Archive | January, 2015

Painting of the Day

14 Jan

Horace Pippin (1888-1946). Domino Players, 1943. Oil on composition board. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Notes from the book The Eye of Duncan Phillips: A Collection in the Making:

The intimate interior setting of Domino Players is characteristic of Pippin. He explored this theme in a series of paintings that shows this kitchen, and a matriarchal figure usually dominates the scene. He drew on memories of his own childhood, of family members and friends at their everyday activities–caring for children, praying, quilting, smoking, playing games–and created a portrait of African-American family life in the era before the Second World War.

Pippin placed two members of his family in the center of activity. The one at the right may represent his mother, Christine, wearing a polka-dotted blouse, while a woman who may be Pippin’s grandmother smokes her pipe and observes the game of dominoes. The dominoes spill toward the family matriarch, a former slave who claimed to have witnessed the hanging of John Brown in 1859. The dominoes build a wall–woman to woman, generation to generation. The boy, perhaps Pippin himself or his younger brother, John, appears lost in contemplation. He is the only male member of this group, placed protectively between two strong women. The cold whites, greys, and blacks of the barren room are complemented by the colors of the quilt and the vibrant reds placed strategically throughout the painting. Visual tension is achieved by the slight tilt of the solid horizontals of the floor and table, even as the strong verticals of the doorway, window frames, and walls reestablish the stability of the picture’s composition and provide a firm vertical support for the figures.

The serenity of the scene and the Sunday evening demeanor are disturbed by the exaggerated size of the sharp open scissors on the blood-red scrap of cloth, the ferocious teethlike flames of the coal fire and even the tongues red flame in the oil lamps. All are presented as disproportionate signs danger as only a child would perceive them.

My comments:

The subject matter of the scene is relaxed and casual on the surface, but, almost like Hopper come to think of it, Pippin changes the picture to give it narrative and emotional depth, a depth which makes viewers aware of the tensions implicit in the scene due to the racial tensions still present in America.

Besides analyzing the symbolism of the painting as the analysis above does quite well, I also enjoy the visual patterns that Pippin created in this painting. The inverse of black and white that takes place between the dominoes and the polka-dot blouse the woman figure on the right side of the table is visually delightful. In fact, the interplay between black and white is a rhythm that carries throughout the composition and leads the eye skillfully to every part of it.

Exhibition Review: “Represent: 200 Years of African-American Art” at the PMA

12 Jan

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Moe Booker. Present Futures, 2006. Mixed media and encaustic on wood panel. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Henry Ossawa Turner. The Annunciation, 1898. Oil on canvas. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Lorna Simpson. C-Ration, 1991. Gelatin silver print. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Description of the Exhibition from the PMA website:

Represent: 200 Years of African American Art highlights selections from the Museum’s exceptional holdings of African American art and celebrates the publication of a catalogue examining the breadth of these noteworthy collections. With work by renowned artists such as Henry Ossawa Tanner, Horace Pippin, Jacob Lawrence, and Carrie Mae Weems, the exhibition showcases a range of subjects, styles, mediums, and traditions. Since the Museum’s acquisition of Tanner’s painting The Annunciation in 1899, its collections of African American art have grown significantly, especially during the last three decades.

From compelling stories to innovative methods, Represent explores the evolving ways in which African American artists have expressed personal, political, and racial identity. It begins with rare examples of fine and decorative arts made in the 1800s by free and enslaved individuals such as a large storage jar by the accomplished potter David Drake. As access to artistic training and opportunities increased, the relationship between creative expression and identity grew more complex and nuanced. In the early twentieth century, artists like William Henry Johnson and Elizabeth Catlett embraced modernism by representing personal experiences or scenes of daily life in vibrant colors and dynamic compositions.

In the exhibition, abstract paintings and sculpture from the 1960s through the 1980s by Barbara Chase-Riboud, Martin Puryear, and others show a desire to balance cultural and artistic identities, challenging the idea that work by African Americans should be viewed in primarily racial terms. By contrast, many artists working in the 1990s and since, Glenn Ligon and Lorna Simpson among them, have used pictures and text to examine the past and make pointed statements about race. Represent culminates by stepping outside historical narrative to present an array of portraits by several generations of artists, from those active over a century ago to those making work today.

My Review:

The artworks above show the range in the PMA’s collection of African-American art, a small portion of which is on display in the Honickman and Berman galleries from January 10th to April 5th, 2015 as an exhibition titled “Represent: 200 Years of African-American Art.” I say small because the wall text that opens the exhibition reveals that the PMA has about 750 works made by over 200 African-American artists in its collection, and I would estimate that less than 50 of these works are actually included in the exhibition. The fact that the PMA chose to have such a small percentage of their African-American artwork on display when this is the first and only time they have had such an exhibit was my first disappointment with the exhibit. This is not to say that this review will be negative overall, but I do have some other questions about the logistical or organizational choices of the exhibit.

The next aspect of the exhibition that surprised me was its location. Right now, there are no other major special exhibitions occurring at the museum. But it appeared that the museum’s special exhibitions galleries, which are located in an optimal location near the West entrance of the museum to the left of the Grand Staircase, are under construction for their upcoming February exhibition of art from the Japanese Kano school. “Represent” is located in galleries that are on the lower floor in a corner of the museum—directly across from the museum store and down the hall from the museum’s restaurant. I am not one to overanalyze certain observations, and I certainly understand the logistical issues with planning where an exhibit will be located. But for their very first and only African-American art exhibit to be so small, and placed in a far, seldom-travelled section of the museum, it felt to me like the PMA did not seize the opportunity to make this an important and significant exhibit in their building. It makes me wonder whether they have a lot of African-American work in their collection that is not museum-worthy, or whether it so happened that this exhibit would open close to the opening date of the Kano school exhibit and so they had to decide which exhibit would be sacrificed to the lesser gallery. Whatever the case may be for why the exhibit was as small as it was and in the location it was, I do think it lost some of the power it had the potential to wield given its size and placement.

As this introduction alludes, I think the exhibition contained some excellent works, two of which I posted above. It is divided, although not clearly, into four sections, which are both thematic and chronological. The first is called “Early America,” which includes the art made by African-Americans in the colonial era of the United States, during which they were, for the most part, enslaved. These artisans/artists were usually trained by their slaveholders in various media, and what they created was based on these slaveholders’ orders. In this section we saw mostly craftwork, including furniture, silverware, and pottery, including a giant storage jar (it was about waist-high) that was actually signed by the slave, David Drake, who made it, who gave himself the nickname “Dave the Potter.” These pieces, as we would expect, did not allow for their makers’ individual artistic expression to come out, but they are educational in what the slaves were trained to make and reveals that they could become highly skilled craftspeople.

The next section is titled “Imagining Modernity,” which advances in time to the early 1900’s, at which time slavery was abolished and African-Americans had more access to education, but still faced racial prejudice. Many artists, such as Henry Ossawa Tanner, went to Paris to work in order to avoid racism in the United States. Tanner’s contribution to the exhibition is his “The Annunciation,” which the PMA purchased the year after he made it, making it the first African-American artwork to enter the PMA’s collection as well as the second acquisition by the PMA of a contemporary artist’s work. Tanner is one of the most masterful artists on display in this exhibition, and his painting transcends context to achieve timeless, universal appeal. To compare this to another depiction of the Annunciation, the very famous 1333 panel by Simone Martini which has been in every art history textbook I’ve ever read, I think Tanner’s version is much better, especially from a Christian standpoint. Since we only have the Bible to get an idea of what Mary was feeling when she found out she would be the mother of Jesus, I think Tanner did a much better job of capturing the moment as described in the text: the fear, bravery, and responsibility that Mary possessed registers in the figure of Mary’s face in the painting so well. The painting is large, but it feels incredibly intimate, with warm, ambient lighting coming solely from the angel Gabriel’s inherent light, and curtains closing off the space between the back of the composition and the front. It truly is a fantastic work, and it is no wonder they included it in the exhibition.

The next section of the exhibition is titled “Abstract Approaches,” and describes a phase of African-American art in the mid-1900’s when African-Americans had more freedom than previous generations. With this newfound freedom, some artists chose not to focus on their black identity and moved towards abstraction. Somewhat confusingly, as the last section of the exhibit states that it covers art of the 2000’s, this section contains a vibrant 2006 painting by Moe Booker titled “Present Futures.” Made of mixed media and encaustic painted on wood panel, this wildly colorful painting is reminiscent of jazz, Kandinsky, and, to me, the symphony “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin. Like the Tanner, this one has nothing to do with the artist’s race, this painting reminds us African-American artists did not always focus on race in their subject matter, as I find art history textbooks typically portray them.

The last section of the exhibit, titled “Past Made Present,” alludes to the re-reading of race issues and the past’s racist depictions/interpretations of African-Americans through humanizing portraiture and emotional, unsettling paintings and sculpture. “C-Ration,” a 1991 gelatin silver print by Lorna Simpson, is an example of a work in the exhibition that combines these two characterizations. Organizationally I think this section of the exhibition suffers a bit, because on one wall there is a cluster of about 20 to 25 artworks which are mostly portraits; their similarity ends there, however. They are all by different artists of different time periods, and they are all clustered so close together in the way that less significant works, such as sketches or studies, are usually grouped in an exhibition. I think several of the works in this cluster were strong enough to deserve their own space on the wall, but I think this was an unfortunate product of the lack of space in these particular galleries.

Overall, I suppose this exhibit was good because it left me wanting to see more of the museum’s African-American collection, but I think it left something to be desired a bit too much. I loved the diversity of the artists’ work, which ranged from beautiful to upsetting. This made me wonder, especially in the context of a race which sadly has been plagued by trouble, what the role of art should be. Is its primary, or best, purpose to be a beautiful image which adds aesthetic greatness to our human fabric? Or does beauty not matter at all, with art’s function instead being a means to make people think, to shake them from their everyday blindness to real issues? This exhibit allows us to see artists answer that question in myriad ways.

Painting of the Day-Hopper’s “Approaching a City”

10 Jan

hopper approaching a city

Edward Hopper. Approaching a City, 1946. Oil on canvas. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Notes (from museum website):

Travel is a recurring theme in Edward Hopper’s art. Actively seeking commonplace subjects, he often gave more significance to the journey than to the destination. “To me,” Hopper wrote, “the most important thing is the sense of going on.” Such is the arrested, lonely feeling of Approaching a City. Characteristically, Hopper did not reveal what lay ahead, and in referring to the work, the painter said he wanted to evoke the “interest, curiosity, (and) fear” that one experiences when entering or leaving a city.

Ultimately, Approaching a City conveys a paradox of contemporary life. The unseen traveler of the image is caught in a curious limbo and isolation between city and country. The railroad made faraway places accessible to ordinary people, but it also made those places less distinctive. Hopper, by asserting the anonymity of the place and not revealing the train’s destination, suggests a future that is at once both predictable and unknown.

Excerpt from interview between Edward Hopper and John Morse conducted on June 17, 1959

J.M.: Mr. Hopper, I’d like to ask you about one particular picture that made a great impression on me when I first saw it at the Whitney exhibition, and still does, although now it’s in the Duncan Phillips Collection in Washington. That’s Approaching a City, and I’m quite sure, or how I could put it into words, the particular appeal of this picture – maybe it’s impossible – but I would like to hear what you have to say about it.

E.H.: Well, I’ve always been interested in approaching a big city in a train, and I can’t exactly describe the sensations, but they’re entirely human and perhaps have nothing to do with aesthetics. There is a certain fear and anxiety and a great visual interest in the things that one sees coming into a great city. I think that’s about all I can say about it.

J.M.: Well, in painting this picture were you aware of these wonderful solid geometric forms that took my eye at once?

E.H.: Well, I suppose I was. I tried for those things more or less unintentionally.

J.M.: Would you go so far as to say it’s almost a subconscious result, effect?

E.H.: Yes, I think so.

J.M.: But what was in your mind when you were painting it, I gather then, was this feeling of approaching a city?

E.H.: Yes.

J.M.: Thank you.

My comments:

Like his paintings, one might surmise from this interview excerpt that Hopper was a simple, concise, yet profound artist. He does not have a technical or formal, academic approach to his painting (at least in this case). Instead, he discusses his artistic process mainly in terms of the feelings he was trying to convey. Even when the interviewer tries to see how intentional Hopper was about the formal construction of the painting, Hopper hesitates to claim being so deliberate in his creation. This adds an interesting wrinkle to the question I always wonder about artists’ intentionality when they create their masterful paintings. In the painting and drawing classes I’ve taken at Swarthmore, we never discuss the feelings we had when painting a particular subject. Instead, we always focused solely on the formal elements of the painting and how we used them: we talked only about light, line, color, space, etc. And I’ve always wondered if this is the way the artists that we admire are thinking about their work as well.

At least using Hopper as an example, it appears this is not always the case. Somehow, Hopper incorporated skillful employments of the formal elements without thinking about that primarily. The feelings that he wished to convey are what primarily guided him through this artistic journey. Assuming that Hopper isn’t simply lucky that this method worked out since he has made hundreds of paintings and drawings at this point, he is truly a talented artist, where the language of painting is so second-nature to him that it happens effortlessly when he paints.

Compared to the painting I posted yesterday which Hopper painted twenty years before, I think this painting certainly shows improvement and maturity over that time span. Whereas the black portions of the painting from yesterday (Sunday) were streaky and allowed bits of the canvas to poke through, the paint application here is smooth and well-distributed. The composition is captivating as well. We don’t need to know what specific city Hopper painted to feel the anxiety and open possibility that Hopper communicated so well through that black tunnel. Of all the ways Hopper could have depicted the anxiety and fear of entering a big city, he choose a simple yet powerful approach that I think works so well. Hopper’s subject matter always sounds  boring on paper, but in its visual realization, it is mesmerizing.

Painting of the Day-Hopper’s “Sunday”

9 Jan

hopper sunday

Edward Hopper. Sunday, 1926. Oil on Canvas. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Notes (from Phillips Collection website):

Sunday is characteristic of Hopper’s vision of twentieth-century America. At first commonplace, his art has unexpected resonance, showing the significant rather than the beautiful. The interplay between particular and generalized components, an ongoing aspect of Hopper’s work, contributes to the work’s vitality, making it at once familiar and unfamiliar.

Hopper’s art conveys the realities of the human condition genuinely and truthfully. Images such as Sunday provided visual form to prevailing states of mind—often of unfulfilled longing or nostalgia—in the United States. Hopper’s most influential teacher, Robert Henri, had already explored subjects inspired by contemporary experience, but Hopper’s work is sharper and tougher than Henri’s. Finding most American Scene art sentimental and obvious, Hopper disliked being identified as a proponent of the movement. By the 1920s, however, his art dealt exclusively with American subjects.

During 1926, the same time in which Sunday was executed, America was experiencing the early effects of the Great Depression. This work illustrates the national anxiety and disillusionment of the later part of the decade. Hopper’s characteristic style reveals the essential isolation of the individual, the troubled relationships and tensions within the environment.

Sunday depicts a spare street scene. In the foreground, a solitary, middle-aged man sits on a sunlit curb, smoking a cigar. Behind him is a row of old wooden buildings, their darkened and shaded windows suggesting stores, perhaps closed for the weekend or permanently. Oblivious to the viewer’s gaze, the man seems remote and passive. His relationship to the nearby buildings is uncertain. Who is he? Is he waiting for the stores to open? When will that occur? Sunlight plays across the forms, but curiously, it lacks warmth. Devoid of energy and drama, Sunday is ambiguous in its story but potent in its impression of inertia and desolation.

Duncan Phillips was the first to point to contrasting content in the work: “The grim scene is just as we remember it, only more so. The light conveys the emotion which is a blend of pleasure and depression—pleasure in the way the notes of yellow, blue-green, gray-violet and tobacco-brown take on a rich intensity in the clear air—and depression induced by this same light and these same colors as we sense them through the boredom of the solitary sitter on the curb…. Hopper defies our preconceptions of the picturesque and unflinchingly accepts the challenge of American subjects which seem almost too far beyond the scope even of the realistic artist’s alchemy.”

My comments:

Hopper has been a recent favorite artist of mine since the exhibition I saw at the Whitney in the summer of 2013. He has such a unique, sharp and defined way of painting (as mentioned in the notes) upon which he only improves in the later years of his artwork. To me, his work shines where his teacher, Robert Henri’s, faltered: its clarity, and its depth which goes beyond simply depicting what he saw in urban America.

This is what makes his paintings so captivating to me. He manages to not only capture the visual tableau of the era in which he painted, but the psychological underpinnings of that era as well. He also masterfully captures the idea of a calm before the storm that would represent this time in 1926, where there were tremors in the economic market that were not enough to cause outward panic, but yet probably gave many Americans that sick feeling of impending doom in the pit of their stomachs. In Sunday, Hopper captures this idea of a calm surface with troubles brewing underneath it by using a mild, bright lighting to the painting as well as a title that suggests it is Sunday, the Sabbath day of rest and leisure for many people. Sundays, at least among the bourgeoisie of then and today, are our lazy days, where some go to church and experience spiritual cleansing, then enjoy the rest of the day with simple pleasures such as brunch, socializing, and frolicking. The brightness of the painting suggests it is a bright, sunny day, completing the image of a gorgeous, relaxing Sunday. The darkness of the storefront isn’t menacing because we know it should be closed because it’s Sunday, and thus the shadows created by the awning above the storefront appear as a cool shadow, separated from the sunniness of Sunday just as business is separate from pleasure.

But then Hopper communicates the sense of uneasiness and anxiety by the composition and figures he uses. There is a lone man sitting on the sidewalk’s curb, with no one else walking the streets around him. The scene feels eerily empty, and we feel the man’s aloneness which feels disquieting. What is he doing there? Why isn’t this man with his family, and why is the street deserted? The lack of answers as to what the man is doing, and the lack of other people, gives the scene an unnerving mystery. His action in the painting is strange and inexplicable, just like the economic climate of 1926. And thus Hopper has taken a simple urban scene and imbued it with psychological and cultural meaning.

Fall 2014: Word and Image in Japanese Art

9 Jan

anthology of poems by 36 poets decorated paper

Anthology of Poems by 36 Poets: Mitsune shu (Right Side). Heian period, 12th c. (ca. 1112). 20.0 x 15.7 cm. Originally 38 books. In the collection of the Honganji Temple, Kyoto, and considered a National Treasure.

Now that I’m officially an Honors Art History major at Swarthmore, I take Honors seminars to prepare for my degree. I have to take three in Art History to complete my degree. One of the seminars I took was Word and Image in Japanese Art last semester. Before this class, the most exposure to Asian art, let alone Japanese art, I had was in summary in the AP Art History class I took in high school. I was excited for the class not because the subject matter was my absolute favorite, but because I knew I was destined to learn quite a lot. The class was great, and was quite challenging to me in that it forced me to look at art with entirely different focuses and goals in mind. The specific theme of the class was how word and image interacted together in a unique way in Japanese art, and that added a whole other dimension of studying the art that does not exist in Western art history. In Japanese art, calligraphy is an art form in and of itself, and it was a serious element to consider in each of the paintings we looked at. The format of the paintings we looked at was also different from what one might be used to in a Western art history class. Instead of studying paintings on canvas or wood, where the surface on which the artwork is painted is completely covered up and almost inconsequential (typically for pre-modern art), in this class we studied paintings on folded screens (which were sometimes taller than people), hanging screens, folded scrolls where sections were revealed incrementally, and on decorated paper. These formats were carefully considered as much as the content of the painting itself.

This was an interesting trend I noticed about the class discussions in how they differed from Western art history classes. The content of the paintings we studied never quite felt like the most important component to understand the artwork and its place in Japan’s art history. That never felt like the focus of our discussions. Instead, the format used for the painting, the poem or text it may have illustrated, its paper decoration, all felt as if they were more important that the painting itself. In other words, it seemed to me as if artworks were considered more of a masterpiece of craft and the product of several workshops, rather than the way they are considered in Western art where the focus is on the artist and his/her depiction of a story or person or subject.

So it was no surprise that the artwork we had to study and research for our final paper would not be approached in the same way we would in a Western art history class. Each person in the class chose a folding screen that depicted one or two chapters of the Tale of Genji, an 11th century novel written by Murasaki Shikibue. Considered to be the most famous Japanese novel, and perhaps even the world’s first novel, the Tale of Genji was incredibly important to Japan’s cultural history. It was illustrated for centuries after it was written; there are even graphic novel versions of the tale. For my final paper, I wrote about a screen in the Seattle Art Museum’s collection that depicts chapters 33 and 35 of the tale. The link is here: Tale of Genji Final Paper

After this post, we will be up to date with my coursework. So tomorrow I will have a painting of the day and discuss some of the ideas I have for the blog next year.

Class at the University of Pennsylvania: Intro to Museum Studies

7 Jan

Sun, Moon, and Five Peaks, 19th century Korea. Private Collection.

In the spring semester of 2014 I took another art history class, but this one was at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Due to an agreement between Swarthmore and UPenn, students from either school can take classes at the other institution, with an equal transfer of credits and travel expenses reimbursed. I was very curious to take a class at a university completely different from Swarthmore in almost every way one could imagine, and so I took advantage of the opportunity when I found UPenn offering this Museum studies class last spring.

The class was excellent, and took an approach unlike the one I’m used to at Swarthmore. Whereas at my school the classes have pretty much always been theoretical and philosophical in nature, focused on conceptual knowledge of a subject rather than practical, this class at UPenn was incredibly practical and literal. I am so glad that I took the class because it gave me the chance to understand museums from the perspective of those whose job it is to make museums the best they can be and to generate the most visitors. We got to meet with curators and directors from museums and galleries all over Philadelphia given our convenient location in the city, including from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, UPenn’s Institute of Contemporary Art, UPenn’s Penn Museum of Art and Archaeology, and a couple more. The class was taught by a married couple who had curatorial experience themselves, which also made the experience enriching.

One of my favorite parts of the class were the papers we were assigned to write. The more art history classes I take at Swarthmore, the more I realize how much I love research papers, and the process of research and learning so much about a topic so that one can write an argument about it at considerable length. For this class, we had to write a 6 page paper reviewing a current exhibition in Philadelphia of our choice out of a selection of 4 or 5, and then a 10-15 page final paper discussing how a museum dealt with a major issue in relatively modern times. For the review paper, I wrote about the PMA’s Spring 2014 exhibition “Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392-1910.” The paper has no images unfortunately, and they are hard to find unless you have the exhibition catalogue, but the image above is one of the screens that were in the exhibition. I did enjoy the exhibition very much, although I found some flaws in the organization of the themes. The paper is here: Treasures from Korea review.

For the final paper, which was to discuss how a museum dealt with a major issue in at least somewhat recent times, I was very excited because I knew immediately what my topic would be. When I sat in on Swarthmore’s Contemporary Art History class as a prospective student way back in 2011, they were discussing the Brooklyn Museum of Art controversy in 1999 over their exhibit “Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection.” While the exhibition had been controversial for a different artwork when it was first shown at the Royal Academy in London, in Brooklyn it was controversial for it painting The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili. Considered religiously offensive by then-mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, he tried to withdraw the museum’s city funding for showing something that might be offensive to a portion of the taxpayers who were forced to financially support it. From that moment when I had learned about it, I found the controversy fascinating in the questions it brought up about freedom of speech, and how this changes when that speech is publicly funded. Do artists still have the right to full artistic freedom even if their funding comes from the public, who do not get to decide who they fund? What should be the extent of the relationship between the arts and the state? And what is the art museum’s purpose when it comes to what kind of art it displays?

I never believed this controversy to be as black and white as it sounds on the surface, and I realized how complicated it was the more I got to learn about it. While the assignment was not to take a position in the paper, if I were to take a position about it, I would say that it simply becomes too dangerous to strike down funding for a museum based on artwork it displays that is perceived to be offensive. This kind of reasoning allows cities to prevent artists who call attention to a leader’s corruption or a government system’s dysfunction from ever showing their work in a publicly funded museum, which can include many major museums. I believe that funding art museums is a worthy use of a city budget, and I think that if a government agrees with this, then they should be prepared for whatever the museum will do with that funding, in terms of what kind of art they choose to show. I certainly do not enjoy art that is anti-Christian, anti-America, or any spectrum of art that mocks the values and principles I personally hold dear. But if I want to make sure the art I like is always allowed to be displayed, then it is only fair to support the perpetual freedom of display of the art I hate. Now it is true that controversial artists could stick to private institutions who have no sort of restrictions if they want no problems displaying their art. And furthermore, while a museum has every right to display whatever art they choose, artists do not have the right to get their art displayed wherever they want because that is the museum’s prerogative. But since government funding is often essential for museums to stay open given the dwindling donor pool and the lack of the general public’s interest in paying for something educational as entertainment, I do not think it is ok for governments to restrict funding based on what a museum shows.

But anyway, here is my final paper which is a comprehensive analysis of a variety of perspectives on the controversy, including the museum, Giuliani, legal scholars, art critics, and surveys of the public:

Final Paper

Spring 2014: American Art and the Armory Show

6 Jan

George Bellows. Stag at Sharkey’s, 1909. Cleveland Museum of Art.

One of my favorite courses of all time, I took American Art and the Armory Show in the spring of my sophomore year. In honor of the 100-year anniversary of the Armory Show, Swarthmore offered this class for the first time, and it was a fantastic class. It is partly responsible for my interest in early 20th century American art, and particularly that of the Ashcan school as well as those American painters who captured urban life in the early 1900’s of the United States. For this class I wrote my longest paper ever, a 20-page paper on the boxing paintings of George Bellows. The link is here: Final Paper

While you will know this is you read the paper, what I argued is that the common argument that there is homoeroticism as an undertone in Bellows’ boxing paintings is actually grasping at straws. There is no evidence of homosexuality in Bellows’ life, nor an interest in homosexual subjects. To show how the homoerotic argument is exaggerated, I compare Bellows’ paintings to those of John Sloan and Charles Demuth, who I believe are truly voyeuristic and/or homoerotic painters. These qualities in them are backed up by interviews, diary entries, and the actual content of their artwork, whereas for Bellows, none of these supporting materials exist.

Looking back on the paper and my argument, I could see the counterargument perhaps being that it does nothing for my argument to compare Bellows to Sloan and Demuth. They are three totally different artists, and just because there is more research for Sloan and Demuth on the topics of voyeurism/homoeroticism, that does not at all affect the validity of suggesting homoeroticism in Bellows. While I agree with this statement, I believe that this is not the purpose that the comparisons I make serve in my paper. Instead, what the comparisons do is make a comment about research and using research to suggest attributes about an artist or his/her work. I came across the homoerotic argument for Bellows’ many times, and it seemed to be widely accepted, yet only for the reason that it could be plausible. It was never based on biographical or historical hard evidence. I used the research on Sloan and Demuth as well as visual analysis of their artworks to show that if Bellows were homoerotic/voyeuristic, there are things one could look for to cement that supposition. The juxtaposition of Bellows and Sloan and Demuth highlights the lack of support for the surprisingly common idea of Bellow’s homoeroticism.

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