John Himmelfarb: A Chicago-based Artist’s IU Connections

John Himmelfarb’s Toward the River in construction at IU Central Stores ceramic studio, 2010.

By Nan Brewer, Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper

Although born and raised in the Chicago area (where he currently resides) and educated at Harvard University, the artist John Himmelfarb (b. 1946) has a deep fondness for Indiana University.

In the late 1980s, Himmelfarb was invited to produce a print at Echo Press, a fine arts press associated with IU and founded by IU fine arts professor Rudy Pozzatti and master printer David Keister (who he’d worked with earlier on one of his first lithographs at Landfall Press in Chicago). Himmelfarb created a large-scale combination print with the assistance of Pozzatti and printer Dave Calkins.

The artist lost touch with IU until 2009, when his friend Stephen Mueller donated a major painting from Himmelfarb’s ongoing Truck series to the Eskenazi Museum of Art (then the Indiana University Art Museum) in memory of Mueller’s parents. Mueller recalled seeing the painting shortly after its completion in the artist’s studio: “It was a stunning first encounter and I continue to be surprised with every viewing. I would like my parents to be associated with a work that can provide others with a similar experience.… My father, who was an artist himself, would have called it a painter’s painting with all of the excitement in full view for the general public.” (Editor’s Note: This painting has indeed inspired many visitors to our museum, read a great story about the impact this painting had on a young student HERE.)

This gift encouraged Himmelfarb to make a return visit to Bloomington in 2010 where he met IU ceramics professor Malcolm Smith. After hearing about Himmelfarb’s interest in making large-scale clay truck sculptures, Smith invited him to come back the following year for an artist-in-residency and the museum asked him to present a Noon Talk, “Mad Dogs and Rust Buckets” on his work in the collection. Not only did students get a chance to work with an accomplished professional artist, but Himmelfarb was also able to undertake a monumental project that required more technical expertise and numerous assistants. The resulting piece, Toward the River (28½ x 38 x 83½ in.), unfortunately did not survive glazing and re-firing back in Chicago. Himmelfarb recently remarked, “I should really try to remake it, as it was something I liked a lot.” So you never know—he may be back to try again.

Realizing that the Eskenazi Museum of Art lacked examples of his other favorite subjects—based in calligraphic marks and hieroglyphic symbols—Himmelfarb encouraged collectors Stan Ries and Aline Hill-Ries to give two of his prints produced at UNO Print Workshop, and Nell and Paul Schneider to donate a beautiful mixed media drawing. More recently, Himmelfarb’s sister gave a complex pen and ink drawing that provides a deeper understanding of his earlier stylistic progression.

When documentarian Elizabeth Brackett began to make a short film on Himmelfarb’s career, the artist suggested the film crew go to Bloomington and shoot a segment in the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s works-on-paper storage room with Nan Brewer, the museum’s Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper.

Watch the video below:

Here are six works by John Himmelfarb in the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection.

John Himmelfarb (American, b.1946). Untitled (2-24-77), 1977. Black ink on Japanese paper. Sheet: 20 ½ x 31 3/4 in. (52.1 x 80.6 cm). Gift of Susan Himmelfarb, IU Eskenazi Museum of Art 2013.169

When a Harvard professor encouraged Himmelfarb to consider art as a career, he jumped in with a vengeance. As if he could not draw fast enough, Himmelfarb crammed his compositions with a myriad of details until his landscapes moved beyond representation into the realm of surrealism and non-objectivity. In this image animal-like creatures (fish, birds, and reptiles) peak out between vegetative forms, but the work is really about line and pattern. An earlier precedent for this type of fantasy mixed with linear abstraction can be found in Paul Klee’s etching Garden of Pleasure. Himmelfarb recalls that he grew up with books on Klee.

Paul Klee (Swiss, 1879–1940). Garden of Pleasure (Garten der Leidenschaft), 1913. Etching on paper. Image: 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. (8.9 x 14 cm). IU Eskenazi Museum of Art 75.2.2

Acknowledging a kind of automatism in his drawing technique, Himmelfarb said, “I get a little nervous when narrative element becomes too important and the investment in medium and process becomes less so. There is always a tug-of-war between content and abstraction, narrative and form.”

 

 

 

John Himmelfarb (American, b. 1946). Serena Lane Meeting, 1988. Color sugar-lift aquatint and relief flat on white Arches Cover paper. Image: 19 1/2 x 37 1/2 in. (49.5 x 95.3 cm). Echo Press Archive, IU Eskenazi Museum of Art 90.48.1

A multi-talented painter, sculptor, ceramist, and printmaker, Himmelfarb often works on an idea in a range of media over a period of years. Such is the case with this print (named after the artist’s then two-year-old daughter and Serena Lane in Bloomington, where master printer David Keister lived), which began in 1982 as a series of giant brush drawings. All of the works in the Meeting series feature a pair of grotesque heads (often accompanied by a snarling dog).

Despite the aggressive demeanor of the print’s protagonists—accentuated by the short, choppy black lines and fiery red-orange color—it was meant to represent confrontation and resolution. As such, the twining plant separating the faces might be construed as a divider or as a peace offering—an olive branch of sorts. The artist also saw the image as a psychological self-portrait with the frontal visage representing the integrated individual, while the face in profile and dog suggest competing inner voices. A lover of word play, Himmelfarb also enjoyed the title’s ironic pun on serenity.

John Himmelfarb (American, b. 1946). Quibble, 2000. Graphite and acrylic on pink paper. Sheet: 27 3/8 x 19 1/8 in. (69.5 x 48.6 cm). Gift from the collection of Nell and Paul Schneider, IU Eskenazi Museum of Art 2013.168

Himmelfarb has long been fascinated with the visual power of words and symbols. This drawing consists of a series of calligraphic shapes loosely based on Chinese or Korean seal script characters. The letters work together to form an “ideographic sequence” in seven horizontal lines with an empty space at the bottom that suggests room for a response. Even the title, Quibble, suggests a play on words or a pun. Within each letter is tiny written text in a vertical orientation with all capital letters and no punctuation. Although it is in English and readable, it remains a kind of insider’s joke on the condition of the art world and, thus, serves primarily as a textural contrast. The pinkish paper tone takes on an almost flesh-like appearance, transmuting the letters into cartoonish people or creatures, further referencing ideograms, pictograms, and hieroglyphs.

 

John Himmelfarb (American, b. 1946). Zklee, 2003-2004. Color aquatint and etching on Kitakata Chiri Large paper. Sheet: 23 3/4 x 35 3/4 in. (60.3 x 90.8 cm). Gift of Stan Ries and Aline Hill-Ries, Eskenazi Museum of Art 2010.99

Like fragments of a ceramic vessel, the shapes against this red claylike background long to be reconfigured into some sort of narrative. Figures follow visually from one shard into another. There are letters and recognizable pop culture references such as a Dick Tracy comic (by way of a Roy Lichtenstein work), as well as cartoonish, grotesque figures reminiscent of Chicago Imagist artists like Jim Nutt and Karl Wirsum. Although Himmelfarb moved back to Chicago in 1968, his work has never been associated with midwestern groups like the Hairy Who or Monster Roster, although his playful—and sometimes irreverent—imagery has natural affinities. Like them, he embraced the figurative with a raw energy, rather than a Pop artist’s cool. There are other little homages to his favorite artists, including Klee, as suggested by the print’s title, which sounds like giclée (zhee-KLAY), a computer printing process developed in the 1980s.

John Himmelfarb (American, b. 1946). Xtra Xtra, 2003-2004. Color sugar-lift aquatint, aquatint, and etching on Rives BFK tan paper. Image/sheet: 24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm). Gift of Stan Ries and Aline Hill-Ries, IU Eskenazi Museum of Art 2010.100

Through the use of brown and white inks on tan paper and the implied irregular edge of a tattered manuscript fragment against a black background, Himmelfarb suggests an ancient text. Since his freshman days at Harvard, when he invented his own pictorial alphabet, Himmelfarb has been fascinated by how people use markmaking to convey information. But what is this image trying to tell us? Is it a newspaper extra from some sort of distant or alien world? It reads like a puzzle with tile-like game pieces, letters, and numbers, but like all of Himmelfarb’s icons it remains mysterious and unfathomable. Himmelfarb began looking at the exterior contours of such images and making flat sculptures based purely on their form.

 

 

John Himmelfarb (American, b. 1946). Forbearance, 2009 Acrylic on canvas 54 x 76 in. (137.2 x 193.0 cm) Gift of Stephen Mueller in memory of Karl and Tanny Mueller, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2009.65

“Since 2003, Himmelfarb has created a body of work focused on the image of the truck. Explaining his fascination with trucks, he has said, “There’s just something about them that’s so easy to anthropomorphize.…They’ve got personality, a soul.”

Himmelfarb’s parents were artists, and they introduced him at a young age to postwar European painting. The spontaneity and directness in the work of these postwar painters—including Art Brut pioneer Jean Dubuffet and CoBrA members Pierre Alechinsky and Karel Appel—made a strong impression on Himmelfarb.

Jean Dubuffet (French, 1901–1985) Business Lunch (Dejeuner d’affaires), 1946 Oil and sand on canvas 35 x 45 1/2 in. (88.8 x 115.5 cm) Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Henry R. Hope, IU Eskenazi Museum of Art 69.157

The tension between representation and abstraction in Dubuffet’s work, as well as his gestural spontaneity, finds echoes in much of Himmelfarb’s oeuvre. The latter’s work, too, is characterized by its balance of painterliness and draftsmanship. Forbearance’s impastoed surface and vigorous brushwork are tempered by its calligraphic, linear pattering. Subtle hints of red, green, and blue soften the boldly black and white composition.”
(This entry excerpted from Curator of European and American Art Jenny McComas’s cover story in Indiana University Art Museum newsletter, November & December 2009).

 

 

You can learn more about John Himmelfarb on his website.

IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

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Celebrating the Centenary of Rodin’s Death

Image: Edward Steichen (American, 1879–1973). Rodin from Camera Work (vol. 2), 1903. Photogravure on paper. Eskenazi Museum of Art, 78.31A

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.

Image: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Head of Baudelaire, 1898 (cast 1959). Bronze. Gift of Mrs. Julian Bobbs, Eskenazi Museum of Art, 62.1

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.

Image: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Seated Nude Holding Left Ankle (Femme assise de tenant le pied gauche), ca. 1906–07. Watercolor over graphite on paper. William Lowe Bryan Memorial Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art, 66.31

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.”

Image: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Iris, Messenger of the Gods (Iris, messagère des dieux) (also known as Another Voice, called Iris), 1890/91 (cast 1960). Bronze. Gift of Marion and Rudolf Gottfried, Eskenazi Museum of Art, 2011.40

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.

IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

Copyright and Mourning: Funerary Art of New Ireland

The island of New Ireland, part of the contemporary nation of Papua New Guinea, is known for its remarkable and varied funerary art forms. The most famous of these is called Malangan, which is practiced by the peoples of northern New Ireland. These ceremonies free the living from obligations to the deceased and allow the spirit of the deceased to move on to the next life. The term Malangan refers both to the ceremony, performances, and feasts that are held to honor the deceased and the art objects that are created for them.

After a person’s death their matrilineal family line is responsible for sponsoring the Malangan celebrations, though other family members and friends can also contribute and honor the dead. These celebrations include both people from within the community and visitors and friends who have traveled to take part. As these celebrations include feasts, performances, and the ceremonial exchange of goods, they are often spread out over months and years. Given the great expense of such a celebration, it is not unusual for the Malangan to take place months to years after the death of an individual or for one celebration to be used to honor several people. Both receiving a Malangan celebration in one’s honor and sponsoring a celebration for another confers status within the community.

Malangan designs, motifs, and forms are often referred to as having “copyrights.” While this does not line up perfectly with the Western use of the term, it is a relatively good way to understand the rules of use connected with them. Only people who have the “rights” to them can use the designs, motifs, and forms, and these rights are owned by specific families as well as by people who have reached certain important stages in life (such as marriage or the birth of a child).

The peoples of southern New Ireland used chalk figures as a part of their memorial rituals. These figures, made by specialist artists in the center of the island, were created for the deceased’s spirit to enter and as a means of guiding that spirit to the afterlife. Once this purpose had been fulfilled the figure itself was destroyed.

There are two other major funerary art forms from New Ireland, which unlike Malangan are no longer practiced. In central New Ireland the Mandak peoples created memorial figures to embody the spirit of the deceased. These figures would commemorate the life of an individual man and were typically displayed as part of a ceremony for skull burial at the end of a yearlong funeral ritual for an important person.

 

Unknown Artist. New Ireland, Northwest area, Papua New Guinea. Memorial Carving in the Form of a Figure. Wood, pigment, fiber, sea snail opercula. Eskenazi Museum of Art 81.17

After the death of a loved one the family of the deceased commissions a sculptor or sculptors to create, over several months, elaborate memorial carvings known as Malangan. In some instances the head of a family may contribute a form or motif to a friend or community leader from another family.

Figures, such as this one, while varying greatly, typically represent an ancestor or mythical entity connected to the single life-giving force. The exact story or explanation of imagery used in a Malangan carving is only understood by the owner of the rights to that Malangan. Even other members of the community would not fully understand a Malangan they did not have the rights to use.

It is believed that during the public display of the figure the ancestor or mythical figure depicted dwells within the form. The final step in the creation of a Malangan figure is the placing of the eyes, which enliven the carving. Once the ceremony is over the figures are destroyed or sold to people outside of the community.

 

Unknown artist. New Ireland, Northwest area, Papua New Guinea. Mask, Tatanua. Wood, pigment, fiber, sea snail opercula. Eskenazi Museum of Art 63.15

In addition to the carvings utilized as part of the Malangan rituals, dances performed for the public were also extremely important. This mask was worn and danced by men and was created to convey manly beauty. The high crest represents a hairstyle worn by young men of the community during mourning. Additionally, the flaring nostrils and open mouth are common features for the form.

While the hairstyle shown is one worn by young men, the subject the mask depicts is not clearly agreed upon. Early reports suggest that the masks are representations of the dead, ancestors who have returned in order to participate in the Malangan. Many New Irelanders today reject this idea and instead believe the masks to be the representations of living people. It is unclear if this early report was mistaken or if people’s interpretation of the masks have changed over time.

These masks, which typically appear at the end of the Malangan rituals, are danced in pairs or groups. These dance performances are often given and paid for by a friend or by family members of the deceased. Unlike the carvings associated with Malangan that are created uniquely for the individual dance, masks are often rented from the sculptor who created them and can be reused in the future.

 

Unknown artist. New Ireland, Southern area, Papua New Guinea. Figure, kulap. Chalk, pigment. Eskenazi Museum of Art 62.67

After the conversion of the peoples of New Ireland to Christianity the practice of chalk figures came to a quick end. The last figures to be made are thought to have been created around 1910.

Before the early twentieth century when a man or woman from a prosperous family passed away a male relative would travel to obtain a chalk figure. These figures were sometimes commissioned, but sometimes pre-made figures were purchased, always with the sex of the figure matching the sex of the deceased.

Once the male relative returned home the figure would be presented to the local leader who was in charge of such images and placed with other figures in a memorial shrine. This shrine, located within an enclosure, was only to be viewed by men, though women often gathered outside to mourn the deceased.

 

Unknown Mandak artist. New Ireland, Central area, Papua New Guinea. Memorial Figure. Wood, pigment, shell, sea snail operculum, fiber. Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art 91.498

Visually there are number of connections to the Malangan carvings of northern New Ireland, such as the predominant use of black, white, and red pigments; however, unlike the Malangan memorial carvings, this one would be kept over many years. In fact, whenever a new figure was carved all of the other figures would be brought out and repainted for the occasion.

Perhaps the most striking characteristic of this type of figure is the presence of both male and female genitalia. It is thought that this may be a representation of the importance of both men and women within the community and as part of the reproductive cycle. However, very little firm evidence is known as these figures have not been created or used in several generations. Also, there are only a few known reports that describe their ceremonial context and these are based on very limited information. What is clear is that these figures were created to represent those who were powerful and important within their community.

Emma Kessler
Curatorial Assistant for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
IU Eskenazi Museum of Art

If you would like to learn more about South Pacific and Oceanic Art visit the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Highlights from the Collection website.

 

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.

2017 MFA Thesis Exhibitions Artist Spotlight: David Ondrik

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David Ondrik, MFA Thesis Sketch, 2017


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.

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David Ondrik, Inheritance (in-progress), 2017. Unfixed gelatin silver prints.

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.

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David Ondrik, Inheritance (detail), 2017. Unfixed gelatin silver prints.

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

The Fountain at 100

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Marcel Duchamp (French, active in the United States 1887-1968). Fountain, 1964 edition (original 1917). Painted ceramic. Partial gift of Mrs. William H. Conroy. Eskenazi Museum of Art 71.37.7

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. 

 

Your Favorite Things: Emma Kessler and a Māori Weaving Peg

maori-weaving-peg
Unknown Maori artist, New Zealand. Weaving Peg. Wood and haliotis shell. Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2010.21

Your Favorite Things is a regular feature on our blog where students, staff, and patrons of the museum talk about their favorite objects in the museum’s collection. Today Emma Kessler, curatorial assistant for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas discusses her favorite object, a Māori Weaving Pin.

Since I was a kid I’ve always loved museums. I love learning about other cultures through the objects they’ve created.

I first visited the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University on a campus visit while trying to decide where I wanted to attend graduate school. It is safe to say I was impressed with the collection and I was blown away by the objects in the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery of the Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

To be upfront, my graduate focus is on the art of Polynesia, and I happily admit that my opinions are completely biased, but as far as I am concerned the Polynesian collection is the best in the museum.

My favorite object is a beautiful and unfinished Māori Weaving Peg from Aotearoa (New Zealand). I go back to this object over and over again. I never walk past it without stopping at least for a moment, and if I have a visitor with me I always point it out. Among the Māori, weaving was historically a sacred act carried out by women, and there was great care, attention, and power put into the necessary tools.

emma-portrait
Emma Kessler

I love the history and unique qualities of this object. While it is certainly not the only example of a carved weaving peg, it is one of the most elaborate. The crispness of the carving is the result of metal tools that had only been introduced relatively recently when the weaving peg was created in the 18th century. Its use of interlocking figures, a characteristic of Māori carving, means there is always something new to see and more to look at. I never get bored when spending time with this object.

However, my favorite thing about this weaving peg is the fact that it is unfinished. In a purely visual way, this allows one to see and get a better understanding of how the peg was made. The figures at the bottom have been roughly outlined but are nowhere near the completed intricacy of the figures above them. Through a cultural lens this unfinished quality becomes even more interesting. Every part of the carving process included chants and prayers, imbuing the object with mana, or sacred power, and creating an intense connection between the object and the carver. When the peg’s carver was unable to finish it (perhaps because of illness or death) another carver would not be able to complete it, as the continuity of the ritual had been broken.

Because of objects and histories like this one, the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery has become my favorite space on the IU campus. For me, it is a place to think, reflect, learn, and enjoy.

If you would like to tell us about your favorite object in the museum’s collection contact us at iuam@indiana.edu

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website