Jan Groover UntitledJan Groover, Untitled, 2003
Ink jet print
Gift of Jeanne Press and Richard S. Press ’60, P’ 90, P’08, P’12

Jan Groover (1943-2012) began taking photographs with her 35mm camera in the 1960s. Though her early triptychs focused on the exteriority of suburban life, she gained major recognition when she turned her camera towards domestic interiors, most notably her own kitchen sink. In Groover’s kitchen sink photographs, seemingly banal, domestic objects (forks, bell peppers, vases, cake tins) are recast, in close-ups, as outlines, shadows, colors, and volumes in indeterminate space. Her photography is surprisingly surrealist and abstract, imaginative, even, despite its placement within the still life genre. And, perhaps because of her training as a painter, her images have an almost painterly quality.

Groover’s work, though often underappreciated, emerged just as photography was gaining acceptance in the art world, and, according to Times critic Andy Grundberg, her photograph on the cover of Artforum in 1978 acted as “a signal that photography had arrived.”[1] In 1987, her work was presented in a solo exhibition at MoMA—a rarity for female photographers at the time. Groover’s work has often been likened to that of Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Paul Outerbridge, and Alfred Stieglitz because of her use of light and shadow. Like those photographers, she was deeply invested in a formalist ideology. She is often cited as saying, “formalism is everything.”[2] Despite this interest in pictorial composition, her inquiries into the constructed rather than documentarian qualities of photography are more along the lines of those posed by her contemporaries Tina Barney (who produced the film Jan Groover: Tilting at Space), Cindy Sherman, and Richard Prince.

In Untitled (2003), the objects create colorful shapes that indicate volume, but proclaim no relationship to their surroundings. The black background could be a wall or a void, but its lack of depth forces a reckoning with the objects placed in the foreground of this still life. Groover pays homage to the painted still life through her use of the crushed velvet surface underneath the objects and the radiant pear, but the vivid colors seem more reminiscent of an eerie, luminous Technicolor than either a still life painting or a realistic photograph. The bright yellow felt stands in stark contrast to the velvet, placing the viewer in a world both atavistic and anachronistic, and somehow also atemporal.

Instead of documenting the world around her, Groover turned inward to forge her own world through her photographs, using distinctly domestic objects to create floating landscapes nearly bereft of feminine connotation.

 

– Reya Sehgal, Curatorial Assistant

 

[1] Andy Grundberg, “Photography View; Taming Unruly Reality,” The New York Times, March 15, 1987, http://www.nytimes.com/1987/03/15/arts/photography-view-taming-unruly-reality.html.

[2] Randy Kennedy, “Jan Groover, Postmodern Photographer, Dies at 68,” The New York Times, January 11, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/arts/design/jan-groover-postmodern-photographer-dies-at-68.html.

Honore DaumierHonoré Daumier, Voyage a travers les populations empressées, c. 1834
Lithograph

Gift of Joseph Shapiro

Given the recent Charlie Hebdo shootings and the conversations they have spurred about satire and creative freedom, it seems appropriate to turn to one of the early masters of French satire, Honoré Daumier, for our spotlight series.

Daumier’s career as a published caricaturist began after the revolution of 1830, when, under Louis-Philippe (fondly known as The Citizen King for his supposed simplicity), freedom of the press was established in France. This gave rise to Charles Philipon’s journal La Caricature, which published both social and overtly political cartoons, some of which found enemies in the monarchy.

Though freedom of expression had been formally established, contradictions were rife under the Citizen King’s rule. Daumier’s drawings were actually frequently censored. One particularly iconic print, Gargantua—a cartoon of Louis-Philippe as the eponymous, gold-eating character in Rabelais’ obscene novel—landed him six months in jail for treason, despite the fact that the image was not published.[1] Louis-Philippe, in fact, became a common character in Daumier’s oeuvre, often imaged as an exploitative misanthrope with a pear-shaped head. Due to Louis-Philippe’s imposition of the September Laws in 1835, which curtailed the freedom of the press to discuss the constitutional monarchy, Daumier was forced to tame his cartoons, turning to the realm of social satire. Daumier became known for his “expressive heads,” the sculptural faces of men that populated many of his prints.[2] The heads were often modeled in clay and then drawn from the model, an interesting method for an artist known as a cartoonist and, later, painter rather than a sculptor.

While his comically exaggerated faces and sculpted bodies read, to many, as charming, accessible social commentary—looking at the images now, the satire seems hardly horrifying enough to offend—Voyage a travers les populations empressées (seen above) presents no discernible human faces, only that of a malicious horse looking back at the corpses littering the landscape. This print, which was featured in La Caricature, lacks the refinement of Daumier’s crisp, detailed portraits, and feels particularly critical, and disturbing, because of this lack. Though no records exist of this print being censored, it may be one of Daumier’s most bleak and biting caricatures. The figure on the horse seems, at first glance, unidentifiable, but some contend that the figure is the infamously pear-shaped Louis-Philippe. With this reading, the inscription, “Voyage a travers les populations empressées,” suggests that the Citizen King is traveling through a once eager population, now slain. Though the scenery is not particularly indicative of place, the bodies scattered throughout the barren countryside may refer to the workers killed in the Canut revolts of 1831 and 1834—worker revolts in Lyon that were suppressed by Louis-Philippe’s anti-republican rule. In Daumier’s print, Louis-Philippe does not even look at the casualties of his rule, but continues, slumped, through this valley of death. Here, Daumier plays the “expert moralist,” condemning the brutality of the Citizen King’s rule.

 

— Reya Sehgal, Curatorial Assistant

 

[1] Elizabeth C. Childs, “Big Trouble: Daumier, Gargantua, and the Censorship of Political Caricature,” Art Journal 51, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 26-37.

[2] Bruce Laughton, “Daumier’s Expressive Heads,” RACAR: Canadian Art Review 14, no. ½ (1987): 135-142.

[3] Elisabeth Luther Cary, Honoré Daumier: a Collection of His Social and Political Caricatures, Together With an Introductory Essay On His Art (London, 1907): 25.

Snowy Landscape

Ando Hiroshige, Snowy Landscape, c. 1840
Tinted woodcut
Gift of Professor Charles W. Brown

In honor of winter storm Juno—which unleashed 19.1 inches of snow on the city of Providence—the Bell Gallery is pleased to share a beautiful, bucolic image of winter in Ando Hiroshige’s Snowy Landscape.

Ando Hiroshige (also known as Utagawa Hiroshige, 1797-1858) was a Japanese artist of the Edo period. This woodblock print, in the ukiyo-e style, is somewhat atypical of the period; instead of the scenes and portraits of kabuki actors and women of pleasure (and leisure) that ordinarily populated ukiyo-e prints, Snowy Landscape depicts a scene of romantic serenity. In fact, Hiroshige is largely known for his scenic imagery, with human figures occasionally inhabiting but not dominating the frame. Hiroshige is said to have been heavily influenced by Hokusai, an Edo artist whose bold natural scenes brought him enormous popularity in the West; both artists inspired the growing trend of Japonisme in the nineteenth century.

— Reya Sehgal, Curatorial Assistant

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