Janelle Beasley, Works on Paper Preparator, Eskenazi Museum of Art
In pursuit of a new level of care for the works-on-paper collection at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, I recently attended an introductory course in paper conservation at the International Preservation Studies Center (IPSC). Located in the small town of Mount Carroll, Illinois, the IPSC offers more than 75 courses in collections care and historic preservation. Since its founding in 1980, the center has become a wonderful resource for museum professionals, archivists, librarians, and all those tasked with preserving historical artifacts.
As the works-on-paper preparator at the EMA, my primary duty is to mat and frame the collection of prints, drawings, and photographs for exhibition and storage. Museum standards include using archival materials, framing the works with UV-filter glazing, and limiting their exposure to light. Given that paper degrades over time (to varying degrees depending on its quality), these preventative measures are crucial to prolonging the life of an object.
A damaged object, however, may require intervention by a conservator to improve its condition. In addition to internal degradation, paper can suffer from external sources such as poor storage conditions, exposure to light or humidity, acid migration, wear and tear, pollutants, and pest infestation. The instructors of “Care of Paper Artifacts,” Susan Russick and Tonia Grafakos of Northwestern University Libraries, provided a framework for understanding these issues as well as basic conservation treatments, including mending with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste, surface cleaning, humidification and flattening, adhesive removal, and deacidification.
One benefit of attending the IPSC is getting to know other collections professionals. Our class of ten included representatives from a wide variety of institutions, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the Walt Disney Archives. All of us shared the common goal of providing care to the paper artifacts in our collections. Now that I am back in Bloomington and the museum is closed for renovations, I am focusing on re-housing works, updating data, and making minor repairs for a portion of the collection. Working with the EMA’s collection of 22,000 works on paper (and counting), it is safe to say there will always be a need for care.
November 17, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917), one of modern art’s most famous sculptors. This portrait of the aging artist appeared in Alfred Stieglitz’s journal Camera Work. Stieglitz was an early proponent of modern art in America and he promoted Rodin’s work. He reproduced nine of Rodin’s drawings in Camera Work, vol. 34/35 (Eskenazi Museum of Art, 200.XIII.35.5–.13).
One of Stielgitz’s favorite photographers was Edward Steichen, who shared his interests in pushing the artistic possibilities of photography. In his early portraiture, Steichen embraced a Pictorialist aesthetic that featured the soft-focused veils of tone and idealized subjects promoted by Stieglitz. Steichen also sought to further the status of the medium through references to other fine arts. In this portrait, Steichen posed a pensive Rodin in silhouette against the gleaming white of the sculptor’s recently completed monument to the French novelist Victor Hugo. More than capturing a likeness, this image serves as a metaphor for the creative process—with the artist’s masterwork looking down angelically on its maker. The photogravure appears to be a cropped version in reverse of Steichen’s 1902 gum bichromate print, the latter of which was created by combining two negatives. The larger image, which was reproduced in Camera Work, no. 11, 1905 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.11.7) and a Special Steichen Supplement, 1906 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.15.10), also included and image of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker (Le Penseur) facing the artist. The journal reproduced two more traditional portraits of the famous artist: by Steichen in Camera Work, vol. 34/35, 1911 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.35.1), and by the British photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn in Camera Work, vol. 21, 1908 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.22.40), further suggesting Rodin’s importance to burgeoning modern artists on both sides of the Atlantic.
The first work by Rodin to enter the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection was a portrait head of the great French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire (French, 1821–1867). Rodin never met Baudelaire, but his art was shaped by the former’s theories of modernity and subjectivity. In 1892, a group of writers commissioned Rodin to design a monument commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Baudelaire’s death. He gladly made a portrait sculpture for the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris. Six years later, he reworked this image as an independent piece.
To make this portrait, Rodin studied the death mask of the poet and made life studies of a man said to bear a striking resemblance to Baudelaire. At the same time, he tried to conjure up the spirit of a Roman bust, allying the subject with the dignity and longevity of ancient writers. Finally, Rodin drew upon his own personal response to Baudelaire’s poetry to give expression to the artist’s viewpoint and to inject the eternal, spiritual quality that he—and Baudelaire—sought in art.
Rodin, whose sculptural talents are often considered equal to those of Michelangelo, was able to imbue simple compositions with psychological depth and intensely expressive feeling. Rodin was greatly influenced by Baudelaire’s 1857 poem The Flowers of Evil, which encouraged him to explore erotic themes, as seen in his sculpture of the goddess Iris.
The first and only drawing by Rodin to enter the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection was acquired in 1966. Albert Elsen—an expert on Rodin and professor of art history at IU (1958–68)—noted in a letter (April 8, 1966) to the donor, James S. Adams, “It is a superb drawing and there is no question as to its authenticity. Every week I am called upon to give an expertise on a Rodin drawing or sculpture, many of which are fakes. But this drawing is of the highest quality and unmistakably by Rodin.” He went on to say, “This new acquisition will give me many hours of enjoyment and a superb work of art to use in my courses.” Although not as well-known as his sculptures, Rodin’s drawings and watercolors—of which he produced more than 10,000—are regarded by some scholars as more experimental and spontaneous than his large, three-dimensional works. Although they rarely served a preparatory studies for his sculpture, Rodin said in 1910, “It’s very simple. My drawings are the key to my work.”
Although the Eskenazi Museum of Art had not acquired a new work by Rodin in forty-five years, the gift of a bronze in 2011 rectified that situation. Seeming to defy the laws of gravity as she balances on one foot, Iris has a muscular body suggesting that of a dancer in Rodin’s frankly erotic sculpture. Her weightlessness also refers to the ancient Greek goddess’s role as a messenger traveling between the worlds of gods and humans.
Nan Brewer, Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper, and Jenny McComas, Curator of European and American Art,
Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University.
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 2016USA 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.
Servant Figure of a Brewer, Egyptian, Old Kingdom, 5th Dynasty, ca. 2565-2430 BCE. Limestone and paint. H. 7 7/8 in. (20.0 cm). 77.77.
Striding Young Man (Kouros), Cypriote, ca. 500-450 BCE. Limestone, paint. H. 4 3/4 in (12.1cm), W. 1 5/8 in. (4.1cm). V.G. Simkovitch Collection, 63.105.113
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Two major works from the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection are now on view in the Dallas / Fort Worth area.
After premiering at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain, Between Heaven and Hell: The Drawings of Jusepe de Ribera recently opened at the Meadows Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas. Curated by Gabriele Finaldi, former Associate Director of Conservation and Research at the Museo del Prado, and current Director of the National Gallery in London, the exhibition celebrates the first catalogue raisonné of Ribera’s drawings. The aim of the catalogue is to give a complete vision of Ribera as a draughtsman and to document all of the known drawings by his hand (around 160 in total). Among the drawings in the catalogue and exhibition is Saint Sebastian seated and attached to a Tree from the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The drawing is highlighted in the catalogue as “One of Jusepe de Ribera’s most beautiful drawings, this work demonstrates the artist’s expert handling of the chalk medium for shading and contour, his understanding of human anatomy, and his dramatic use of contortion in the figure’s sinuous pose.” We are very happy to contribute to this new look at a major Spanish artist. Other loaning institutions beyond the Eskenazi, include the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), British Museum (London), Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), and the Istituto Centrale per la Grafica (Rome). The exhibition at the Meadows is on view now through June 11, 2017.
Stuart Davis’s masterpiece Swing Landscape, a perennial favorite of visitors to the Eskenazi Museum of Art, is currently on loan to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in nearby Fort Worth, Texas. Produced under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, the 1938 mural portrays the Gloucester, Massachusetts, waterfront through the lens of Davis’s exuberant brand of abstraction. As the New York Times’s art critic Holland Cotter recently wrote, “we see bits of Gloucester—ships, buoys, lobster traps—but basically we’re in a whole new universe of jazzy patterns and blazing colors, a landscape defined not by signs but by sensations: sound, rhythm, friction.” Swing Landscape recently anchored Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, a major retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Swing Landscape will remain on view at the Amon Carter Museum throughout the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s renovation, which is set to be completed by fall of 2019.
Every spring the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University partners with the IU School of Art and Design to present thesis exhibitions of graduating Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) candidates in the visual arts. Exhibitions take place in three groups, March 29- May 7, 2017. Today we spotlight one of our 2017 exhibitiors, photographer David Ondrik, whose work will be on display in Group One, from March 29 to April 9, 2017.
Hi David, tell us a little about yourself, where you are from, and why you came to Indiana University?
I was born in Bloomington, although I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I picked up photography in high school and continued my education at the University of New Mexico, where I studied with Thomas Barrow, Patrick Nagatani, and Betty Hahn. After a few years in private industry doing graphic design, I got a teaching certificate and became a high school art teacher. Throughout my ten years of teaching I continued to create and exhibit my own photographic art, which is in a handful of museum and public art collections in New Mexico. I came to IU to work with James Nakagawa and dedicate time to my art practice, with the benefit of being able to teach at the college level when I’m through.
What will you be featuring at your upcoming exhibition at the art museum?
Physically, I’ll be exhibiting a large-scale (10’ x 30’) installation of nearly 250 unique gelatin silver prints made in a chemical darkroom.
What themes are you exploring through your upcoming exhibition?
My recent work is an exploration of the Sublime through the inheritance of tools both real and metaphorical. The Sublime is a visual-spiritual experience with roots in 19th-century Romanticism that refers to “experiences of awe, terror, boundlessness, and divinity.” The impetus for this work came in the aftermath of my father’s death and the struggle to make sense of what was passed along to me. On a physical level, I inherited his woodworking tools, including old-fashioned hand planes and saws. They are simultaneously a treasured gift and an uncomfortable burden. Not being particularly skilled in woodworking, I endeavored to find a way to use the tools for photographic image making.
They are perfect for photograms, a technique that goes back to the beginning of photography where physical objects are arranged on a light-sensitive material (usually paper) and the composition is exposed to light. The shadows cast by the objects create the light shapes while the dark shapes are formed by direct exposure to the light source.
In my photograms, the image of the originating object is completely lost. So not only is the original use of the hand plane subverted, so too is its form. The black shapes reference an event horizon, the outer boundary of a Black Hole beyond which light cannot escape. This is a metaphor for death — the deceased have entered a realm the living cannot understand, but their presence is still felt. The voids float within neutral earth tones, a textural murk that references our body’s cells, bones, and skin. Each image is assembled from smaller pieces into a larger whole, much like the accumulation of individual events into the memories and experiences that make up a life. The images are not properly “fixed,” so they remain sensitive to light. They will change over time, mirroring the way memories and experience shift and evolve. In front of these images, there is room for quiet meditation and reflection, an opportunity to safely confront the traumas of existence.
Who is your favorite artist, and what about their work inspires you?
It’s hard to say as I think it changes. But based on my bookcase, my favorites are Anselm Kiefer and Joel-Peter Witkin. Both of them address disturbing issues with seductive beauty. They also both challenge the conventions of photography; Kiefer’s photographic work ignores technical standbys like tonal range, clean negatives, and proper exposure, while Witkin scratches negatives and bleaches prints as part of his aesthetic.
What are your plans after IU?
I want to return to teaching, either at the college or secondary level.
You can learn more about David and his work at his website, davidondrik.com. David’s work will be on view along with additional work by fellow MFA candidates, photographer Zandra Raines, and textile artist Molly Evans Fox, at the Eskenazi Museum of Art from March 29-April 9, 2017. There will be a gallery talk with the artists from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, March 31, and a reception on Friday, March 31, from 6 to 8 p.m. Find out more about the MFA Thesis Exhibitions here.
One of the jewels of the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University’s collection is a complete set of the 1964 edition of Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades. Duchamp was a French artist who was associated with the Dada movement, which sought to redefine traditional artistic practices. During World War I, Duchamp moved to New York City, where he became a central figure in that city’s artistic community. Duchamp’s major contribution to Dada—and to modern art more generally—were the Readymades, mass-produced objects that he presented as works of art. Duchamp undermined the original functionality of the objects through slight alterations or by installing them in an unusual way. By emphasizing an intellectual approach to art over craftmanship or stylistic expressivity, Duchamp posed a serious challenge to long-accepted definitions of art. His radical thinking of artistic practice inspired the development of conceptual art and the use of nontraditional materials within the realm of fine art.
The year 2017 marks the centennial of Fountain, the most famous—and notorious—Readymade. One hundred years ago, in April 1917, the Society of Independent Artists in New York refused to display Fountain—a urinal turned on its back and signed “R. Mutt”—in its annual exhibition. Because Fountain and many other original Readymades were lost not long after their creation, Duchamp and the Milan gallerist Arturo Schwartz decided to produce a replica edition of these works in 1964. The reproduction of the Readymades acknowledged their significance to the development of modern art. The Eskenazi Museum of Art is one of only three museums worldwide that holds all thirteen Readymades reproduced in the 1964 edition. The installation Fountain at 100 celebrates the Readymades, with special emphasis on Fountain, on view in the museum’s first floor Gallery of Art of the Western World from January 24 through May 7, 2017. Works by artists inspired by Duchamp—Man Ray, Joseph Cornell, and Lucas Samaras—will also be on view. We hope you take this opportunity to visit and see Duchamp’s Readymades in person for yourself.
The Eskenazi Museum of Art will also be hosting a free Noon Talk on February 15, 2017 from 12:15-1:00 p.m. entitled “Out of the Box: The Legacy of the Readymade,” presented in conjunction with Fountain at 100. Andrew Wang, graduate assistant for European and American art, will discuss the influence of Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades on Jospeh Cornell, Louise Nevelson, and Lucas Samaras. This Noon Talk will take place in the Gallery of the Art of the Western World, first floor, and is free and open to the public. No prior reservation is necessary to attend.
Please visit the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Website for gallery hours and more information on visiting the museum. Admission at the Eskenazi Museum of Art is always FREE.