UAG

  •  

    Local Collectors and Global Gestures

    Author: Alex Taylor

    Assistant Professor and Academic Curator, History of Art and Architecture

    In a new collection display at the University Art Gallery (UAG), Pitt graduate students Emi Finkelstein, Rebecca Giordano, Adriana Miramontes, and Brooke Wyatt conducted object research on a group of abstract paintings from the late 1950s and early 1960s by artists from Britain, Japan, India, Italy and Venezuela. The result is an exhibition titled Global Gestures: Post-war Abstraction from the Lowenthal Collection, open until March 21, 2019.

    These works were all donated to the UAG in the 1980s by Oakland-based collectors Anne and Alexander Lowenthal and their children. The Lowenthals were actively involved in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community and enthusiastic art collectors, purchasing works from the Carnegie International and on their travels around the world. In addition to their donations to the University Art Gallery, their collection was also donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery in Washington, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

    Their eclectic collection included eighteenth-century furniture, nineteenth-century French prints, Persian ceramics and twentieth-century paintings such as those included in the exhibition.“It’s more than collecting pieces or donating,” Anne Lowenthal once told an interviewer, “it’s important to us because this leads to a global vision." The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) records held by the University Library System includes oral history interviews with both Alexander and Anne Lowenthal that explore their diverse cultural interests.

    The works that the Lowenthals donated to the UAG exemplify just such a global vision. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Painting (1959) by Indian modernist painter V.S. Gaitonde (1921-2001) which was cleaned and treated by Rikke Foulke Fine Art Conservation for the occasion. Gaitonde’s was the subject of a major retrospective V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2015, and was recently featured in The Asia Society’s exhibition The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India.

    As Giordano explains in her label on Gaitonde’s work, his is a “modernist painting that is no mere imitation of western modes, instead pursuing hybrid forms that engaged with the crises and questions of India’s newly post-colonial society.” Japanese abstraction too had, as Wyatt uses the work of Hiroshi Kunimata to explain, “emerged from a repressive wartime climate into a period of intense activity.” Across all of the works in the exhibition, the political entanglements of post-war abstraction emerge as a persistent thread.

    The social resonances of these paintings are further revealed by the titles of several works that exploit the boundaries between abstraction and figurative content. In her account of Saroni’s work, Finkelstein notes how the Sergio Saroni’s Natura Morta di Carne uses a thick impasto to suggest the “tactile, visceral effect” of its titular subject, while Bernard Farmer’s Meridian deploys sharp linear and curved forms to suggest the ‘divisions in time and space’ marked by the prime meridian at Greenwich.

    Other works point towards the engagement of their makers with the broader expansions of avant-garde practice in the post-war decades. In Alberto Collie’s Spatial Rhythm #7, for example, Miramontes connects its formal expansion beyond the limits of the frame to the artist’s own ‘floating sculptures’ and more broadly, to the embrace of space, light and motion by many Latin American artists of the period.

    Global Gestures: Post-war Abstraction from the Lowenthal Collection is open until March 21, 2019.

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    Mapping Mobility in the UAG

    Author: Ellen Larson

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and University Art Gallery graduate fellow

    As University Art Gallery (UAG) graduate fellow, I am collaborating with HAA Professor Michelle McCoy, along with five undergraduate students on a pop-up exhibition to take place in the UAG mid-March. This exhibition supplements Professor McCoy’s HAA 1010: Approaches to Art History undergraduate course, focusing on Chinese art objects within the UAG collection. Students selected Chinese work, as a means of initiating in-depth original research on themes and ideas related to the art objects themselves or broadly connected to socio-cultural contexts from which these materials emerge. 

    In my role as a curator and mentor to undergraduate students, I am working with the class to conceive a short-term exhibition that presents these objects as portable agents of culture, whose value lies not only within the realm of connoisseurship and museum collecting, but also as transient catalysts of new knowledge activated through their physical positions within an exhibition-setting. Rather than uncovering specific temporal histories, the exhibition seeks to extend spatial and thematic connections between works centered upon mobility and exchange. 

    Selected artworks include ink paintings by Chinese master painter, modern nomad, and notorious forger Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). Following the Communist takeover and subsequent establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the Mainland in 1949, Zhang Daqian traveled to Macau, Argentina, Brazil, and Carmel, California, before settling in Taipei in 1978. Other featured works include rubbings depicting seventh-century Buddhist monk Xuanzang, whose travels led him to regions throughout central Asia including parts of modern India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Xuanzang’s writings inspired the sixteenth-century Chinese classic novel Journey to the West. Additional objects include a selection of Chinese snuff bottles, whose aesthetic utilitarianism is juxtaposed with the non-utilitarianism of a ritual ceramic vessel displaying the abstracted character , meaning “good fortune.” This object references a common practice of pasting the upside-down character  in one’s doorway, allowing good fortune to descend upon the dwelling, as the words for “upside-down” and “to arrive” are homophonous. This is further suggested by the same Chinese term, which indicates the performative action of pouring liquid from a vessel. While the selection of snuff bottles and  ritual vessel are commodity objects, the latter serves as a striking example of totality found within the context of written language, material objects, and ritual practice. 

    Echoing the words of Susan Stewart, this particular presentation of objects replaces the notion of origin with classification, presenting “temporality as a spatial and material phenomenon.” [1] In addition to displacing one’s understanding of time, the collection’s relational organization highlights the exhibition’s function as a three-dimensional map into which gallery visitors are invited to physically enter. These objects represent points of exchange and connection; concealed and revealed only through their spatial relationships to each other. Thus, new knowledge is produced through space, and is further activated through the creation of multiple networks that traverse and transition from Pittsburgh to China, and beyond. 

    [1] Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1984), 153. 

     

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    Figure 1

     

    The Clapp Drawings and “Object-Based Research”

    Author: Christopher Nygren

    Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and Director, Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program

    In 1941, the University of Pittsburgh purchased an album containing about 300 old master drawings from George Hubbard Clapp. Clapp graduated from Pitt in 1877 and went on to make a fortune in the aluminum industry as the founder of Alcoa. He also served as the chairman of Pitt’s Board of Trustees for more than 40 years before his death in 1949 (Clapp Hall was built and named in honor of G.H. Clapp shortly after his death). How exactly he came into possession of these drawings remains unclear. All we know is that they entered the University’s collection of art in 1941 and became one of the foundation stones of the University Art Gallery (UAG). 

    I have been intrigued by the Clapp drawings since I first arrived at Pitt in the fall of 2014. Over the last year or so I’ve been spending a great deal of time looking at them in preparation for an undergraduate museum studies seminar that I am currently teaching in which students engage in hands-on, object-based study of these drawings in preparation for their exhibition next fall. This is part of the revised exhibition seminar schedule, which now spans two semesters and allows us to undertake more challenging topics that require prolonged research (This is Not Ideal was the first manifestation of this new approach and shows the wisdom of the extended production schedule). 

    With my class, I’m trying to answer a few very basic questions: who made these drawings? When? Where? Why were they brought together into a large, leather-bound volume? Was there a logic to the way that the drawings were collected and ordered in the volume? 

    In the early modern period, it was fairly common to bring disparate drawings by many different artists into a single volume. Giorgio Vasari had a collection of drawings that he described in his Lives of the Artists (and about which Erwin Panofsky has written an important essay). Perhaps the most famous collector of drawings is Padre Sebastiano Resta (1635-1714), whose collection habits have been studied by studied by Genevieve Warwick and others. One thing that distinguishes our album from many of comparable exemplars in European collections is that our album has been thoroughly deconstructed. Every page was removed from the volume so that we now have nothing but an empty leather binding. Additionally, most of the drawings have been cut off the pages to which they were pasted, sometimes in acts of aesthetic violence that border on vandalism – you can see in figure 1 how someone has used a razorblade to slice through the thick pages of the album to which it had been affixed. This makes the drawings incredibly fragile; they can easily be torn and damaged. However, if we are extremely careful to ensure the safety of the drawings, we can use a number of non-invasive techniques to come to a better understanding of the drawings in order to reveal when and where they were made.

    Pre-modern paper is much robust than the sort of paper we are used to using in everyday life around the university. Paper was made from linen rags which were soaked in an acid bath (often human urine) and then beaten into a pulp. That pulp was laid onto a wire mesh that gave the paper its shape and size. In the fourteenth or fifteenth century, Italian papermakers began affixing to this mesh small emblems crafted out of extremely fine wire thread; each papermaker developed his own emblem which was then “impressed” into paper and became visible only when examined against backlight (figure 2). Watermarks can help us determine when and where paper was made and thereby offer us a firm “post quem” (or “date after which”) for the drawings in our collection. Since our drawings have been removed from their backing album pages, it is quite easy to inspect for watermarks by laying the drawings on a light table (figure 3). It should be remembered that watermarks were quite small and isolated in one corner of a large, royal sheet of paper, meaning that if the sheet were cut up into, say, four or five sheets around 8.5x11 inches only one of those sheets would bear the watermark. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is rare to have a watermark in a drawing, but they are scarce enough that scholars get excited when they see one. A surprising number of our drawings have visible watermarks. In the fall of 2018 Randy Coleman, a specialist in early modern drawings from the University of Notre Dame, came to Pitt to help us work through the collection and determine a course of action for the exhibition (figure 4). He noted that our collection had a higher concentration of watermarks than he’d ever seen. My hope is that my students will be able to use the watermarks to help us determine when and where the drawings were made. Our working hypothesis is that the drawings are mainly Florentine of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We’ll see if the material evidence bears that out. 

    However, the course also tackles the much broader and more fundamental question: How do art historians undertake “object-based research”? Because the exhibition will be finalized by students in the fall of 2019, our goal is to leave them with an abundance of object-based research that will allow them to put together a show that reveals interesting things about the Clapp drawings, their history in the UAG, and how they fit into the broader history of collecting in Pittsburgh, among other things. This means asking the obvious questions of “who?” and “when?” but it also means probing more about the collection as a whole. What is the overall quality of the collection? What about its condition? Are there any parts of this collection that cannot be safely displayed? We also want to ask some other, less traditional questions, like: how do the constraints imposed on us by studying the Clapp drawings seemingly limit the sort of questions we might ask and are there any ways we can work against those constraints? Whose voices/bodies/experiences are elided when we study such a collection of old master drawings and are there any ways to compensate for those gaps/silences while still respecting our objects of study? Are there any works within the Clapp collection that might help us illuminate those gaps? Are there other resources in the UAG and ULS collections that can do some of that work for us? 

    Our initial findings suggest that the collection is extremely uneven in its quality. Certain works, like this profile head of a man wearing a turban (figure 5) are extremely refined and delicate in their execution. The cross-hatching used to demarcate the contour of the figure marks this as one of the oldest drawings in the collection and makes it perhaps my personal favorite. Another work of extremely high quality is this God the Father from a large composition probably showing the Coronation of the Virgin executed on paper that has been prepared with a blue ground, which gives the white highlight extra pop against the background (figure 6). Many of the drawings are much more pedestrian in their execution. However, our goal is not to simply exhibit the “fine” drawings but rather to exhibition the knowledge that we have produced by engaging in object-based research. Thus, over the course of the semester we will be discovering ways to group the drawings, both fine and pedestrian exemplars, in ways that reveal something fundamental about the practice of drawing in early modern art, the history of collecting drawings, and the history of the UAG. I honestly do not know exactly what we’ll discover, but that is the joy of engaging in object-based research with our students! Stay tuned for more. 

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    Visitas guiadas en español en la UAG

     

    Cruzando las fronteras del lenguaje en la Galería de Arte de la Universidad

    *You can read this text in English below the Spanish version 

    Autora: Adriana Miramontes, estudiante de doctorado en HAA

    ¿Cómo puede la Galería de Arte de la Universidad (UAG) relacionarse con más audiencias e incrementar su presencia y visibilidad en la universidad y en la comunidad? Este semestre de otoño y como parte de una iniciativa de alcance y de programas educativos, más de 110 estudiantes del Departamento de Lingüísticas y Literaturas Hispanas de Pitt visitaron la Galería de Arte de la universidad. De estos estudiantes, el noventa y dos por ciento declaró en encuestas que esta había sido su primera visita. Uno de estos estudiantes escribió: “fue una experiencia que probablemente yo no hubiera recibido si no estuviera en esta clase. Fui sacado de mi zona de confort.”

    Los estudiantes registrados en Español Intermedio 3, Español Intermedio 4 y Conversación participaron en visitas guiadas en la galería de arte y las exhibiciones Desempacado: exposición de ex-alumnos del 50 aniversario Esto no es lo ideal: mitos de género y su transformación. Todas las visitas guiadas fueron llevadas a cabo en español e incluyeron un breve recorrido del claustro y un análisis más profundo del arte contemporáneo y de las exposiciones temporales. Además de incluir la discusión de temas vigentes relacionados con el cuerpo, la cultura popular, el tiempo, la identidad de género y violencia de género, el objetivo de estos recorridos es crear espacios alternativos en donde se pueda practicar la diferencia y donde la diversidad pueda ser celebrada. Como mujer mexicana que aspira a ser profesora en los Estados Unidos, afirmar el valor de la diferencia cultural en las aulas en un asunto de gran importancia para mí.    

    En los trece años que llevo estudiando y trabajando en los Estados Unidos esta es la primera vez que interactúo con estudiantes con conversaciones en español dentro de un espacio académico. Antes de mudarme a Pittsburgh yo vivía en Texas en donde el español es comúnmente hablado y es un factor importante de la vida local cultural; sin embargo, aquí en Pensilvania, en donde la población Hispana o Latina es mucho menor, el comunicarse en español ya no es parte de mi vida diaria. [1] Regularmente mis conversaciones en español ocurren únicamente con mis colegas del Departamento de Historia del Arte y Arquitectura. Esto es especialmente cierto ahora, en esta época en la que los mexicanos somos frecuentemente difamados por el presidente Trump. En el clima político presente, debo admitir que ha sido tanto desafiante como intimidante el expresar mi lengua y cultura. En este contexto, la galería y las visitas guiadas me han provisto del valor y el espacio necesarios para interactuar en mi idioma natal con gente que proviene de una gran variedad de ambientes y de diferentes disciplinas académicas dentro de la universidad. La UAG me ha proporcionado un “espacio seguro” en donde puedo interactuar con otros y orgullosamente presentar mi idioma. Por consiguiente, mis interacciones con estudiantes del Departamento de Lingüísticas y Literaturas Hispanas han sido no solamente revitalizantes e instructivas, sino también personalmente gratificantes.   

    En estas visitas guiadas de 50 minutos los estudiantes participan en conversaciones, contestan preguntas y completan una hoja de trabajo sobre las obras en exposición. Asimismo, al hablar, leer, y escribir en español practican sus habilidades y conocimientos. Mientras que las dinámicas de aprendizaje se vuelven más interactivas con el estudio basado en objetos y fuera del salón de clase tradicional, los estudiantes han manifestado su entusiasmo acerca de sus visitas a la galería. Así se expresó un estudiante al respecto: “aprendí mucho sobre el arte y algunas ideas artísticas. Mejoró mi habilidad de interpretar el arte. [La visita guiada] mejoró mi habilidad de escuchar, [era] más complicado escuchar a alguien que nunca antes había conocido. [Yo] tenía que pensar en español ideas complicadas sobre el arte.”

    Con la variedad de temas desafiantes presentados en la Galería de Arte de la Universidad, las visitas guiadas en español, y las estrategias de aprendizaje basadas en objetos, la diversidad y el entendimiento están siendo promovidos y practicados. Debido al continuo llamamiento al cierre de fronteras entre Estados Unidos y México por parte de la administración, creop que ahora más que nunca la necesidad de que otras culturas y lenguajes permanezcan activos y presentes en nuestras comunidades es crucial. La oportunidad de poderse comunicar en un idioma extranjero no es solamente una habilidad necesaria en el contexto de un mundo globalizado, sino una habilidad que creo es esencial para combatir el racismo. Estas visitas son un importante primer paso, pero es necesario hacer mucho más aquí en el campus. En nuestros esfuerzos por alcanzar una audiencia más grande y crear una universidad y una comunidad más diversa y compasiva, nos seguimos preguntando, ¿qué más se puede hacer para promover un campus inclusivo y una mayor pluralidad de voces, culturas, e idiomas en nuestra sociedad?

    [1] “Fast Facts: Pittsburgh Campus,” Office of Institutional Research, University of Pittsburgh, consultado 28 de November 2018, https://ir.pitt.edu/facts-publications/fast-facts/

     

    Crossing the borders of language at the UAG

    Author: Adriana Miramontes, HAA graduate student

    How can the University Art Gallery (UAG) reach different audiences and increase its presence and visibility on campus and in the community? As part of an outreach initiative and education programming this Fall semester more than 110 students from the Department of Linguistics and Literatures at Pitt visited the University Art Gallery. Of these students, ninety-two per cent declared in survey forms that it was their first visit. As one student wrote: “It was a new experience that I probably wouldn’t have received if I wasn’t in the class. I was taken out of my comfort zone.”

    The students enrolled in Intermediate Spanish 3, Intermediate Spanish 4, and Conversation were introduced to the art gallery and to the exhibits Unboxed: 50thAnniversary Alumni Exhibition and This is Not Ideal: Gender Myths and their Transformation. All the different tours were conducted in Spanish and they included a brief tour of the cloister and a more in-depth discussion of contemporary art and the temporary exhibits on view. The tours have been highly interactive, prompting questions, discussion, and close looking. In addition to discussing relevant topics related to the body, popular culture, time, gender identity, and gender violence, the goal of these tours is to create additional spaces where difference can be experienced and diversity is celebrated. As a Mexican woman who aspires to be a professor in the United States, asserting the value of cultural difference in our classrooms is a matter of great personal significance for me.

    In the thirteen years I have been studying and working in the United States this is the first time that I engage with students in Spanish conversations within an academic space. Before moving to Pittsburgh I lived in Texas where Spanish is often spoken and is an important part of local culture; but here in Pennsylvania, where the Hispanic or Latino population is much smaller, speaking Spanish is no longer a part of my daily life. [1] Regularly my conversations in Spanish occur only with my colleagues in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. This is especially true now when Mexicans are frequently maligned by President Trump. In this political climate, I must admit, it has been both challenging and frightening to embrace my language and culture. Against this backdrop, the gallery tours have given me the necessary courage and space to interact with people from a variety of backgrounds and academic disciplines across the university in my first language. The UAG itself has provided me with a “safe space” where I can interact with others and proudly embrace my language. Thus, my interactions with the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures have been not only refreshing and instructive but also personally rewarding.

    In these 50-minute tours the students engage in conversation, answer questions, and complete a worksheet on the artworks exhibited. Their speaking, reading, and writing abilities are all practiced in these sessions. The tour dynamics are more interactive than the traditional classroom, offering object-based study and as a result the students often express their enthusiasm for visiting the gallery. As one student commented, “I learned a lot about art and some artistic ideas. It improved my ability to interpret art. [The tour] improved my listening ability, [it was] more difficult to listen to someone I’ve never met before. [I] had to think about complicated art ideas in Spanish.”

    Through the challenging topics presented by the University Art Gallery, the Spanish tours, and object-based learning strategies, diversity and understanding are being encouraged and practiced. Due to the the current administration’s continued call for the closure of the US-Mexican borders, now more than ever, it seems, the need for other cultures and languages to remain active and present in our communities cannot be overemphasized. The opportunity to communicate in a foreign language is not only a necessary skill in the context of a globalizing world, but one I believe is increasingly crucial for combating racism. These tours represent an important first step, but there is still more that can be done here on campus. In our efforts to reach larger audiences and continue creating a more diverse and compassionate university and community, we continue to ask ourselves how we can foster a more inclusive campus that promotes a plurality of voices, cultures, and languages in our society?

    [1] “Fast Facts: Pittsburgh Campus,” Office of Institutional Research, University of Pittsburgh, accessed November 28, 2018, https://ir.pitt.edu/facts-publications/fast-facts/

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  • Gallery discussion: Art History in the #MeToo Era

     

    From #MeToo to What Now?: Coping with Sexualized Violence in Art History

    Author: Nicole Scalissi, HAA graduate student

    In mounting This is Not Ideal: Gender Myths and Their Transformation the curatorial team wisely produced a slate of public programming to create space for community processing, discussion, dissent, and response to the challenging and often difficult content in the exhibition. The first of these events was an open discussion for us—students, instructors, curators, artists, and members of the public—to talk about what it means to engage with artworks that show gender-based and sexualized violence in the era of #MeToo.

    In 2017, #MeToo became a viral hash-tag following high-profile and celebrity disclosures of sexual abuse, and spawned a public referendum on sexualized violence. Me Too was originally founded by Tarana Burke and had been helping survivors, especially women and girls of color, find pathways to healing since 2006. Our open discussion was intended to be a space for offering up questions and sharing knowledge about how can we rethink how we (or do we) include—in our galleries, research, and classrooms—artworks that directly engage with gender-based and/or sexualized violence in the Me Too moment? With contributions from Sylvia Rhor, Curator and University Art Gallery Director, and artist Sarika Goulatia, the discussion was provoked by the sophisticated curation process of the Museum Studies students who produced This is Not Ideal, and it’s a big question that some museums, artists, and universities are only starting to grapple with publically. 

    On the one hand, that seems like an over-due question: isn’t it about time? On the other hand, this is a profoundly difficult question to take on for people who curate, teach, or learn about art history: throughout time, and especially in the Western tradition, the history of art is full of images of naked women and scenes of their victimization—sexual and/or otherwise. Women’s bodies have been pressed into service not just in but asnational histories and identities, myths and cautionary tales. Thinly veiled as “allegory,” women’s bodies have been made vulnerable, exposed, restrained, and consumed as art history. So, how then, are we as students and instructors, curators and artists, to deal with a culture of images that so often takes the female body not as subject but as object—i.e. not as people but as things—as a material, form, or concept to be mined and manhandled, gazed upon and fetishized? If we understand #MeToo or #TimesUp to be a reckoning, a cultural point-of-no-return where survivors, especially women—anatomically and not, cis-gendered and otherwise—can speak up and be believed, then what do we do with works of art that illustrate or are the real world product of actual gender-based violence or oppression?

    We panelists got the conversation started with our own research and concerns. As the historian on the panel, I wanted to get a few things to the surface and sketch out the recent national dialogue surrounding sexualized violence, especially as it has intersected with the universities and art world since over the past 5 years: 

    • controversial changes to Title IX under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (more ‘protections’ for those accused of sexual assault, closeddoor adjudication processes) [1]
    • remember Emma Sulkowicz, who carried a 50lb mattress around Columbia University campus for their 2014 senior year in artistic dissent of how CU (mis)handled their rape case? [2]
    • a listing of men’s names, including artist Chuck Close, who have been publically shamed and/or fired—or should be—for sexual misconduct [3]
    • and on the day after the portentous midterm elections and just days after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in the US Senate (that the nominee to the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her), it was right to note the ways in which we have recently witnessed what are perhaps the highest stakes for this nation’s understanding of sexualized violence and its ability, or inability, to believe its bravest survivors. [4]

    Sylvia and Sarika shared with us how presenting Prosecuterix, an interactive exhibition based on real disclosures of sexualized violence, in a university setting impacted upon their work as curator, artist, and as citizens. Sylvia showed us how wading into the difficult territory of public display and sexualized violence produced new questions, ethical considerations, and the building of empathy and support networks, and how that experience shaped how she imagines an audience and her work most broadly as both a educator and curator. For example, how to envision and install an exhibition that allows for varying levels of engagement with problematic content, or how to loop in the Title IX office to support viewers and student curators at different levels in the exhibition process. Even still, the question arose again of how to handle problematic or potentially triggering images in the classroom.

    The discussion was built and shaped by members of HAA at all levels, undergraduate students in HAA and/or Museum Studies, graduate students, and faculty—including the Chair of the department. Undergraduate students who co-curated This is Not Ideal shared the debates they had in selecting objects and writing wall captions, and making decisions about which images would represent the exhibition to the public—issues that emerged from close—and sustained looking in this current social context. Most important, they provided feedback to the instructors in the room about what they felt would help them grapple with such images in the classroom, including what has worked and how they felt they could be better supported. (For this, we are grateful.)

    As new ideas emerged, so too did new questions: if content warnings are utilized on the walls of the UAG to support a diverse audience in navigating the difficulty in This is Not Ideal, might we also use these at the start of lectures, on a syllabus? How specific a warning? How to do we prepare as a learning community to handle unforeseen, unwarned triggers that emerge in a class? How can we help our students beyond the “warning,” how can we direct them toward survivor resources, and build a community of support that outlasts the class? How can we as a university community embed this in our culture, not just in specific lectures that engage with this content? 

    Maybe it is not just warnings and support, but enriching our content. For example, if we teach Alexandre Cabanel’s Birth of Venus (1875), or any of the thousands of female nudes in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, then perhaps we must also teach The Guerrilla Girls Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met Museum? (1989)—and also that the Met does not own it or any work by the Guerrilla Girls.[5] If we teach the paintings of Chuck Close or Pablo Picasso, ought we also teach about the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct made against them, and the art made in response such as Emma Sulkowicz’s nude performances in front of their paintings at the Met and MoMA? 

    Sylvia and Ellen Larson, Curatorial Assistant at the UAG, convened a panel surrounding a knotty and difficult question, one that is perhaps not answerable in one, final way. A way to begin answering it, however, and to continue the reckoning #MeToo set into motion is something like this discussion: it is navigating this terrain together, responding to the question with more questions, drawing on ideas from other fields, and dialoguing as a community across and through different roles at the university. 

     

    [1] See Megan Cerullo, “Betsy DeVos Proposes Sexual Misconduct Rules that Would Protect Alleged Offenders,” Los Angeles Times (August 29, 2018), https://www.latimes.com/ny-news-betsy-devos-sexual-misconduct-rules-20180829-story.html

    [2] Note: Sulkowicz has used gender-neutral pronouns publically since 2017. See Soraya Nadia McDonald, “It’s Hard to Ignore a Woman Toting A Mattress Everywhere She Goes, Which is Why Emma Sulkowicz ss Still Doing it,” The Washington Post (October 29, 2014)https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/10/29/its-hard-to-ignore-a-woman-toting-a-mattress-everywhere-she-goes-which-is-why-emma-sulkowicz-is-still-doing-it/?utm_term=.3b684c7e19fb

    [3] Claire Voon and Jillian Steinhauer, “For More Women Allege Sexual Misconduct by Chuck Close,” Hyperallergic (January 16, 2018), https://hyperallergic.com/420538/four-more-women-allege-sexual-misconduct-by-chuck-close/

    [4] See published transcript, “Christine Blasey Ford’s Opening Statement for Senate Hearing,” npr.org [National Public Radio] (September 26, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/09/26/651941113/read-christine-blasey-fords-opening-statement-for-senate-hearing

    [5] As the Guerrilla Girls pointed out in the artwork—which surely seemed overdue in 1989, too—“Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections [of the Metropolitan Museum] are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.”

    _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    If you feel you are a survivor of sexual harassment or assault, the University of Pittsburgh has support resources, some of which can be obtained anonymously. For more information and to report, see the Office of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education (SHARE) https://www.studentaffairs.pitt.edu/share/

     

     

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Andy Warhol, Ladies and Gentlemen (Wilhelmina Ross), 1975, Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

     

    Ladies and Gentleman: Queer subjects at the Warhol and the UAG

    Author: Rebecca Moser, HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018

    The student curated University Art Gallery exhibition This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation focuses on themes that revolve around idealized beauty and gender norms as well as the subversions of these ideals by queer subjects. It is no surprise that there is a huge collection of art at the Andy Warhol Museum that can be discussed in regards to gender and sexuality. One of Warhol’s series of works that best fits into such discussions is his Ladies and Gentlemen series.These works are currently on display in conjunction with the Warhol’s forthcoming solo exhibit of the work of Devan Shimoyama, curated by Jessica Beck.

    Although queer subjects are rarer in the University Art Gallery collection than at the Warhol, several works in This is Not Ideal do present variations from the conventions of gender expression. Historical prints of the Chevalier d’Eon and Mary Frith, for example, register the long history of non-normative identities. A more contemporary example featured in the exhibition is the photograph titled Jennifur, by Daniel D. Teoli from his Gender Bender series. As a self-taught social documentary photographer, his goal was to assemble an archive of the people and cultures of Los Angeles street life in the 1970s. While no record of the sitter’s identity exists, their appearance suggests the sitter to be a drag performer or a transgender person.

    This photograph was taken at the same time that Warhol started shooting the Polaroids for his Ladies and Gentlemen series. In recent years, Warhol’s models have begun to be identified and credited, but Teoli’s models still remain unknown. The biggest difference between the works, however, is how each of the artists deal with the fine details of their sitters. In his paintings, Warhol erases the models features that seem less ideal to him, such as masculine attributes, obvious wigs and overdone makeup. These are characteristics that Teoli instead accentuates. Shot on opposite sides of the country, both Teoli and Warhol’s images provide important documents of queer culture in the late twentieth century.

    Devan Shimoyama: Cry Baby opens October 13. This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation opens October 25.

    Rebecca Mosser was also the Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Andy Warhol Museum in Summer 2018.

    Read more about her internship experience here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Student Journal: Teamwork

    Cyd Johnson, 18 December 2017

    After leaving the archives for the first time at the very beginning of the semester, I remember thinking to myself that working in a group with twenty-five other people with a time limit of just a few months to pull off an exhibition was going to be a nightmare. And honestly, for most of the early planning stages—it was, at least for me. Groupwork in an academic setting has never been my forte, and doing research without any sense of direction irks me to no end because I never feel like I’m being productive.

    But now that it’s all over, I realize that those two concerns ended up canceling each other out, rather than adding together as I had expected. While I felt frustrated and unproductive in the planning stages, other people were excited about scouring the boxes of archival documents to search for photographs, letters, or news clippings that could help shed light on some of the objects from our list. The more concrete tasks like writing and editing labels and wall texts appealed more to me, and less to others, and so it goes. I have never worked with so many other people to create anything, and despite all odds, it was the best experience I have had functioning in a group setting.

    It’s only now that the semester is coming to a close, and the gallery has been stripped of the Narratives of the Nationality Rooms, that I realize how well we operated as a team, each contributing different areas of knowledge and distinctive interests that helped create an amazing final product, and maintain a supportive work environment.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  •  

    Student Journal: Art History through Exhibition Making: Planning and Installing Narratives of the Nationality Rooms

    Katie Loney, 18 December 2017

    As a first-year graduate student in History of Art and Architecture, I didn’t know quite what to expect from an exhibition seminar with such a large number of undergraduate students. Before coming to Pitt, I had worked in museums and art galleries installing exhibitions, researching artifacts, giving historic house tours, and working in a museum registrar’s office. The opportunity to contribute to a single exhibition through the planning, installation, and programming stages, however, was an experience missing from my curatorial training. It was this aspect of the course that first drew me to the seminar. The exhibition’s focus on the Nationality Rooms made it too interesting to pass up, as the topic parallels my research in American decorative arts, collecting practices, and the reception of objects across different cultures and time periods. The show’s emphasis on immigration revealed itself to be a fruitful lens for examining the Nationality Rooms. As a class, we aimed to produce a show that highlighted the Nationality Rooms’ desire to link immigrant communities together across six decades.

    Reflecting on the course, it has been both challenging and rewarding. Planning, installing, promoting, programming, writing a catalogue, and de-installing a show in the University Art Gallery (UAG) over the course of three months is no easy feat. Fortunately, Professor Shirin Fozi, UAG curator Isabelle Chartier, and UAG curatorial assistant Ellen Larson were brilliant guides who did a great deal of organizing before and during the semester. They structured the course in such a way that allowed for students to play a vital role and have an active voice in the planning and installation of the show, while ensuring that it was thoughtful, issue driven, and accessible.

    Working in the Agency group, which was responsible for curating the displays in the UAG hallway vitrines, gave me a powerful platform to think about selecting and arranging objects on the theme of ritual and sacred space in the Nationality Rooms. The Syria-Lebanon Room came to be a significant feature of our displays. The room dates to the eighteenth century and used to be a private library in Damascus. The Syria-Lebanon Room committee purchased the room as a gift to the University of Pittsburgh, where it was repurposed as a classroom. For preservation reasons, it no longer functions as a classroom, but still plays an important role in the Nationality Rooms where it has become part of a system that aims to represent Pittsburgh’s identity. It sits in the Cathedral of Learning next to the Chinese Room, the Indian Room, the English Room, and the African Heritage Room, just to name a few. For my group, the inaccessibility of the Syria-Lebanon Room as a classroom acted as a useful foil for the other Nationality Rooms and their artifacts as we considered issues of agency, sacredness, and ritual.

    While the Agency group gave me an opportunity to select and arrange objects for an exhibition, my involvement in the publications group provided a crash-course in designing promotional materials and editing wall texts. Providing these opportunities is precisely what the course is designed for, and why it is such an asset to undergraduate and graduate students alike. For me, as someone who has been studying art history and working towards a curatorial career for several years, the class also offered something more. Working with Professor Fozi and some fantastic undergraduates over the course of the semester gave me the opportunity to consider innovative ways to engage the public in collections. How might I open an art collection to high school, college, or graduate students? In what ways can I create programs that allow the public to take ownership in museum exhibitions? How can the museum be a place that facilitates conversations about social issues? The exhibition seminar allowed me to explore these questions in concrete ways. Working collaboratively with faculty, curators, and undergraduate students, we created an exhibition that engaged the public in discussions of agency, identity, and visual knowledge through historical artifacts.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  • Bombed Mihrab

     

    Student Journal: Behind the Photograph

    Ryan Lewis, 14 December 2017

    The photograph of the bombed mihrab created a mystery that took multiple people to solve, and it took several weeks before we arrived at what we believe to be the most logical answer to the riddles it posed. The mystery began with the hand-written label on the photograph itself. The label claims the picture was taken in the “Hamidra Quarter” that was destroyed by a French bombardment in 1924. Immediately after finding the photograph I tried to figure out where the site was located within the country of Syria, but no research I did was able to even identify “Hamidra” as a place.

    After some failed research I reached out to a friend from Syria to see if she knew anything about it. I asked if she had heard of the place, or had any idea where it would be located and luckily, the name was familiar to her. She told me that it was in Damascus, but it was only a place that she had heard about; she had never been there. I asked why it was only a place people hear about but do not visit, and she suggested that this might be because it was a place associated with elite or very wealthy individuals. She said it seems to have been a secret chambers place that only people with relatively high power could access, and that maybe this was why my research could not find anything on it. She compared it to Area 51 in the United States, suggesting that this was something that people know about, though it is still considered secret or sensitive.

    I thought that this information had finally helped to solve the mystery, though it still seemed odd that there was nothing online about a “Hamidra Quarter.” Professor Fozi also found it odd that none of the research had led to any information. She was able to discuss the topic with a few colleagues who specialize in studying the Ottoman Empire and they had also not heard of it, which was unfortunate and very strange to hear. She then did more research on the Great

    Syrian Revolt and soon discovered that there was a Hamidiyya neighborhood that had been bombed by the French in 1925. The neighborhood is also spelled Hamidiyah, and sometimes referred to as al-Hamidiyah Souq. It seems like the original handwritten label had most likely misinterpreted this name, and mistakenly recorded the photograph with a misspelling and the wrong year for the bombardment. Since this neighborhood was in the Old City of Damascus, it makes sense that my friend would have associated it with the elites of the city, and given the great tragedy of the bombing that led to so much destruction in the 1920s, it is also understandable that she would think of it as a kind of a secret: it was probably a topic that older members of the Syrian community would have avoided out of a sense of loss.

    After going through multiple attempts at research and speaking to those close to the subject, it appears we have come to the best solution in solving the mystery. The challenge of properly identifying what the label on the photograph meant helped shine, even more, light onto how cultures and histories can easily be forgotten through a simple mistranslation. That is why the archives of the Nationality Rooms are an essential part of the University and why research opportunities like this exhibition are important: preserving and exhibiting information becomes a way to ensure cultures and histories do not get lost.

    The photograph of the bombed mihrab was originally picked to be a part of the “Culture, Conflict, and Cohesion” section of the exhibition because it fit the theme of conflict and the need to preserve culture. It was eventually installed together with the materials from the “Sacred Space for the Spiritual and the Scholarly” section, however, because it also fit in well with those materials. This also had the added benefit of presenting the bombed mihrab with other objects from the Syria-Lebanon Room, which helped to create a more powerful message.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  •  

    Student Journal: A History Behind the Rooms

    Jaime Viens, 11 December 2017

    While our exhibition, Narratives of the Nationality Rooms, has primarily focused on the social and cultural significance of the Nationality Rooms, I find it just as important to understand their history and how it has affected, and continues to change, the Rooms’ meanings. The Nationality Rooms are a series of 30 classrooms within the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt.  Each pertains to a specific cultural or ethnic community that contributes to Pittsburgh’s population. Each room is designed and funded by individuals within that community who form a Nationality Room Committee, and the University only becomes responsible for the Room’s maintenance in perpetuity after its completion.

    The program was started by Ruth Crawford Mitchell in 1926, the same year the construction of the Cathedral of Learning began, at the request of Chancellor John Bowman. Chancellor Bowman wanted the campus’ surrounding community to have as much of a say in the development of the Cathedral as possible, while still providing a foundation rooted in creativity and education.  The Great Depression hit the U.S. just four years after the first of the Nationality Room Committees were formed, delivering a serious blow to their fundraising efforts. When World War II began, conflicts abroad further complicated fundraising efforts and the advancement of new Rooms.

    As the project continued, some rules were established as a baseline in the committees’ development of each Room. All of the Rooms should represent a nation accorded diplomatic recognition by the U.S. government; the content of each Room should be exclusively cultural with political reference only permitted in one position, carved in stone above the room’s entrance; no living person could be portrayed; and finally, the Room’s design must represent a period of time pre-dating Pitt’s official founding date of 1787. Committees for each Room were also formed abroad to serve as counterparts to the ones in Pittsburgh.  Their main tasks were to assist in consulting on design, recommending architects, and selecting materials and artists for space.  However, it eventually became clear that the requirement for “nations” to be recognized by the U.S. government denied many ethnic groups the opportunity to create their own Rooms and define their own identities. A less restrictive definition of “nationality” allowed for the creation of new Rooms that would display the cultural history of populations whose traditions don’t align with political or geographical borders such as the African Heritage Room or the Welsh Room.

    Various fundraising efforts eventually provided the amounts necessary to build nineteen Rooms by 1957. The first four to be dedicated were the Scottish, Russian, German and Swedish Rooms, which all opened in 1938. The most recently dedicated rooms are the Welsh (2008), Turkish (2012), Swiss (2012) and Korean (2015) Rooms. Plans for a future Filipino Room are in development, while Finnish and Iranian Rooms are both in fundraising stages. The history of the Nationality Rooms shows how World War II, the Great Depression, and other historical events, on both the national and international stage, have greatly influenced the creation, meaning and growth of the Nationality Rooms — and will continue to do so in the future.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

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