Monday, January 23, 2017

American Renaissance Architecture

Furness, Evans and Company (1886-1931, Philadelphia), Undine Barge Club Boat House, north and Schuylkill River facades, 1882–1883. Boathouse Row, Philadelphia. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-14668)
  
“American Renaissance” is sometimes used to refer, stylistically, to the period between the Civil War (1860–1865) and 1900. Some call the same period “Victorian,” but, Victoria wasn’t our queen, was she? It has been called “renaissance” because of the booming industrial economy that grew after the war, and the boom in art production to serve the ridiculously wealthy future corporate class. I once learned in college that without wealthy despots (like the Medici in Florence), the Renaissance in Italy wouldn’t have evolved as quickly. On the other hand, the American Renaissance occurred when the academic/patronage system tradition was on its way out with the advent of progressive movements such as Impressionism, Symbolism, Ash Can School, and Arts and Crafts Movement. If one examines all of the whacky architectural revival styles of the period, one understands why it’s called a “renaissance.”

I’m always tickled looking at the designs of Frank Furness (1839–1912), one of the most successful, and innovative American architects of the late 1800s. Despite the fact that he trained under architects schooled in the Beaux-Arts tradition of Baroque- and Renaissance-inspired revival styles, he certainly established a personal design aesthetic that discarded slavish imitation of past styles. His novel approach juxtaposed styles and elements of styles that were not necessarily of the same period or taste, and was equally innovative in combinations of materials.

The Undine Barge Club, founded in 1856, was a bastion for wealthy white men in the sport of rowing. Having read the history of this club, I would imagine this was not a pastime of the masses. The Boathouse—built at a total cost of $14,000!—is located on what is now called Boathouse Row. It is a design that, in typical Furness fashion, combines Shingle Style with New England Cottage with Romanesque Revival. The low eaves; sleek, squat profile; and reserved use of ornamentation all prefigure the Arts and Crafts popularity that led to the work of Louis Sullivan (1856–1924, who was Furness’ draftsperson in 1873) and Frank Lloyd Wright (1866–1959).

Furness first studied architecture in the office of Second Empire Baroque-inspired John Fraser (1825–1906) in Philadelphia in the 1850s. He attended the Baroque-revival inspired studio of Richard Morris Hunt (1827–1895) in New York from 1859–1861 and again in 1865. He was further influenced by the Second Empire Baroque work of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879) and the Arts and Crafts movement mentor: philosopher John Ruskin (1819–1900).

Furness designed more than 600 buildings in more than 40 years as an architect. While he designed scads of different kinds of public buildings, including 153 stations for the Pennsylvania Railroad, I find his elegant mansions in Philadelphia the most interesting. They often featured, as is seen in the above image, external chimneys with corbelled brickwork, a Furness “exclusive” that was an influence of Gothic corbelling. The building underwent restoration in 1996.


Furness, Evans and Company (1886–1931, Philadelphia), Undine Barge Club Boat House, entrance, 1882–1883. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-14668)

The Undine boathouse has a tower (to the left in the image above) that, while taken from the popular French Chateau revival style of the time, references the German fairy tale that inspired the name of the club. The story was by Friedrich de la Motte (1777–1843). It was a Romantic period story about a water spirit—living by the water with a poor fisher couple—who wed a knight in order to gain a soul. The story was turned into a German opera, of course (by Lortzing). 

Thomas Eakins (1844–1916, US), The Biglin Brothers Racing, 1872. Oil on canvas, 24" x 36" (61.2 x 91.6 cm). © 2017 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. (NGA-P0297)

And….if rowing on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia rings a bell with you, it’s probably because of this series of paintings Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) did in the 1870s, early in his career, when rowing was a popular spectator sport among the well-heeled. I’m not sure if the Biglin brothers were members of the Undine Club, but they were the subject of 11 paintings by Eakins.

Correlations to Davis Programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 1.1; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 6.31, 6.33; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 3.16, 3.18; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 4.19, 4.20; The Visual Experience: 11.4

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Vietnam, part 3

Yesterday I told you about Vietnamese art from the 1500s. For today’s final installment in my series about Vietnamese art, let’s take a look at some contemporary art. 

Dinh Q. Lê (born 1968, Vietnam), Untitled (movie grid), 2003. Cut-and-woven chromogenic color prints and tape, 33 ¼" x 67" (84.5 x 170.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2017 Dinh Q. Lê. (MOMA-P1461)

Dinh Q Lê’s family fled western Vietnam during the horrible war between Vietnam and Cambodia in 1978. He lived and went to school in southern California, returning to Vietnam for the first time in 1992. Growing up as an expatriate Vietnamese, he was bombarded with images of the Vietnam War from Western journalism and Hollywood movies.

Much of Lê’s work focuses on the disturbing physical and psychological effects resulting from the Vietnam War (1955–1975). Lê shows how these effects still permeate the cultural memory and landscape of Vietnam. History, mythology, and popular culture are stitched together by Lê, combining images from different sources into a sort of monument to memory.

Dinh Q Lê uses sculpture, video, and installation to create strong statements about the impact of historical events not only on countries, but also on individual lives that survive them. His work deals with the frequent uncertainty of memory and issues of responsibility that emerge from histories of conflict. The work of Dinh Q. Lê reconciles and alters the dramatized representations of people who have lived through war and whose lives are permanently transformed by its effects.

Read the other posts in this series for more about Vietnamese art:

Correlations: The Visual Experience 13.3; Discovering Art History 4.5

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Vietnam, part 2

Yesterday I told you about the Champa kingdom that flourished in Vietnam. For the second post in my series on Vietnamese art, I will introduce you to the development of ceramics in Vietnam.

Carved, parrot-form beaker, 1500s. Porcelain, 11 3/16" x 13" x 12 1/8" (28.4 x 33 x 30.8 cm). © 2017 Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-537)

Although China dominated ceramic styles in Asia and Southeast Asia for centuries, Vietnam managed to develop its own distinctive styles. Ceramics kilns date back 2000 years, but the oldest persistent styles date to the 1000s through the 1400s, the period after the Vietnamese temporarily overthrew the Chinese. This style consisted of incised, iron (brown) glazed decoration on stoneware. Such wares were exported as far as the Philippines and Indonesia.

Starting in the southern Song dynasty in China (1127–1279) there was extensive export of porcelain to other parts of Asia, and hence an increase in Chinese influence in Vietnamese wares. Yuan Dynasty (1280–1368) blue-and-white wares influenced Vietnamese porcelain as early as the late 1200s. Porcelain became a strong export item for Vietnam starting in the 1300s. The greatest period of influence from Chinese blue-and-white porcelain probably came during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) occupation of Vietnam between 1407 and 1427. The period between 1450 and 1500 is generally considered the high point of Vietnamese blue-and-white porcelain.  

This particular beaker may have been created after the period of civil war that began in 1527 in Vietnam. The quality of the blue-and-white indigenous wares seems to have suffered because of the political instability. Kilns were still producing these wares during the 1500s in Hai Duong Province. However, during the 1600s, Chinese blue-and-white wares apparently dominated the Vietnamese market. 

Tomorrow I’ll wrap up the series on Vietnamese art with a look at a contemporary artwork.  

Read the other posts in this series for more about Vietnamese art:


Correlations: The Visual Experience 13.3; Discovering Art History 4.5

Monday, January 16, 2017

Vietnam, part 1

And speaking of political disasters this past week, I’m pretty sure most folks would agree that the Vietnam War (1955–1975) was one of them in the past. My problem with that—aside from war itself—is that most people’s frame of reference about Vietnam revolves around that awful, waste of a war. Southeast Asia has been a region of fabulous kingdoms that flourished for centuries and produced fabulous art. Central and Southern Vietnam were the location of the ancient Champa Kingdom and Funan Kingdom. For goodness sakes, the Roman historian Ptolemy (100–170 CE) knew about the major Champa port city of Cattigara in 150 CE and put it on his map of the world. Cattigara is now called Ho Chi Minh City, once Saigon! An art historian’s recommendation for changing a frame of reference about Vietnam is look at Vietnamese art. This week I’ll be doing just that in a series of three posts all about the art of Vietnam.

Apsara bracket, Champa Kingdom (flourished from 600s to 1800s CE), probably from Tra-kieu (ancient Simhapura), 900s CE. Stone, overall height: 22" (55.9 cm). © Cleveland Museum of Art. (CL-827)

An apsara is the depiction of celestial spirits of clouds and water in Buddhist and Hindu art. Tra-kieu, the ancient Simhapura, meaning Lion Citadel, was the capital of the Champa kingdom from the 300s to the 800s CE. The Cham people were converted to Hindu by Indian missionaries as early as the first century CE. There are some theories that the first Cham king was Indian, but the first recorded king was Bhadravarman (ruled 349–361 CE).

Champa was a powerful and wealthy Hindu kingdom. The Cham people, to this day, are the only Hindu population remaining in Vietnam, even though Southeast Asia at one time had many thriving Hindu kingdoms, undoubtedly stamped out by repeated incursions by the Chinese who introduced Buddhism. The Cham themselves paid tribute to the Chinese. Much of the wealth of the Champa kingdom came from its strategic position as a seaport on the route from China to India, Persia, and ultimately, the Roman Empire.

There is nothing left of the city of Simhapura except the blocks of the lower citadel walls. This apsara undoubtedly came from one of the many temples dedicated to Siva. It shows much more Cambodian sculptural style than Indian. It’s very interesting to think about Vietnam’s connection to ancient Rome, particularly since so many Westerner’s think that the only ancient empires were Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

My look into the history of Vietnamese art continues tomorrow with the development of ceramics in Vietnam.

Read the other posts in this series for more about Vietnamese art:
Part 2: Vietnamese Ceramics 
Part 3: Contemporary Art

Correlations: The Visual Experience 13.3; Discovering Art History 4.5

Monday, January 9, 2017

January / Hair


Hannah Wilke (1940–1993, US), Brushstrokes: January 19, 1992, No. 6, 1992. Artist’s hair on paper, 30" x 22 1/4" (76.2 x 56.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2017 Estate of Hannah Wilke / Licensed by VAGA, New York. (MOMA-P4988wlvg)

I had originally intended to post something about the month of January. That idea seemed lame to me when this piece by the late Hannah Wilke caught my eye (especially after I found out the backstory) and made my internal art history wheels turn. I’m always vaguely uncomfortable (read “involuntary gag reflex”) with art works that feature human hair. Heck, I don’t even like walking in hair clippings on the salon floor when I go for a trim. But, I can surely assert that human (and animal, of course) hair has been an artist’s medium since forever. It was not until the 1900s, however, with the Dada and Surrealist movements, that human hair became featured subject matter in art works. I’d like to explore other ways that human hair has played a major role in works of art, often in powerful ways.

In her life and work, Hannah Wilke was a pioneer in the Feminist Art Movement. Born in New York, she majored in both art and education, receiving both BA and BS from Tyler School in Philadelphia in 1961. She went on to teach sculpture and ceramics at School of the Visual Arts in New York from 1972 to 1991.

Her earliest work concentrated on sculpture and ceramics. In the late 1950s, she instituted a series of works inspired by female anatomy called “female iconography,” thereby becoming one of the first artists to explore feminist imagery. She participated in groundbreaking feminist publications “Anonymous Was a Woman” (1974) and “Art: A Woman’s Sensibility” (1974) from the Feminist Art Program, Cal Arts, Valencia.

In the late 1970s, her focus switched to photography, installation, and performance. After her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she began to document her mother’s condition, and herself. One collaborator in her early self-portraits was Claes Oldenburg (born 1929). In the 1980s she continued to explore a variety of self-exploration, both in photographs and sculptures/installations.

These works explored the idea of woman’s control of her body, objectification by men, and body image. Body image became particularly key to her work after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. Brushstrokes is part of the documentation of her travails with chemotherapy. At first glance the hair on paper could seem to represent the swipes of a paint brush. But it is the hair brush that created these forms when Wilke brushed her hair after chemo. 

United States, Lock of George Washington’s Hair, 1781. Hair in wood frame, frame: 5 1/2" x 4 1/2” x 1/2" (11.4 x 14 x .88 cm). © 2017 Library Company of Philadelphia / Licensed by Contextual Connections. (LCP-22)
I think it is still a cultural custom to save locks of hair, either from babies or from precious relatives. I’m not at all sure when it became a custom, but I guess one could look at it as if preserving something living from the past. I don’t know, I still find it sort of creepy. Even though I sometimes wish I could have lived during the times when President Washington was around, I’m not sure about the lock of hair. Here we have a lock of his hair that is not only part of the medium, but actually the subject!

I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington wore wigs all the time. The poor guy had his hair snipped at every momentous occasion during the Revolution. In the early United States, locks of Washington’s hair were coveted by all of the new states. I can’t find any mention of where this lock originated (other than on the future president’s head), but since the LCP dates it to 1781, I’m going to venture a guess that it came from the momentous victory at Yorktown, Virginia, that ended the Revolutionary battles on colonial land.

Sioux Culture, Minnesota, Chief’s Shirt, 1801–1833. Pony beads, porcupine quills, buckskin, maiden hair fern stem, human hair, horse hair and pigment, height: 44" (112 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-116)
The Sioux nation was originally made up of seven bands, or “council fires”: four Dakota, two Nakota, and one Lakota. This group of council fires was called the Oceti Sakowin. The nearby Chippewa called it the Nadow-is-iw, which the French corrupted into the term Nadowessioux. That in turn was shortened to Sioux. The Dakota Sioux had their first contact with whites (French trappers) near Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1640 and 1658.

The original social organization of the Sioux bands did not have a chief to oversee all of them. Instead, each band had prominent warriors who were “shirt wearers.” When the bands would gather together, four of the shirt wearers would be camp leaders. The scalp shirt was what distinguished a shirt wearer from other members of the band. The scalps attached to the shirt were not mere decoration, but a tally of the man’s war count (or coup in French).

Counting coup was a system of grading war honors, special acts of bravery, and war aggressiveness. A warrior received a coup when he struck the enemy with a hand weapon or killed the enemy in battle. Often the coup was represented by the enemy’s scalp, which was removed from the back of the head where hair grows the longest. The warriors believed a man’s hair represented his soul. However, only Natives’ scalps were valuable when accumulating coup.

While the scalps adorning a shirt supported the owner’s claim to war count, there were also other objects that marked coup. These included eagle feathers, painted buffalo hides, and the coup flag, a staff adorned with multiple eagle feathers.

This shirt was made before the reservation era. The scalps are augmented horse hair. During the reservation era, hair was clipped from family members or horses. The shirts were decorated with locks of hair from friends and loved ones as a way of honoring a brave warrior. 

Papua New Guinea, Iatmul People, Ancestral Skull, early 1900s. Human skull, clay, pigment, cowrie shells, human hair, 8 1/2" x 7 1/2” x 9 1/4" (21.6 x 19.1 x 23.5 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-1560)
The veneration of prominent ancestors by augmenting their skulls with clay and decoration has been a human practice since the late Neolithic Age in the Middle East, ca. 5000–4000 BCE. Such decorated skulls were found in ancient Jericho, the oldest known city on Earth. If they attached a lustrous crown of hair on those skulls, I’ve never seen it.

New Guinea is divided between Irin New Guinea (part of Indonesia) and Papua New Guinea. It is the location of the largest number of dissimilar cultures in Melanesia. It is also the island of the most diverse and prolific artistic production of Oceanic art. Artistic production along the Sepik River, located in the northeast of the Asmat region, is particularly rich. Sculpture, painting, or carving adorns almost every object of secular and ritual life. By embellishing objects used in everyday life with art, it has been traditionally believed to bring the world of the spirits into active participation with the world of the living.
      
The Iatmul People are located on the Middle Sepik River. They are closely related to the nearby Sawos and have traditionally controlled fishing. They inhabit about twelve communities in the region. One of the more noteworthy art forms of the Iatmul are the decoration of ancestral skulls. The skull of a prominent or respected deceased person is covered with clay and painted; cowrie shells are added as eyes and decoration. The skull is then exhibited with either a carved wooden or basketry "body" in a communal spirit house immediately following death. They are then stored away and brought out as venerable ancestor representatives during ceremonial occasions.

Kudo Tetsumi (1935–1990, Japan, active France after 1962), Pollution-Cultivation-New Ecology Underground, 1972–1973. Wood, plastic, resin, adhesive, electrical system, cotton, wire, thermometer, paint, human hair, and Plexiglas, 34 1/4” x 58” x 23 5/8" (87 x 147.3 x 60 cm). The Museum of Modern Art.  © 2017 Kudo Tetsumi / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-D1196kiars)
What better way to connect human hair as part of an art work than in one that was created in the years after the first Earth Day (22 April, 1970)? Kudo Tetsumi is a fascinating artist who was a progressive modernist voice in Japanese art within the first ten years after the end of World War II (1939–1945). His art consists of sculpture, performance, installation, and performative painting. The overlying theme in most of his work is a critique of contemporary culture’s worship of technology, consumerism, and exploitation, particularly of the environment.

Kudo was a strident voice in the anti-art Fluxus Tokyo group in Japan as early as 1957. Experimental artist groups had begun appearing in Tokyo as early as 1952, the first year after the Allied occupation had ended. Like the Fluxus group in Europe that developed at the same time, Kudo’s colleagues ridiculed traditional art practices, rejected traditional exhibiting spaces, and were inspired by international contemporary movements. Ironically it was that Western modernity, so heavily influenced by Western technology, that Kudo came to despise, expressing that sentiment in works using environmental themes.

Kudo was not only upset by the denigration of the natural world, but also the constant threat of destruction in the post-Hiroshima world. This work is not an optimistic vision of a Utopian future of humans in harmony with nature. His idea that humanity as well as nature were metamorphosing in the polluted environment foresees a new, not necessarily pleasant, ecology emerging.

Robert Gober (born 1954, US), Untitled Leg, 1989–1990. Beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, and human hair, 11 3/8" x 7 3/4" x 20" (28.9 x 19.7 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2017 Robert Gober. (MOMA-S0554)
I’m not aware of whether or not Duane Hanson (1925–1996) ever used human hair in his stunningly life-like sculptures, but that’s what Gober’s leg series puts me in mind of. Is it Pop because of its use of banal everyday clothes? Is it New Realism because of the detail? Or is it Neo-Expressionism because of the disturbingly cut-off limbs? You decide that.

Gober was born in Wallingford, CT, and studied art and literature at Middlebury College in Vermont. Although his earliest exhibited works (1984) were paintings, he ultimately concentrated on sculpture. Starting in the late 1980s, Gober began to produce reproductions of everyday household objects in non-everyday materials, such as kitchen sinks either in odd juxtapositions with other objects or in fantastic scale. Taken out of their regular context, such objects take on an odd, almost sinister aspect.

Later, Gober produced many versions of a man’s leg. Just as is true with the sink sculptures, the leg sculptures do not share the interest in modern mass media or crass consumer culture, as is seen in his contemporary Jeff Koons (born 1955). The subject of a more-or-less disembodied male leg strips it of any power it might have had and dispels long-held beliefs about fine art. What is clear is Gober’s insistence on the integrity of the medium, replete with human hair.

Mona Hatoum (born 1952, Lebanon/Britain), Untitled (grey hair grid with knots 3), 2002. Human hair, hair sprayed, tied to black paper, sheet: 21 1/4” x 15 3/4" (54 x 40 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2017 Mona Hatoum. (MOMA-P4381)

Mona Hatoum (born 1952, Lebanon/Britain), Untitled (hair grid with three knots), 2001. Human hair hair sprayed, tied to transparent paper, sheet: 14 1/8" x 11" (35.9 x 27.9 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2017 Mona Hatoum. (MOMA-P1467)
If any work involving human hair doesn’t activate my discomfort index, it would be the hair pieces like these by Mona Hatoum. I’m not sure about her keffieh woven from her own hair, or the hair necklace: those are a little yuck. But this piece is so delicately made and beautiful. It reminds me of the delicacy of a spider web.

Conceptual and Feminist artists pioneered the use of their own bodies to explore psychological and physiological identity. Hatoum uses her own hair to explore issues beyond self, issues of power, fragility, conflict and peace. This investigation through the most personal of domestic items—excised hair—is magnified in works that she has created at the same time in everyday household objects made terrifying by manipulation or addition of menacing components, such as colanders ornamented with steel spikes.

Hatoum is Palestinian, born in Beirut. Although she wanted to be an artist, her father persuaded her to study graphic design, a more promising career in Lebanon at the time. While studying graphic design in London in 1975, the eruption of the violent civil war in Lebanon forced her to stay there. She took the opportunity to then study fine art at the Byam Shaw School of Art (1975–1979) and the Slade School of Art (1979–1981). While studying at these schools, she realized the power of incorporating feminist and political issues in her art.

From even her student years, her art was highly personal, mostly performance. She gradually moved into photography, video, installation, and sculpture to reflect such ideas as isolation in exile, disenfranchisement, war and its desolation, and, by association, the similarities in the situations of women. She began her hair pieces in the 1990s. These visually solid-seeming grids—almost like wire-mesh screens—belie the true delicacy of hair, reflecting on the fragility of humanity in a discordant world.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Year for the Sensibilities


Honoré Daumier (1808–1879, France), The Janitor on his Round of Visits on New Year’s Day: "Just 115 francs for my good wishes and I have already done 8 floors! Miserly tenants! Next time I’ll wish them something – you can bet on it.," plate 5 from the Silhouettes series in “La Caricature” magazine, 2nd edition, 10 January, 1841. Lithograph on paper, 13 1/4" x 10 3/8" (33.7 x 26.4 cm). © Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-2203)
Leave it to Daumier to sum up a personality that could be any number of jerks in our current narrow-minded, materialistic, me-me-me culture. In honor of the advent of 2017, I decided to go with works of art that present unusual interpretations of the event.

Utagawa Hiroshige I (17971858 Japan), New Year’s Eve Foxfires at the Changing Tree, Oji, #118 from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1857. Color woodcut print on paper, 13 3/8" x 8 5/8" (34 x 22 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-836)
You might know I’d sneak a little Hiroshige in this post. Of all of Hiroshige’s prints, this is one of the most fascinating and unique in a couple of ways. This was a first for Hiroshige in choosing a mystical, rather than an observed, subject. The brilliance of its execution is a fitting end to the great One Hundred Famous Views of Edo series. The depiction of darkness is a noteworthy accomplishment by the woodblock cutters: they overprinted several different shades of gray to achieve the darkness, with touches of green overprinted on the pine and the haystacks and mica in the tree branches.


This virtuoso woodblock print depicts a New Year’s tradition about foxes congregating at the hackberry (or pine tree) near the Oji Inari Shrine. It was called “Changing Tree” because the foxes were thought to congregate there and change their “dress” to become presentable for their yearly visit to the shrine. The lights seen by farmers, either swamp gas or luminescent fungi, were ascribed to the foxes and called kitsunebi. Farmers interpreted either the shadows cast or the number of lights for crop successes in the coming year. By the way, there is still a “Changing Tree” on this spot, although the one depicted in the print died and was reverently replaced during the Meiji period (1868–1912).

S. Riyo (unknown, Japan), New Year’s Post Card with Silhouetted Man in Top Hat, ca. 1925–1928. Color lithograph with metallic pigment on coated card stock, 5 7/16" x 3 7/16" (13.8 x 8.8 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-1075)
If you’ve read my post about Nihon-ga and Yo-ga, Japanese style and Western style, you know that the Western influence in Japanese art really took off during the late Meiji era. Lithography was introduced during the 1860s. By 1873 it was a more popular medium for producing postcards than the traditional woodblock printing technique. Postcards themselves were a unique format for the Japanese, based on European examples, and made their own by Japanese artists who incorporated imagery from many traditional Japanese genres, including the Ukiyo-e prints of beautiful women (bijin-ga).


The Japanese traditionally sent surimono (New Year’s cards) with imagery and poems on them. I think this could be called an updated surimon, and an updated bijin-ga. I’m still not sure if this card is depicting an actual man standing in front of the women, or if his shadow is joining theirs on the wall. At any rate, it shows the aesthetic tension between the rapidly industrializing Japan (the “flapper”) and traditional dress (the kimono). I’m sure bobbed hair was just as revolutionary in Japan as it was in the West—women rarely cut their hair in their lifetimes in those days. 

Mary Petty (1899–1976, US), The New Year, original cover illustration for The New Yorker magazine, published 31 December, 1949. Watercolor, ink on paper, 17" x 12 3/8" (43.2 x 31.5 cm). Image © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. (MOMA-P1770)
This charming cover depicts the fictional maid “Fay” of the fictional, wealthy “Peabody” family on New York’s Upper East Side that were featured on numerous New Yorker covers by artist Mary Petty. By the end of the Depression (1929–1940), New Yorker covers were dominated by narrative subject matter. Unlike many of the other illustrators for the magazine, Petty avoided current events or political themes for her fictional family. Here, Fay celebrates the New Year from her prison in the basement kitchen of the family mansion. Her magazine illustration is a little more upbeat than Daumier’s, right?


Mary Petty was born in Hampton, NJ, and was more or less a self-taught artist. Already, as young person her drawings had a satiric bent to them. Her cartoonist husband, Alan Dunn (died 1974) suggested she submit her drawings to the New Yorker, and her first drawing in the magazine appeared in 1927. During her career, she produced 273 drawings and 38 ink and watercolor covers, like this one. 

David Gilhooly (1943–2013, US), Going to Frog New Year’s Eve Party, 1977. Glazed ceramic, 18 1/8" x 5 7/8" x 14 3/16" (46 x 15 x 36 cm). Image courtesy of the late artist, © 2016 the artist or artist’s estate. (8S-21640)
Gilhooly had a major thing about frogs in his ceramic sculptures, even down to frog versions of Queen Victoria. I’m not quite sure what prompted it, but in the 1970s he created his visionary “Frog World,” a parallel reality to ours in which frogs were the master species. I’m assuming here that the bear (or beaver?), moose, and bull are wearing frog masks so they can “fit in” at the New Year’s party. Like his many other animal sculptures, Gilhooly delighted in precisely rendered textures, right down to the moose fur and the birch bark of the canoe.


Gilhooly was born in Auburn, CA. At the same time that Pop Art developed in New York (late 1950s to early 1960s), the West Coast developed its own unique version that emphasized technique more than elevations of common objects. He was a member of the avant garde artists group in Davis, CA. These artists did not consider themselves “mainstream” Pop artists. Personal fantasy, often on the raunchy side, was a major component of West Coast Pop.


New Year’s Note: Curator’s Corner was greatly honored to be included in the list of “Top Twenty-Five Art Teacher Blogs” by the Feedspot website at the end of 2016. Please check out their list of the other honorees.