UAG

    At Fran Gialamas' studio
     

    Say Her Name: Women of the AAP

    Author: Emi Finkelstein

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Say their names: Tina Williams Brewer, Fran Gialamas, Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer. A collection of works by these three artists and members of Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP) are on display in the University Art Gallery through the end of March. The exhibition Three Artists (Three Women) was inspired in part by the work of Mary Ethel McAuley, an AAP artist from the early 20th century, whose paintings of Germany during wartime are on display in the front gallery of the UAG. Together, these four local women artists, whose work differs greatly in subject, form, media, and scale, share a commitment to pushing forward what it means to be a woman artist working in Pittsburgh—whether today or a century ago.

    The plans for Three Artists (Three Women) kicked off with a visit from Madeline Gent (Executive Director of AAP), Brewer, Gialamas and Cuellar-Shaffer to the UAG in January, where the artists saw McAuley’s paintings for the first time and were inspired to display work that created a dialogue between her art and their own. The following weeks were a whirlwind of research, studio visits across the city, and discussions with the artists. Our first studio visit took place at Fran Gialamas’s Aspinwall studio. Next to the front door were stacked a series of large-scale canvases, which we slowly unwrapped and examined with Gialamas. Watching the artist revisit almost four decades of her own work was an exciting perspective into her long career, which included serving for a few years as president of the AAP and advocating for artist equity. 

    The next day, we traveled to Brewer’s residence in Homewood. Seated on her living room floor, we discussed the artist’s life and work—her frequent collaborations, her materials collected from all over the world, and the way she translates her spirituality into her art quilts. One of the most memorable moments came when UAG Director Sylvia Rhor found herself wrapped up with the artist in a large dancing skirt, which is now elegantly folded and hung at the front of the UAG exhibition. Greensburg-based artist Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer’s studio was too far away for us to travel to, so we followed her process via text message as she painted three new works for our exhibition. When the works were delivered by Cuellar-Shaffer we arranged them as a tryptic against a gallery wall and sat before them, discussing the artist’s own experiences as a Columbian immigrant and Latina woman living in the US. 

    Throughout the period of research and curation, our team frequently returned to our initial conversation with the artists in the gallery in early January, when we shared the story of Mary Ethel McAuley and her nearly forgotten paintings with the artists. When Brewer heard this, she exclaimed “say her name!” quoting the title of one of her own art quilts. This phrase became an important touchstone for our team, and we decided to place the phrase on the wall of the UAG’s Rotunda space in four languages—English after Brewer’s work, Spanish for Cuellar-Shaffer, Greek to reference Gialamas’s childhood and heritage, and German, for Mary Ethel McAuley. The space will be transformed into a feminist maker space and reading room for Women’s History Month in March, casting light on the achievements of many women artists—here in Pittsburgh and across the globe.

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Mary Ethel McAuley, Women Working on the Strassebahn, Collection of Rebecca and Tasso Spanos

     

    Say Her Name: Year of the Woman at the UAG

    Author: Sylvia Rhor

    Director, University Art Gallery

    “I refuse to be one of the forgotten women!” Artist Lila Hetzel’s defiant words were published in an editorial letter to The Bulletin Index in 1938. Hetzel was writing in response to a critic’s assessment of the annual exhibition of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP), in which the author omitted the many women included in the organization’s inaugural exhibition in 1910. Among the excluded was a young woman named Mary Ethel McAuley. McAuley, a Pittsburgh native, was not only one of the inaugural members of the AAP, she was also a reporter, author, illustrator, painter and teacher. McAuley’s name was regularly in newspapers and on exhibition rosters, yet, despite exhortations like Hetzel’s, she has been nearly forgotten today. The upcoming exhibition in the UAG, Mary Ethel McAuley: Behind the German Lines sets out to find her again.

    Although she has been referred to as an “untrained” or “outsider” artist due to her seemingly simple visual style, the research for this exhibition has shown that McAuley was far from it: She was a trained artist, conversant in modernist styles of her time, and deeply embedded in art networks, here and abroad. The collaborative curatorial team for the show, which includes Emi Finkelstein and Ana Rodríguez, has discovered a wealth of new information about McAuley, her painting process and her career. McAuley studied with Scalp Level artist Martin B. Leisser at the Pittsburgh School of Design, and, as early as 1910, pursued further training in Europe. When in Pittsburgh, McAuley taught weekend drawing classes in a downtown studio and exhibited frequently between 1903 and 1921 in galleries, department stores and museums in Pittsburgh and New York. A prolific writer and illustrator, she contributed regular columns to the Pittsburgh Post-Dispatch and illustrated popular books. McAuley was a modern woman, forging a career as a painter and writer, and travelling the world at a time when women of her background were often expected to marry and raise families.

    The set of paintings that form the core of Behind the German Lines, was created around 1919 to illustrate McAuley’s first-hand account of life in Germany during the First World War, while she was a correspondent for the Pittsburgh Post-Dispatch. From ration lines for butter and beer to the building of the railway. McAuley’s paintings depict scenes that she witnessed as an American woman. She captures the nuances of quotidian life at that time, paying special attention to women in wartime. Her paintings depict German soldiers in uniform standing alongside chimney sweeps in town squares, women shoveling coal, mothers and children alone on the streets while fathers and brothers were on the front line. The exhibition includes objects from the collection of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, including German World War I helmets, to provide a context for McAuley´s work. 

    Examination of the paintings by conservator Rikke Foulke revealed more about McAuley’s unique painting process. The works were painted or mounted on materials such as artist’s portfolios and board, and McAuley seems to have used a red linen as a painting surface in other works, heavily building up the layers of paint on the canvas. Ultraviolet light inspection uncovered heavy overpainting in certain areas, raising questions about interventions at a later date.

    The ten paintings in the show – the only known extant works by McAuley – were loaned by collectors Rebecca and Tasso Spanos. Mr. Spanos purchased the works in the late 1960s from Harry Eichleay, a local art dealer, who, in turn, had seen McAuley’s works in a gallery window in New York City. Shortly after buying these paintings, Tasso Spanos contacted McAuley, who was living in Squirrel Hill at the time. Though he never had the chance to meet her (McAuley died in 1971), Spanos vowed to exhibit her works and bring more attention to an artist that he feels is on a par with other modernist artists of the early 20th century.

    The UAG has also partnered with the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP) on a companion exhibition: Three Artists (Three Women). This exhibition highlights the work of AAP artists Tina Brewer, Fran Gialamas, and Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer. The exhibition is conceived of as a dialogue – across generations and across media – with McAuley’s works. The artists in this show draw on personal and cultural symbolism to explore issues of migration, identity and history in their works. Together, the two exhibitions allow us to ponder how women artists across generations explore these topics. 

     

    Mary Ethel McAuley: Behind the German Lines and Three Artists (Three Women) will be on view through March 28th. The opening reception for both exhibitions will take place on Thursday, February 13th from 5pm to 7pm. Related programming includes a gallery conversation on March 19th at 5pm, with AAP artists Gialamas, Brewer and Cuellar-Shaffer. We will also offer drop-in maker activities in the “Say Her Name” Feminist Maker Space + Reading Room in the gallery’s historic rotunda throughout March 2020.

     

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    What is your aluminum story?

    Author: Sylvia Rhor Samaniego

    Director, University Art Gallery

    “What is your aluminum story?” That was the question we posed to visitors on Saturday, November 2 when the University Art Gallery (UAG) teamed up with Rivers of Steel (RoS) Arts to host a Hot Metal Happening in front of the Frick Fine Arts Building in Oakland. 

    The answers ranged from the school-spirited – dozens of Pitt students inscribed “H2P” into the mold – to the whimsical – children depicted cartoon elephants and stick figure family portraits. There were names etched in Arabic as an ode to a participant’s heritage and the symbol of the Alzheimer’s Association, as an homage to the those who work towards finding a cure for the disease. There were elaborate caricatures and elegant fleur-de-lis. 

    Whatever the subject, the finished aluminum tiles reflected the experiences and insights of the many people who visit the UAG on a daily basis. 

    That was the point. The event signaled a new phase for the UAG, which is opening its doors to community events that will allow the people of Pittsburgh to tell their own stories.

    Conceived as part of the programming for the Metal from Clay: Pittsburgh’s Aluminum Stories, currently on view in the gallery, the event is one of the many workshops offered by RoS that are inspired by the history of ironmaking on the Carrie Furnaces site. Visitors – novices and return guests, alike – are offered a chance to get hands-on and experience the metal-making process first-hand.

    More than 200 people dropped in for our workshop. Each visitor was given a scratch mold of sand to design, with the help of RoS staff. They then watched as the workers from RoS, suited in heated scrap aluminum to over 1200 degrees and poured the liquid metal into the molds. 

    The dramatic process at the foot of the Schenley Fountain, with the Cathedral of Learning rising in the background, made for an impressive site. Like the participants who added fragments of their own stories to the tiles, the event itself also told the Pittsburgh story. It spoke to the ways that aluminum is embedded into the everyday life of the city just as much as steel. 

    A selection of the finished aluminum tiles will be on view during the UAG’s second annual Maker Event on Thursday, December 5, from 5-7pm.

    Categories: 
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Learning of the Local and the Global in the Art Gallery

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2019

    My semester-long internship with the University Art Gallery promised from the start to be an exciting opportunity to expand my passion for audio-visual exhibition. The task was to assist with technological arrangements for an exhibition of Chinese video works being curated by Graduate Student Assistant Ellen Larson and set to open in the fall of 2019. The video technology aspect was mostly familiar territory for me, as I frequently organize pop-up microcinema events, which have afforded me with substantial experience in planning the logistics of presenting moving images in various formats. It was the geographic focus of the exhibition that mostly piqued my interest, as my knowledge of contemporary Chinese cinema was limited. As a cinephile who constantly endeavors to push my understanding of the medium and to foster a diverse knowledge base, this was one particular knowledge gap that I was eager to narrow.

    The perspective shift from understanding the world through the art of residents of a country foreign to my own was a welcome aspect of the internship. What I did not anticipate that my work with the UAG would encourage, however, was a different understanding of the gallery settings that were already so familiar and close to home. As the semester progressed, I was delighted to find that, in addition to a steady diet of contemporary Chinese film and video works, I was also offered opportunites to consider gallery exhibition practice beyond my familiar territory of audio-visual needs. It was often precisely in the areas where expectations were not met that I encountered the most enlightening learning experiences.

    Early in the semester, I had devised lists of equipment necessary to display each work selected for the exhibition. Moreover, I learned to use SketchUp software to create visualizations of each installation. The setups were generally straightforward -- display and playback devices, speakers, and various connecting cables -- though it was not until Ellen and I had the equipment in hand and completed a dry-run of the first setup that I began to understand some of the minutiae of exhibition planning for the gallery setting. With the installation assembled, I considered aesthetic details as precise as color and positioning of extension cords and other wires. 

    Although such elements seemed inconsequential at the SketchUp stage, seeing the installations progress from visualization to realization allowed me to understand the importance of such diminutive details to the overall aesthetic of each piece.  It also allowed me to more fully appreciate the labor that takes place within exhibition spaces. In this way, my internship with the University Art Gallery has provided a new way of seeing not just at the global level through a newfound appreciation for contemporary Chinese audio-visual culture, but also right here in Pittsburgh, since no gallery visit will ever be quite the same for me again.

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Spaces
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    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Leslie Rose

     

    Curatorial Movements at the University Art Gallery

    Author: Leslie Rose

    2019 Hot Metal Bridge Diversity Fellow in History of Art and Architecture and University Art Gallery intern

    As someone with a deep interest in museum display, curation, and education, I saw my internship in the University Art Gallery (UAG) as a chance to gain a greater understanding of what it means to work in an academic gallery. I was most excited to learn how a strong focus on education influences the UAG’s mission, from day-to-day operations to exhibition planning and public programming. Though there are many components of my internship that introduced me to the unique role of a teaching gallery, my experiences curating for the UAG have been the most illuminating. 

    As part of my internship, I was given the opportunity to curate a small exhibition to complement the traveling exhibition, Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers, on loan from the Schomburg Center of African American Culture, which was on view in the gallery in February – March 2019. For inspiration, I was asked to think broadly about themes present in this show, such as migration and exchange, agency, and representation. Using these themes as a starting point, I curated Movements, an exhibition exploring the representation and expression of people of the African Diaspora in the transatlantic world. My exhibition explored three different definitions of the term ‘movement’: movement as migration; movement in relation to musical composition; and political and civil rights movements. The show incorporated a variety of works ranging from 17th century prints related to the Atlantic slave trade and portraits to the Black Panther newspaper and contemporary zines. 

    The first difficulty I encountered in the curatorial process related to the UAG’s holdings. In every collection, there are bound to be gaps. Initially, this frustrated me: how could I create a dialogue around the people of the African diaspora when these artists were not well represented in the UAG collection? However, it was with the guidance of faculty, graduate students, and UAG staff that I began to see how to work with these “gaps” in a way that would help build the conversation with the viewer and as a way to better underscore the important points of the exhibition. These gaps also reinforced my belief that this type of show is needed and it offered me an opportunity to think more creatively. I turned to the University Library System (ULS) and the Heinz History Center in search of more material, forcing me to reevaluate my own expectations of what objects belongs in an art gallery. So much of my previous museum and gallery experience insisted on the separation of art objects and archival material; however, within an academic gallery setting, I was able to place the unconventional material in conversation with art in order to create a larger dialogue on visual culture. Movements grouped together maps, prints, comic books, music sheets and more to encourage visitors to see various representations and expressions of people of the African diaspora and consider the weight and influence of images in the world. 

    Through this project, I was also able to expand my understanding of curation and exhibitions. Rather than thinking of an exhibition as a visualization of an academic essay, which is where I began, I started to think of it as a space where discussions begin. Curating was not a way to talk at the audience, similar to an essay, but to talk with them. I began to imagine an audience and potential dialogues as a part of my process, altering my selection, arrangement, and labeling of objects. For example, I juxtaposed a stained glass image of a minstrel-inspired character from the Stephen Foster Memorial with a photograph of the Pittsburgh Community Choir, both from the mid 1930s, to encourage the audience to look closely at each work and think on how they operate within a larger system of representation. Rather than dictate this relationship through lengthy didactic labels, I felt that it was important for the audience to question this grouping and perhaps speculate in a conversation with a friend or fellow visitor.

    These experiences allowed me to see first-hand the ways a teaching gallery differs from public museums and galleries, and how the emphasis on education and dialogue informs all aspects of the UAG’s work. This experience also drastically changed my perception of my role as an emerging curator. Rather than seeing myself as solely a source of information, I now see my role as a facilitator for a broader conversation with our audience. As I hope to pursue a career in academia and curation, this is a lesson I plan to take with me throughout my career. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
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  • Sylvia Rohr (Director, UAG) speaks to high-school teachers from the Pittsburgh area on including the Africans in India exhibition in their curriculum.

     

    Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers

    Authors:

    Mrinalini Rajagopalan, Associate Professor, Department of History of Art and Architecture

    Neepa Majumdar, Associate Professor, Department of English and Film and Media Studies Program

    A seventeenth-century painting shows the Mughal Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) standing on a globe as two angels hover above in the clouds. His bow is stretched taught, about to release an arrow at its target: the decapitated head of an African man. The darkness of this man’s skin, his hollow eyes, and the owls (symbolizing evil) that circle him contrast with the pale almost radiant skin of the Mughal emperor, his stately crimson robes, and his opulent crown. In this painting Jahangir is shown vanquishing his archenemy Malik Ambār—an Abyssinian who arrived in India as a slave, rose to the rank of general and later ruled a principality that challenged Mughal imperial domination and expansion. Like so many court paintings of the time, this representation of Malik Ambar was a fiction, one that reduced him to a powerless African slave at the mercy of an omnipotent Indian emperor.

    Compare this image of Malik Ambār to another from the same period that shows him dressed in simple yet stately white clothes. His profile shows his African features clearly—the color of his skin and his full lips. Unlike the above-mentioned painting, however, the regal dignity of Malik Ambār cannot be ignored here. Symbols of nobility—a long sword with an ornate handle and sheath, embroidered cummerbund and belt, and vibrant red shoes are combined with the sartorial effects of a devout Muslim—the plain white tunic and simple turban without ornament. He holds out a finger on his right hand—possibly indicating that he is uttering the two testimonies of the Islamic faith. In this image Malik Ambār is both pious Muslim and nobleman; unmistakably African while also Indian Muslim; simple devotee as well as formidable warrior. 

    These paintings are only two examples of the rich corpus of images that make up the Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers exhibition. Between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, many Africans came to India as military slaves and some, like Malik Ambār, rose to become generals and rulers. Yet others were musicians, architects, wives, and traders and became an integral part of India’s courtly culture.The rich and long-standing contributions of Africans to Indian history, however, have been marginalized and woefully understudied. An initiative of the Schomburg Center at the New York Public Library, Africans in India showed at the UAG from February 15th to March 21st. The exhibition loan and related programming were organized by Pitt professors Mrinalini Rajagopalan (History of Art and Architecture) and Neepa Majumdar (English and Film and Media Studies). Their goals with this exhibition were to bring attention to the long histories of connection and exchange between Africa and India; to highlight the contributions of the African diaspora beyond the Americas and the Atlantic world; and to raise discussions around racial difference, migration, borders, and asylum—exigent topics in the contemporary world.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
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    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.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
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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. 

     

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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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. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    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/

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

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