Archive

Collection Spotlights

Before there were museums, there were Wunderkammer, or Wonder Cabinets. The collections they contained were eclectic—valued for exoticism and variety rather than continuity—and contained fragments of material culture juxtaposed with preserved flora and travel souvenirs. Each artifact was both a treasure in and of itself, and a kind of talisman evoking the distinctive culture and history from which it came, as well as the epic adventure of acquiring it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Conceptual artist Mark Dion’s 2006 New England Digs triptych is precisely the kind of thing one might find in a Wunderkammer. It is a delicate collection of souvenirs created in memory of an epic undertaking four years prior, which unearthed a bevy of wondrous items and complex local histories through extensive cooperation between the David Winton Bell Gallery, the Fuller Museum of Art, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Gallery, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, RISD, and Brown University. Fittingly, this project culminated in a traveling display of these items encased in an assortment of Wonder Cabinets in a show bearing the same name. Dion has conducted similar digs in a Venetian Canal, along the banks of the Thames River, in the ash-pits around the Queens Museum, and in the former sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art.

In 2001, Dion broke ground on three archeological digs in Providence, RI; New Bedford, MA; and Brockton MA—but these were not ordinary research expeditions. Dion was only interested in sites that were “insignificant and disturbed,” those of no interest or use to archeologists.[1] In Providence, he chose a garbage heap on the edge of the Seekonk River and a site along Narragansett Bay, in New Bedford he chose a burned-down 19th-century waterfront tavern, and in Brockton he chose a dump on the edge of a cemetery. Employing a team of mostly art students, Dion embarked on an elaborate participatory pantomime of the rituals of natural science. In Providence, Brown and RISD students joined Dion in unearthing, cleaning, and categorizing a plethora of items and in the process, flipped the roles of the gallery and larger institution inside out. Instead of showcasing a pristine and illuminated final product, the gallery space was filled with the messier behind-the-scenes process of artists scrubbing and organizing piles of ambiguous artifacts.

mark_dion_tate_thames_dig9-1999-2000

However, despite his pseudo-scientific “play-acting,” Dion is not interested in undermining the professions of the archeologist, taxonomist, biologist, botanist, zoologist, historian, or curator.[2] Rather, it pays homage to the immensity of their work while critiquing their popular simplifications in unrefined institutional narratives. He reminds us of the inherent subjectivity of collection, organization, and interpretation of artifacts, and playfully deconstructs knowledge processes—like archeological excavation—we might otherwise take for granted. Aesthetic and conceptual decisions like this force participants in and viewers of Dion’s artwork to reassess the difference between elements of material culture we are told to value and those we are told to disregard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The material culture unearthed in New England Digs yielded three unique yet related assemblages, pointing to regional legacies of economic vitality—New Bedford was once a major whaling hub, Providence was a booming trade center and producer of jewelry, and Brockton was the shoe capital of the world—as well as their decline. But in Dion’s quintessential style, historically significant finds are democratically mingled with refuse and it all looks stunning. “There is a long history of using trash in modern art,” Dion has stated, “but here objects are allowed to exist as what they are or were, without metaphor, noninterpretive, not even archaeological.”[3]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The New England Digs souvenir prints similarly memorialize these projects without metaphor or interpretation, soberly listing each city below an image of a ceramic shard found there. These prints are what they are but simultaneously refer to the vast history behind them. These simple compositions become the elegant and tender ambassadors to the overall group of unearthed minutia, the communities they belonged to, and Dion’s larger artistic process of uncovering culture and history in “the layer of material culture that separates us from the earth.”[4]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Check out Mark Dion: Misadventures of a 21st-Century Naturalist at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston for a closer look at the New Bedford Cabinet, and the David Winton Bell Gallery collection for more information.

Rica Maestas
Public Human MA ’18

[1] Markonish, Denise, “Insignificant and Disturbed: 3 Digs,” Mark Dion: New England Digs (Brockton, MA: Fuller Museum of Art, 2001), 26.

[2] Markonish, op. cit., 21.

[3] Wilson Lloyd, Ann, “The Drama of Digging in New England’s Trash,” New York Times, Jan 6, 2002.

[4] Markonish, op. cit., 41.

Advertisements

The David Winton Bell Gallery is excited to announce our recent acquisition of three photos by Graciela Iturbide – Mujer Ángel, Procesión, and Prótesis. Widely considered to be one of the most important Mexican photographers working today, Iturbide’s work focuses on female, indigenous, and intersectional identities in Mexico. Best known for her work in Zapotec, Mixtec, and Seri Indian communities, her black and white images of rituals, festivals, death, and the ephemera of everyday life often depict the overlap of traditional practices and the contemporary world.

Perhaps the best example of this intersection occurs in her most famous work, Mujer Ángel. This wistful, iconic image depicts a Seri woman running through the Sonora desert along the Arizona / Mexico border. Though she is dressed in provincial garb and surrounded by a vast, open desert, Iturbide’s “angel woman” carries what appears to be a boom box. This playful subversion of viewer expectations of separation between the traditional and the modern becomes a subtle yet striking indication of the dynamism and hybridity of her subject.

graciela_iturbide_mujer_angel_grande

A lifelong feminist, Iturbide depicts her female protagonists as bold, independent, and powerful—even when they are not physically present. Images in her El baño de Frida (Frida’s Bathroom) series demonstrate the posthumous yet larger than life persona of Frida Kahlo, simply by documenting her things. Iturbide’s only series to contain color photographs, El baño de Frida allows the intense pigments and intimate objects in Kahlo’s bathroom—kept locked for over fifty years following her death—to reanimate the artist. Specifically, the depiction of Kahlo’s festively painted leg brace in Prótesis (prosthesis) reminds a viewer of both the vibrant quality of Kahlo’s work and the great mental and physical pain she channeled into it. In this way, Iturbide not only documents the space but also pays homage to Kahlo’s life, death, and continued aesthetic influence in Mexican culture.

protesis

In seeking to understand Mexico in its totality—that is, composed of dynamic, diverse, and intersectional cultural practices—Iturbide embeds herself in the communities she depicts. As a result of the time and intimacy she devotes to her subjects, her images are empathetic and respectful, but also frequently bizarre, unexpected, or surreal. Procesión (procession) can be read as an allegory to this deeply relational process, in that the viewer and Iturbide herself seem to be swallowed up in an eerie throng of masked people. This sense of being immersed in a confusing yet amazing social gathering includes the viewer in the ritual yet reminds them of their need for greater interpersonal connection in order to understand it. In this way, works like Procesión resist simplification and stereotyping, and thusly demand a continued relationship with the subject matter.

13

Graciela Iturbide began her nearly fifty year long career under the mentorship of renowned photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo at la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. She holds honorary degrees from Columbia College and San Francisco Art Institute and has been the recipient of the Lucie Award, the Hasselblad Foundation Photography Award, the Legacy Award from the Smithsonian Latino Center, and a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has been exhibited in major exhibitions at Tate Modern, Museo Frida Kahlo, Museo de Arte Moderno, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, and is part of permanent collections at LACMA, the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA, SFMoMA, Yale University Art Gallery, and the Centre Georges Pompidou. She currently lives and works in Coyoacán, Mexico.

– Rica Maestas
Public Human

chitra-ganesh-catwoman-series

Chitra Ganesh has made her name in the art world by defamiliarizing canonical narratives—integrating popular imagery like Bollywood posters, anime, and comic books with lesser known Hindu and Buddhist icons as well as 19th century European fairly tales. The resulting images participate in the nuanced conversation surrounding contemporary imperialism, subalternity, and the subversion of power. Specifically, much of Ganesh’s work engages with the colonial Indian term junglee, which literally translates to “of the jungle.” Though the idiom is traditionally used to denote women who are perceived as wild, defiant, or transgressive, Ganesh utilizes the term to empower her female protagonists who often include pin-ups, priestesses, warriors, witches, mothers, and goddesses.1

Her mixed media collage, Cat Women Series, epitomizes this kitschy, enigmatic, and complex style, making use of handmade paper, embroidery, drawing, and painting, as well as a wealth of inscrutable folkloric references. While bizarre and slippery, Cat Women Series seems to deal with conflicting expectations of femininity in practical application. Though the smoking, nude, headless, and three-breasted heroine appears to be running, given the position of her leg and athletic footwear, her other leg has been taken over by an enormous rose—a clichéd indicator of romantic love in Western traditions. In this struggle between running and the rose, the protagonist is reproachfully monitored by an open book, which may indicate expectations of female independence derived from higher education or the omnipresence of patriarchal narratives. Overall, the work imparts a vibrant sense of stasis—trapped headless between domineering narratives, expectant love, and an enormous plume of smoke—that can be read as a commentary on the condition of being a woman in post-colonial post-modernity.

Ganesh has remained relatively close-lipped about the exact meanings of her pieces. In fact, she has stated that she intends her images to have “friction” and “dissonance” between text and image, which contributes significantly to the general sense of mystery and peculiarity in her work.2 She has however been very clear about her intent to confront and subvert traditional power dynamics through her work by privileging “buried narratives or marginalized figures typically excluded from official canons of history, literature, and art.”3

Ganesh has exhibited widely in the United States and abroad and has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, Art Matters Foundation Grant, and a Columbia University Dean’s Fellowship. She is currently a collaborator with artist Miriam Ghani on the Index of the Disappeared, an ongoing so-called “parasitic archive” of the disappearance of immigrant, ‘other,’ and dissenting communities post-9/11. She received her MFA in painting from Columbia University and her undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature and Art-Semiotics from Brown.

– Rica Maestas

1Gopenath, Gayatri. “Chitra Ganesh’s Queer Re-Visions.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (2009): 469.
2Ibid., 471.
3Ibid., 469.

Bacon-Leiris

Francis Bacon, Portrait of Michael Leiris, 1976
Aquatint, 11.75″ x 9.875″
Gift of Kenneth A. Cohen

 

Infamous during his life and raised to mythic proportions in death, the work of Francis Bacon (1909–1992) defined an era of British painting. He built his oeuvre using provoking, and at times unsettling imagery. Thrown out of the house at sixteen, Bacon sought out a reality all his own. While living in Paris and Berlin as a young man before he began his career as a painter, he would have been able to see the work of post-impressionists, cubists, surrealists, constructivists, and examples of the Bauhaus Movement first hand. His style was highly influenced by his exposure to Picasso during this period, and was inspired by the freedom with which Picasso abstracted the forms of the body.

It was not until the 1930s that he began to practice as an artist. Bacon worked primarily with oil on canvas and was for the most part self-taught. Bacon was known for being keenly perceptive of all that was occurring around him, and once described himself as “a pulverizing machine” in regards to the way he consumed images.[1] Pictures of his studio reveal hundreds of photographs and magazine cut outs, covering the walls and piled in corners. He approached his source imagery through a purely aesthetic lens; appropriating a pastiche of photographic representations from a variety of sources to blend with the figural representation of his sitters.

Executed in 1976, the Bell Gallery’s print of Portrait of Michel Leiris exemplifies the style Bacon developed later in his career. Where his early work is regarded as carnal and violent, the portraits he produced in the 1970s and onward display a relatively tranquil depiction of their subjects. The figures often appear on a flat, cool colored background, compared to the confining environments and the florid reds and oranges he frequently employed to surround his subjects earlier in his career. The increased stability of the images he produced at this point parallels the footing he found late in his later career while being managed by the Marlborough Gallery and exhibited internationally as the greatest British painter since J.M.W. Turner.[2]

Michel Leiris (1901–1990) was a prominent 20th-century French surrealist writer, ethnographer, poet, art critic, and a close friend of Bacon’s. During his career he sat at the nexus of many strands of French intellectualism. By the end of the1920s Leiris was a colleague of the dissident surrealist George Bataille and frequently contributed to his magazine Documents. Bacon and Leiris met frequently whenever the former visited Paris, and Leiris is credited with influencing Bacon’s worldview. In 1983 Leiris published an illustrated monograph on Bacon’s work.

In the rendering of Michel Leiris his face is recognizable through the abstraction, though it appears as if the features of two or three people have been combined with those of his own. The portrait rests on a flat dark background that encroaches on the figure, bleeding into the forms of the face. This later portrait was rendered in pastel before being reproduced as a print, as was common in Bacon’s work during the 1980s.[3] Bacon’s portraits present a hybrid of figuration and abstraction, producing a new altered reality that attempts to express the psychological condition of the sitter over traditional mimetic representation.

– Maya Code-Williams ’16

 

[1] Domino, Christophe, and Ruth Verity Sharman, Francis Bacon: Painter of a Dark Vision, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997) 57.

[2] Tate Britain, “Artist Biography: Francis Bacon 1909-1992” tate.org.uk, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/francis-bacon-682 (accessed November 21, 2015)

[3] “BACON, Francis.” Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 21, 2016, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/benezit/B00009707.

 

Josef Albers and Hermès Hommage au carré (Homage to the Square): Joy 36” x 36” Edition of 200 Silk twill with a hand rolled hem Gift of Pierre-Alexis Dumas

Josef Albers and Hermès
Hommage au carré (Homage to the Square): Joy
36” x 36”
Edition of 200
Silk twill with a hand rolled hem
Gift of Pierre-Alexis Dumas

One of the more unusual objects found within the Bell Gallery collection is a limited edition Hermès Éditeur silk scarf of Josef Albers’ print, Articulation in the yellow, gray, and white color scheme titled Joy. Hermés chose to collaborate with the Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation in 2006 as the first edition of Hermès Éditeur, a project that aims to display exemplary artist works as editions on silk. Other artists included in the series are Daniel Buren, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Julio Le Parc. The choice of Albers for the first edition was intentional as Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the Hermès Artistic Director states below:

His works are deep reservoirs of sensation, emotions and feelings that take hold of us even when we do not understand them. His work for the Homages to the Square series rests on a simple principle: to create a series of infinite chromatic variations within an unchanging form, the square, composed in a certain way. Editing these six Josef Albers scarves—or silk squares—took us to the limits of our savoir-faire.

Through this project, Hermès pays homage to Albers’ extraordinary sense of color, and his fascination with the precision of edges. The technique Hermés used to print the scarves is known as “frame printing” and engages a difficult technique of “edge to edge” color management, a practice that requires exactitude to prevent the colors from overlapping. In total, Hermès printed six works from Homage to the Square series in editions of 200 each.

The result is profound, and the sense of artistry in the printing is clear. The colors appear luminescent on the silk and the moderate translucency of the fabric when held up to the light offers a dynamic sense of the colors individually and as they interact together. The edges are exact, and it is clear that the transferring of Articulation to silk is not only a replica of a painting; it is a work of art in itself. Though Josef Albers was not involved in the decision to print on silk for this project with Hermès, throughout his career he explored novel ways of manipulating materials and developing color. The collaboration of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation with Hermés took Josef’s artistic ethos into perspective and upheld his philosophy in a dynamic and innovative way.

-Mara Tegethoff

Hyperallergic‘s Allison Meier recently wrote a lovely piece on the work of Russian conceptual architectural duo Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin. We a fortunate to have an entire set of prints of their work in the Bell Gallery collection, which you can peruse online here.

Read Allison’s article in full here: http://hyperallergic.com/230423/the-most-fantastic-architecture-of-the-soviet-union-was-built-on-paper/

Untitled 3

Danny Lyon, Demonstrations at an “all-white” swimming pool in Cairo, Illinois, 1962.                             Collection of the David Winton Bell Gallery, Gift of Gary Ginsberg and Susanna Aaron

A selection from the Bell Gallery’s collection of Danny Lyon’s photographers are included in the wonderful online exhibition Changing American RI.

Lyons was the first official photographer of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, and he extensively documented the civil rights movement.

The exhibition produced Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, with significant support from the Rhode Island Historical Society, was organized in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibition Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963. 

Check it out at changingamerica-cssj.org.

%d bloggers like this: