Ronald Markman: Remembering the Mastermind of Mukfa

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

 

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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

Spotlights: The Fantastic Photos of Julia Margaret Cameron

 

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Image: Julia Margaret Cameron (British 1815-1879). The Mountain of Nymph Sweet Liberty from Miniature Edition of Mrs. Cameron’s Photographs from the Life, 1874. Albumen print mounted on cardstock. Eskenazi Museum of Art 75.28.15

This summer the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is exhibiting Spotlights: Five Views into the Museum’s Collection. Nan Brewer, the museum’s Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper chose a rare book of photos by nineteenth-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron for her section of the exhibition. 

The wife of a retired jurist and mother of six, Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815–1879) took up photography at the age of forty-eight. One of the medium’s early pioneers, Cameron is widely recognized for her pictorial artistry. Born in Calcutta, India, Cameron traveled widely during her lifetime, studying in France, and living in England, before her death in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) at age sixty-four. The great aunt of author Virginia Woolf, Cameron brushed shoulders with many famous and historical figures of the time.

In 1874, she created an album of 101 miniature versions of her earlier works as “a board of ship companion for my beloved son Hardinge Hay Cameron.” Miniature Edition of Mrs. Cameron’s Photographs from the Life is a rare treasure, available for view in Spotlights on individual pages as it was disbound for repair.

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Image: Julia Margaret Cameron (British 1815-1879). W. G. Palgrave from Miniature Edition of Mrs. Cameron’s Photographs from the Life, 1874. Albumen print mounted on cardstock. Eskenazi Museum of Art 75.38.65

The album was created by making small copy photos from images that spanned ten years (all are albumen prints mounted on cardstock). As a personal memento, the album reads like a visual scrapbook of Cameron’s family, friends, neighbors, and members of the Victorian intelligentsia. Among her subjects are naturalist Charles Darwin, the great poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and other colorful characters such as W. G. Palgrave, the Jesuit missionary who would often disguise himself during his travels to then, forbidden lands, and Dejatch Alamayou, the only person outside of the royal family to be buried at Windsor Castle. Interspersed with these portraits are lyrical allegorical vignettes and illustrations of themes from classical mythology, the Bible, and English literature, which Cameron recreated stylistically based on prototypes from Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite painting traditions.

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Image: Julia Margaret Cameron (British 1815-1879). Christabel from Miniature Edition of Mrs. Cameron’s Photographs from the Life, 1874 (negative 1866). Albumen print mounted on cardstock. Eskenazi Museum of Art 75.38.8

For more on Julia Margaret Cameron, check out a recent video interview below with contemporary photographer Nan Goldin, as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s The Artist Project series.

We hope you take this opportunity to visit the museum and see Cameron’s photography and the rest of our Spotlights exhibition for yourself. It is on view through September 4, 2016. If you have any questions please contact us at iuam@indiana.edu.

Eskenazi Museum of Art website

 

Eskenazi Museum of Art Hosts Educational Workshop

brab group photo

In June, the education department at the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art hosted Teaching through Visual Arts, a four-day workshop generously funded by the Brabson Library and Educational Foundation. The primary goals of the workshop were to encourage K–12 educators to take the lead in creating pre-visit resource materials and gallery programs and to introduce them to the educational benefits of initiating interdisciplinary and multicultural dialogues through guided visual analyses of original works of art.

The twenty-one participants submitted a proposal around a theme or idea they planned to develop. The education department read the proposals and tailored the workshop sessions around them. Each educator received a binder of museum resources, a stipend to offset expenses, and a voucher for bus transportation to and from the museum for a future gallery session with their students during the 2016–17 academic year.

Educators were grouped into six “teacher teams” according to information drawn from their proposals. An experienced docent from the museum’s Docent Program was matched with each team according to their skills, educational interests, and gallery expertise, serving as the point person throughout the entire workshop. Moureen Coulter, Tina Jernigan, Ilona Richey, Becky Rusie, Kim Simpson, Helena Walsh, and Rich Wolf introduced educators to exercises in guided visual observation, transforming galleries into learning laboratories for enhancing classroom discussions on math, modernism, literature, writing, history, timeline development, social studies, and so forth. With a front row perspective throughout the workshop, the docents will provide presentations that prepare each classroom for their upcoming gallery session.

In addition to exploring all three floors of the museum’s permanent collection, individual teacher teams were treated to an overview of the resources at the Lilly Library, Mathers Museum of World Cultures, and Monroe County History Center, tailored to the themes of their proposal topics. The Indiana Murals of Thomas Hart Benton and the Daily Collection of Hoosier Painting at the IU Auditorium as well as special presentations by Sherry Rouse, curator of campus art, and Nan Brewer, Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator for Works on Paper, assisted these educators in further identifying objectives in their visual-based lessons.

By the end of the workshop, teachers had made their initial selections of masterworks for the pre-visit resource materials and gallery sessions, listed the objectives of their lesson plans, and made presentations to their peers regarding their plans for art-driven lessons, generating discussion and receiving invaluable feedback.

Evaluations as well as extensive notes taken from these teachers’ presentations will supply essential information for the museum’s education department to compile and edit final drafts of twenty-one new PowerPoints. Each teacher will test and tweak these preparatory materials with their students, while assessing and refining the effectiveness of the gallery session during visits to the museum with their students next academic year.

Ed Maxedon, the museum’s Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Education, states, “The education department believes this pioneering approach to creating K–12 gallery programming will have a multiplying effect, adding new gallery programs annually.  Classroom teachers will be more likely to use this program because they initiated it and have invested their time and expertise. All of these K–12 educators are dedicated, setting aside a week of their summer vacations to try something completely new. Teachers, students, docents and practicum students will add their voices to help determine a quality program.”

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website