This Egyptian comb from the ninth century is a recent addition to our ancient collection. Carved from wood, with thick teeth on one side and finer teeth on the other, it has an ornamental design that was cut into the central panels. On one side, the design seems anthropomorphic: the viewer can glimpse eyes and a nose (which make the thick teeth seem like actual teeth and the fine teeth like hair). The comb itself is recognizable as a tool used in daily life, and the whimsical feeling that comes from the discovery of a hidden face is also familiar. Objects like this help us bridge large gaps in time and engage with life in the ancient world.
Although little known today, Ahron Ben-Shmuel was recognized as a leading American sculptor in the 1930s. Known as a “sculptor’s sculptor” among his peers, Ben-Shmuel was especially admired for his technical mastery of stone carving, although he also worked in terracotta and bronze. In the 1930s, his sculptures were featured in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Sculptor’s Guild in New York.
Ben-Shmuel’s streamlined style reflected his study of ancient sculpture as well as the influence of modernism. Although only fifteen inches high, The Captive (alternately titled The Martyr, Saint Sebastian) conveys a powerful sense of anguish. In both subject (human suffering) and style (figural elongation), the piece has a clear affinity with German Expressionist sculpture.
The Captive will complement the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s holdings of German sculpture, revealing the international dissemination of Expressionism, and reintroducing a significant American modern artist to our visitors.
This year, our education department is launching the Sara and Bob LeBien Arts-based Wellness Pilot Program, which will connect children who have suffered from neglect or abuse with the healing and educational power of art. As part of this program, our education department staff will expand to include a certified art therapist.
About the Program:
Guided by an art therapist, children who have suffered from abuse or neglect will make art and look at works from the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection in the Learning Lab and galleries. They will be immersed in the creative process for self-expression, stress reduction, healing, and learning. The children’s studio work will be connected to experiences in the galleries for opportunities to validate the child’s expressions, emotions, and self-efficacy. Gallery and studio experiences will help the child form positive bonds with other children, the art therapist, and the cultures, artists, and ideas represented in the galleries.
Why Art Therapy? Why at the Museum? Making art is natural for children. Expressing through art mediums, like drawing, painting, or forming clay, is an accessible form of communication for children that is easier than spoken language. Artmaking fosters emotional development that bolsters cognitive, social, and physical advancement. For children who have suffered trauma, it is a powerful tool for expressing emotions or sharing experiences that may be difficult to articulate with words. If left unexpressed, these emotions and experiences can become a major barrier for overall educational development. For example, being mad or sad is not always easy to describe with words, but a child can put these emotions into a drawing, which can be the starting point for communication and healing. This reflective and expressive process leads the child to a better understanding of her/his feelings and thoughts.
Cognitive, social, and physical development also emerge when children experience the arts. Artmaking advances the development of motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and muscle control. Through artmaking, children naturally encounter cognitive complexities, such as cause and effect, or imagined and real. In their interaction with the arts, children have to make choices that have visual consequences, which, in connection with their body’s actions, is a highly efficient route to learning new concepts. Through talking about works of art, children learn critical thinking and looking skills; build vocabulary; and discover ways to reason in evidence, ask questions, and seek answers.
These kinds of complex thinking experiences, which connect the mind with the body’s senses, positively impact the brain’s neural connections. Conversely, research suggests that experiencing trauma has significant negative impacts on neural connections for children. For example, the number of times a child experiences the flight or fright release of chemicals directly impacts their wiring for learning, essentially weakening the structure upon which all learning relies. Experiences with the arts require problem-solving and brain activity that build a stronger physical learning structure. Studies show that both artmaking and looking at art reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and they can also increase endorphins, which combat the ill effects of stress. By pairing our newly renovated museum galleries and new education center with the practices of art therapy we can study the impact of a museum-based art therapy program for children. We think this has potential to change children’s lives, both directly through our program, but also as a model for other art museums.
I most sincerely thank Bob LeBien for his gift to pilot this program. If you are interested in learning more or would like to help support this program, please contact me at email@example.com.
Lucienne M. Glaubinger Director of Education
This article was originally printed in the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art’s magazine. If you would like to receive print copies of our magazine, sign up for our mailing list HERE.
Recently, the museum received a wonderful collection of approximately 100 Japanese ceramics and 22 prints, many of them triptychs, donated by Professors Walter Melion and John Clum. The collection is stunning in the quality, beauty, and presence of each print and ceramic.
The ceramic collection was begun by Hans Melion (Walter’s father), who was born in Vienna during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph (r. 1848–1916). From a family of collectors, Hans began acquiring Japanese ceramics in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Forced to flee Vienna in 1940, he migrated east, first to Shanghai then Manila, where he was befriended by a community of Anglican missionaries, including a woman named Nellie McKim whose father had been the Anglican bishop of Tokyo. Nellie, a great admirer of Japanese ceramics, encouraged Hans to rebuild his collection and he continued to do so after moving to San Francisco in the 1960s. The Melion collection centers on decorative ceramics that were produced in Japan between the 1880s and 1930s, with a preference for Imari and Kutani pieces. Hans was a connoisseur of underglaze and overglaze techniques, and he was sensitive to the relationship between a pot’s shape and its painted decoration. When he died in the late 1990s, Hans left a bequest of funds to fill gaps (works by unrepresented Imari factories and workshops) in the collection.
Terminology used to describe and distinguish various types of ceramics during this period is often confusing. The most common descriptors are kiln, family, and place names and sometimes these overlap. For example, Imari ceramics are also called Arita or Kakeimon ceramics. Arita is a town located in Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island whose principle economic and artistic activity is devoted to the production of high-end overglaze ceramics. Imari is the port from which porcelain was shipped to other parts of Japan and the West. Sometimes these ceramics are identified as Kakeimon after the name of the seventeenth-century potter Sakaida Kakeimon who perfected the technique of overglaze enamel decoration. His kiln was near the town of Arita. Kutani is another place name also located in Kyushu near the city of Kanazawa. But, with a long history of production there are several types of Kutani ware, which are differentiated by age and decorative technique.
The collection brings together some of the finest examples of Japanese ceramics created during this window of time and specificity of place. Many pieces in the collection were produced by the Fukugawa family factory in Arita. It makes high-quality ceramics decorated with exquisite detail and technical perfection that are fit, quite literally, for an emperor. The Fukugawa factory has been the purveyor of Japanese ceramics to the imperial family since 1910.
Unusually, the collection also includes many pairs of ceramics. It is hard enough to find one piece in pristine condition, so imagine the difficulty of finding two! The entire collection is of the highest quality, and the addition of these marvelous ceramics enriches our holdings in immeasurable ways. Future guests to the museum can look forward to seeing a rotating selection in the galleries, and they will likely come away impressed and delighted by these masterpieces of Japanese art.
In describing the origins of their wonderful print collection, John Clum and Walter Melion recall, “One day in a gallery in London about thirty years ago we got the bug and began buying Japanese woodblock prints.” The first was by Hiroshige, but John’s interest soon focused on Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–1892), especially his series 100 Phases of the Moon (1885–92), and Toyohara Chikanobu (1838–1912), an underappreciated artist recommended by Bruce Coates, who was writing the definitive book on the artist. The purchase of many other prints, particularly diptychs and triptychs, followed.
Both artists’ careers span the decades when Japan was emerging from about 250 years of self-imposed isolation. However, each of them reacted to their changing world in very different ways. Yoshitoshi, although interested in modernization and Westernization, increasingly focused on traditions of the past while Chikanobu emphatically embraced and documented the world around him. The majority of the prints in this gift are by Chikanobu, with a few by his close, but less well-known, contemporaries. Chikanobu’s life spanned the end of the Edo period (1615–1868) and the beginning of the Meiji period (1868–1912), a time of social unrest, encroachment by Western powers (notably the United States), and the modernization of every aspect of Japanese life, from education and the economy to the electrification of the cities and the writing of a constitution.
In his prints, Chikanobu addressed contemporary life, from images of the Sino-Japanese War to changing fashions. In Singing by the Plum Garden (1887) we see the two worlds of old and new Japan in counter balance. The subject of the print is an evening’s entertainment: Empress Shōken, her son, and her attending ladies enjoy a concert. The Western and modern elements are obvious—the piano and Western dress, chairs, and architecture—but less apparent is the new idea of producing an image of the royal family, something previously forbidden. The more traditional aspects of Japanese life are found in the setting and the pastime of plum blossom viewing, an activity that has deep roots in the Japanese past.
Chikanobu also designed more familiar-looking battle scenes such as
Saigo’s Final Battle at Shiroyama (Shiroyama Oshingeki Saigo Kessen no zu) (1877). Although following the compositional layout of traditional samurai battle scenes, this print also has a modern twist. The scene depicts the famous and near contemporaneous battle of Shiroyama that took place in September 1877 between the rebellious samurai of Satsuma province and the imperial army (seen on the right). The defeat of the Satsuma samurai by a conscripted Japanese army effectively ended the samurai class.
Through these two examples we can see not only Chikanobu’s masterful design sense but also how much he was a man of his times. He straddled two worlds and two narratives but made them seamless. Chikanobu was indeed a master of his medium, and with this gift, we are fortunate to showcase his talent.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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).
By Nan Brewer, the Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University
Whenever I showed works from the Vincent Price collection to classes, I began by asking the students if they were familiar with his name. Some recalled that he was an actor; others knew that he appeared in horror flicks. When I mentioned that he played the inventor who dies at the beginning of the movie Edward Scissorhands (1990) or that he provided the monologue in Michael Jackson’s video for Thriller (1982) they lit up. Few, however, had any idea of Price’s background in the visual arts or interest in collecting.
Born in 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri, to a wealthy and distinguished family, Price studied art history at Yale University and the University of London. In England, he switched his attention from art to acting. Nonetheless, he never lost his love of art and regularly purchased original artworks as his time and resources allowed. Price often lectured and wrote about art, including the book I Like What I Know: A Visual Autobiography (1959), and served as an art consultant, most notably for the Sears, Roebuck, & Company. The first exhibition and sale of the “Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art” took place in 1962 at a Sears store in Denver, Colorado, before being expanded nationwide. Most of the items—available for $10 to $3,000 and payable in $5 installments—attracted entry-level collectors. Although Price never actually owned the art, he selected the pieces to be sold and even commissioned contemporary artists, like Salvador Dali, to create works specifically for the collection. The program claims to have sold more than 50,000 pieces of original fine art by the time it ended in 1971. Price’s daughter, Victoria, said in her 1999 biography of her father that he saw the Sears collaboration as an “opportunity to put his populist beliefs into practice, to bring art to the American public.”
When Price came to lecture at Indiana University in 1984 (his fourth time in Bloomington), the museum’s Director Emeritus (then curator), Heidi Gealt, knew of his art education and passion for collecting. She asked if he would be willing to lend a portion of his personal collection for students in an art history graduate seminar to use as the source material for technical examination and in-depth research. Their work would result in an exhibition with an accompanying scholarly catalogue. This was the fourth such partnership that the museum had undertaken with the art history department in the School of Fine Arts (now School of Art, Architecture + Design). Mr. Price kindly agreed to do so and sent 53 drawings ranging in date from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.
I’ve always thought of this act as not only benevolent—in that it greatly benefited young scholars in their hands-on education—but also brave. Price opened up his treasures to intense scrutiny by the students, their professors, and the outside experts they consulted. In the field of Old Master drawings, authorship is often based on connoisseurship. When Price purchased a work, he generally assumed that the attribution to a particular artist was correct. Would those assignments withstand close inquiry? As it turns out, some of the works were by lesser-known artists or their respective schools, while others proved to be more important than was originally thought. What really interested Mr. Price was not increasing their monetary value, but learning more about the artworks that had attracted his eye and imagination.
The sampling of his collection that arrived at IU reflected Price’s eclectic taste. There were works in all media, ranging from delicate pen-and-ink drawings to graphite preparatory sketches. Although a few of the pieces, including a Study of Skulls by Giovanni Battista Franco, suggested a macabre (or vanitas) theme, there were also works of touching beauty, serenity, and piety. Among the artists best known by today’s audiences were Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Odilon Redon, Camille Pissarro, Jean François Millet, and Paul Gauguin.
The resulting exhibition, Master Drawings from the Vincent Price Collection, was held at the Indiana University Art Museum (now Eskenazi Museum of Art) from January 21 to May 3, 1987. Eleven students authored the catalogue entries and thematic essays on the media, history, and collecting of drawings. A museum graduate assistant at the time, I wrote on the tradition of copying and on two of the drawings, one by Pieter van Lisebetten and the other by Bartolomeo Passarotti, the latter of which ended up on the exhibition poster and book cover. It proved a truly formative experience that showed me the rigors and excitement of original primary research and inspired me to become a curator of works on paper. As Gealt and the late Bruce Cole wrote in their preface, “We are convinced that close and continuous study of works of art is the foundation upon which all art historical scholarship should be based.” I can attest that it was a thrill to uncover the source material used for a particular drawing, learn how it related to the artist’s oeuvre, and about its potential use—a lot like being a forensic drawing detective!
Although Price was scheduled to attend the exhibition’s opening, he had to cancel due to his mother’s death. Gealt continued to maintain contact with the actor until his own death in 1993. I still recall how excited the museum’s receptionist became whenever that distinctive voice called. In appreciation of the excellent work done by the students and the museum, Price donated two drawings in 1987. He later gave a third work to Gealt, which she gifted to the museum in his memory.
Here are those three works.
The most complex work in the Price collection to arrive for the student seminar was a rare multi-sheet, bound sketchbook by the Genoese artist Giovanni Agostino Ratti. In 1736—per a date on the cover sheet—Ratti drew preparatory designs for paintings in nine small pilgrimage chapels for the Church of Nostra Signora della Misericordia in the northern Italian port city of Savona. Since the paintings were commissioned for the bicentennial of the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary in the town, her image figures prominently. In this sheet, the Madonna appears in the upper right, where she saves a ship by imploring a swordfish to fill a hole in the hull. Although the sketchbook seems to be incomplete, it gives interesting insight into the artist’s process and provides a valuable reference source for works now lost. Only three of the frescoes survive, but even these were overpainted by a restorer in 1835.
When this piece arrived at the museum, it was attributed to the English painter William Dyce, but images and information sent to numerous experts around the world garnered mixed responses as to whether or not it was by his hand. Some suggested that it had similarities in style and theme to some British Pre-Raphaelite or German Nazarene painter, but no definitive matches were made. One even postured a French artist such as Leon Lhermitte. The subject matter, originally thought to be of a woman spinning, is probably a woman by a well, perhaps a segment of the biblical story from the Woman of Samaria. Even the drawing’s presentation raises questions. It appears to be a large preparatory drawing in a variety of media with gridded transfer lines; however, no corresponding mural or fresco has been found. Periodically, I re-examine this issue with the continued hope of unraveling this mystery.
This unusual drawing by a relatively unknown Italian artist reflects Price’s willingness to buy interesting material that was out of the mainstream. Duranti was born in Montefortino, a small town in the Italian Marches. Although he eventually went to study in Rome, he never achieved widespread success. Part of the reason for this failure may have been his mixture of Arcadian subjects based in a neoclassical tradition with an expressive romantic style. This image with its smudge-like shading is distinctive and personal in a surprisingly modern way. Relatively few American museums have any examples of Duranti’s unique work.
In March, Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria, will visit the IU campus as part of a special program at IU Cinema. Victoria will give a special lecture about her father’s life and sign copies of her book Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography. IU Cinema will also be screening two of Vincent Price’s most celebrated films, The Masque of the Red Death and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Learn more and purchase tickets at the IU Cinema website.
We continue to be very active while our museum building is undergoing renovation. This includes acquiring new works for our permanent collection. We have recently added a number of interesting pieces by some phenomenal women artists. Here are a few of our recent acquisitions.
Resurrection Story with Patrons by Kara Walker
This new triptych by Kara Walker reflects the complexities of her narratives and her use of the print medium. Walker emerged on the international art scene with paper silhouettes of the antebellum atrocities of slavery. Resurrection Story with Patrons continues to explore contemporary issues of race through references to the historical past. While a 2016 resident at the American Academy in Rome, Walker reflected on the police killings of young black men and social unrest back home. Drawing on iconography of Christian martyrdom from Western European artistic traditions and contemplating the challenges of erecting monuments and memorials, she created a resurrection story that she says alternates between captor and redeemer. In the central panel, a half-length nude black woman is pulled up by ropes with her back supported by a man and a baby. The standing figure on the right suggests an African chief with ceremonial staff, while the wooden boards recall the hull of a slave ship or the cross. The ghostlike figures in the wings—reminiscent of wealthy patrons in medieval and Renaissance altarpieces— are actually black house servants. The great colossus serves as a tribute to the souls of slaves lost in the Middle Passage and to the power of collective memory.
Seated Figure with Hands in Head by Elizabeth Catlett
With the acquisition of this sculpture, the Eskenazi Museum of Art adds a work by one of the most significant American artists of the twentieth century to its collection. Born in Washington, DC, Elizabeth Catlett studied at Howard University and at the University of Iowa with renowned regionalist painter Grant Wood, who encouraged her to develop her talents as a sculptor. Frustrated by the limited opportunities available for African Americans in the United States, Catlett moved to Mexico City in 1946, and became a Mexican citizen in 1962. The politically and socially engaged prints she produced at Mexico City’s Taller de Gráfica Popular have become icons of twentieth-century art, and they reflect her activism in support of the civil rights movement in the United States and against human rights abuses in Latin America. Catlett’s sculptures often portray archetypal African or African American women, either alone or with children. The intimately sized sculpture now in the museum’s collection is posed in a manner that recalls traditional Western depictions of melancholy (as in Albrecht Dürer’s famous engraving Melancholia), but the solidity of the figure’s limbs suggests strength, and her mask-like face hints at resolve while also referencing African art.
Falcon by Kiki Smith
Although recognized as a sculptor and installation artist, Kiki Smith is also known as a printmaker, particularly for her realistic images based on dead animals. The museum’s collection already included several smaller works by Smith, but Falcon (2001) is our first major print by the artist. For this large-scale image, Smith used an intaglio technique to carefully render the bird’s feathers and to create a haunting, macabre effect through the inclusion of a solid black hood over the bird’s head and flowing tendrils.