $14 million to Smith through the Brown Foundation in 1997.  It remains one of the largest gifts in the College’s history, supporting a major renovation of the Fine Arts Center in 2000. 

 

Emil Bisttram

Emil Bisttram. American, 1895–1976. Moon Magic, c. 1942. Oil on canvas. Purchased with the Kathleen Compton Sherrerd, class of 1954, Acquisition Fund for American Art.

**Moon Magic is on view on the lower level of the Museum (July 16, 2013–January 31, 2014)**

Self-described as a “classic modernist,” Emil James Bisttram is particularly known for his geometric abstract paintings and his images of New Mexico. Although initially a realist painter, after moving to Taos in the early 1930s he began working in both realist and abstract styles. According to Bisttram, his exposure to the Native American art of New Mexico “led him to abstraction.” A deeply spiritual artist, he closely studied Kandinsky’s geometric paintings and artistic philosophies, sharing his belief that abstract painting was a vehicle for transcending reality to reveal the spiritual. In 1938 he joined with other artists who shared this perspective to found the Transcendental Painting Group, one of the most significant artistic associations formed outside a major urban center to advocate for abstract and non-objective art.

Moon Magic dates to the height of the artist’s career and is typical of the carefully composed, lively geometric images for which he became celebrated. Here, a purple sphere (possibly the moon of the title) anchors the lower left of the composition. Orbs and triangles float in a deep green space, and a pink object or personage (with its suggestion of a large “eye” and red “mouth”) plies its way through the heavens. The subject of celestial spaces and planetary forces was a theme the artist returned to repeatedly in his abstract paintings. The title, Moon Magic, points to Bisttram’s interest in occult philosophy. It also suggests his quest for metaphysical truth through the symbolic representation of the heavens as both a scientific and a spiritual realm. In addition to the oil painting, the Museum also purchased Bisttram’s gouache study for Moon Magic.

 

Childe Hassam

Childe Hassam. American, 1859–1935. Headland at Appledore, 1907. Oil on cradled panel. 25 1/4 in x 30 in; 64.1 cm x 76.2 cm. Bequest of Priscilla Mason, class of 1935. 

**This work is on view through February 9, 2014 as part of the Framework exhibition in the third floor alcove.**

Appledore, the largest of the Isles of Shoals off the Maine/New Hampshire coast, is featured in many of Childe Hassam’s paintings.  The artist was a summer visitor to the Isles for over two decades, spending the summer of 1886 on Appledore before departing to study in Paris for three years. He frequented Appledore House, the island’s only hotel and home to a salon of artists, writers, and musicians presided over by the poet Celia Thaxter.  Hassam painted Thaxter’s ebulliently colorful flower gardens numerous times. Following her death in 1894, his subject became the coastline and rugged features of the landscape, such as the rocky outcropping shown in Headland at Appledore (also known as East Headland, Appledore, Isles of Shoals East).  The composition is almost abstract, concentrating on the central mass of rock occupying most of the canvas, with directional brushstrokes creating a sense of texture and the movement of sea water.  This painting joins four others by the artist in SCMA’s collection, including White Island Light, Isles of Shoals, at Sundown, which shows the rocks of South Gorge, with the lighthouse on White Island in the distance.  The Museum also owns nearly thirty prints by the artist.

Headland was bequeathed to SCMA by Priscilla Mason, class of 1935.  It was formerly owned by her mother, to whom it was given by a relative as a wedding gift in 1909, two years after it was painted.  Priscilla Mason dedicated most of her working life to the graduate program of the School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., which later became part of Johns Hopkins University. She was active as a philanthropist, establishing the Priscilla Mason Funds for Public Service at SAIS, and was an early supporter of Smith’s Engineering program.   

Smith student apprentices in the Museum’s frame restoration program, headed by Chief Preparator Bill Myers, will create a stylistically appropriate frame for Headland at Appledore. The painting, with its new frame, will be featured in the annual Framework exhibition showcasing the students’ projects in May 2013. 
 
 

Sopheap Pich

Sopheap Pich. Born Cambodia, 1971. Seated Buddha—Abhaya Mudra, 2012 Bamboo, rattan, wire, plywood. Sculpture: 69 ½ x 70 x 35 ½ in.; 176.5 x 177.8 x 90.1 cm. Base: 31 x 87 x 45 in.; 78.7 x 220.9 x 114.3 cm. Purchased with the Dorothy C. Miller, class of 1925, Fund

**Seated Buddha—Abhaya Mudra is on view on the lower level gallery as part of the exhibition Collecting Art of Asia (February 1–May 26, 2013).**

Sopheap Pich, a 1995 graduate of the University of Massachusetts, is considered to be the foremost contemporary artist working today in Cambodia. Pich’s signature medium is woven rattan, which he uses to create three-dimensional biomorphic and architectural sculptures. In 2004 he began experimenting with strips of rattan as an armature for a form he intended to collage with cigarette packages, but then decided to leave the sculpture uncovered as an open framework. This form, a pair of lungs, was titled Silence and was followed by other rattan sculptures based on bodily organs, as well as animal, architectural, and plantlike forms, including an enormous morning glory.

Pich created a large-scale seated Buddha for an exhibition in 2011 and half-figure Buddhas, with the head and a portion of the torso, leaving lengths of rattan curling underneath as if to suggest the rest of the body. SCMA’s Seated Buddha—Abhaya Mudra is related to the full-length seated Buddha of 2011, which Pich transported to different sites and photographed, in one case among other stone Buddhas, in another case, to a sandy plain, where the sculpture was photographed tilting backwards as if falling. The Museum’s figure holds its right hand raised in the abhaya mudra, a gesture of protection.

Born and raised in a Buddhist culture and family, Pich has said that Buddhist teaching correlates with his ideas about daily life and accords with his respect for nature. He says, however, that “My studio is my temple, and when I travel my sketchbook and my laptop are my portable temples.” As one writer has noted, the artist’s rattan figures of Buddha engage materiality and immateriality in a way that traditional stone sculptures do not and in that sense they play with Buddhist teachings that posit the invisible presence of Buddha.
 
 

Sekino Jun’ichiro

Sekino Jun’ichiro. Japanese, 1914–1988. Koshiro Onchi,1952. Woodblock printed in color on paper. Gift of Lucio and Joan Noto

**This work will be on view in Collecting Art of Asia, February 1–May 26, 2013.**

Sekino Jun’ichiro is an important figure in the development of modern printmaking in Japan. This print one of a significant gift of thirty-nine works by the artist recently donated to SCMA by Lucio and Joan Noto.

Artists like Sekino associated with sosaku-hanga,or the Creative Print Movement, sought to break with the tradition of ukiyo-eprints, in which the design of the print and its cutting and printing were done by different people.

Sekino began making prints as a child in Aomori, inspired by the artist Shiko Munakata, who was also from the same town. His first medium was etching, which he studied with Junzo Kon, and later opened an etching studio, where he taught the technique to other artists. The subject of this woodblock print, Koshiro Onchi (1891–1955) was an important figure in the early development of sosaku-hanga. He was particularly vital in developing a community and encouraging younger artists, as the creative print movement had little support in Japan before World War II. Onchi became a mentor for Sekino after the younger artist’s move to Tokyo in late 1930s, and Sekino served as one of Onchi’s assistants.

Both Sekino and Onchi adapted ukiyo-e techniques, using large areas of color without the black outlines commonly found in earlier prints. Their styles, however, were quite different. Sekino favored realist subjects, executed detailed preliminary sketches, and was painstaking in his preparation of his blocks. In this moving portrait of his friend and teacher, Sekino depicts Onchi with one of his own prints, which were often abstract compositions executed using experimental techniques.
 
 

Bamum (Bagam) peoples

Unknown artist. Bamum (Bagam) peoples, Royal Tobacco Pipe. 20th century. Wood and brass. Gift of Charles and Blanche Derby. SC 2012:52

**Currently available by appointment with the Collections Manager/Registrar**

The peoples of the Cameroon Grassfields (West Africa) developed a rich tradition in the visual arts that expressed the social and political hierarchy of the many chiefdoms and kingdoms of the region. The Fon, or king, held the highest rank, followed in importance by the title-holders, including women, of the royal lineages.  

Prestige pipes made of brass, such as this one, were part of the regalia of Fons and title-holders.  They were made on commission for a patron and were cared for, and carried after, their owners by retainers. They were also displayed as status objects on ceremonial occasions. Prestige pipes, as well as carved and beaded ancestor figures, thrones, masks, stools, caps, drinking horns, and other regalia, would have been kept in the royal treasury at the Fon’s palace, located at the geographical center of the kingdom. These objects provided a record of the kingdom’s past and affirmed a pattern of culture based on the Fon’s preeminence.

This pipe bowl has its original wood stem with a richly carved abstract design (possibly depicting spiders). A small bird is perched on the side of the brass bowl, which would have held tobacco. The pipe ends in a wonderfully observed sculpture of the head of an elephant, whose trunk curls back under the bowl of the pipe. Fons are addressed as “elephants,” and carved elephant tusks are displayed on leopard pelts in the presence of the Fon during chiefdom ceremonies. The elephant typically appears in only a few types of prestige art: pipes, stools, wood masks, and beaded cloth masks.
 
 

James Rosenquist

James Albert Rosenquist. American, born 1933. High Pool, 1964–66. Multicolor lithograph from 5 stones printed on Italian handmade paper. Gift of The Pokross Art Collection, donated in accordance with the wishes of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 by her children, Joan Pokross Curhan, class of 1959, William R. Pokross and David R. Pokross Jr. in loving memory of their parents, Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 and David R. Pokross. SC 2012:1–18. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

** Currently not on view but available to view by appointment in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.**
 
Born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, James Rosenquist spent his childhood in Minnesota and Ohio before moving to New York in 1955 to pursue a career as an artist. Although he received a traditional training in the 1950s at the University of Minnesota and the Arts Student League in New York, his experience as a billboard painter was a more prominent influence on his artistic development. Rosenquist’s most famous works appropriate the monumental scale, consumer culture imagery, and techniques of billboard painting. He takes recognizable visual ephemera, such as spaghetti, cars, or company logos and abstracts them through distortions of scale and compositional layering. Despite his classification as a Pop artist, which he denounces as “a handy term that has nothing to do with the art,” Rosenquist is interested in abstraction and challenging modes of perception, both of which can be explicitly seen in his prints.

High Pool, one of Rosenquist’s earliest prints, is a deviation from his repertoire of mass culture-inspired paintings and prints of the 1960s. Developed from a painting of two tondos, High Pool is the predecessor of a series of geometrically abstract lithographs which he produced in the 1970s. In his prints, Rosenquist challenges our perception of abstract forms through deceptively descriptive titles. While the title, High Pool, may evoke aquatic associations, the ethereal blue forms are also reminiscent of celestial bodies. Rosenquist’s word-image play challenges the viewer by proposing ambiguous meaning which we may choose to accept or ignore.

High Pool is one of twenty-two objects donated to the Museum by the family of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934, and David R. Pokross.

 

Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray. American, 1940–2007. Tree Head, 1983. Gouache and watercolor on four sheets of attached paper. Gift of The Pokross Art Collection, donated in accordance with the wishes of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 by her children, Joan Pokross Curhan, class of 1959, William R. Pokross and David R. Pokross Jr. in loving memory of their parents, Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 and David R. Pokross. SC 2012:1-12. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

** Currently not on view but available to view by appointment in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.**

 
From the early 1970s until her death in 2007, Elizabeth Murray created drawings, paintings, and prints that merge the immediacy and materiality of abstraction with a calculated use of personal narrative and humor. Working beyond the confines of the conventional rectangle, she is known for her elaborate multi-panel paintings comprised of irregularly shaped and colorful canvases. These works seamlessly integrate her childhood love of comics and her artistic interest in the work of the 1950s Abstract Expressionists.

While her labor-intensive paintings required elaborate planning, drawing allowed Murray to work more intuitively and demonstrate the process-driven nature of her work. Negating the natural shape of the paper by tearing and overlapping multiple sheets, she allowed the drawn form, rather than the dimensions of the paper, to dictate the drawing’s overall shape. This is evident in Tree Head, one of a series of tree drawings which Murray produced in the early 1980s as an exploration of the subject’s perceptual and formal ambiguity, as suggested by the title. Here, four sheets of paper are painted, torn, and layered, yet the bulbous, yellow tree form unifies the fragmented composition and draws the eye to the paper’s exposed edges. Murray allows the viewer to trace her process of rearranging the sheets as she builds layers of gestural marks, showcasing the raw physicality of her drawing.

Tree Head is one of twenty-two objects donated to the Museum by the family of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934, and David R. Pokross.
 

African Luba peoples

Unknown artist. African, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba peoples. Stool (kitenta). 20th century, carved wood. Gift of Dar and Geri Reedy. SC 2012:34

**This work is on view (third floor) September 7–December 6, 2012.**

The “heartland” of the Luba peoples is located in the Upemba Depression, a bowl-shaped basin of land with many lakes and waterways in the southeastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire). For the Luba, art is intimately related to the political and religious authority of particular persons and groups.  Their figurative sculptures, such as this chief’s stool, express the intimate relationship of physical beauty and spiritual power.

The most important emblem of office of a Luba ruler, chief, or diviner is the caryatid stool (kitenta, “seat” or “seat of power”).  In light of the political structure of Luba society with its traditions of kingship and multiple chieftaincies, the kitenta reveals the artistry of Luba carvers as they sought to express the nature of Luba political and religious authority.  Although such authority is associated with roles that men play, the central form of the stool is a female figure, which embodies the authority of the one who sits upon the stool.  The kitenta, however, is rarely used as a seat.  More often it is brought into the public domain on the occasion of ritual performance as the place where prayers are offered to the spirit or spiritual power invested in the stool.  The kitenta is also a historical document or visual memory.  The shape and imagery of the stool may be interpreted as expressing the origin and history of the lineage of the chief who owns it.

Among the Luba, women are viewed as containers of power, possessing the power to bring forth life. The physical beauty and strength of this caryatid figure is conveyed by the fullness of her breasts, the keloid scarification carved in relief on her abdomen and lower body, her dark, smooth skin, and her coiffure and bracelets.  These attributes and the ease with which she holds aloft the circular seat attest to her inner power and spiritual authority. 

 

Lovell

Whitfield Lovell. American, born 1959. Temptation, 2000. Charcoal on wood, found objects (chair, frames, metal implement). 101 x 69 3/4 x 36 inches. Purchased with the Hillyer-Mather-Tryon Fund. SC 2012:12a-g

***On View Through December 31, 2012***

Whitfield Lovell is known for his sculptural tableaux of meticulously-drawn portraits of anonymous African-Americans from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement.  SCMA’s drawing by Lovell, Run Like the Wind from the Kin series, inspired the Museum’s recent exhibition More Than You Know: Works by Whitfield Lovell (January 28–May 1, 2011). The overwhelming response to the exhibition and to Lovell himself, who was resident on campus as the Miller Lecturer and as the featured artist in the Art Department’s Print Workshop, led to the search to acquire a sculptural tableau that would permanently represent this important aspect of his work in the Museum’s collection.  That goal was met with the purchase of Temptation.

Temptationwas created in 2000, following Lovell’s groundbreaking project Whispers from the Walls in 1999 for the University of North Texas Art Gallery. Whispers was a “walk-in” installation/environment in a re-created one-room house, incorporating the artist’s charcoal drawings on wall boards, objects, and sound recordings of music and voices. Temptation incorporates objects—empty frames, a curved metal hook, and a free-standing chair—with a beautiful charcoal drawing on salvaged wood boards of an unidentified young African-American woman. Her clothing places her during the 1920s and the period of the Harlem Renaissance. She has obviously posed for the studio photograph on which the drawing is based. She stands, somewhat self-consciously, next to a small table, with her braceleted left hand on her hip and her right hand resting on a small table with a still life of flowers.

Writing in support of the acquisition, Associate Professor Kevin Quashie of Smith’s Afro-American Studies Department noted:

  • There is no question that Whitfield Lovell is a giant in the world of contemporary art—the awards and honors speak to this with consummate clarity. What can go unnoticed, though, is how much Lovell’s art inspires conversation, how much it facilitates learning. Part of this is the way his work invites the viewer to study and to pay attention—the pieces are compositional and yet they are also accessible. They gesture to history but they also showcase the everyday that gives history its texture.
  • Temptation is an especially important piece because it showcases much of Lovell’s aesthetic—the full-size charcoal drawing on recovered wood slats, the objects positioned so as to recreate the sense of an interior world (physically and psychologically)…. The dress of the figure featured in Temptation also captures the specificity of a time period that is important to Lovell—the forty years before the Civil Rights Movement, which tends to be neglected in African American history; indeed it is Lovell’s attention to this stretch of history that augments his showcasing of the vibrant inner lives of ordinary people.

 

Christo

Christo (Christo Vladimirof Javacheff). American, born Bulgaria, Born 1935. Wrapped Tree (Project for the Garden of Peppino Agrati). 1971. Collage, polyethylene, wax crayon, staples, twine, charcoal, ink, graphite and acrylic on smooth white mat board. Gift of The Pokross Art Collection, donated in accordance with the wishes of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 by her children Joan Pokross Curhan, class of 1959, William R. Pokross, and David R. Pokross, Jr. in loving memory of their parents, Muriel Kohn Pokross and David R. Pokross. Copyright Christo 1971

**On View March 2–July 29, 2012**

 

Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude (1935–2009) combined their talents to create monumental installations that bring attention to the landscape and the built environment. Many of their projects require years of planning in order to receive backing from a large variety of constituents. The projects are completely self-funded through the sale of prints and drawings, which are executed by Christo.

Some of the earliest works by Christo and Jeanne-Claude were “wrappings” in which the artists wrapped a variety of objects in tightly bound fabric, creating abstract sculptures out of everyday items. Wrapped Tree (Project for the Garden of Peppino Agrati) is an outgrowth of these early works.

The Italian industrialist Peppino Agrati first met Christo at a gallery show in 1970, where the artist was showing drawings for some projects he had proposed for the city of Milan. Christo devised the Wrapped Tree project for Agrati’s villa in Veduggio, although it was never executed.

A single tree is laid out on a strong diagonal. The wrapping completely changes the character of the tree, from a living entity to an object. The leafless branches are tightly compressed by layers of clear plastic, and the monumental root ball, encased in silver, serves as a dynamic counterweight.

This drawing is one of twenty-two objects donated by the family of David P. and Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934. The Pokross Art Collection will be on view in the Ketcham Gallery on the Museum’s third floor until July 29, 2012.

 

William Kentridge

William Kentridge. South African, born 1955. Man with Megaphone, 1998. Hard- and soft-ground etching, aquatint, and blue crayon on Fabriano Rosapina Bianco 220 gsm paper. Printed by Malcolm Christian, The Caversham Press, South Africa. Published by Kunstverein Munich. Purchased with the Carol Ramsay Chandler Fund

William Kentridge’s work was first exhibited in galleries that were at the center of South Africa’s artistic resistance to apartheid, and much of his early work criticizes the bourgeois lifestyle made possible by that social system.  The artist’s inventive imagery, almost always based around the human figure and featuring a familiar cast of characters (including the artist himself), offers intriguing and sometimes oblique commentary on the human condition and human folly. 

Man with Megaphone features a self-portrait of the artist, nude and wearing a fedora, facing a tripod-mounted megaphone. The body is rendered in soft-ground etching, and is partially constructed from impressions of the artist’s fingerprints, adding a visceral element to the evocation of human flesh.  Wispy, looping lines cascade around the figure, as if the sounds from the megaphone are physically assaulting him. A thin blue line separates the two, the artist’s only protection from the aural assault.

**On view in Lower Level (LL) galleries through May 13**
 

Antonio de Bellis

Antonio de Bellis. Italian, c.1616–c.1657.The Liberation of Saint Peter. c.1640s–1650. Oil on canvas. Stretcher: 70 ¼ in. x 102 ½ in. Purchased with the Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, the Beatrice Oenslager Chace, class of 1928, Fund, the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund, and Museum Acquisition Fund

The stylistic revolution known as “baroque art” emerged first in Bologna and then in Rome at the end of the sixteenth century, as artists reacted against the artificiality of Mannerism and adopted more naturalistic modes of expression. The new styles spread quickly from Rome throughout Italy and much of Europe, later developing into the dynamic and emotionally charged works of the High Baroque. With its vigorous naturalism and theatrical light, the Museum’s recently acquired painting, The Liberation of Saint Peter by Antonio de Bellis, is a superb example of baroque painting in Naples, Italy. 

According to Professor Craig Felton, who brought The Liberation to the Museum’s attention, Antonio de Bellis “was one of the foremost students in the studio of Massimo Stanzione (ca. 1585–1656). His paintings are only slowly becoming known. Around 1636–1639, de Bellis was commissioned and painted a series of four works based on the life of Saint Charles Borromeo, for the church of S. Carlo alle Mettere in Naples. De Bellis’s personal artistic style is derived from the best of the artists in Naples, especially that of his teacher and from Bernardo Cavallino (1616–1656), who also studied with Stanzione.  In addition there is also a clear understanding of the art of Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), ” the Spanish-born painter who was an important presence in Naples.

The Liberation of Saint Peter depicts the biblical story (Acts 12, verses 3–19) of the apostle Peter’s miraculous delivery from prison, a subject treated by many artists.  During the night before his impending trial, Peter is visited in prison by an angel, who commands him to dress and leave.  The sleeping guards are unaware of the intrusion or the escape.  De Bellis emphasizes the sudden appearance of the angel, who rushes into the picture with flying robes and wakens the surprised apostle by grasping him by the edge of his robe.

Eve Straussman-Pflanzer (class of 1999), Associate Curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, notes “the astounding naturalism” of the figures and their debt to Caravaggio (1571–1610). This painting also has many important details that reveal themselves on close inspection, including two keys: one inserted into the lock of the prison door, the second hanging from a blue ribbon.  These refer to salvation (to Peter’s release from prison and symbolically to Christian redemption) and to the Keys of Heaven, which Peter received from Christ.

As Professor Felton notes, The Liberation’s compositional forebears from Piero della Francesca (1415–1492) to Raphael (1483–1520) and from Caravaggio to Giovanni Battista Caracciolo (1578–1635) make this painting particularly useful for teaching purposes.  SCMA’s painting is one of two major works by de Bellis in this country, in addition to the Drunkeness of Noah at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

 

Jocelyn Lee

Jocelyn Lee. Untitled (Ginger in Maine), 2009. Pigment print mounted on board. Purchased with the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. Copyright Jocelyn Lee. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

From her earliest photographs as a high school student, Jocelyn Lee has been interested in people: both their physical and psychological qualities. She uses a medium-format camera, and her process of framing and shooting is fairly controlled and very slow. Typically, she will “pre-visualize” the shot to a certain degree: her images primarily use natural light, so the positioning of her subject is often determined by the light available, although she does not pose or otherwise direct the sitter. As she sets the shot, she works slowly until the subject relaxes, allowing him or her to settle into their own thoughts, which she says “often animates their face so differently than if they are nervously aware of me or trying to pose.” Key to the success of each image is her choice of model, which is intuitive and driven wholly by whether she sees something in them: usually in the way they inhabit their bodies and present themselves to others.

In 2008, Lee began to advertise for models on the website Craigslist, seeking “unique, beautiful and interesting women over 50 (all body types, races) to pose in lingerie or semi-nude” and “men over 45 with beards, wrinkles, tattoos, scars and other interesting physical characteristics to pose nude or semi-nude.” The sessions were to take place in hotel rooms in cities around the United States, and the subjects brought their own lingerie and choose whether to pose partially clothed or nude.  In these images Lee interrogates the slow erosion of cultural signs of power: the loss of physical beauty and strength.

Untitled (Ginger in Maine), shows a woman with long blonde hair standing in bright sunshine flooding from the right. Her cast shadow is lithe and seductive, resembling one of the silhouettes from the opening credit of the 1970s television show “Charlie’s Angels.”  She clearly sees herself as a sexual being:  Her nails are painted deep red, her hair is artfully tousseled, and she wears lacy pink lingerie and matching lipstick. Her heavily lined eyes look beyond the frame, and her shoulders are thrown back in a posture of self-assured display. Illuminated by the strong light, her body shows her age: her midsection is slack, showing the signs of multiple pregnancies, her skin is mottled, and her face is a fossil record of a life that hasn’t been easy. The lingerie signals her wish to be desirable, and the vulnerability that comes with that.  Indeed, there is a profound “has-been” or “wanna-be” quality that Lee recognizes but does not judge.

Lee’s portraits are interactive, yet mute, allowing us to deeply contemplate our encounter with her subjects, and by extension, recognize ourselves.

**Currently not on view but available to view by appointment in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.**

 

Martha Wilson

Martha Wilson. American, born 1947. A Portfolio of Models, 1974 (printed in 2008). Seven gelatin silver prints with typewritten text, 20 x 14 inches each (framed). Purchased with the Dorothy C. Miller, class of 1925, Fund. Copyright Martha Wilson. Courtesy of P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

 

A central figure in first-generation feminist art, Martha Wilson is best known as the founder/director of Franklin Furnace Archive, which was established in 1976 to support and document ephemeral avant-garde art (primarily performance and publishing). A Portfolio of Models (1974) is an early photo-text work by Wilson, one of a limited number of collectible works by the artist. Consisting of seven black and white photographs with typewritten text, the work addresses the stereotyped roles available to American women during the mid-twentieth century, with particular emphasis on gender and sexuality, as well as the societal pressure of the “ideal.”

The first image in the portfolio, The Goddess, sets the tone of the portfolio. The image is of a woman striking a dramatic pose against a solid black backdrop. An incisive and humorous text, typewritten by the artist, hangs below the image:  “The Goddess. Her presence is felt by both men and women, and every member of society past the age of five is aware of her.  She is the fashion-model archetype, an implicit image of reference.  She always looks perfect.  She also smells wonderful at all times.  She has “sex-appeal.” However, she is asexual.  We look but don't imagine.  Whether she is intelligent is irrelevant.”

A Portfolio of Models and Wilson’s photo-text works are representative of the emerging strain of feminist conceptual performance art during the1970s. Wilson’s work pre-dates Cindy Sherman’s influential Film Stills (which also question stereotypes and the performative roles of women in society, albeit from a cinematic perspective) by five years. This strain of work sparked the “picture generation” work of the 1980s where the role of photography came under close scrutiny for its ability to mask or manipulate reality.

**Currently not on view but available to view by appointment in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.**

 

Whitfield Lovell

Whitfield Lovell. American, born 1959. Deuce, 2011. Lithograph printed in black on paper. Gift of the artist through the Smith College Print Workshop. Copyright Whitfield Lovell. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York.

This print by Whitfield Lovell was created at the Smith College Print Workshop in 2011 with the assistance of master printer Maurice Sanchez.  Held annually in the Harnish Graphics Studio in Hillyer Hall, the Print Workshop brings together visual artists and master printers to collaborate on a limited-edition print.  The general public is invited to observe the creative process, and students are given the opportunity to assist in the making of a print.  Last year’s Print Workshop was held in conjunction with SCMA’s exhibition More Than You Know: Works by Whitfield Lovell (January 28–May 1, 2011). 

Born in the Bronx, Whitfield Lovell’s earliest experience making art was assisting his father, an amateur photographer, in the darkroom.  Lovell’s drawings and prints are often worked up from the early twentieth century photographs of African-Americans he collects from flea markets, junk shops and estate sales.  This double portrait of a man suggests the identification photographs Lovell often uses as models for his work—an unsmiling passport photograph or mug shot.  The severe profile and frontal views also recall racist ethnographic photographs or illustrations of African-Americans.  Although the images that Lovell plays on evoke restriction and oppression, Lovell’s gorgeously rendered print lends dignity and a sense of personal identity to another otherwise anonymous face. 

Whitfield Lovell’s portraits investigate the ways in which human identity is represented and perceived.  While an identification photograph frames identity or personhood in terms of membership in social groups, Lovell insists upon viewing identity in individualistic terms.  The identity of the man in Deuce is fundamentally mysterious and irreducible.  That said, Lovell does provide some clues as to the identity of his subject.  The title Deuce, which refers to the double view of its subject, can also refer to the two in cards or dice.  This secondary meaning is reinforced by the inversion of the second head in the print, recalling the pictures or symbols on playing cards.  Deuce can also mean bad luck or mischief—it’s an old-fashioned curse word (“a deuce on him!”).  Is this man the trouble maker, or the one in trouble? 

**Currently not on view but available to view by appointment in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.**

 

Andrea Fraser

Andrea Fraser.  American, Born 1965.  Little Frank and His Carp, 2001.  Single-channel video.  Purchased with funds from the Contemporary Associates.  Courtesy of Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York
Running time: 6 minutes
Press Release

Andrea Fraser’s artistic practice includes performance-based work, video, context art, and institutional critique. In her 1989 work Museum Highlights, she adopts the persona of a tour guide but delivers outlandish information as she leads unsuspecting visitors through the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Little Frank and His Carp is a performance work filmed by hidden cameras at (and without the prior knowledge or permission of) the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Prompted by an audio guide, the ubiquitous tool of the museum visit, Fraser follows its instructions and “interacts” with architect Frank Gehry’s fish-shaped tower at the center of the hall.

 In a 2005 interview, Fraser discussed Little Frank and His Carp:

  • What struck me about the audio tour for the Guggenheim Bilbao was the explicitness of the seduction....The audio guide promises transcendence of the social through a transgression: the always forbidden touching of art—or here, architecture-as-art….
  • The tour distances the museum from the difficulties of “modern art,” claiming that the building’s sensual appeal “has nothing to do with age or class or education.”  Freed of social/symbolic restrictions, we can make ourselves at home in the sensual, caring arms of the (mother) museum.

On view through February 26, 2012.

 

Roman Signer

Roman Signer, Swiss, born 1938. 56 Small Helicopters (56 Kleine Helikopter). 2008. Single channel video. Purchased with funds from the Contemporary Associates. Running time: 3 minutes 15 seconds.

Roman Signer is best known for his videos and photographs of rockets, catapults, and staged explosion and combustion events.  This video, purchased with funds from the Contemporary Associates of the Museum, shows a squadron of 56 remote-controlled toy helicopters.  They rise into the air, collide with each other, carom off the ceiling and walls, and finally die in mechanical spasms on the floor. The effect is both humorous and disturbing, as the toys seem to transform into a swarm of gigantic insects intent on their own self-destruction.

Signer’s unique body of work is described by Aimee Walleston (Art in America, 9/30/10): At the age of 72, Swiss artist Roman Signer makes work that seeks to unbind normative space and time…. His film, video and photographic works deal with their natural settings and give little pause to contemplate the urban rumblings of the world at large. The body of this practice comprises simple, elegant forms, animated and detonated to elucidate the cinematic ideas of suspense, climax and conclusion. His best-known works are Super 8 films and video wherein the artist stages a spectacular event…or makes a banal moment spectacular in its slapstick simplicity.

Dread Scott

Dread Scott. American, born 1965. Boom BOOM!. 2001. Screenprint in printed in color on Stonehenge white paper. Purchased through the efforts of students in the class “Collecting 101,” January 2011.

A multi-media artist, Dread Scott often uses prints in his installations which he calls “revolutionary art to propel history forward.” A graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where his 1989 installation What Is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag? caused an uproar, resulting in condemnation by then-president George H.W. Bush and flag protecting legislation passed by the U.S. Senate), Scott adopted his artistic moniker in honor of Dred Scott, the slave whose Supreme Court case in 1857 resulted in a statement by 7 of the 9 justices upholding the “non-citizen” status of African-American slaves. An avowed Maoist, Scott uses his work as a platform to provoke critical thought about American society and the systems under which our society operates.  Boom BOOM! focuses squarely on American capitalism, linking the success of American financial markets with unrest and revolt across the world. A newspaper image of a frenzied group of brokers on the floor of the New York stock exchange is contrasted with an overlayed image of Nepalese guerillas engaged in combat. On top of both images is a large yellow stencil of the word “BOOM,” referring both to the sounds of gunfire and of an explosive upturn in the financial markets.

Moyra Davey

Moyra Davey. Canadian, born 1958. 16 Photographs from Paris, 2009. C-prints with tape, postage, and ink.  Purchased with the Dorothy C. Miller, class of 1925, Fund.

Moyra Davey, Canadian-born photographer, filmmaker, and writer, is known for the intimacy of her works, which often feature accumulated objects that have personal value to their owners. Her series of c-prints 16 Photographs from Paris features built-up clusters of objects on her desk, on café tables, and in the city's cemetaries, drawing the viewer into the intimate still lives they create. After printing, the photographs were folded up and mailed to friends: the handwritten addresses and postage stamps, applied directly to the prints, become a part of the image. This contributes to the aura of nostalgia that surrounds the works, reflecting on the personal objects that make up our daily lives. (On view in Nixon Gallery through April 17.)

George Bellows

George Wesley Bellows. American, 1882-1925
Pennsylvania Excavation, February 1907
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mary Gordon Roberts, class of 1960, in honor of the 50th reunion of her class
Image: Petegorsky/Gipe

Painted in February 1907, Pennsylvania Excavation depicts the site preparation for the construction of Pennsylvania Station in midtown Manhattan. The creation of this railroad station and the system of tunnels it crowned transformed New York City by connecting it to a national transportation and commercial network.  The painting was as revolutionary as the event it portrays. When it was first exhibited at the National Academy of Design it was described in the New York Sun as a great gaping wound in the dirty earth and helped establish George Bellows' reputation as a brash young artist advancing a new kind of realism. His gritty views of New York's neighborhoods and people, drawn from everyday life, associated him with an early twentieth-century movement that came to be known as the Ashcan School.

George Bellows Press Release

Cao Fei

Cao Fei, born 1978, Guangzhou, China. (Lives and works in Beijing, China.)
The Birth of RMB City, 2009. Single-channel color video with sound, duration: 10.5 minutes
Museum purchase: Contemporary Associates acquisition

Image: Courtesy of the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects

The Birth of RMB City is an animated video of the construction of a virtual city named after the Chinese unit of currency (RMB/Renminbi). The video is a cutting-edge example of art associated with the Internet, where RMB City currently exists as a virtual and interactive community on the Second Life platform. Working with Vitamin Creative Space, Cao Fei constructed her city as an amalgamation of old and new Asian architectural landmarks, including the People's Palace (Beijing), Rem Koolhaas' CCTV building (Beijing), the Birds Nest stadium from the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, and Jiang Huan Cheng's Oriental Pearl Tower (Shanghai), among others. The Birth of RMB City was the first purchase of the Museum's newly established Contemporary Associates group, whose membership dues are used annually to acquire a work of contemporary art for SCMA's collection, primarily in the area of new media and photography.

Cao Fei Press Release