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

 

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

Lou Block: An Unexpected Slice of Life

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Image: Lou Block (American, 1895-1969). Conversation No. 1, ca. 1960. Gelatin silver print. Henry Holmes Smith Archive, Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.X.18.1

Today we bring you a look into the work of American photographer Lou Block by Nan Brewer, the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper. Block’s work, along with that of other influential photography professors, including Minor White, Allen Downs, Aaron Siskind, and Indiana University’s first photography professor, Henry Holmes Smith, will be on view in a new installation, Modern Pioneers: Professors of Photography, from November 8, 2016, through May 7, 2017, in the museum’s first floor gallery of the Art of the Western World. 

Lou Block is primarily known as a muralist, illustrator, and arts administrator, and served as a supervisor for the WPA Federal Art Project in New York City. During his tenure with the FAP he raised issues of racism and segregation within the government-sponsored organization, particularly the rejection of designs by black artists for the Harlem Hospital. Block was also involved politically with the Artists Congress and Artists’ Union, which organized an artists’ strike in 1934. Having worked with the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera on his controversial Rockefeller Center murals, Block understood the power of art to move people and recognized the importance of truthfulness.

Inspired by his friend Ben Shahn, Block took up the camera as well as the brush and pen. He approached photography with the same honesty and creative passion as he did his other work. During his years in New York City he photographed numerous mural projects (many now lost), the Artists’ Union strike, and studies for a mural proposed at Riker’s Island. In 1951 Block moved to Kentucky, where he taught painting and creative photography at the University of Louisville. His later photographs include shots taken in Louisville, Mexico, New York City, and New Jersey.

Block’s photographs continued in the documentary tradition of the Farm Security Administration, while embracing the grittier, urban style of the New York Photo League. This image with its closely cropped focus on two foreground figures offers an intimate look into their private world. Never overly sentimentalizing or condescending to his subjects, Block used a 35mm camera to record as unobtrusively as possible a fleeting moment in time. While the interaction between the women is the central focus of the picture, the blurred tapestry of street life seen in the background provides the social context. Like the street photography of Robert Frank—whose book The Americans was published in the US in 1959—Block’s image relies on gesture and unexpected juxtapositions to reveal the whole story.

Nanette Esseck Brewer

The Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

Your Favorite Things: Rebecca Hinton and Bernardo Strozzi’s St. Dorothy

strozziImage (click to enlarge): Bernardo Strozzi (Italian, 1581-1644). St. Dorothy, 1615-20. Oil on canvas. Eskenazi Museum of Art 80.12

Welcome to Your Favorite Things, our ongoing series where students, community members, and staff of the museum discuss their favorite works from the museum’s collection. Today, Rebecca Hinton, a security guard here at the museum, discusses, St. Dorothy, a large oil painting by Bernardo Strozzi that can be found in the Gealt Gallery in Gallery of the Art of the Western World on the first floor of the museum. 

Full disclaimer: I do not have a favorite artwork in our museum, any more than I have a favorite film, food, or color. How do people do that? After all, to play favorites is to bring a built-in lens to anything that you are trying to appreciate: it limits the potential for joy, and limits what you actually see. However, I’ll try to play along, just this once. As an art museum security guard, I actually have extensive time to live with and savor our collection, in a way that even other members of our staff are not really able to do. And one of the pieces that I find exquisite, that is moving, that has presence and emotional impact, is Bernardo Strozzi’s St. Dorothy.

Rebecca1Image: Rebecca Hinton with St. Dorothy

A monumental figure is gracefully seated in the darkness, patiently awaiting your approach. Your eye falls to her sandaled foot, which gingerly nudges itself out of the blackness. Above this foot is a swirl of darkness and beautiful fabrics: blue, yellow, pink, and filmy white seem to fly about her figure like startled birds, only to vanish into the void beyond. Her right arm appears to be resting on an unseen chair – the most beautiful hand curves downward, long fingers gently holding a tendril of that restless fabric, moving about her figure. In her other arm she cradles a child-angel, who holds a rose against his breast. The faces of both figures are pale and flushed. Unnaturally flushed? Is St. Dorothy unwell, or is she already not quite of this world? Either way the blush in the cheeks of both figures is evocative of the petals of the rose in the child’s hands. The child’s gaze is focused somewhere beyond, but St. Dorothy’s gaze is steady, her face turned fully toward the viewer. She has the aspect of a good listener, and of someone who knows the world and its sorrows. Her expression and the child’s are both full of pathos, but St. Dorothy’s is particularly complex. Her face is made exquisite by the traces of sadness and pain in her expression, but she is also steady, composed, and resolute. She is both monumentally there (she fills the entire canvas), but fleeting. She has decided to briefly, gingerly, emerge out of that darkness, for the sake of the viewer. She is here. She is listening.

Like the best Madonnas, St. Dorothy gazes down at the viewer with a knowing look, full of compassion. I have always found it interesting how often male saints are depicted as looking up, aspiring toward heaven, whereas Mary and the female saints are more likely to be looking down at the spectator. It seems to me that these ladies are already with God, and their energies are focused on others. They are coming from another place, and they are here to help. Second disclaimer: I was a Religious Studies major back in college. In Catholicism, Mary acts as an intercessor, a bridge between mortals and heaven. Female saints like Dorothy often seem to be portrayed in the same way. According to the accounts of her life, Dorothy was persecuted, tortured, and killed for her faith. Before she was beheaded, she told the mob gathered about her that she looked forward to going to a place that knew no winter. A man in the crowd named Theophilus attempted to ridicule her by requesting a basket of roses and apples from heaven. Dorothy earnestly promised to fulfill that request. That winter an angel in the guise of a small boy brought the roses and the apples. Theophilus converted to Christianity, and in turn was also martyred.

The story is full of pain, but also the beauty of hope. The promise of fruit and flowers, the promise in the dead of winter that spring, full of life and fecundity, will return, is ancient, deep, and good (and found across religions). It is a simple miracle, but that makes it all the more poignant and powerful. The painting is symbolically rich. The mysterious darkness from which St. Dorothy emerges – is it God? The Unknown? Death?—I’ve always loved the play of light and dark: the dappled light under a tree, or in an Impressionist painting, the curious play of positive and negative space in a silhouette, or in the exquisitely carved crescent shapes of an Alamblak Peoples’ War and Hunting Spirit Figure, or in the intricate designs of a lime spatula handle (both of which can be found in our third floor gallery). Light and dark, the known and the unknown, at play or fighting for dominance, is powerful, provocative, stimulating. What isn’t being revealed? Are we ever really content to accept the view presented to us? Like St. Dorothy, Strozzi was no stranger to pain and suffering. He left the monastery to care for his ailing mother, and he had to take painting commissions in order to make ends meet. I am both intrigued and impressed by Strozzi: painter, monk, and caregiver, all in one life. He seemed to have a good sense of priorities, and a foot in both the sacred and secular realms. Anyone who could paint a face like St. Dorothy’s, or that beautiful hand, curling in toward the darkness…I hope you come and visit her, and our other treasures someday soon, and I hope you find them as stimulating and as nourishing as I do.

If you would like to talk about your favorite work at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, write to us at iuam@indiana.edu

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

 

Spotlights: Burton Yost Berry: A Sketch

Burton Yost Berry
Burton Yost Berry

This summer the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is exhibiting Spotlights: Five Views into the Museum’s Collection. The museum’s outstanding collection of ancient jewelry is celebrated by Juliet Istrabadi, acting Curator of the Ancient Art, for her section of the exhibition.

The following is an excerpt from A Golden Legacy: Ancient Jewelry from the Burton Y. Berry Collection, a catalogue written by  published by the IU Eskenazi Musuem of Art (then know as the Indiana University Art Museum) in 1995 to accompany an exhibition of the museum’s famed ancient jewelry collection. That exhibition traveled to the St. Louis Art Museum, the Museum of Art and Archeology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and the Tampa Museum of Art, as well as being displayed here in Bloomington at our museum. We present this post today to honor Berry for both amassing his wonderful collection, and his generosity in donating it to our museum. He is truly a pivotal donor in the history of our museum. You can currently view a large selection of pieces from the Burton Y. Berry collection in our Spotlights exhibition, on view now through September 4, 2016. Additional works from the Burton Y. Berry Collection are regularly on view in the museum’s Gallery of the Art of Asia and the Ancient Western World, on the second floor.  Continue reading “Spotlights: Burton Yost Berry: A Sketch”

From the IU Art Museum to Sotheby’s: A Conversation with Aimee Pflieger

FullSizeRender (1)Aimee Pflieger is an Indiana University success story. After completing both a BA in Art History in 1999 and an MA in modern American art in 2001 at Indiana University, Aimee has been moving up in the world of art. During her college years she got a start working at the IU Art Museum as a Fess Graduate Assistant in the Works on Paper Department. After her time at IU, Aimee worked in galleries in Chicago and Philadelphia before beginning a significant tenure at Freeman’s Auction House. In 2015, Aimee was hired by Sotheby’s in New York, where she currently works as a Specialist in the Photographs Department. You might have even seen her on Antiques Roadshow when in April of 2015 she appraised the highest-valued photographs in the history of the show. Aimee was kind enough to take some time out of her busy day to discuss her current role at Sotheby’s and her time at IU and the IU Art Museum:

Indiana University Art Museum: What was your degree at IU, and what areas of study/topics were your focus?

Aimee Pflieger: I pursued a Master’s degree in art history, with a specialization in the history of photography. I also took a good deal of coursework in German, studio art, photojournalism, religious studies, and literature.

IUAM: Why did you attend IU? What drew you to IU and Bloomington?

AP: I had always heard about how fantastic IUB was for fine arts–music, theater, studio art, and more. As I was researching college options, I began to read more about the art history department at IUB and was impressed by the instructors and facilities and I knew that it would be a good choice for me. It turned out to be a better fit than I could have imagined, as I quickly learned how great it was to have a world-class, encyclopedic art museum on campus, as well as the wonderful Fine Arts Library a few paces from my dorm room.

IUAM: What was your first experience at the IU Art Museum?

AP: I visited the museum as a freshman in an art history survey class, and Ed Maxedon, the curator of education, gave us a tour of the museum highlights. His enthusiasm was infectious and he really made the collections come alive. It was at that time that I started looking into opportunities to work there in some capacity during my studies.

IUAM: Tell me about your time working at the IU Art Museum?

AP: I was very fortunate to have received the Fess Graduate Assistantship as a graduate student, which afforded me the opportunity to work with the works on paper area. Nan Brewer, the curator of works on paper, really went out of her way to mentor me, and I learned a great deal from her. I spent many hours cataloging photographs by Art Sinsabaugh, whose archives are held at the museum. I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the fact that I was able to see an artist’s entire body of work in one place until later in my career, when I realized how unique that situation truly was.

IUAM: What is your current position at Sotheby’s?

AP: I am a Specialist in the Photographs Department.

IUAM: How did you land the job?

AP: I saw the opening advertised on their website, and simply applied! It is a rare for an opening in that department to become available, so I knew I would have to jump at the opportunity. There was a series of interviews with the department to make sure that I was a good fit for the team, both in terms of my expertise but also my personality, since it’s a small, close-knit department.

IUAM: What is a typical day in your role at Sotheby’s?

AP: My workdays never look the same! Some of my responsibilities include visiting or speaking with potential consignors regarding their photographs and providing auction estimates for the works in their collections. I also advise buyers interested in particular lots in upcoming sales, since they may have questions about provenance or condition of an artwork. I assist with client appraisals for insurance purposes. Sometimes I spend time researching in our library and writing essays for our catalogues.

IUAM: How did your education at IU help prepare you for your role at Sotheby’s?

AP: Having access to such a wide range of coursework with world-renowned scholars was a boon to my career. After all, the history of art is really not just about art appreciation, but is composed of many different fields of study, such as language, religion, politics, and history.

IUAM: How did your experience at the IU Art Museum help you prepare for your job at Sotheby’s?

AP: During my fellowship I learned the basics of cataloging, doing condition reports, and handling artwork properly. That hands-on experience was invaluable.