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The Kitchen Table Series, first shown in 1990, brought Carrie Mae Weems to the forefront of the contemporary art lexicon with its unflinching, intentionally crafted depictions of its protagonist’s many social roles: mother, lover, intellectual, African American, woman, and friend. In this series, Weem centers the kitchen as a space straddling the domestic and public sphere and calls into question the social roles associated with the kitchen table. In this piece, I’d like to further examine her evocation of the kitchen, by placing her series into dialogue with other artists who have focused on the kitchen table in their work.

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Carrie Mae Weems
Untitled, from the Kitchen Table Series, 1990-2003
Gelatin silver print, 40″ x 40″
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY

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Norman Rockwell
Freedom from Want, 1942
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Studio Collection/Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust

One of the most recognizable images of the kitchen table from 20th century Western visual culture is Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want. In this portrayal of the kitchen table, three generations of a white American family are gathered around a table with a bountiful selection of food. A depiction of the ideal American family and American abundance. Freedom from Want was created in 1942 as a response to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, an aim to boost patriotism following decades of war and conflict. Opposed to the complexities and variety of characters and relationships surrounding Weems’ table, Rockwell’s painting aims to capture a fixed nuclear family and a symbolic image of cohesive national prosperity. Weems’ work challenges this simplistic portrayal of the individual, the family, and the nation.

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James Karales
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with his daughter, Yolanda, 1962
Vintage gelatin silver print
Image © Courtesy of the Estate of James Karales

Echoing themes of parental relationships, political activism, and racial identity displayed in Weems’ Kitchen Table Series, I am also drawn to this photo titled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with his daughter Yolanda. In this image Dr. King is seated in mid-conversation with his young daughter Yolanda who is grabbing cookies from the kitchen table. The photograph, captured by photographer James Karales, reflects the intimacy found in Weems’ images of the kitchen table. Its candid nature, however, acts in contrast with Weems’ deliberately staged images. Here, the kitchen table serves as a stage for a challenging conversation, as King explains to his daughter why she cannot go to the segregated amusement park in their town. The heartbreaking reality of this scene exemplifies the many dimensions of the kitchen table: a space of nourishment and replenishment, as well of as a space of exhaustion and reckoning.  

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Henri Fantin-Latour, French, 1836 – 1904
Le Coin de Table (Corner of the Table), 19th century
Etching, engraved by Le Rat, 3.75 x 5.25
David Winton Bell Gallery, Gift of Kermit Champa

Finally, I looked for images in the David Winton Bell Gallery collection. I came across an etching engraved by the French artist Henri Fantin-Latour. This engraving is a precursor to the artist’s painting Le Coin de Table, one of four group portraits in a series paying tribute to the artist’s contemporaries. The men in this painting, huddled around the corner of a table, appear to be calm and in harmony with one another. In reality this table was a setting for discourse and disagreement. The diners at this table belong to Le Parnasse, a 19th century French poetical revival movement. Here, the table is a space for various poetical disputes that would occasionally devolve into physical brawls. This piece reminds me of the emotional discussions that occur at the kitchen table, and I am left reflecting on the ways Kitchen Table Series explores varied emotions and feelings in relation to the space the table occupies.

In all of these images, I am struck by the positions each character occupies around their respective kitchen tables–A father, an activist, a family, a woman, a group of colleagues, a child, a lover, a friend, etc. The tables in the works act as loaded symbols for consumption, nourishment, communion, debate, excess, and depletion, depending on who surrounds the tables.  As I think about Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table Series, I not only think about the way the table functions, but how her character’s positioning gives the table its meaning. Through the images crafted, Weems explores her own multitude of identities and her position in these social roles. When thinking of other scenes surrounding the kitchen table in our visual culture, it becomes apparent that there are many seats at the table that different individuals inhabit. Perhaps the seats at the table are just as loaded in symbolism as the table itself. In my opinion, Weems uses the table to call the viewer to examine their own social roles, the ways they intersect, and the various seats they hold.

Selected works from Carrie Mae Weems’ seminal art series Kitchen Table Series will be on exhibit in the List Art Lobby of the David Winton Bell Gallery from November 11th to December 21st.

– Johanna Obenda
MA Public Humanities ’19

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

March 23, 2017

We, the directors of the Northeast Small College Art Museum Association (NESCAMA), are deeply concerned about potential budget cuts that threaten funding so vital to us and to the good work that arts organizations do throughout the nation. We must continue to hold the line and to promote the arts energetically through the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

With small operational budgets, college and university art museums are particularly reliant on funding from the NEH, NEA, and IMLS. This funding preserves artistic, ethnographic, scientific, and historic collections, and creates access to cultural heritage unique to our respective diverse communities. This funding not only supports essential infrastructure, it enables us to pursue transformative programs that provide employment for emerging and young professionals. This funding ensures that our collections are interpreted, understood, and valued.

College and university art museums are uniquely — and importantly  — positioned to make connections beyond the fine arts, to include disciplines from science to business, and to foster engagement beyond campus and into our communities. Our work inspires scholarship and engenders innovation. Our museums provide opportunities for young scholars to explore ideas and worlds that are challenging, encouraging critical thinking that will be of use in any professional path they choose to follow after graduation.

During this era of increasing polarization, museums, through their collections and exhibitions, demonstrate that there are multiple points of view and that these points of view can coexist.

While the debate about federal funding for the arts is nothing new,  we encourage members of Congress to recognize that the resilience of the NEH, NEA, and IMLS, despite opposition over the years, is a testament to their enduring value.

Signed,

Dan Mills, Director
Bates Museum of Art, Bates College

Anne Collins Goodyear & Frank H. Goodyear, Co-Directors
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Bowdoin College

Sharon Corwin, Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator
Colby College Museum of Art, Colby College

Jo-Ann Conklin, Director
David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University

Lisa Fischman, Ruth Gordon Shapiro ’37 Director
Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Clare I. Rogan, Curator
Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University

James Mundy, The Anne Hendricks Bass Director
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College

Ian Berry, Dayton Director
The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College

Anja Chávez, Director of University Museums
Longyear Museum of Anthropology/Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University

David E. Little, Director & Chief Curator
Mead Art Museum at Amherst College

Richard Saunders, Director
Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury College

Tricia Y. Paik, Florence Finch Abbott Director
Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Mount Holyoke College

Kristina L. Durocher, Director
Museum of Art, University of New Hampshire

Janie Cohen, President, Board of Directors
New England Museum Association

Kristin Parker, Interim Director
The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University

Tracy L. Adler, Johnson-Pote Director
Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College

Jessica Nicoll, Director and Louise Ines Doyle ’34 Chief Curator
Smith College Museum of Art, Smith College

Christina Olsen, Class of 1956 Director
Williams College Museum of Art, Williams College

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The David Winton Bell Gallery is excited to announce a new addition to our collection – Vik Muniz’s George Stinney Jr., Album. Known for his playful work in experimental media, this highly influential Brazilian artist reimagines popular imagery—like Warhol’s screenprints of the Mona Lisa or Hans Namuth’s photos of Jackson Pollock—in substances like chocolate syrup, sugar, spaghetti, peanut butter and jelly, and industrial garbage. The often deceiving and optically manipulated photographs of these experimental compositions have been exhibited in contemporary art establishments world-wide, notably at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and El Museu de Arte Moderna in Sao Paulo.

In his Album series, Muniz utilizes thousands of second-hand-store scrapbook pictures to construct larger images of common personal themes—childhood photos, vacation snapshots, a candid moment with a loved one. In addition to adding a painterly texture to each rendition, the use of deconstructed photographs to compose a larger image emphasizes the universality of experience and introduces a historic depth to ordinary moments.

The iconic mug shot of George Stinney Jr., the youngest person in United States history to be put to death, presents a marked departure from the otherwise mundane family-style images of the Album series. Created in 2016, Muniz’s poignant collage comes at a time of renewed concern over the extent of institutional racism in the United States. At 14 years old, Stinney was convicted of the murder of two white children in what was later deemed to be a racially-biased and unconstitutional trial in South Carolina.1 The integration of Stinney’s loaded mug shot in a series containing otherwise “normal” images of white America can be seen as distinguishing the everyday experience of black Americans as one of constant threat of legal persecution.

Active in social justice movements across the globe, Muniz has received the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum and a UNESCO nomination as a Goodwill Ambassador. His documentary Waste Land (2010) about the catadores, or collectors of recyclables, working in the largest garbage dump in the world won Best Film at the Sundance Film Festival and earned a nomination for an Academy Award.2 After completing construction on Escola Vidigal, his school of art and technology for low income youth in Rio de Janeiro, Muniz has been a featured guest speaker at the TED Conference, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Museum of Modern Art, among others. He currently splits his time between New York and Rio de Janeiro.

– Rica Maestas
Public Human

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[1] Bever, Lindsey. “It Took 10 Minutes to Convict 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. It Took 70 Years after His Execution to Exonerate Him.” The Washington Post, 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.

[2] “WASTE LAND” http://www.wastelandmovie.com. Almega Projects, n.d. Web.

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We are delighted to announce that Lee Bontecou’s work Untitled 1962 has arrived and is on display at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in L.A. as part of their exhibition Revolution in the Making: Abstract art by Women, 1947-2016.

You can hear a lovely audio piece about the exhibition here: http://www.scpr.org/programs/the-frame/2016/03/11/47152/go-inside-the-arts-district-s-massive-new-hauser-w/

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/

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