Archive for ‘November, 2012’ Blog

Christo’s “Computer”: Blog Post 2 of 2

November 29th, 2012 by Denison Museum

Christo. “Computer”.
1985. Lithograph with Collage elements.
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. L.G. Crocker. DU1985.34
Denison Museum Collection

by Marisa Zemesarajs ’15

Although Christo and Jeanne Claude’s work is visually impressive, the artists have repeatedly denied that their projects contain any deeper meaning than their immediate aesthetic appeal. The purpose of their art, they contend, is simply to create works that consequently establish new ways of seeing familiar objects we encounter during the course of busy days. It is here that it is worth remembering Marcel Duchamp, an important theorist in the onslaught of the modern art movement; once stating that in the future an artist would only point. In a world packed to the brim with meaningful objects, both on historical and deeply personal levels, the main role of the artist is not to make something new, because at some point things can no longer be original, all that’s left to do is alter the way in which we perceive the existent. If we think about the statements made by Christo himself, and those of his predecessor Duchamp (whom he certainly drew inspiration from), we see the way in which a computer exists to be much altered in “Computer.” Here, we see that a computer is not merely a three dimensional device we use to assist us with this task or that task. By placing a representation of a computer on paper, framing it and displaying it as something that is special, it becomes something special. How about this scenario: if someone got a phone call a minute after viewing this piece and if even just for a brief second they looked at that tangible, usable object as a work of art, then the element of perceptual alteration theorized by Duchamp and put into motion by Christo is quite meaningful and useful in the present day. It is in this way that we see how much our definition of art has changed and also how the dynamic pieces themselves, through saying so little, inherently change us by drawing out so much.

While I did say that I wasn’t too keen on picking apart this piece, one element in particular speaks to the artistic motivation of Christo- the use of wrapping. Christo, more popularly, wraps much larger things– buildings, trees, well-known landmarks, etc. By concealing things, if only temporarily, Christo hoped to draw attention to things that were commonly overlooked. In the context of this post even, a computer. The use of concealment as a way of getting people to look again at something they once knew so well, but no longer know at all, due to routine or something similar is a very witty concept. It is certainly true that when everyone knows what a thing looks like, that they have, in fact, stopped noticing it. Things we see everyday become invisible. To end this post I want to quote the artist himself, who once said, “I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain.” If this is the case, then maybe my initial attraction to modern art is one that is somewhat universal (not that it needs to be, I should add.) Ultimately, I love the “pop” of an oversimplified, abstracted piece of art, like Kerouac’s Sal Paradise who is fascinated with “the mad ones” who “burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the sky.” The effect of Christo’s “Computer” is oddly similar, if taking into account the words of the artist; perhaps art should be like an explosion, with a dramatic blast capturing the viewer followed by calm.

Christo’s “Computer”: Blog Post 1 of 2

November 26th, 2012 by Denison Museum

by Marisa Zemesarajs ’15

Christo. “Computer”.
1985. Lithograph with Collage elements.
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. L.G. Crocker. DU1985.34
Denison Museum Collection

There is no denying that the way in which we perceive art has changed over the course of the last century. No longer do pieces have to be stuffed with the mysticism of religious icons, be tied to contemporary mindsets, or allude to Ovid’s Metamorphosis, as nearly everything in the humanities seems to do. No. Instead, art can be anything we want it to be or don’t want it to be—as a matter of fact, art can just be. I’ve had a few recent debates over the significance of modern and contemporary art, mostly in which I emphatically insist that simple pieces, while maybe less beautiful than a Van Gogh, contain something much more striking, truth; that instant when a simple idea turns itself into something tangible. It is always when I try to rationalize this emotion that I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes, “nothing can be beautiful and true.” If someone was asked to picture a piece of art, I find it unlikely that one would picture a drawing of a computer wrapped in plastic on white canvas, because it doesn’t fit the deeply rooted conventions, which states that art needs to be strikingly beautiful in every facet imaginable. Instead, such a piece would leave the viewer asking questions left and right. Who’s to say that a comparatively simple work that imposes a myriad of questions and revelations is any less genuine? How one chooses to interpret such a thing is really up to them, but this whole “it’s up to the viewer” motif is a really curious thing. I’m really excited to talk to you all about the next piece, Christo’s “Computer,” because it was created to hold no effect other than an instantaneous aesthetic impact, diverging from the functional, spiritual, and generally highly symbolic pieces of centuries past.

I’m not going to pick apart every compositional element of the Christo. That would contradict the essence I love the most about this piece and those similar, truth. Created and received by Denison Museum in 1985, this lithograph with collage elements is representative of new realism, a title that is defined by the piece much more than defining the piece itself. Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, or Christo as I will always refer to him as, is a Belgium born, American artist who, I should mention, was in constant collaboration with his wife, esteemed artist herself, Jeanne Claude. While Christo himself created the work that is seen before us, together this artistic duo theorized the meanings behind their pieces, laying the foundation for current interpretations and artistic movements.

President Obama visits Burma

November 19th, 2012 by Denison Museum

by Lindsey Beetem ’13

Selina Large with a portion of Burmese objects she donated to the Denison Museum in 2010. Displayed as part of the Denison Museum exhibition “Knock on Wood, Five Years & Counting” in Fall 2011.

Just a few days after the election, it is announced that President Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar or, as it is also known, Burma. This is exciting news and calls for a reflection on the museum’s ties to this often-isolated place. If you didn’t know by now the museum has an excellent Burmese art collection with around 1,500 pieces that range from lacquerware to Buddha images, to textiles and manuscripts, and other objects. The extent of this collection is due in large part to Denison’s past connection to Burma through Baptist missionary alumni who donated many of the objects they acquired through their work abroad. Also, the collection was significantly enhanced because of the recent generous gift of over 150 Burmese art objects from Mrs. Selina Large, who is a naturalized citizen and native of Burma.

Burma is known for its difficult and violent past. Many of the leaders of the military regime that governed the country from 1962 to 2011 were accused of major human rights violations. It was only just recently within the past year that the country finally committed to becoming a civilian government, which is why President Obama will be visiting to encourage this “democratic transition.” (BBC News, 9 November 2012) While Burma is moving forward, there continue to be great and often violent conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims, who are considered to be in the minority of the population. These tensions between the ethnic minorities and the majority run deep in the history of Burma.

At the museum we hold an illustrated manuscript from 1924 by Saen Cit La Wan that highlights the traditional garb of the minority groups in Burma. These groups have often been ignored and persecuted within Burmese society and this object perhaps provides a reflection into how they were perceived. The illustrations include members of the Palaung, Wa, Khang, Moo Ser and several other ethic groups including the Karen, who produced a significant amount of the objects that are part of the museum’s collection.

Take a look at some of the illustrations and the article posted by the BBC to learn more about Burma and the President’s visit.


Museum exhibition inspires Denison’s Creative Writing Students

November 15th, 2012 by Denison Museum

Denison Museum is thrilled to share three poems composed by Denison University students Hannah Chiodo ’15, Ellen McDevitt-Stredney ’15, and Jonathan Huang ’15 for Dr. Margot Singer’s Creative Writing class. These compositions are inspired by photographs from the Heart of Haiti exhibition currently on view at Denison Museum.

Andrea Baldeck. “Jou Va, Jou Vyin” (Day Goes, Day Comes.), circa mid-1990s. Black and white photograph. Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Hannah Chiodo ‘15

“Jou Va, Jou Vyin”

Jou va, jou vyin. Day goes, day comes.
The sun washes dark from the dirt.
The head wraps of the women are tied
and the men wear straw hats like mine,
askew to shade my good eye, sitting by
my tree the hot has bleached all life from,
leaving cracks and crevices like concrete
in the shaking days following the quake.

But still I take its shade, my white straw,
my trade—spin it, wrap it, weave it.
My hands are scarred from the small pokes
of angry dry stalks but my feet are shod,
I am clothed, beside me my wife crouches:
Gold hangs from the fertile soil of her lobes,
fecund unlike the dust that cakes my sneakers
and creeps under concrete doors.

I am making the brim wide, wide like
the wings of the sun. I twist the straw.
A woman is coming, my wife says.
I know who she is before I look
and see her black lens as another foreign face.
It blinks once, twice, snatching a piece of us.
She leaves. I finish my hat, start another—
nothing changes. Jou va, jou vyin.

Andrea Baldeck. “Byin Mal Pa Lanmo.” (Very Sick is not dead.), circa mid-1990s. Black and white photograph. Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Ellen McDevitt-Stredney ‘15

“Very Sick is Not Dead”

My long brown sticks,
thin and worn,
tangle beneath bleached white sheets.
Liquid drowning my lungs,
skin dry like berries in sun and
grey clouds clog my eyes.

At the end of the sticks are
padded socks made of skin leather,
miles and miles they got.
An ache, a ceaseless ache,
starts at my neck and
strangles my spine.

Got me in white shirt,
I lie like dirt-covered roots
in white rice.
I cough up red.
Gotta sit up, can’t choke.
I tremble, I shake.

Floor of square stones with straight cracks,
feel good on my padded socks.
Clear window with chicken wire, fenced me in.
My face stare back, tired eyes,
where is the boy who once carried the grain?
Door creaks open. Medicine.

Tall Mr. White coat man,
I mutter, Come on in.
He check my tag on my right branch,
say I no die today.
Tree unrooted from ground,
not cut at the trunk I say.

Mr. White give me little colored rocks.
Hands me a cup, full of clear cool stuff.
Drink and take, he say.
And I say yes keep me tickin’.
If it can still lay eggs,
don’t stew a chicken.

Andrea Baldeck. “Jou Va, Jou Vyin” (Day Goes, Day Comes.), circa mid-1990s. Black and white photograph. Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Jonathan Huang ‘15

“I twist straw between my fingers”

I twist straw between my fingers,
weaving rough stalks into smooth strands
Over, under, over, under—

I hold the bowl of the hat in my hands.
under the hot and blinding noon sun,
it turns into a golden bowl of broth.
My tongue moistens in hunger

Patience, patience, my hands will work hard—
Soon the day will be over and my hats
will have sold enough for food tonight.

The day draws a long breath—
the shadows stretch over the sky.
Demons dance in the darkness,
tempting me with alluring promises of riches,

Yet I shake my head – beyond mountains,
there are again mountains
And tomorrow will be another day of
weaving straw.

Chinese Rubbing: Han Dynasty

November 13th, 2012 by Denison Museum

by Marisa Zemesarajs ’15

Rubbing, Mirror back
Chinese, Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)
Gift of Daniel Sheets Dye. DU1972.572.1
Denison Museum Collection

If I could sum up the American perspective and prioritization or art it would be this: Westernized, entirely Westernized, as if 2/3 of the world was invisible. Maybe we aren’t entirely to blame for this phenomenon, but I can’t help to think what a shame it is that the art pieces that are usually racked into our brains and are kept to memorization are those of the Western World. I’m sure if we think of historically and culturally significant works the Byzantine mosaic of Justinian and Theodora, a beautifully lit Rembrandt, or a murkily colored Renoir come into mind—and as beautiful as all these are, it’s a shame that we aren’t exposed to art outside the confines of Western ideology. I still get frustrated when I turn to an introductory page of a Japanese art chapter in a textbook, because what do I always see? The “Great Wave,” always the “Great Wave.” No offense to Mr. Hokusai, but come on, I think we can open our minds to more than one great example of non-Western art, at least I’d hope! So this brings me to the next piece I want to discuss, and as all I will discuss in the future, it’s included in the Museum’s broad collection of works.

Simple, harmonious, cyclical, gently austere (this oxymoron really does apply); all words that come to mind when looking at the pictured Chinese rubbing from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-221 CE.) The Han Dynasty was an era where cultural foundations were solidified and refined and interestingly enough, the ancient art form of rubbings were treasured objects that would be found in the tombs of wealthy Chinese aristocrats, accompanying the dead in their journeys onward. This particular rubbing comes from a series where the impression was taken and put on the back of a mirror, adding a sense of luxury to a tomb, while drawing forth innermost reflection. Rubbings are created by pressing thin sheets of wet paper into carvings or inscriptions that would be cut into stone or other durable materials, the surface of the paper would then be inked, creating a copy of the original. One question I asked while observing this piece was: Why are they copying something already created; Why not just paint this pattern; It sure looks easy enough. While I haven’t been able to find that exact answer, I can make a guess as to why rubbings were such an important art form during this era. When thinking about Chinese culture I immediately think of the importance placed on tradition. A-ha! That’s it! Replicating something like a old stone carving is almost like paying homage to an ancestor that is no longer; you hope to follow in their footsteps, casting the same tradition down to your children, and their children, etc., etc. If you think about it like that, it makes sense that these rubbings were placed in tombs- to remind those who are no longer with us that their legacy lives on, that they have left the proverbial mark on our lives, much like the stone has left an imprint on a thin sheet of paper.

It’s really easy to fall in love with Eastern art, especially since it contains so much expression, from religion, from nature, from history. These examples can even be further seen in this rubbing! I find it so fascinating that something as simple as a pattern rubbed onto paper can have as deep a meaning as one of Giotto’s frescoes, for example. The contrast of black and white can be seen as representative of yin and yang, Chinese symbols of the harmonious duality of all things in life. The circular pattern of the piece parallels Buddhist and Confucian notions of the cyclical nature of all beings, that nothing has a definite end. I could certainly continue picking apart this piece, but I’d prefer not to and you would probably prefer that I don’t either. But, when you put all these cultural traditions together, the fact that these rubbings were once laid in tombs is really beautiful; tying together so many realms of Chinese thought.

So if rubbings were generally found in tombs and if this particular piece discussed was from the Han dynasty, how did Denison get ahold of it? Turns out, the man who donated this piece is also responsible for donating more than 500 works or art and artifacts to Denison University. Donated with the intention of enriching the education of men and women of the university, Daniel Sheets Dye’s (Denison University, Class of 1907) collection composes a vital cornerstone to the Denison Asian Art collection. But really, our collection would be lacking without the enthusiasm of Daniel Sheets Dye. As a second-generation missionary and fine arts enthusiast Dye spent the majority of his life teaching in Western China, where he collected and studied the art of the people he came into daily contact with, paying close attention to their cultural traditions and beliefs, never once ceasing to observe and explore. And with that, in 1971 we got ahold of this little number! As I draw this post to a close, (even my attention span is waning as I write this, seeking my Arrested Development fix of the night) I want to leave you with the words of the man who donated this piece himself, “I feel that I learned more than I taught.” Go out! Learn something new and most importantly; remember that “The Great Wave” isn’t the only existent piece of non-Western art out there.

Chowder Hour at the Denison Museum

November 8th, 2012 by Denison Museum

Photos from a gallery talk by fine-art photographer Andrea Baldeck on her exhibition “Heart of Haiti.”

Student research at the museum: a look at a woodblock print

November 5th, 2012 by Denison Museum

by Lindsey Beetem ’13

Hiroshi Yoshida. “Botanical Garden”.
Early 20th Century. Woodblock print.
Gift of Mrs. George Martin. DU1946.436
Denison Museum Collection

November is finally here! And while this month marks the countdown to the greatly anticipated Thanksgiving holiday, it is also the beginning of bitterly cold weather and the impending anxiety of finals, which are now only a month away. This may sound like a long time, but in reality it goes by faster than we care to admit. For many of us (especially us lowly art history majors) finals mean one thing: papers. Lots of papers that involve a good amount of research. This research often requires spending hours in the library walking through the stacks, searching for the perfect sources; it is necessary, but quickly becomes tiring. I am currently undergoing this process for my Japanese art history project that focuses on printmaking; and as luck would have it, the other day I noticed that someone pulled from the museum’s storage a wonderful woodblock print by Hiroshi Yoshida. That’s when I realized: what better way to conduct research than using a tangible, real-life example that is available here at the museum?

This print, titled Botanical Garden, is eye-catching. I’m fascinated by the refined use of color the artist uses to depict this scene; the muted colors blend seamlessly together, causing the eye to travel through the watery reflections up to the bright red jacket of the woman, and finally to the hilly landscape that comprises the top-half of the print. It is a wonderful example of Yoshida’s work. He is widely regarded as a master of the “new print” or woodblock print style that was particularly popular in early 20th century Japan. Like many of his fellow print artists, he studied in the Western oil painting tradition and created mainly woodblock prints. Considering this when looking at Botanical Garden, I wonder how great of an influence Western oil painting had on the tradition of woodblock printmaking in Japan? Did it affect the treatment of the subject matter? Did it change the reception (and/or audience) of such prints?

There’s really a lot to consider when looking at Botanical Garden and other works by Yoshida. Printmaking in Japan has a long and intricate history that warrants the many hours spent researching in the library. But, thankfully, I can now spend a significant amount of time evaluating and looking at this print, finally removing myself from the library stacks and experiencing the tranquil space of the museum.

Antonio Beato, “View of the Temple at Luxor”

November 1st, 2012 by Denison Museum

by Marisa Zemesarajs ’15

Antonio Beato. “View of the Temple at Luxor”.
Late 19th Century. Albumen Print.
Gift of William Howard Doane. DU1991.18.
Denison Museum Collection

Let’s travel back to 1826, looking at Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s “View from the Window at Le Gras.” 1826, where an 8-hour exposure time would give birth to a grainy, unfocused, heliographic image; quite the contrast to today, where Instagram and other photo-sharing applications alike allow for us to take beautiful photographs in milliseconds, inherently spoiling our appreciation of what a photograph really is- a frozen frame in time. Now of course I have lain before you two extremes, inserting a bit of bias along the way, so let’s meet in the middle, looking at a photograph that is currently on display at our very own, Denison Museum: “View of the Temple at Luxor,” taken by Italian (or at least we think he’s Italian) photographer, Antonio Beato.

Very little is known of Beato, including the exact date in which this photograph was taken, although we infer that it was between 1860 and 1890. This air of mystery in the artist’s biographical life is even further extended into the piece itself. Whether looked at as a symbol of prosperity or decay, there is something undeniably romantic about the complex at Luxor, perhaps it is the feeling that something great was interrupted; a sentiment captured perfectly by Beato. The romantic lighting paired with the use of atmospheric perspective, lend to the notion that there is more to be discovered, and that while Luxor has long passed it’s days of vibrant youth, it has gained something much more lasting- what that is, however; is up for the viewer to decide!

Much of Antonio Beato’s collection is archived in the Cairo Museum-so how exactly were we lucky enough to snag this piece? Denison Museum’s Beato photographs were donated by Mr. William Howard Doane of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1891, after he acquired the photographs while on a trip to Europe. These particular photos spent over 100 years in storage in the library before coming to the museum in 1991. I am certainly grateful to have this piece (metaphorically) in my arm’s reach, as I find the romantic mystery of the ruins one that is not easily replicated. Today, photographs are continually taken and deleted; taken and edited; taken and uploaded; and while we have probably shared hundreds of images with the world, there are only a handful that we hold dear- that represent the essence of our lives at a given moment in time.

This work was exhibited as part of “The Tourist View: Grand Tours to Tramps Abroad” at the Denison Museum in 2006. Curated by Dr. Joy Sperling and Dr. Jacqueline Marie Musacchio.

“I really appreciated the wide range of tasks I was able to complete during my time at the Denison Museum. Some days I spent painting galleries, while other days were dedicated to collections care, cataloging, research or marketing.”

— Jane-Coleman Harbison '10