Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Monsters and Maidens: Amphora Pottery of the Art Nouveau Era Tour Blueprint

Exhibition Dates: November 1, 2009-April 11, 2010


Between 1892 and 1918 the Amphora Pottery Company manufactured thousands of remarkably imaginative and delicately crafted ceramic vessels in its workshop in Teplitz, Austria. From snarling dragons and sea creatures to medieval maidens and lily pads, the wares of the Amphora pottery makers were influenced by artistic and literary movements ranging from Symbolism and Secessionism to Art Nouveau.

Amphora came about as the result of a rare combination of historical and political events. By the late nineteenth century, the country of Bohemia had become part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, leading to an influx of German immigrants. This skilled workforce, combined with Bohemia’s Celtic origins, thousand-year history, and rich culture fueled a creative synergy that led to the birth of the Amphora Company. The firm was established by Alfred Stellmacher in 1860, who was later joined by partners Eduard Stellmacher, Hans and Carl Riessner, Rudolf Kessel, and Ernst Wahliss.

Popularity of Amphora Pottery soared in the late nineteenth century. This was particularly the case in the United States, where world’s fairs and expositions offered increased access to international products, and a burgeoning advertising industry drove demand for innovative art objects. American industrial expansion during this period led to increased wealth and prosperity and the subsequent rise of the middle class. Increasingly, it was this class that purchased decorative pottery to embellish the interiors of their homes.

Like other firms of the period, such as Tiffany Studios, that produced decorative art, Amphora objects remained in private homes until future generations decided to part with them. It is surprising, then, to learn that given the popularity of Amphora during the late nineteenth century, this unique—and sometimes bizarre—form of pottery remains relatively unknown today, except for by a handful of collectors. This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to view examples from one of the world’s finest Amphora Pottery collections.
By 1850, with rich deposits of exceptional kaolin clay and a large body of skilled workers, Vienna and Western Bohemia were producing huge quantities of exceptional porcelain wares. Teplitz, the home of the Amphora Company, and possibly as many as thirty other pottery companies in the year 1900, was a small picturesque village in northwest Bohemia—now part of the Czech Republic. In 1900 it was considered a tourist destination and visited by well-known figures such as Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who came to visit the city’s legendary hot springs and baths.

To make Amphora Pottery, a die—or model—must first be carved from modeling clay with knives and scrapers and polished with abrasive rags to make the clay smooth. The model is placed in a high-temperature oven and fired. After it is removed from the oven, the die is used to make a plaster-of-Paris cast. Refined clay would then be swirled about in this cast until it was one-half inch thick. After the refined clay was dry, the cast was removed, additional detailed carving was undertaken, and the model was ready for decorating with colored glazes. The final piece was then subjected to many additional firings depending on the melting temperatures of the glazes.

Female faces were a popular motif in Amphora pottery. Many portrait pieces were influenced by themes and motifs from Symbolist myths, literature, and religion, in which women were portrayed as idealized and magical nymphs, dancers, and virgins. The Amphora Company is known for its respectful portrayal of the female figure from the very start. This comparison shows a photograph of the young model Evelyn Nesbit that her promoter Sanford White used to promote her modeling career. Amphora produced a line of vases using this image of Nesbit.

Amphora Influences
Amphora pottery designs are influenced by such varying art, design, and cultural movements as Rococo, Symbolism, Japonisme, the Vienna Secession, the Pre-Raphaelites, and even the Arts and Crafts Movement and William Morris. Such influences can be seen in the decorative motifs of many of the pieces in the gallery: insects, flowers, female figures, bats,

1. Figural Ewer, before 1892
2. Vase, circa 1892
3. Untitled, circa 1894
Alfred Stellmacher, often considered the father of Amphora Pottery arrived on the scene in Bohemia around 1860. Many of his earliest pottery designs show influences of the Rococo and Victorian eras, characterized by unrestrained playful and frilly floral motifs. Japanese influences—often referred to as the japonesque—were also prevalent during the early years for the Amphora Company. The objects in this display case represent early Amphora Pottery samples pre-dating the rise of the Art Nouveau style.

1. Western “Cave Dragon” planter, circa 1900
2. Western Dragon vase, circa 1900
3. Venom-spitting Dragon vase, circa 1900
4. Mini-dragon, Salamander, circa 1900
5. Pterodactyl, circa 1900
At the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris, the Amphora Company introduced new models that mostly included dragons, animals, bats, and beasts. Dragons—the notorious reptilian creatures with bulky, scaly bodies and wings that were long written about in mythology—were among the most popular animal-like forms depicted in pottery. Western dragons, such as those on view in this display case, were characterized by wedge-shaped heads, four feet, and enormous claws. They were depicted in various colors. These fantastical and bizarre animal representations were precursors to the Grotesque genre that characterized German art of the period 1920—1933.

1. Octopus and Crab Vase, circa 1900
2. Mini-monster vase, circa 1900
3. Untitled, circa 1900
“Monsters” from the sea—such as squid, octopus, and crab—were popular motifs for vases that were eagerly sought by collectors enamored with dragon-type imagery.

Spider Woman, circa 1900
Among the most sought-after of Amphora portrait pieces, this rare Spider Woman vase depicts woman with closed eyes and long golden tresses, whose face is framed with a butterfly headdress, golden crown, and a spider web. Four opals have been affixed to further ornament the piece. Compare the Spider Lady from 1900 to the decoration of a vase made with the same mold (above right) to see how both the designer and the chosen materials were crucial to the final outcome of an object.

Summer Queen, circa 1894
Summer Queen is from one of the most well-known lines of Amphora Pottery in the Art Nouveau style. The falcon, long a symbol for intelligence and pride, appears in Arthurian Legends, Irish myths, and the Old Norse Edda. Compare the profile of the woman on the vase to the print by famed Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha (right). Although the profile format is similar, Mucha’s portrait is soft and feminine, while Amphora’s presentation of the woman with a falcon headdress is samurai-like and serious.

Vide Poche (sundries tray), circa 1898-99
One favorite Art Nouveau theme was the figure of a woman with flowers. Around 1900, artists Alphonse Mucha and Jules Cheret helped to popularize the “flower ladies” theme—known at the time as femme fleur—in widely-distributed posters and advertisements. The maiden depicted on this object emerges from a lily pad colored with the green glaze that became known as the signature color of the Amphora Company.

Women in the Storm, circa 1900
In Art Nouveau design, women were often depicted in peril, as the imagery on this vase suggests. A similar motif was employed by Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt in his 1902 Beethoven Frieze (detail at left).

Vase, circa 1900
From 1897-1899, the Amphora Company was at the height of its Art Nouveau production. This vase displays rich colors and exotic water lilies with sinuous handles based on a form designed by Paul Dachsel, one of the partners in the Amphora Company.

Semiramis/The Moth Series, circa 1900
The name Semiramis was given to this series of vases by critics in the early 1900s who associated its ornamentation with Semiramis, the Queen of Assyria. Although collectors have referred to the pieces as “moth vases” for decades, the insects depicted are actually butterflies. German journal articles and reviews from the period always referred to them as schmetterling—which translates to butterfly.

These vases are affixed with gres bijous—porcelain jewels—that were fabricated using clay, glazed with different colors, and then fired before they were cemented into place.

Pelican Planter, circa 1900
This planter, adorned with three birds, provides a fine example of the gres bijou—or porcelain jewelry—technique employed by the Amphora Company. In an effort to add nuance to pottery designs, the company adopted a technique invented by French goldsmith Rene Lalique that used materials such as pearls, ivory, and diamonds to embellish objects. The Amphora Company fabricated faux-porcelain jewels in clay, glazed them, and fired them before affixing them to finished pottery pieces.

Bat Planter, circa 1900
The Bat Planter is one of the rarest and most ambitious objects made by the Amphora Company due to its large size and the intricacy of its design and ornamentation. Advertisements for the Bat Planter (left) appeared in many German-language magazines around 1905. Only four examples of this piece are known to remain in the world—one of which is in the National Museum in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

The display of pottery from Austrian firms in the nineteenth-century world fairs marked the entry of Amphora into the American pottery market. In the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, the Amphora Company displayed a remarkable selection of unusual wares. Amphora was also presented at the 1895 California Midwinter International Exposition held in San Francisco (seen in the adjacent wall mural). During that era, a great deal of Amphora pottery was sold and distributed to collectors throughout the United States. The Amphora Company’s American distributor was Bawo and Dotter in New York City.

Tour Framework

  • Ask guests what kinds of responses the Amphora pottery provokes in them.
  • Explain that Amphora Pottery is an important but under-recognized body of ceramic art from the period at the very end of the nineteenth century and the very early years of the twentieth century.
  • Ask guests what kinds of motifs they see in the work.
  • Explain that Amphora pottery is famed for its motifs of animals, feminine figures (maidens), and dragons (monsters).
  • Explain that the pottery is also deeply influenced by the rise of Japonisme, a nineteenth-century development beginning in the 1860s that lead to a meteoric rise in all things Japanese—especially in fine and decorative art. Japanese art was exhibited at the London International Exhibition (1862), the Paris Exhibition Universelle (1867), the Vienna Universal Exhibition (1873), and very widely throughout Europe after 1880.
  • Explain that it was the Worlds’ Fairs, in part, that lead to the rise of Art Nouveau, in general, and to Amphora pottery, in particular, at its height.
  • Explain that The Worlds’ Columbian Exhibition in Chicago (1893) and the Worlds’ Fair Exhibition Universelle in Paris (1900) both offered enormous numbers of people exposure to Amphora pottery, helping to cement the reputation of the company in the realm of art nouveau.

Rembrandt: The Embrace of Darkness and Light Tour Blueprint

Exhibition Dates: November 7-January 18, 2010

Rembrandt: The Embrace of Darkness and Light consists of over one hundred prints made by Rembrandt van Rijn between the years 1627 and 1660, roughly. It is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Major sponsorship of the exhibition is provided by Goldcorp. Additional educational programming support is provided by AT&T Nevada. Additional funding provided by Heidi Loeb, the Nevada Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

Text Panels
In the world of art, the name of Rembrandt (1606–1669) has unparalleled power and appeal. As a painter, he stood at the pinnacle of seventeenth-century European art and dominated the Dutch Golden Age. With a rare genius for psychological insight, he revealed, as had few painters before him, the complexity of the human spirit and the triumph and tragedy of the human condition. But Rembrandt achieved comparable renown in his lifetime for his artistry in an altogether different medium, that of printmaking. Indeed, he numbers among the few great artists to devote nearly equal energy to painting and printmaking. In his thirty-five years of printmaking activity, he worked almost 290 copper plates. Made by means of etching, drypoint, and, to a lesser degree, engraving, his prints brought him international fame and sometimes wealth—and he is hailed by many today as the greatest etcher of all time.

Rembrandt: The Embrace of Darkness and Light features nearly 120 of the artist’s etchings from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibition charts the entire course of Rembrandt’s printmaking career, from the drama and technical prowess of his impatient youth and the unrivaled mastery of his maturity, to the quiet mystery and poetry of his old age. Blessed with an incomparable technical genius and a deep empathy for his fellow men, Rembrandt changed forever the look and feel of the graphic arts. As this exhibition reveals, Rembrandt was an artist who saw himself and his world clearly and directly and conveyed all of it, eloquently, in the dramatic dialogue of darkness and light.

The Young, Ambitious Artist
Rembrandt’s early artistic career unfolded in his hometown of Leiden, Holland, where in about 1626, he produced his first prints. Beginning in 1631, he spent increasing amounts of time in Amsterdam, Europe’s most vibrant commercial center. He went into business there with the art dealer Hendrick Uylenburgh, who provided him with a studio, lodgings, and introductions to patrons. He soon became Amsterdam’s most popular portrait painter, receiving royal commissions from the governor, or Stadhouder, of the Netherlands, Frederik Hendrik. Meanwhile, he entered into collaborative printmaking projects with the Leiden printmaker Johannes van Vliet. In 1634, Rembrandt married Uylenburgh’s cousin Saskia and established his own studio. In both his early paintings and prints, he perfected a High Baroque style marked by heightened emotion and the dramatic use of chiaroscuro (the juxtaposition of intensely lighted and deeply shadowed forms).

Already in his first years as a printmaker, Rembrandt embraced a wide range of subjects, from lofty biblical and mythological themes to portraits and earthy images of everyday life. (In 1641, he added landscapes to his repertoire.) He suffused all of these images with a deep respect and empathy for the human condition.

Young and ambitious, Rembrandt knew that making prints was his means of entry into collections all over Europe. By printing etchings in quantity, he could widely disseminate his artistic inventions, and his prints rapidly found an international following, including markets in France and Italy. Prints also provided Rembrandt with income. Once he had etched a plate, impressions could be printed and sold for many years.

The Artist Obsessed with Fame
By the end of the 1630s, Rembrandt was famous, wealthy, and living like a gentleman. In 1639, he received a major commission for a group portrait of a militia troop, now known as The Night Watch. That same year he bought a large house in Amsterdam with space for his many students. He set up a printmaking studio in it and—avid collector that he was—arranged his own growing collection of art, natural specimens, and curiosities from cultures the world over. In 1641 Saskia gave birth to their beloved son Titus. Despite his successes, sorrow entered Rembrandt’s life in 1642, when Saskia died after a long illness. Thereafter his personal life became increasingly problematic and out-of-step with conventional Dutch society. After Saskia’s death, a widow, Geertje Dircx, arrived to serve as Titus’s nurse and soon became Rembrandt’s mistress. In time, Rembrandt redirected his affections toward a young maid, Hendrickje Stoffels, resulting in lawsuits that led him to have Geertje institutionalized. Rembrandt’s financial situation also worsened. During the 1640s he spent ruinous sums of money on his house and collections. At the same time, his income declined as important patrons, troubled by his lifestyle, started to avoid him. Shifts in the art market also took their toll. Rembrandt’s students became his competitors, some working in his somber style, others adopting the lighter courtly manner popularized by the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck. In the face of his many troubles, Rembrandt’s prints only became more masterful, as his technical achievements deepened and his comprehension of the human heart and spirit became ever more profound.

The Mature Artist
For Rembrandt the 1650s were years of unrelenting personal and financial crisis. In 1649, he stopped paying his mortgage. In 1654, the Dutch Reformed Church excommunicated Rembrandt’s mistress Hendrickje Stoffels for being pregnant and unmarried. Two years later, on the day before his fiftieth birthday, Rembrandt filed for bankruptcy. His goods were sold in a series of auctions lasting three years. Among his personal items inventoried at the time were albums, folders, and baskets of prints by other artists, which he had lovingly collected at great cost over the preceding decades. In 1658 he stopped producing prints in quantity. Perhaps lacking a printing press, he would etch only four more plates before his death in 1669 at age sixty-three.

Despite the gloom of his final period, Rembrandt continued to produce masterpieces. Indeed, his troubles seemed only to deepen the emotional resonance of his later prints, culminating in a series of etchings that serve as intense reveries on life’s most vital forces. Rembrandt’s technical experiments and achievements also heightened the poetry of his later work. Through the special inking of individual impressions from his copper plates and his use of different papers, the artist attained a new range of atmospheric subtlety and emotional nuance as he explored the many possibilities inherent in a single image. One need only compare the two impressions of The Entombment and of Christ Preaching, on view in this gallery, to sense the extraordinary variety of tone and mood that the artist teased out of mere ink and paper.

Rembrandt and the Art of Printmaking
Rembrandt approached etching with an extraordinary freedom and spontaneity, treating varnished copper plates like sheets of paper on which he rapidly sketched his designs. He quickly discovered he could make finer lines than he could with a pen and explored darkness with inks blacker than any painting.

To produce an etching, an artist first coats a copper plate with an acid-resistant coating such as wax or varnish. This layer is called a ground, and the artist uses a needle to scratch through it, exposing the copper as he draws the lines of his design. The plate is then exposed to acid, which eats away or “bites” at the copper where the needle has exposed it. Through biting, the lines become actual grooves in the surface of the plate. The ground is then removed and the copper plate inked and wiped clean, leaving ink only in the grooves.

To print the plate’s design, a press forces dampened paper down into the grooves of the plate to pick up the ink. When peeled away from the plate, the paper reveals a print in mirror image of the inked design. The plate can then be inked and printed again.

About 1640, Rembrandt explored a new dimension in his printmaking as he made expanded use of the drypoint technique to enhance the shading of his etchings and add even richer atmospheric and tonal effects. Rembrandt quickly became a master of the drypoint technique, achieving a visual range and level of optical nuance and subtlety that few artists have come close to rivaling.

With drypoint the artist scratches directly into the copper plate. As his needle incises the plate, it raises up ridges of fine metal fragments, called “burr,” along the edges of the furrows. The ink caught in the burr creates a blurred and velvety effect when printed.

Rembrandt’s Studio: A Cabinet of Curiosities
Throughout his artistic career, Rembrandt established and worked in many different studios. This loosely-interpreted re-creation of Rembrandt’s studio is from a period in the artist’s life during which he had achieved great wealth from his wife Saskia’s dowry and the sale of his artwork.

Along with the tools needed for making art, Rembrandt’s studio was filled with an astonishing collection of objects, including antiquities, stuffed animals, armor, marble busts, coins, shells, and coral. The variety of objects in his kunstcaemer—also known as a cabinet of curiosities—is testimony to the significance of the Age of Exploration and to Rembrandt’s inquisitive nature and success as an artist.

The Dutch Gable
The design of the faux architectural structure in the gallery is loosely based on seventeenth-century Dutch architecture that incorporated a feature known as a Dutch Gable. Typically a decorative convention, a Dutch Gable is one whose sides have a shape made from two curves with a pediment at the top. Use of Dutch Gables first emerged during the Renaissance, and were eventually absorbed into the Baroque Style.

Tour Framework
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669. RvR was born on or about July 15, 1606. However, several public records indicate discrepancies in Rembrandt’s own hand that suggest he may have been born in 1605 or 1607. Rembrandt’s parents were the miller Harmen Gerritsz. Van Rijn (1567-1630) and the baker’s daughter Deeltgen Willemsdr. Van Zuytbrouck (c. 1568-1640). He was the ninth of ten children, three of whom died in infancy. While his elder brothers entered the family trades, Rembrandt was given an education that would have enabled him to work outside of these constraints—he chose, however, to leave his education behind and apprentice to Jacob Isaacsz. van Swanenburg in Leiden and later (c. 1625) to Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam.

The Netherlands
In 1600 the Dutch Republic was an opaque, complex system of local and regional governing bodies, which Rembrandt both carefully and at times carelessly navigated.
RvR’s hometown of Leiden was proud of its history (bloody, in relation to independence from Spanish rule); its University and its textile manufacturing. Leiden was associated with perseverance, bravery, and victory (following the 1574 battle of the 80 Years’ War).

The Work
Rembrandt scholars are an argumentative bunch: they agree, generally, however, on the attribution to Rembrandt of 285 etchings, 875 (of 1,595) drawings, and 250 (of 400) paintings. RvR, like Caravaggio, was said “to respect no master but Nature”—but he had extensive collections of Italian art and some of his own countrymen as well, including as many as 9,000 works on paper in his studio by the time of his bankruptcy in 1656. In an inventory of his studio created that year, Rembrandt listed eight paintings by or after six different sixteenth-century Italian painters. RvR’s highly conscious use of dark and light in constructing compositions was inspired by Caravaggio’s (1571-1610) Madonna of the Rosary, even though he hadn’t studied Caravaggio except through his contemporaries’ distillations of Caravaggio’s style.

Antwerp Master Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) would have been the only other impressor besides Lucas van Leyden and Maarten van Heemskerck. RvR identifid with Peter Paul Rubens, but also competed with him. RvR was also, interestingly, fascinated by miniature paintings of Mughal court of India—and as it turns out, it was in the Mughal Courts of India that the Hooka or Hookah was invented, and why one is included in Colin’s recreation of Rembrandt’s studio.

Art and Faith
When Rembrandt’s grandparents were born in the 1530s, the art world of Leiden was by and large an adjunct to church life. Workshops of stained-glass artists, weavers of textiles and tapestries, sculptors in wood and stone, gold- and silversmiths, cabinetmakers and of course painters found the largest market for their skills in the church and its donors. Art itself was sacred, finding its meaning in Catholic dogma, ritual and spirituality. Artists were hired explicators of these values. On August 26, 1566, however, all changed--a day of iconoclasm in Leiden, changed the art market in the city (and throughout the country) overnight.

As far as is known, not a single painting or print by Rembrandt was painted for a church or placed in one in his lifetime. In the era of the Reformation, then, the Catholic church and liturgy had claimed a position of intermediary between people and the Bible (because of Latin’s prominence in the liturgy), direct connection to the Bible became increasingly important to Protestants—and the narratives of its contents were represented in art, which Protestants still collected widely, perhaps even more so than in the pre-Reformation era, as did Catholics and Jews.

In addition to faith, the theme of people and God is omnipresent in Rembrandt’s work, as it is in the work of many Renaissance artists. For example, in many of the biblical prints, including one of the most important, The Descent from the Cross, is a figure that is based on Rembrandt’s own image (see the man on the ladder). RvR could have ben a relative if not a member of the Holy Family. In his imagination he lived with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all his life, from his first etchings to his final paintings. Although he painted one group family portrait, but repeatedly created images of families from scripture. Themes of the nativity, the adoration of the shepherds, the adoration of the Magi,, the circumcision, the presentation in the Temple, the angel appearing to Joseph in a dream, the fight into Egypt, Christ’s many ministries, and many more are very common. The Hundred Guilder print, or Christ among the sick, allowing the children to come to him, is based on Chapter 19 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

Family, Loved Ones, Households
Saskia Uylenburgh shared Rembrandt’s life for nearly ten—wonderfully happy and bitterly sad—years. She and RvR lost three children before the age of 2 months before their fourth child, Titus, survived to adulthood. However, Saskia herself died after Titus was barely nine months old. Female figures resembling Saskia in RvR’s work are prominent in this period of 1634-1642. Rembrandt was 36 years old, Saskia 30, when she died.

In 1649, Hendrickje Stoffels, a 23-year-old maid, moved into Rembrandt’s home, where he, aged 43, was already engaged in an affair with another household servant, Geertge Dircx, who eventually was locked in a penal institution.

Hendrickje was RvR’s common-law wife, as he would have had to pay a large party of what he was worth to Saskia’s family, and to his own, upon remarriage.

Hendrickje gave RvR everything, had a daughter named Cornelia, and then she too died, from an outbreak of plague, in 1663, aged 37.

RvR made thousands of drawings using Quill pens; Reed pens; Ink and ink wash (applied with brushes, as opposed to pens) of two kinds: bistre (made from chimney root) and iron gall ink (made with iron sulfate and the insect-derived galls of oak, oak-apple and pistachio trees). He rarely used black, or India ink, except in replicating the Mughal drawings he acquired. He occasionally used white opaque watercolor, but frequently relied on black chalk, charcoal, red chalk, and occasionally a medium known as silverpoint. NOTE THAT RvR DID NOT USE lead pencil, white chalk, crayon or watercolor.

All the prints attributed to Rembrandt are intaglio prints printed from a metal plate.
81 of Rembrandt’s copperplates have survived. He used hammers and burnishers to re-work areas he had already incised but found unsatisfactory. Primarily he used copper plates. Artists, including RvR, would frequently print multiple plates at the same time, cutting the full sheets into their individual prints to get more money out of each pull of the press, which is why many of the prints in this exhibition are so small, and without much paper border.

Rembrandt used his own recipe for the ground he applied to the plate: “half an ounce of Expoltum [asphaltum] burnt of Amber, one ounce of Virgins’ wax, [and] half an once of Mastick,” to be mashed, heated and mixed with water into a ball, then to be melted onto the (not too hot) plate. This would have been known as a soft ground. He used a different ground if he was working the plate multiple times as in the case of Angel Appearing to the shepherds. He needed a transparent ground, called stopping out varnish, for which he had another recipe: “white turpentine oil, add half as much turpentine, put together in a glass bottle, bottle in pure water, boil water for half an hour.” By 1655, he was rarely using a ground at all…ever, and instead working more directly on the plate using the technique of drypoint. RvR utilized the additional intaglio printmaking medium of engraving, but only as an addendum to etching and drypoint.

This method of creating strong contrasts between light and dark grew out of the Renaissance, technically, but had important roots in ancient Greek and Byzantine art. For RvR, it was said, “…so broad was his palette of light and dark, which covers the entire spectrum…Rembrandt does not draw surface compositions in light and dark; he molds them spatially. He was practically a sculptor in light and dark.” In his work, in particular, note the implementation of dark foreground figures against lighter backgrounds, as well as figurative shadows that help to convey a sense of movement or motion, and which help to heighten the illusion of depth. RvR’s play with darkness and light is an application of chiaroscuro as a device for composing in dark and light. This principle, turned into a trademark in early seventeenth-century Italy by Elsheimer and Caravaggio, was available to all seventeenth-century artists and was applied in one form or another by most. Rembrandt practiced a pronouncedly spatial variety of chiaroscuro. He uses it as an organizational device less on the picture plan than in the picture space.

Rembrandt’s Studio
Rembrandt’s studios were in his home. He had an “art room” that would have been for entertaining customers. Upstairs in his home were two studios, one smaller and one larger, as well as a “studio storage space” on the upper floor.

The Studio was a working studio—he taught fairly large numbers of apprentices there, as well as using it for the creation of his own work and storage of his enormous collections. (See notes about the Cabinet of Curiosities.)

Non Finito
Rembrandt was able to project what looked like completely detailed representations with mixed and sometimes minimal means. Regularly, however, he stopped short of that point, leaving the viewer with a work of art that is not a convincing image of reality. In doing so, he goes beyond the ideal of illusion as the ultimate aim of art…Rembrandt printed such impressions of many of his etchings while working, but rather than throw them away when he had used them to move on to the next stage, he created a saleable group of prints, turning them into a “state.” In other words, he assigned artistic and commercial value to these images as they appear, in all their apparent incompleteness. For this reason, they must be regarded as full-fledged creations by Rembrandt and not simply as unfinished works. Were it not for the actual images, this is a practice that might seem considerably more modern than we might associate with RvR’s time.

Rembrandt’s Livelihood
As a member of the Amsterdam guild of St. Luke, Rembrandt was bound by certain non-competition stipulations. In his early years in the city, this will not have bothered him. In his good years, Rembrandt’s high-priced sales and purchases had a buoyant effect on the art market. When the tide turned, his insolvency depressed it. He began to lose everything in the 1650s as a result of many factors.

Over his career, RvR earned an average of 270 guilders for paintings, with a median of 90 guilders…the average income at the time for professional workers might have been 500 guilders (maybe $12,000 of today’s American money). RvR averaged about 2,000 guilders income annually through his lifetime—but this was not evenly distributed, remember.

Prints were less expensive—one to eight stuivers (and there were 20 stuivers to the guilder). Christ Among the Sick, however, is colloquially called “The Hundred-Guilder Print.” It may or may not have actually sold for such a sum—as RvR, like many artists, was good at spinning tales of his own successes. Of interest with the etched portraits that were commissioned—sometimes the price included the plate in the sale to the commissioner.

Rembrandt also made considerable income from tuition fees paid by students apprenticing in his studio. His contemporaries event complained because in good years he made as much as 2,000 guilders in tuition expenses alone.

RvR had some investments as well, but not many. Those he had were in the stocks of the imperial powers of the Dutch West India Company and other Dutch trading companies. All began to change, however, with the downturn resulting from the First English War of 1651-54. In fact, Dutch art would never really recover completely from the effects of this.

Rembrandt, Reading and Writing
Classical texts of all kinds were widely available in Dutch in the 1600s. After his major commissioned paintings of the late 1630s, Rembrandt had written to the commissioner of the works: “The greatest and the most natural (e)motion has been expressed.”: consternation has existed for centuries over the meaning—is it physical movement or the power to move the viewer’s emotions that he means? Rembrandt was, like many in the Renaissance, familiar with a great deal of ancient Greek and Roman writing. Of particular interest was the work of the rhetorician QUINTILIAN, who formulates the rhetorical conviction that the orator who wants to move his public should first be moved himself. Of interest: REMBRANDT INCLUDES HIMSELF IN THE DESCENT FROM THE CROSS TO APPEAL TO THIS RHETORICAL STRATEGY: HE”S THERE, SO ARE WE.

Reading and writing, and their affiliated instruments—namely books, pens, and paper—figure prominently in RvR’s work. He was praised and discussed by more poets and playwrights than any other Dutch artist of his day. His closest personal friend was probably the poet Jeremias de Decker, who wrote about Rembrandt’s ability to bring the words of the Bible to life through his art.

Two-thirds of all of Rembrandt’s landscapes were made in just seven years, between 1649 and 1655. Rembrandt’s style of landscape, however, changed the course of Dutch landscape art for centuries: picturesque decay, dilapidation, ruins, and farmhouses in disrepair, to name a few elements. Rembrandt’s landscapes are not frequently natural scenes alone, either—they are almost always inhabited landscapes, with evidence of peoples’ use of the land almost always present.

Medea: Or the Marriage of Jason and Creusa
Inscription reads: “Creus’ and Iason here plight their toth to one another:
Medea, Iason’s wife, unworthily shunted off to the side, is infuriated by sorrow; she is driven by vengeance. Alas! Infidelity, how dearly are you paid!"

Rembrandt’s and his contemporary Jan Six, who wrote a play about Medea, altered the representation of Medea from the standard negative ones of the myth involving her.
RvR found street merchants of significant interest in the 1630s: rat poison and pancake peddling that appear to be lively scenes of daily life; they are carefully composed scenes, however, based on preceding imagery.

Beggars become an important precursor to his Christian imagery later in his career, and change the nature of Dutch art’s representations and treatment of the dispossessed.
The Flight into Egypt (1627) also represents the most deeply dispossessed: Joseph, Mary and the baby Christ.

RvR created images of himself in the guise of or closely related to the artist Lucas van Leyden (a close friend); Peter Paul Rubens; the poet Ludovico Ariosto; military men; cavaliers; burghers; officials; industrialists; as a participant in a martyrdom; as Christ himself in a scene of the Crucifixion; to exotic personages; to character types and beggars. He seems to look into the mirror repeatedly and see not just himself but also reflections of others.

RvR is one of the seminal figures in the history of art. He changed the course of Dutch art, particularly in his landscapes, and employed the techniques of chiaroscuro in ways that affected artists’ use of the technique for generations after him. He brought its use into the realm of the creation of space in the picture, not just compositional elements of light and dark—that is, his use of chiaroscuro, largely through the printmaking techniques of drypoint, etching, and surface wiping create the illusion of space and in many cases movement in his pictures, whereas before his perfection of these techniques, the effects of chiaroscuro were more limited to the composition of the image and the surface treatment of the image.
RvR had an extraordinary life, and he also suffered greatly. His work and life represent the apex of the Dutch Age of Exploration and Dutch art, but the end of his career and life also signify a shift in the prominence of Dutch art and empire after the 1650s.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Carleton Watkins :: Yosemite Photographs

Did You Know :: Carleton Watkins’ Yosemite Photographs

Carleton Watkins (1829–1916) had virtually no practical photography experience during the Civil War, as did many of his contemporaries. In 1851, when he was twenty-one, Watkins left Oneonta, New York, for California, following the example of Collis P. Huntington, another Oneonta native who had moved to California to make his fortune. After a stint in Huntington's store in Sacramento, Watkins moved to San Francisco, where he chanced into an apprenticeship with the daguerreotypist Robert Vance. By 1858, Watkins had established an independent practice, photographing mining operations and land claims for financiers who were building their careers in the lap of the new state.

Watkins and his contemporaries Charles Leander Weed and Eadweard Muybridge labored under difficult conditions to produce enormous photographs of Yosemite that pushed the technological limits of the medium and mirrored the scale of the place beginning in the 1860s and continuing into the 1890s.

In 1861 Carleton Watkins made history when he hauled a huge box camera—custom-designed around the glass-plate negatives needed for large prints—into Yosemite. Once a shot was framed, the plate was coated with a light-sensitive emulsion, then exposed and developed on-site in a dark tent. It was a grueling process, in which a drop of sweat or a stray insect could ruin the image and hours of work. Watkins’s 1861 photographs were among the first in the world to be considered landscape art. Three years later, Weed took his own mammoth plate camera to Yosemite, but Watkins’s main competitor was Eadweard Muybridge. Often composed like landscape paintings, Muybridge’s Yosemite photographs differed stylistically from Watkins’s classically structured works. Muybridge also signed his negatives to avoid the piracy that plagued Watkins, whose prints were reissued without credit to the photographer. Together, these three men transformed photography as an art form and inspired generations of artists. Their legacy persists in Yosemite, which remains among the most photographed landscapes in the world.

In 1861, Watkins traveled with one of his patrons, Trenor Park, entrepreneur of the Mariposa gold mine, on a family excursion to Yosemite. Unknown to white settlers until 1849, the valley was twenty hours by stage and mule from San Francisco. But word spread fast at the Mariposa mine, and by 1858 there were land claims, a better road, and tourists enough to support a hotel. In 1859, Charles Leander Weed photographed the valley, and by 1861 Easterners had come to know of the awe-inspiring site from articles in the Boston Evening Transcript, written by the Unitarian minister Thomas Starr King.

The 30 mammoth-plate (18x22 inches) and 100 stereo views that Watkins took in Yosemite in 1861 were among the first photographs of the valley sent back east. Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ralph Waldo Emerson received copies through Starr King, and in 1862 the photographs excited further interest when they were exhibited at Goupil's New York gallery. It was partly on their evidence that President Lincoln signed a bill in 1864 declaring the valley inviolate and leading the way to the National Parks system.

Watkins combined a mastery of the difficult wet-plate negative process with a rigorous sense of pictorial structure. For large-format landscape work such as he produced in Yosemite, the physical demands of this process were great. Since there was as yet no practical means of enlarging, Watkins’ glass negatives had to be as large as he wished the prints to be, and his camera large enough to accommodate them. Furthermore, the glass negatives had to be coated, exposed, and developed while the collodion remained tacky, requiring the photographer to transport a traveling darkroom as he explored the rugged terrain of the American West.

Relevant Vocabulary

Mammoth Plate an oversize glass plate used to make a negative image in nineteenth-century photography

Albumen Print a photographic print made on paper coated with albumen (egg white)

Ambrotype a mid-nineteenth-century photographic type in which a positive image was recorded on collodion wet plate.

Daguerreotype an early photographic type in which an image is recorded on highly polished piece of metal coated with a light sensitive emulsion. Daguerreotypes were one-of-a-kind images that could not be reproduced.

Wet Collodion a nineteenth-century photographic type in which a piece of plate glass was coated with a silver halide emulsion and placed in a camera while still wet. A latent image was recorded, and then the wet plate was developed, fixed, and varnished to create a glass negative for production of stereograph and mammoth plate photographs.

Silver Gelatin Print the most common form of twentieth-century black-and-white photographic print, in which a piece of paper is coated with a light-sensitive silver gelatin emulsion

Stereograph a popular nineteenth-century photograph in which two small, side-by-side images made using a special twin lens camera create the illusion of a three dimensional scene.

Sublime a historical, philosophical, literary, and art idea that contributed to Romanticism the notion of a greatness with which nothing else can be compared and which is beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. This greatness is often used when referring to nature and its vastness.

Romanticism an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated around the middle of the 18th century in Western Europe, during the Industrial Revolution. It was partly a revolt against aristocratic, social, and political norms of the Enlightenment period and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature in art and literature.


Explain to guests that the first Euro-Americans to see the Yosemite region were probably part of the Walker party in 1833, but the first official entrants were part of the Mariposa Battalion, who, in 1851, were sent to forcibly remove the Indian inhabitants of Yosemite after the discovery of gold on John C. Frémont’s ranch in the Mariposa/Bear Valley area of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Shortly thereafter, in 1855, publisher James Mason Hutchings entered Yosemite with a party of men, including Thomas A. Ayres, who created the first drawing of Yosemite Falls ever made.

Explain that the three most significant of Yosemite’s nineteenth-century photographers—Charles Leander Weed, Carleton E. Watkins, and Eadweard J. Muybridge—all created photographs of Yosemite from glass negatives, using the wet plate collodion process, and printing them on paper using the albumen process. All three men were famed for their mammoth plates, unusually large, plate glass negatives designed to capture the large sweeping vistas of Yosemite (and other western sites). However, all three men also created numerous stereographs or stereoviews. These much smaller, side-by-side images were popular for armchair travelers after their invention in the 1840s, and they were comparatively inexpensive, which made them an increasingly popular tourist souvenir commemorating a visit to a wondrous place like Yosemite.

Explain that publisher and entrepreneur James Mason Hutchings made another visit to Yosemite in June, 1859, this time with photographer Charles Weed, rather than a painter or drawer, as he had in 1855 with Thomas Ayres. This was in part because Ayres’ drawings and lithographs, which had been published in Hutchings’ California Magazine in 1855, were deemed by readers to be fanciful—and Hutchings needed to prove that Yosemite Falls were indeed as dramatic as they had been earlier represented.

Explain that Weed took the first photograph of Yosemite in 1859, an imperial-sized (10x14-inch) salt print of Yosemite Falls. During this first visit, he made twenty imperial prints, and forty stereograph views of Yosemite, beginning what would become Later, in 1863/1864, Weed returned with a camera capable of holding 17x22-inch mammoth plates. Gold-toned albumen prints, a new technology that hadn’t been available in 1859, were made of these later negatives, which were richer and clearer than the earlier imperial salt prints.

Explain that all of Watkins’ photographs included in the exhibition are mammoth plate albumen prints from 1861-1865. He made his first visit to Yosemite in 1861, two years after Weed’s first visit, and three years before Weed’s second visit. This enabled him to make a name for himself as a Yosemite photographer, as his 18x22-inch mammoth plate images were very well received by the public, and by scientists such as Josiah D. Whitney, William Henry Brewer, and Clarence King. In a game of one-upsmanship, Charles Weed returned to the valley in 1864, and Watkins returned in 1865 with an even bigger camera with a higher quality lens.

Explain that the wet plate collodion process was an extraordinarily labor intensive photographic process. The artist would have to work quickly. First he had to clean a sheet of plate glass perfectly, removing any dust, lint, streaks, and so forth. Second, in the darkness of a tent, he coated the plate in a viscous, light-sensitive mixture of chemicals called collodion. Third, while the plate was still wet with collodion, the photographer would place the plate in a light-proof plate holder, slip it into the enormous cabinet of the large-format view camera, and remove a lens cap or board from the front of the lens or the front of the plate holder (he would have already trained and focused his lens on his subject), and make an exposure of a few seconds. The lens cap or board would be replaced, and the still-wet plate taken back to the dark tent, and developed, fixed, and varnished using a number of different chemical solutions.

The prints were made from the glass negatives (the negative-making process is described above) and then printed on albumen-coated paper. Photographic chemicals, namely silver salts, had to be bound to paper using albumen, or egg whites. The albumen printing process included the following steps: first, a piece of paper is coated with an emulsion of egg white (albumen) and table salt (sodium chloride), then dried. The albumen seals the paper and creates a slightly glossy surface. Second, the paper is dipped in a solution of silver nitrate and water, rendering the surface light-sensitive. Third, the paper is dried in total darkness. Fourth, the dried, prepared paper is placed in a frame in direct contact under a negative, often a glass negative with collodion emulsion, and exposed to light until the image achieves the desired level of darkness. Fifth, a bath of sodium thiosulfate fixes the print’s exposure, preventing further darkening. Finally, optional gold or selenium toning improves the photograph’s tone and stabilizes it against fading (e.g. the Weed photograph from 1864).

Explain to guests that Watkins and his contemporaries created both mammoth plate photographs and smaller stereoviews. Like their painter counterparts, the photographers sold their mammoth plate prints to discerning collectors, often wealthy patrons including the likes of Leland Stanford and Collis P. Huntington, and their smaller stereoviews to tourists and armchair travelers elsewhere in the country.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Interview with John Baldessari

For a lovely introduction to John Baldessari's thinking, you can read a wonderful interview with artist John Baldessari from 2004, originally published in Artnet, for a sense of his personality, artistic sensibility, and interest in contemporary ideas...

For some further information, read the biographical essays associated with the Magical Secrets: A Printmaking Community website.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mary Snowden: Levittown

Painting on panel
Collection of the Nevada Museum of Art, Gift of the artist

Levittown, New York, a tract-home development built upon 1,200 acres of potato fields in 1947, has long been considered the quintessential postwar American suburb.
While similar subdivisions were constructed in hundreds of thousands of towns and cities across America, Levittown remains a meaningful reference for contemporary artists commenting on the influence that suburbs have had on the American psyche.

Mary Snowden nostalgically recalls the postwar era in her painting Levittown, which features an American GI and his aproned wife parachuting to their new life of domestic bliss. An anonymous landscape of single-family detached houses stretches long into the horizon. These mass-produced houses functioned as more than basic shelters for veterans and their families; they also became status symbols that embodied conventional domesticity, the nuclear family, and homeownership— all of which became inextricably linked to the American Dream.

Faces: Chuck Close and Contemporary Portraiture Tour Blueprint

Faces: Chuck Close and Contemporary Portraiture features artworks selected from the San Francisco collection of Doris and Donald Fisher, founders of the GAP Corporation. The works in the exhibition reflect the Fishers’ interest in collecting a broadly representative body of contemporary art of the highest quality—so much so that they are currently in negotiations to build a new museum on the Presidio in San Francisco to be called CAMP (Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio).

The artworks selected for this exhibition represent just a fraction of the Fishers’ extensive collection of contemporary art; here viewers’ attention is focused on contemporary expressions of ideas about portraiture, raising new questions about one of the oldest genres of art in the historical periods (the oldest extant portrait to date is approximately 27,000 years old in southwestern France).

This exhibition is generously sponsored by International Game Technology with additional support from the Portrait Society of Reno.

Text Panels

FACES: Chuck Close and Contemporary Portraiture
Portraiture is one of art’s oldest genres, with roots tracing back to the ancient Egyptian era. Defined as a painting, photograph, or sculpture in which the human face is depicted, a traditional portrait aims to capture a human likeness—sometimes in an idealized manner and at other times with stark accuracy.

Beginning in the twentieth century, however, many artists began to challenge the conventions of the genre. Does a portrait need a human face to be considered valid? Can a portrait be employed as part of a larger social or political message? The contemporary artists in this exhibition are noted for the innovative ways they explore the answers to these questions. Whether examining issues related to history and popular culture, or investigating personal identity and autobiography, the artworks in this exhibition are as varied and diverse as the artists who made them.

Chuck Close
A leading figure in contemporary American art since the 1970s, Chuck Close is celebrated for his successful efforts to reinvigorate the field of modern portraiture. Best known for the monumental faces he has painted, photographed, printed, and most recently woven into tapestries, Close developed a formal methodology based on color and structural analysis that radically departs from traditional modes of portraiture. The process of making these large-scale works is labor intensive—taking anywhere from four months to two years to complete a painting—and requires collaboration from a range of assistants.

Chuck Close Tapestries
Chuck Close's tapestries were woven in collaboration with Magnolia Editions, a fine art studio in Oakland, California. Magnolia Editions' innovative approach to the time-honored medium of tapestry brings together a printmaker's eye for color and a scientist's attention to accuracy to create Jacquard weavings using electronic and digital technologies ordinarily limited to industrial production.

Proprietary color matching techniques developed by Magnolia Editions were used to create sophisticated digital weave files that were then sent to a small, family-owned
mill in Belgium that owns a customized, seven-foot-wide loom. Each pixel of the weave file represents a weave structure (a combination of colored threads); thus, each weave structure results in a unique color. As the tapestries are woven directly from a computer reading the weave file—with no interference or mediation from weavers—the artist maintains complete control over the final work.

Close's tapestries are woven from scans of daguerreotype portraits of the artist's friends and contemporaries, including Philip Glass, Lorna Simpson, Kiki Smith, and Kate Moss.

Philip Glass is an American music composer. He is a prolific music writer, having written three Oscar-winning scores for films.

Lorna Simpson is an important African American artist. In a 2007 Artinfo interview, she interestingly said with regard to self-portraiture: “I do not appear in any of my work. I think maybe there are elements to it and moments to it that I use from my own personal experience, but that, in and of itself, is not so important as what the work is trying to say about either the way we interpret experience or the way we interpret things about identity.”

Kiki Smith is an American artist best known for her sculpture, although she works in many media. Her work focuses on issues related to gender and identity. She is a member of the artist collaborative known as Colab.

Kate Moss is an English supermodel.

Jacquard tapestries refer to tapestries woven on Jacquard looms, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801.

Polaroid Polacolor photograph, masking tape, pencil and ink on mounted Foamcore

To make a painting, Chuck Close begins with a photograph of the person he wants to depict—in this case the artist James Siena. Close overlays the photograph with a hand-drawn grid, and then he draws a second grid on a large canvas. Then, he fills each square on the canvas with rings of colors that—when viewed from a distance—appear as an average hue. When seen up close, the gridded squares appear similar to computer-generated pixels, but when seen from afar the overall face emerges clearly.

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #97, 98, 99, 100
Color coupler prints

This series of self-portraits, sometimes referred to as the Pink Robe series, is Cindy Sherman’s follow-up to her legendary Untitled Film Stills produced in the late 1970s. In these images, Sherman says she was “thinking of the idea of the centerfold model. The pictures were meant to look like a model just after she’d been photographed for a centerfold.” By completely concealing herself with a pink chenille robe and directing her gaze forcefully towards the viewer, Sherman aims to frustrate—both psychologically and emotionally—anyone who approaches the photograph. Unlike traditional centerfold photographs that typically objectify the female body, Sherman used techniques to subvert the vulnerability of the female model, allowing her to resist exploitation.

Ask guests to consider the differences between a self-portrait and a portrait—aside from the obvious, are there conceptual or methodological differences between a portrait of oneself and a portrait of someone else?

Explain that a central question about portraits has centered on whether the images are more like mirrors reflecting the viewer’s interests/needs/desires on the sitter, or whether they are more like windows revealing the identity of the sitter.

Explain that Cindy Sherman’s work poses significant challenges to this question, as for her most famous series of portraits, Untitled Film Stills, she dresses up as numerous female characters from film and popular culture and photographs herself. These images are thus not self-portraits in any strict sense of the word.

Ask guests to think about how women are or have been represented in different kinds of media. What kinds of stereotypes of women exist as a result of media portrayals?

Ask guests to consider why or how they think that Sherman’s work might ask us to engage with such questions.

Andy Warhol
One of the most influential and provocative artists of the twentieth century, Andy Warhol looked to images of American popular culture, fame, stardom and glamour to create some of the most iconic and defining portraits of our time. Throughout his career Warhol captured faces ranging from those of musicians and movie stars to political figures—including Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, Mick Jagger, and Dolly Parton.

[I did find this wonderful quotation from an interview with Tyson Meade in 2001 for Interview magazine:

Dolly: “He was the only person I’ve met that’s weirder than me, that dressed worse and looked stranger. And didn’t care, just like me. I would always ask him, “What do you look like under that wig?”, and he’d reply, “What do you look like under that one?” I’d say, “Well, you’ll never know,” and he’d say, “Well, you’ll never know!”] –KD

Gerhard Richter
German artist Gerhard Richter is best known for oscillating between abstraction and representational imagery using a variety of media ranging from oils and watercolor to overpainted photographs. In the early 1990s, Richter created a series of mirror paintings using blood-red, color-coated glass that reflects whatever comes before it—whether it be the paintings hanging opposite it in the gallery or museum visitors walking in front of it. In undertaking this series of mirrors, Richter joined a centuries-old conversation in the field of Western art about whether artworks actually depict an authentic reality. Richter once noted that a mirror painting, “is the only picture that always looks different. And perhaps there's an allusion somewhere to the fact that every picture is a mirror.”

[Gerhard Richter was born in 1932 in Eastern Germany. He emigrated in 1961. His training had been in orthodox Communist-bloc Realist painting. He soon made a name for himself with three different types of work, uniquely his own: schematic, Minimalist abstracts; splashy, messy abstracts; and finely painted soft-focus photographic imagery–the latter his best-known work. In this show he has painted a mirror blood red so that the viewer can be the subject of the portrait.] –KD

Ask guests to consider why a piece called Mirror Painting (Blood Red)—essentially an abstract piece—would be included in a portraiture exhibition.

Ask guests what does a mirror require them to do?

Richard Artschwager
Richard Artschwager came of age at the height of the Pop Art movement in New York during the late 1950s; he also saw the emergence of Photorealist painting over the next decade. Like the Pop artists, Artschwager often looked to popular magazines and well-known personalities as subjects for his paintings—such as this portrait of beloved Manhattan art gallery owner Holly Solomon. With a background in commercial production (Artschwager also managed a furniture factory in New York for nearly ten years), he was introduced to mass-produced materials such as Celotex, onto which he painted this portrait.

[Artschwager was born in Washington, DC in 1923 but was raised in New Mexico. He received a BFA from Cornell University in 1948, his schooling having been interrupted by a tour in the US army in World War II. Through his long career as a sculptor and painter he has resisted categorization. In a 1988 review of an Artschwager retrospective Roberta Smith of the New York Times says: “Throughout the 1960s, his idiosyncratic, multi-faceted work hovered in the vicinity of Pop, Minimalism and Photo-Realism without ever requesting permission to land. A master of the reconstructed readymade, an assiduous manipulator of appropriated images, forms and uningratiating, non-art materials (often within the same hybridized painting-sculpture), Mr. Artschwager established himself as a free agent, a jack-of-all-trades.”

In this portrait of Holly Solomon, a prominent New York art collector/dealer, Artschwager chose to use his favorite painting surface -- a canvas-weave vinyl called Celotex. He is known for these paintings on Celotex as well as for abstracted furniture forms and faux-wood painting on countless surfaces.] –KD

Joel Sternfeld
Joel Sternfeld has been praised for his efforts to carry on the venerable documentary tradition of compiling a collective portrait of America. Similar projects were undertaken by photographers such as Walker Evans in the 1930s and Robert Frank two decades later. In 2001, Sternfeld published Stranger Passing, a series of sixty portraits that he took of Americans he encountered during his cross-country trips. The title Stranger Passing refers to Walt Whitman’s poem, “To a Stranger,” from Leaves of Grass:

Passing stranger! you do not know
How longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking,
Or she I was seeking
(It comes to me as a dream)

I have somewhere surely
Lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other,
Fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,

You grew up with me,
Were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become
not yours only nor left my body mine only,

You give me the pleasure of your eyes,
face, flesh as we pass,
You take of my beard, breast, hands,
in return,

I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you
when I sit alone or wake at night, alone
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again

I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

[Joel Sternfeld was born in New York City in 1944. He earned a BFA from Dartmouth and began working with color photography in the 1970s, having been drawn to it through his interest in the color theory of Josef Albers. He uses an 8 x 10” camera, enabling him to achieve crisp detail. His subjects are found everywhere in the country, doing, for the most part, everyday things. His goal has been to search out a collective American identity. He labels each large color portrait with great detail, sometimes ironic, often poignant.] –KD

Günther Forg
German-born artist Günther Forg works in a wide variety of media. Claiming unlimited freedom in his art production, he treats materials in unconventional ways and quotes art-historical precedents as he wishes. Often associated with Minimalism because of his frequent use of the color gray and the simplicity of his compositions, Forg is also sometimes compared to an Abstract Expressionist painter because of his bold brushstrokes. This work also includes one of Forg’s large-scale photographs.

Sophie Calle
With the zeal of an investigator and the obsession of a voyeur, French artist Sophie Calle probes the border between public and private in her own life and the lives of others. In her series of Autobiographical Stories, Calle looks to her own past for incidents with deep psychological resonance. By recounting a memory about her own bed—and the man who later killed himself in it—she suggests that portraits of personal objects can convey powerful truths in the same way that human portraits do.

[Sophie Calle was born in France in 1953. She is described variously as a photographer, writer, videographer, Conceptual artist and an installation artist. With a cool documentary style Calle explores the interface of our private selves and public lives. She often orchestrates what she films. She has filmed people (friends, acquaintances) sleeping in her bed. She has followed strangers and recorded all they do in a day. She has hired a detective to follow her and record what she does (unbeknownst to her). She admits to being a voyeur, of other people’s lives and of her own.

Her work in the late 1980s, Autobiographical Stories, deals with memories of her past. The Bed, the photograph in this show, deals with a story from her life. Her parents had rented out her room after she had left home. The renter set himself on fire in the bed she had slept in for seventeen years. Calle photographed from an upper storey window the ruined, discarded mattress on the ground below. One critic, discussing the Autobiographical Stories series, states: “Despite its deep psychological resonance, the self-revealing aspect of Autobiographical Stories is tempered by a cool and distanced sensibility.”] --KD

Jim Dine
Jim Dine’s The Yellow Painting asks us to consider whether a human face is necessary for a painting to be considered a portrait. Dine is often associated with the 1960s Pop Art movement because he frequently incorporated common everyday objects into his work. Unlike many Pop artists, however, Dine developed a personal, symbolic language over the years and his work frequently makes autobiographical references. In The Yellow Painting, Dine affixes his own tools—including bolt-cutters, pliers, and brushes—to the canvas, implying that these instruments might stand in for himself.

[Jim Dine was born in 1935 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He studied art at the Boston School of
Applied Arts and received a BFA from Ohio University. He moved to New York in 1959 and was soon involved with the artists who were moving away from abstract impressionism and moving toward the creation of Pop Art. But Dine’s work is far more personal than that of most Pop artists. As a child Dine was fascinated with the racks of tools in his family’s hardware store, and these tools became a frequent personal motif in his work, along with artists’ tools and domestic objects. In The Yellow Painting in this show we see (maybe) bolt cutters, a monkey wrench, a kitchen knife, pliers, a stencil brush. Is it a self-portrait? A reviewer on Encarta states: “Dine’s tool drawings from the 70s are among his most subtle, characteristic and moving images.”

Dine’s body of work includes drawing, painting, sculpture, ‘happenings’, collage and assemblage.] –KD

Ask guests to think about portraits (or self portraits) for a moment. What do they think? Can a group of objects such as a number of tools stand in for the portrait of a person and still be considered a portrait?

Ask guests to consider what they would include in a self-portrait to represent themselves in a way similar to how Dine has done so in The Yellow Painting.

Sam Taylor-Wood
British artist Sam Taylor-Wood looks to Bram Stoker’s 1897 Victorian novel Dracula as inspiration for this series of self-portraits. In these photographs, Taylor-Wood presents herself in a range of poses that refer to a scene in the novel when Lucy—Dracula’s young, barely-clothed victim—is left alone on a chair as the vampire’s silhouette flees the room.

In Taylor-Wood’s images, Dracula’s silhouette is nowhere to be seen—not even his chair casts a shadow. Rather, we see a young woman who has been liberated from the constraints of Victorian society and enjoys unrestrained freedom. Her prominent shadow suggests that she has control of the situation.

[Sam Taylor-Wood was born in London in 1967. She is known as a Conceptual artist, a photographer, a singer, and a creator of multi-screen video works. White Cube, the gallery that represents her, had the following statement about these photographs, which they referred to as self-portraits: The Bram Stoker’s Chair series are “...conscious acts of self-iconoclasm in which the artist’s face (and fame) is obliterated, either by being draped with her hair or else masked by a trailing arm. These mark a departure from the trials of the emotional self towards physical trials of the body.”

“Taylor-Wood’s Bram Stoker’s Chair is so called because the chair in question, which magically supports her contortions in each photograph, casts no shadow. She has been trussed up by a bondage expert in constrictive harnesses and hung from wires attached to the ceiling for hours on end while performing her poses. The final images of seemingly effortless acrobatics were heavily doctored using computer manipulation, releasing her body from the bondage and supporting cables to float freely in midair.”] –KD

Shirin Neshat
For Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat, who now lives and works in New York City, photography is a medium that allows her to explore Islamic traditions, gender roles, and the complexities of the contemporary Muslim world. Neshat’s work is concerned with the opposition that exists between man and woman in traditional Islamic society. In her large-scale arresting portraits, she demystifies Islamic women by unveiling their faces and presenting them as self-assured, dignified individuals.

[Shirin Neshat was born in 1957 in pre-revolutionary Iran. Her parents prided themselves on being ‘Westernized’ and encouraged their daughters to go out into the world. Neshat studied in Los Angeles, at Dominican College in the San Francisco Bay Area, and received her MFA from UC Berkeley.

Neshat works as a photographer and video artist. She draws upon her conflicting feelings and nostalgia for her Iranian heritage as she explores Islam and gender roles. She is best known for her Women of Allah series—stunning, huge photographs of traditionally garbed Iranian women with flowing Persian calligraphy overlaying their faces. Her videos, often on two screens with the viewer standing between them, have won awards world-wide and caused controversy in conservative Islamic societies.]

John Baldessari
John Baldessari is a conceptual artist who has spent his career challenging the highly theoretical orientation of Conceptual art. In many ways he can be compared to Ed Ruscha—they share a low-key sense of humor—taking the seriousness out of the holy grail of Conceptualism. He is also compared to the French Dadaist Duchamp, as he uses his own art to question the nature of art itself. Duchamp believed that art should appeal to the intellect rather than the senses. His “readymades” were ordinary objects turned into art objects, e.g. The Fountain.

For Baldessari, the qualities of photographs have little was an art object but is a convenient mechanical tool. However in spite of this, he has been a great mentor and teacher in Southern California helping to emphasize a concern for content over a concern for pictorial issues.

In Perrier with Figures we see three images, a green bottle (Perrier), a larger and central image of a couple with their faces blocked out by circles, and a third image of a couple interacting with each other as in conversation. The piece begs the question. Why is this piece in a Portrait exhibit? Why are the faces blocked out? Is this a portrait or is it asking us, as the viewers, to look deeper into the meaning and the relationship between the three images. Or is it just Baldessari having a little fun at our expense? –JN

Ask guests to consider how Neshat depicts the people in her photographs. What do the photographs convey about the people she chooses to photograph?

Ask guests to consider how Neshat’s photographs might challenge conventional images of Iranian cultures prominent in western media?

Explain that Her work refers to the social, cultural and religious codes of Muslim societies and the complexity of certain dichotomies, such as man and woman. Neshat often emphasizes this theme with the technique of showing two or more coordinated films concurrently, creating stark visual contrasts through such motifs as light and dark, black and white, male and female.

Explain that Neshat tries to address the social, political and psychological dimensions of women's experience in contemporary Islamic societies. Although Neshat actively resists stereotypical representations of Islam, her artistic objectives are not explicitly polemical. Rather, her work recognizes the complex intellectual and religious forces shaping the identity of Muslim women throughout the world.

Additional Tour/Discussion Suggestions
• Explain that Close began his career shortly after graduating from the Yale University art department, an important influence on his development as an artist in the mid-1960s.

• Explain that Close’s first major work, Big Nude, 1964, was an enormous full-length portrait of a nude female model. Close was unhappy with the result, and focused his efforts on tightly cropped faces, or “heads” as he calls them himself.

Explain that Close is very interested in the tension between the order of the grid system he uses to paint his large canvases and the organic shapes of his sitters.

Explain that Close admired the work of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Franz Kline.

Explain that a ruptured artery within his spinal column led to his permanent paralysis in 1988.

Ask guests to look at the large painting called James. Ask guests to consider how they think Close painted it.

Explain that, as in many of his paintings, prints, and drawings, James is created from a photographic “maquette,” an image over which Close creates a grid that eventually helps him to transfer the image to a much larger surface.

Explain to guests the Jacquard tapestries are computer-guided textile weavings that depict images taken from digital image files based on daguerreotypes Close has made of his friends and peers.

“Painting is the most magical of mediums. The transcendence is truly amazing to me every time I go to a museum and I see how somebody figured another way to rub colored dirt on a flat surface and make space where there is no space or make you think of a life experience.”
--Chuck Close

Friday, April 3, 2009

Frank Stella, "Agua Caliente"


Agua Caliente
Print, Silkscreen, 1972

Frank Stella is one of America’s leading contemporary artists. He was a pioneer of the Minimalist art movement of the 1960s, a type of art that stressed the reduction of the image to its most basic elements of color, shape, and design. Minimalists strove to create artwork that was devoid of symbolism, representation, or opinion. Stella is famous for saying “What you see is what you get”. In the 1970s he deviated from Minimalist designs to incorporate sculpture as a third dimension in his work. By the 1990s he had progressed toward more complex imagery, creating elaborate, vivid works that paid homage to his extensive cultural and literary knowledge.. Stella’s abstract prints in lithography, screen printing, etching, and offset lithography ( a technique he introduced) have had a strong impact on printmaking as art.

Frank Stella was born in Malden, Mass, in 1936. He studied painting at the Phillips Academy in Andover and later at Princeton University. He moved to New York City in 1958 and has spent most of his life living and working in the city, though his art projects have taken him around the globe. He has done large scale outdoor sculpture, mural projects, and has done architectural designs for pavilions and museums. He did set design for dancer Merce Cunningham for the musical Pajama Game. He is a printmaker of the subjects and styles of his paintings. His series called “Indian Bird” is derived from one of his favorite pastimes, bird watching. He has won numerous awards, grants, and honors and has taught and lectured at universities and museums in America and abroad. Never one to rest on his laurels, Frank Stella is constantly evolving, changing, and responding to the world around him.

This biographical information is from several internet sites including AskART, Art Cellar Exchange, MetroArtWork, Hollis Taggart Galleries and

Submitted by Lois Smalley

Hans Meyer-Kassel, "Nevada Landscape"


Nevada Landscape
Oil on canvas, 1945

From the Nevada Historical Quarterly, by Jeff Nicholson:

"Hans Meyer-Kassel, a native of Germany, arrived in Nevada in 1937 at the age of 65. Prior to his moving to Nevada, he had enjoyed success and honors as an artist in Germany and had exhibited throughout Europe. Born Hans Meyer in 1872, he studied art at the University of Munich, choosing portraiture as his field of art. At the age of nineteen he was already welcoming clients to his first professional studio and received many important commissions in the years following. He became a professor at Germany’s Royal Academy of Art and was a founding member of the International Art Society of Munich. In recognition of his early achievements, his native city, following longstanding tradition, bestowed upon him the high honor of adding its name, Kassel, to his."

"A classically trained and accomplished painter, Meyer-Kassel produced a steady stream of landscapes, still lifes, nautical scenes, and portraits. In Nevada he had studios in Genoa, Reno, and Carson City. During the 1940s he did portraits of four of Nevada’s past governors as well as several Nevada dignitaries. Working in oils, pastels and tempera, he was a prolific artist and many of his works are in public and private collections throughout Nevada. Hans Meyer-Kassel maintained his vigorous painting until the last day of his life in 1952, when he simply laid down his brushes for an afternoon nap and never awoke."

Robert Swain Gifford, "Landscape with Cattle"


Landscape with Cattle
Etching, 1888

Robert Swain Gifford was born in 1840 on Naushon Island, Massachusetts. He studied art with a Dutch artist, Albert Van Beest, in Bedford. In the early 1860s he had studios in New York and Massachusetts. By 1866 he had made New York City his permanent home, although he returned regularly to Massachusetts and other parts of New England to sketch and paint. In 1869 he traveled and sketched extensively in the Western States. In 1870 he began a series of trips to Europe and the Middle East. He was especially taken with the work of the Barbizon artists, especially those whose work he saw on a trip to Marseilles. Peter Bermingham in American Art in the Barbizon Mood, (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975) notes the change in Gifford’s style as a result of that exposure to the different palettes of some European artists: “...after that his style evolved from an overblown romanticism, stark, simpler compositions, wide spacious vistas, and, most typically, a cold, somber mood drawn from the barren dunes and rugged cedars of the New England coast.”

In 1877 Gifford began teaching at Cooper Union School in New York City. He remained there for thirty years, the last nine years as director. He helped establish the New York Etching Club in 1877 and was a founding member of the American Society of Painters in Watercolors. He won medals at Expositions in Philadelphia, Buffalo, Charleston, and Paris. He was a friend of Thomas and Mary Moran, both accomplished etchers. His work is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He died in New York City in 1905.

-- Kathleen Durham

Harold Joe Waldrum, "Morning Light"


Morning Light
Aquatint etching, 1991

Joe Waldrum is best known for his paintings, aquatint etchings, and linocuts of the adobe churches and mud-hewn moradas of New Mexico. His color-saturated paintings have minimal lines, but he has mastered the use of light and shadow to portray these sacred places. For several years Waldrum made his “window series:, which were works with the “painting as a window” type of composition. Just as Matisse, Magritte, and other artists have been drawn to that format, so was Waldrum. The churches of New Mexico proved to be a passionate subject for him as he depicted the spiritual and mysterious aspects of these earthy structures in his works.

Harold Joe Waldrum was born in Savoy, Texas on August 23, 1934. He earned a college degree in music from Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, and a master’s degree in studio painting from Fort Hays State College in Kansas. Waldrum taught art and music in the public schools of Kansas for sixteen years. In 1970 he moved to the hill country of Texas and then in 1971 to Santa Fe, New Mexico. After he killed a man during a break-in in his studio, Waldrum moved to New York for a time to escape the man’s angry relatives. By 1979 he had returned to New Mexico and began painting the churches. He lived on a remote ranch and raised mules. In 1994 Waldrum had a book published with provocative essays, photographs of his “Mountain Ranch” mules, and color reproductions of his work. Joe Waldrum died in 2003 in his beloved New Mexico.

Quotes from the artist:
“There is a beautiful place in the United States of America. It is in northern New Mexico between the two mountain ranges. This place is called “The Cradle”. Its people, the land, and its elements are special and peculiar. I find the genius of this place reflected in the churches”.

“When my analyst in New York identified me as socially schizophrenic, I felt better knowing that my malady had a name; and when I first saw the mountain range of the thieves...I felt better knowing there was a place for the socially schizophrenic to live.”

This information compiled from articles from Artspace Quarterly, the online gallery of Rio Bravo Fine Arts, and the online archives of AskART.

-- Lois Smalley

Harold Lukens Doolittle, Morning in Yosemite


Morning in Yosemite
Aquatint (no date)

Harold Doolittle (1883-1974) was an etcher, furniture maker, and civil engineer from Southern California. Though he worked in all the graphic processes including photography and collotype, he is most known for his beautiful aquatints. Doolittle was an inventive man who built his own press and mezzotint rocker, and preferred to make his own linen paper.

Doolittle was born in Pasadena and studied at Cornell University and Throop Polytechnic Institute, now known as Caltech. He worked for many years as chief design engineer for the Southern California Edison Company.

He served as President of the California Print Makers in the 1940s and 1950s. Other memberships that he held included Pasadena Society of Artists, Society of American Graphic Artists, and several chapters of the Society of Etchers. Doolittle is represented in the Library of Congress, California State Library, and public libraries of the cities of New York and Los Angeles.

This biographical info provided online by two galleries representing Doolittle’s works: The Blue Heron Gallery and the Annex Galleries.

--Lois Smalley and Kathleen Durham

William Dassonville, Yosemite Valley


Yosemite Valley
Photograph, Platinum Print, 1906

The following is from the book Dassonville, with a biographical essay by Peter Palmquist.

William Dassonville’s photographic legacy is considerable, including an outstanding body of fine photographs in the pictorialist tradition. During his lifetime his photographs were widely published and he won numerous prizes and honors. He was an innovative craftsman and self-taught chemist, a perfectionist who developed and marketed his own line of photgraphic printing paper: Charcoal Black.

Born in Sacramento, CA, in 1879, William Dassonville was given a camera as a youth and made photos of his friends and relatives. In 1900 he opened a portrait studio in San Francisco, and about that time he joined the California Camera Club. In addition to portraits he did landscapes and seascapes. His favorite areas to photograph included Yosemite, the High Sierra, the Pacific Coast around Monterey and Carmel, and Marin County north of San Francisco. Dassonville exhibited at the San Francisco Photography Salons of 1901, 1902, and 1903. His works traveled the nation with the American Photography Salon. In 1906 the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed his studio and all negatives of his pre-1906 work were lost, but he continued to exhibit his photographs. By 1910 his portrait business had grown and he had many customers of significant financial means. When World War I caused a critical shortage of platinum printing papers which Dassonville’s work depended on, he began to experiment with a silver bromide emulsion to coat high quality paper. This led to his Charcoal Black paper and in 1924 he sold his portrait studio to concentrate on the manufacture and marketing of Charcoal Black. He had good success with this as it was popular with photographers such as Ansel Adams. In 1941, at age 62, Dassonville sold the business. He continued to be active in photography, and worked as a medical photographer at Stanford University’s Hospital in San Francisco. William Dassonville died July 15, 1957, in San Francisco.

-- Lois Smalley

Jeff Nicholson, Sunset Down South


July Down South
Oil on canvas, 1979

Jeff Nicholson has been painting landscapes for 35 years, working primarily in oil and watercolor, making art that captures the beauty of Nevada and the Great Basin. He has been described as the “consummate Nevada realist painter”, and his works are in several permanent collections, including the Nevada Museum of Art, the University of Nevada Reno, and the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.

Nicholson was born in 1947 in Arcata, moved to Reno in 1962, and graduated from Reno High School in 1966. He attended the University of Nevada Reno, completing his studies there in 1978. Nicholson has been involved in art-related employment for many years; he served as a draughtsman in the U.S. Army in the Panama Canal Zone (1967-68), and has worked as a commercial silkscreener and layout artist. He has taught art at Truckee Meadows College and is founder and co-owner of Great Basin Gallery in Carson City. Over the years his art has been exhibited at several Reno and Carson City galleries, and the Nevada Museum of Art has twice honored him with one-man shows. Nicholson states the inspiration for his art is drawn from noted artists Maynard Dixon, Robert Caples, and Craig Sheppard.

Quote from the Artist (from the late 1970s):

“I’d like to pay tribute to Maynard Dixon, whose works I have studied so intensely. One day I hope it can be said that I accomplished as much in capturing that mystical, spiritual quality of the high desert as he did.”

Biographical information from Scenic and Renown Health Center Online Art Gallery.

--Kathleen Durham and Lois Smalley

Frank de Haven, Sunset Landscape


Sunset Landscape
Oil on canvas, 1910

Frank DeHaven was born in Bluffton, Indiana (date unknown). He came to New York in 1886 and studied with George Henry Smillie. He was one of several artists who painted shoreline scenes on Long Island and in Massachusetts. In his father’s obituary in 1915 there were flowery descriptions of the rest of the family. Frank DeHaven was described as “the well-known landscape painter of New York City”. In another amazing passage the unknown author states: “It is not surprising to find latter-day Hudson River School influences, and an intense Barbizon, or more specifically, Tonalist sensibility in much of DeHaven’s work.” DeHaven was also known as an accomplished violin maker. He and his wife traveled extensively through the United States always searching for new places to paint.

--Kathleen Durham and Lois Smalley

Edwin M. Dawes, Fields of May


Fields of May
Oil on canvas, ca. 1915

Edwin Dawes was born in Boone, Iowa in 1872. He studied art in Pennsylvania with William Lathrop and the New Hope school of American Barbizon painters. He supported himself as a sign painter in Minneapolis for several years, but continued to paint and study art in his spare time. He exhibited with the Minneapolis Artists’ League and his work was shown at the 1913 Chicago Art Institute show.

In 1914 Dawes moved West, traveling and painting in Montana, Arizona, Missouri and Nevada. He worked for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company, painting the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park. He settled in California in 1915, but left frequently to explore mining possibilities in gold and silver. He lived for a time in Fallon and in Reno. Dawes died in Los Angeles in 1945.

--Kathleen Durham and Lois Smalley