Ronald Markman: Remembering the Mastermind of Mukfa

Study for Cityscape II, 1994. Black ink and colored pencil on paper. Echo Press Archive, Eskenazi Museum of Art 95.72.2

 

On May 30, artist and former professor at Indiana University, Ronald Markman, passed away. Below Nan Brewer, Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper at the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art reflects on Markman’s career.

In 1962 on a Fulbright scholarship to Italy, Markman saw old maps of Rome by printmakers like Piranesi and was inspired to create his own mythical metropolis. Dubbed Mukfa, which he thought sounded both slightly obscene and sort of lyrical, it became the subject of an on-going series. As Markman later recalled, “Creating a country of my very own, complete with its own heroes, villains, mermaids, newspapers, airlines, and university offered me the freedom I had always sought from art.”

The works’ bright colors and cartoonish style recall the scenic designs of Broadway musicals, comic art, and the Marx Brothers’ movies—all experiences associated with Markman’s childhood in the Bronx. Although he started out with the dream of becoming a cartoonist, Markman continued his studies at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and the Art Students’ League on the advice of Saul Steinberg who told him to learn to draw. A stint in the army and subsequent GI bill enabled Markman to attend the Yale School of Fine Arts, where he studied under master colorist Josef Albers and earned a BFA and an MFA. His understanding of color theory garnered Markman a job as a color consultant for Hallmark Cards Co. where he worked for a year after college and would become a central feature of his own creative work.

Turning to painting as his primary medium, Markman also began to teach. After short stints at the University of Florida and the Art Institute of Chicago, he joined the painting faculty at Indiana University in 1964, where he taught until his retirement in 1995. After his retirement and the death of his wife, Barbara, Markman moved to Maryland, in order to be near his only daughter, Ericka. He continued to make art and exhibit his work.

In addition to his many paintings, prints, and drawings, Markman created a series of five wall murals for Riley Hospital in Indianapolis (1986) and a short animated film, Ever Since the Bad Thing Happened (1994). His work is found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, Cincinnati Art Museum, Johnson Museum of Art, and many other institutions.

The Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection includes twenty-two works by this artist. Here is a small sampling.

Cityscape, 1980. Color lithograph with collage on paper. Echo Press Archive, Eskenazi Museum of Art 86.59.1

 

Despite an innate playfulness and naïve, childlike style, there is often a subtle political commentary in Markman’s images. In Cityscape, a print collage created at Bloomington’s Echo Press, a plane crashing into a city, while pursued by the cops, along with the congested skyscrapers, clocks, “eyeball” lamp, and ant-like vehicles, exhort a police state and the inhumanity of totalitarianism. However, speaking about his depictions of evil in the world, Markman said, “I don’t see myself as a mean artist, but I do like to poke fun.”

Garden, 1965. Acrylic on canvas. Museum purchase with funds from the Hope Fund, Eskenazi Museum of Art 65.65.1

 

The Eskenazi Museum of Art acquired its first work by the young faculty member a year after he came to IU. Markman’s iconic three-breasted women in this painting suggest the “limits of the nonsensical, the absurd and the subversive” found in his art.

Money, 1962. Etching on paper. Gift of the artist, Eskenazi Museum of Art 68.94.2

 

This print shows the extent to which Markman took his imperial fantasy. The currency represents both sides of an 8 DRAS bill from the Republic of Mukfa.

Still Life with Flowers, 1980. Mixed media assemblage: acrylic paint, wood, plastic, and wicker. Gift of Professor Emeritus Gene Shreve, Eskenazi Museum of Art 2013.165

 

In his later work, Markman began to push the limits of the traditional four-sided canvas by creating painted sculptural reliefs as still life tableaus or hung “rugs.”

For more on Ronald Markman read his recent obituary in the New York Times, or visit Markman’s website.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

 

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Limestone in Art

Our art museum, located on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, is situated right in the heart of limestone country. Bloomington and the surrounding area are known as sources for some of the best limestone in the world. Limestone from southern Indiana has been used to create such iconic structures as the Empire State Building and Yankee Stadium in New York and the Pentagon and the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. It is the predominant building material throughout the Indiana University Bloomington campus, which was named the second most beautiful campus in the country in a 2016 USA Today poll. Every June we celebrate Limestone Month in Bloomington. It is an excellent opportunity to discuss limestone’s presence in the history of art, as well as some examples of limestone art in our collection.

Limestone has been used as a material in art since before antiquity. The Venus of Willendorf (28,000–25,000 BCE), one of the oldest and most famous surviving works of art, is made of Oolitic limestone (Oolitic is also the name of a town just south of Bloomington). The Great Pyramid of Giza was encased in Tura limestone, and the Great Sphinx of Giza, located in the pyramid complex, is made of Nummulitic limestone. (For an interesting and odd connection between the Great Pyramid of Giza and Indiana, read up on the failed attempt to create a limestone replica of the pyramid in Needmore, Indiana, in the 1970s.) Use of limestone can also be found in Sumerian, Egyptian, Cypriot, Greek, and Roman cultures, as well as medieval Europe, and China.

Two early examples from the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection include a Servant Figure of a Brewer, an Egyptian statuette dating to the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2,565–2,420 BCE) and Striding Young Man, a Greek kouros (a statue of a standing nude youth popular during the Archaic period), which dates to 500–450 BCE.

A more recent example of limestone sculpture in our collection is Peasant (La Paysanne) by the French artist Marcel Damboise (1903–1992), which you can read more about here.

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Marcel Damboise (French 1903-1922). Peasant (La Paysanne), 1938-1939. Stone. Gift of Danielle Damboise Françoise, daughter of the artist, 2016.2

The museum also owns a beautiful print by Indiana University Professor Emeritus of Photography Jeffrey Wolin, from his Stone Country series. Just this year, an updated version of Wolin’s book Stone Country: Then and Now, was released by IU Press. It serves as an artistic and informative document of the limestone industry and quarries of southern Indiana.

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Jeffrey Wolin (American, born 1951). Winter, Oolitic, from Stone Country, 1984. Gelatin silver print. 90.18.7

If you are interested in other ways to celebrate Limestone Month, check out the Visit Bloomington calendar, which covers this month’s festivities in the city. Of particular note is a photography exhibition titled Building a Nation: Indiana Limestone, on view all month at Fountain Square Mall.

Packing an Art Museum’s Collection

As the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art prepares for a $30 million renovation, set to be completed by 2019, we are often asked why the renovation will take a full two years. Part of the answer is the monumental task of packing and moving a major collection of art. To explain the process better, Emma Kessler, the museum’s curatorial assistant for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas gives us an inside look into the process. 

Due to the $30 million renovation of the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University set to begin this summer, we must move our collection of more than 45,000 objects to an off-site facility. While the museum closed its doors to the public on May 15, the packing of the collection, which began last year, will continue. It will take many months to safely move the collection so that the renovation can begin, and many months after the renovation is completed to reinstall the collection.

Example of a crate custom-built to hold a specific art object.

The packing process began its planning phase over a year ago. Given its size, as well as the value, fragility, and diversity of objects, the museum’s collection requires a packing process that is organized and executed in a very precise manner. Packing began with our African, Oceanic, and Americas (AOA) collection and is now underway with our holdings of ancient art, Asian art, works on paper, and European and American paintings and sculptures.

The first step in this process is a complete inventory of the collection. While inventories are done periodically, and a record is kept any time an object is put on display, loaned to another institution, or otherwise moved, surprises still pop up, especially when doing something as comprehensive as moving the entire collection piece by piece. To complete the inventory, every storage unit, shelf, and drawer was checked against both computer and paper records to make sure everything is up-to-date. It is also important to ensure that every object has a photograph accompanying its record in our database, as well as a physical tag recording the object’s accession number. A packing report is made for each object as well. It is displayed on the box or crate made for that item, allowing for easy identification while in storage.

Once the inventory process is complete, each object requires a condition report. With every object in our collection being moved, it is necessary to assess condition before packing, moving, and storage for an extended period of time. While this is a time-consuming process, it has a number of benefits, including aiding in future conservation efforts and drawing attention to any specialized care an object needs when being packed or during storage. For example, in 2014 we acquired a fantastic collection of art from Kenya. Among these objects are a number of skirts and aprons made from animal hide, a material that is quite susceptible to mold. Therefore, these items (and others like them) will need extra monitoring to make sure there are no issues.

After the inventory and conservation examination is complete, an object is ready to be packed. Whenever an item is moved or packed a digital record is created in our database, along with a backup paper record. We discovered that during this process it is extremely important to have someone on site who knows the collection well. As the curatorial assistant for the African, Oceanic, and Americas collection, I have been spending my days in the storage area recording each item and assisting with any additional questions, including those concerning numbering issues, materials, safe packing practices, and various oddities. Some issues may not occur to someone unfamiliar with the collection. For example, certain objects need to be packed together, while others need to be packed alone.

The actual packing of objects may sound very straightforward: you take the object, wrap it in bubble wrap, put it in a box, and move on to the next object, right? However, it is nowhere near that simple. The objects in the museum range in size, shape, material, and fragility, and the objects in the African, Oceanic, and Americas collection are some of the most diverse. They range in size from six-foot masks to 0.2-inch gold weights. There are also a wide variety of materials, including wood, fiber, bone, shell, feathers, hair, metal, and plastic. Often a single object will include several different materials. The size, shape, and materials used as well as any condition issues need to be taken into account when packing the object.

An example of a storage container specifically customized for the object it holds. Notice the supports on the lid, as well as inside the box.

While some items fit into standard size boxes, many require the creation of a specialized box or crate. While they may look like simple large boxes from the outside, they are very intricate on the inside, with close attention paid to every detail. The object must be secured in such a way that there is no chance of it moving around as the crate is transported. As a result, each crate has a number of specially made supports for the particular object it holds. In addition, the materials used for these supports (or anything that touches the object) must be of archival quality and acid-free. Also, the materials used can vary considerably based on the individual qualities of the object that is being packed. Some items in our collection have sticky materials on their outer surfaces—for these objects tissue paper will not work, as it will stick to the object. Instead, a soft archival fabric-like material is used. While this is a lengthy process, it has some added benefits, as we have been able to improve our storage methods in many ways. For example, within our textile storage, new containers and protective coverings were created for all of our leather and hide objects. This is an improvement over how they were initially stored.

Within our encyclopedic collection of more than 45,000 objects there are a myriad of different sizes, materials, and individual needs when packing and storing the collection. While it is a monumental challenge to pack up a collection of this size, it is also an opportunity to reassess our holdings and improve methods of storage and care for our collection. In that way, it is a great moment for ensuring that our collection will be properly preserved and available for Indiana University students, visiting scholars, and the general public for years to come. We look forward to unpacking our collection and reinstalling it in the newly renovated museum to provide a new way for everyone to engage with original works of art.

IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Website