Archive for the 'Exhibitions' Category

Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art

Today, the Gibbes opened a new exhibition called Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art. The exhibition takes a hard look at the history of art, exploring why there were so few early female artists, and how the tide has changed over the past century. The subject matter is compelling, and every object in the show is from the Gibbes collection. The fact that the Gibbes can tell the story of 300 years of women in art is noteworthy. Our collection is vast and includes many treasures of American art, including the largest public collection of portraits by Henrietta Johnston, the first female professional artist in America. The Johnston portraits are a real point of pride for the Gibbes, and five of her beautiful pastels will be included in this exhibition—a rare treat for our museum visitors! But this exhibition offers so much more. From miniature portraits to photography, sculpture, and abstract paintings, the exhibition highlights a wide variety of work, culminating with the stellar contributions of female artists working in Charleston today.

Want to hear more about these groundbreaking women? Join me on November 3 or December 1 at 2:30pm for an exhibition tour, free with museum admission.

Pam Wall, curator of exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

Check the Gibbes calendar for related events.

Read more about the exhibition in Pam Wall’s article in the Autumn/Winter 2011 issue of Antiques & Fine Art Magazine.

Join in the fun with Women in Art Wednesdays on the Gibbes’ Facebook page. Test your knowledge of women in art with our weekly trivia questions. Hint: you might find some answers in this post and related article.

Artist Spotlight: Margaret Bourke-White

Piston Rods, ca. 1927, by Margaret Bourke-White

Since Margaret Bourke-White’s iconic images will be featured in both of the Gibbes’ upcoming exhibitions—Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art and Camera Works: Masters in Photography—we thought her groundbreaking career worthy of the spotlight!

Margaret Bourke-White studied photography at Columbia University under renowned photographer Clarence H. White. She opened her own studio in Cleveland in the 1920s and found early artistic success creating images in factories and other industrial environments. She was conscious of modernist compositional techniques, and had a unique ability to find beauty in the raw materials associated with machinery—as is exemplified in her 1927 image, Piston Rods. However, from the outset of her career, Bourke-White was interested in using photography to examine social issues and she quickly broke into the male-dominated field of photojournalism.

She was a woman of many firsts. In 1929, Bourke-White was hired as the first staff photographer for Fortune magazine. She was also one of the first of four photojournalist hired by Life magazine and one of her photographs appeared on the magazine’s first cover in 1936. Bourke-White traveled throughout the world and was the first-ever Western photographer allowed in the Soviet Union. She photographed some of the twentieth century’s most notable moments, including the liberation of German concentration camps in 1945, and the release of Mahatma Gandhi from prison in 1946.

Two Old Women, 1937, By Margaret Bourke-White

Bourke-White traveled through the American south in the 1930s. Like many of the famed photographers of the era—such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Peter Sekaer—she worked to capture the devastating effects of the Great Depression. Many of her images from this experience were included in the publication, You Have Seen Their Faces, a collaborative project with her future husband, author Erskine Caldwell.

Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

Breaking Down Barrier: 300 Years of Women in Art and Camera Works: Masters in Photography both open on October 28, 2011

Artist Spotlight: Sam Doyle (American, 1906–1985)

The Gibbes has an amazing collection of 10,000 objects. With so many objects and only so much gallery space, at any given time, the vast majority of our collection remains safely tucked away in storage. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share it online! This post is one in what will be a series of artist spotlights, highlighting a variety of treasures from the Gibbes collection.

In honor of this summer’s focus on vernacular art (see my last post from July), I have chosen to spotlight South Carolina artist Sam Doyle (1906–1985). Doyle was an African-American vernacular artist from St. Helena Island, near Beaufort, and he found artistic inspiration within his community. Settled by the descendants of African American slaves after the Civil War, the residents of St. Helena Island remained largely secluded from the mainland through the mid-twentieth century. This isolation allowed residents to preserve many of the folk traditions rooted in their African heritage. Elements of Gullah culture, oral histories of Southern slavery, and Christian iconography greatly influence Doyle’s work. He is best known for his portraits which most frequently portray significant figures living on St. Helena Island. Using found objects, such as sheets of tin roofing or wood paneling as his canvas, Doyle created full-body portraits that often include text describing the subject’s importance to local culture. The Gibbes owns four paintings by Doyle, three of which you can see above.

And if you like Sam Doyle’s work, you should also check out our current exhibition in the Main Gallery, The Creative Spirit: Vernacular Art from the Gadsden Arts Center. It features work by artists who, like Doyle, are self-taught and live in the rural south. The exhibition closes on October 16, so you have a few more weeks to get here. Godzilla will be waiting!

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

Outgoing Loans: Collaboration, Consideration, Negotiation

Charleston Runner, by Mary Edna Fraser

Many museums organize the artwork in their galleries according to “permanent collection” and “special exhibition” themes. The permanent collection galleries display works of art that belong to the museum, while special exhibitions often include art on loan from another institution or private collectors. The Gibbes Museum regularly receives requests from museums across the country to borrow artwork for special exhibitions. Museums constantly lend works back and forth and are involved in an on-going cooperative dialogue about sharing art to enhance an exhibition or highlight a period of regional, national, or global art history. While the outgoing loan process follows a standard protocol, each instance is full of negotiation and nuance.

Most loan requests begin with a conversation between two curators to discuss an exhibition being organized and to inquire about borrowing works. The borrowing curator will provide exhibition details including themes, a check list of confirmed works, exhibition dates, information about scholarly research and publication initiatives, and any possibility of the exhibition traveling to multiple venues. Informal correspondence between curators is followed by a letter from the borrower to the Gibbes Executive Director, formally requesting the loan. In order to process a request, the Gibbes Museum asks that loan requests are submitted no later than three months before the date the artwork is needed—larger museums often require six months to one year lead time! Last minute requests are discouraged due to the amount of preparatory work required of collections and curatorial staff.

Zinnia Willits and Sara Arnold assess the condition of an outgoing loan object.

Zinnia Willits and Sara Arnold assess the condition of an outgoing loan object.

Once the formal application has been received, a series of internal questions must be addressed. Our collections and curatorial staff must determine if the object is needed for upcoming exhibitions at the Gibbes, if its condition is stable enough for travel, and if the borrowing institution’s facility meets standard requirements of security and climate control as defined by the American Association of Museums. These are just a few items on the lengthy checklist we use when considering outgoing loans. If the request passes the staff vetting process, it is brought before the Gibbes Museum Collections Committee for final approval.

The Collections Committee, a sub-Committee of the Carolina Art Association Board of Directors, meets quarterly with the Executive Director, Curator of Collections, and Director of Collections Administration to monitor the direction of the permanent collection and must review all outgoing loan requests. If the loan is approved by the Collections Committee, the borrowing institution is given the good news and work continues with the often complicated details of conservation, packing, and shipping. Each museum has specific requirements that must be accepted by the borrower for the loan to move forward. For example, the Gibbes maintains a document that outlines standard requirements for all outgoing loans. This document is provided to the borrowing museum as soon as a request is received and covers all matters of shipping, couriers, photography, insurance, and installation. The costs to conserve, pack, and ship outgoing loans can be enormous and is outlined in the agreement. Negotiation regarding lender requirements can be challenging for both parties, but in the end, safety and integrity of artwork always prevails.

Mama, You Know I Never Paid Matisse No Never Mind, by Sigmund Abeles

Currently the Gibbes has works on loan to several regional institutions. The work, Mama You Know I Never Paid Matisse No Never Mind, 2000, by Sigmund Abeles (American, b. 1934) can be found at the Columbia Museum of Art in the exhibition It Figures: The Work of Sigmund Abeles, until October 23, 2011.

The Exchange, by Edward Rice

Slightly farther west you will find two works by Edward Rice (American, b. 1953), The Exchange, 2011 and 502 Lucerne, 1983–1986, at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia. These paintings are prominently featured in the exhibition, Preservation of Place: the Art of Edward Rice, on view through November 20, 2011. Travel north a few hours to see the beautiful work titled Charleston Runner, 1996, by local artist Mary Edna Fraser (American, b. 1952). This batik is on view at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences through November 6, 2011, in the compelling exhibition Our Expanding Oceans, a study of the science behind sea level rise.

502 Lucerne Street, 1983–1986, by Edward Rice

The outgoing loan process for these exhibitions began back in 2010! As I write this, there are several new outgoing loan requests under consideration. Stay tuned to find out where works from the Gibbes collection might travel next.

Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration, Gibbes Museum of Art

New Faces Don the Walls of the Rotunda Galleries

Portraits by one of America’s earliest-known painters of African descent will adorn gallery walls when the newest exhibition, In Search of Julien Hudson: Free Artist of Color in Pre–Civil War New Orleans, opens this month. Portraiture plays a major role in art history and is a significant part of the Gibbes permanent collection; the portrait paintings in this exhibition by Julien Hudson and his New Orleans counterparts illuminate a fascinating era in New Orleans cultural history.

Many of the portraits in the exhibition portray the free men and women of color who were part of the early Creole population of New Orleans. This community took shape in the eighteenth century, first under French, and later Spanish, rule. Julien Hudson (1811–44)—himself a free person of color—was the son of a mixed race granddaughter of a former slave and a British merchant.

Prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the free people of color, or gens de couleur libres were considered a third caste, placed socially between the enslaved and the free white populations. They were afforded many of the same rights that whites enjoyed; they could own property, marry legally, enter contracts, and work in many industries. However, where they lived and traveled was restricted, and free women of color were required to wear a tignon or head scarf to indicate their status (see Portrait of Besty). After the city became part of the United States, the freedoms enjoyed by New Orleans free people of color slowly began to erode, and after the Civil War, their standing as a separate class from other people of African heritage was nullified.

Organized by The Historic New Orleans Collection and Worcester Art Museum, In Search of Julien Hudson: Free Artist of Color in Pre–Civil War New Orleans opens July 22, 2011, and is accompanied by an excellent catalog with essays by William Keyes Rudolf and Patricia Brady.

Sara Arnold, Curator of Collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

Curatorial Perspective: The Creative Spirit

The Gibbes staff members are making preparations for the opening of our next Main Gallery exhibition The Creative Spirit: Vernacular Art from the Gadsden Arts Center Permanent Collection. Logistical planning has gone on for months, but now the real hands-on work begins. There are crates to unpack, walls to patch and paint, condition reports to write, and Godzilla to install. That’s right, Godzilla is coming to the Gibbes. Don’t worry, he won’t eat the museum, but he does stand an impressive seven feet tall.

An installation of vernacular art (also called self-taught, outsider, or folk art) will be a nice change of pace for the summer season. I love vernacular art because it is stripped of any pretense. It is art made out of an intense desire to create. Many of the artists included in this exhibition are motivated by very personal reasons—be it their religious beliefs, a personal tragedy, or simply a desire to express themselves in a tangible way. Much of the art in the exhibition is raw and a bit rough around the edges, but sincere nonetheless.

One of the most moving stories is that of Lonnie Holley. In 1979, two of Holley’s nieces died tragically in a house fire. Overcome by grief and unable to afford tombstones for their graves, Holley found discarded sandstone at a nearby foundry and carved the tombstones himself. He found comfort in the act of creating, and so began his career as an artist. Holley continued to carve sandstone sculptures and later branched out to mixed-media sculpture and eventually painting. His work attests to the great power of art as a means of personal expression.

The Creative Spirit opens to the public on Friday, July 22. Join me on August 12 or September 9 at 1pm for a gallery talk and tour of the exhibition (free with museum admission).

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

It’s a Small World After All

This past April, my husband Bob and I enjoyed a stopover in Prague, Czech Republic, prior to boarding our Viking River Cruise along the Danube. In the hotel lobby introductions were being made among the passengers and we met Nancy and Tom from Connecticut, who asked where we lived. When we announced we lived in Charleston, they became quite animated and told us how much they loved visiting our fair city and that they had been several times. They visited the Gibbes Museum of Art during their last visit in October 2010, and recalled touring an exhibit entitled Face Lift with “the most wonderful docent!”

Mrs. Johnson (Estelle), 1972

I told them that I worked as a docent at the Gibbes, and agreed that Face Lift was a really excellent exhibition. At that moment Nancy looked at me and said, “I think you were our docent!!!” Oh my gosh, my goodness, how startling!!! In the middle of Prague, the Gibbes had made a connection for us. Nancy jumped up and gave me a great big hug. When I asked her if I made her pose, hand on hip with a great deal of ‘tude in front of the portrait of Mrs. Estelle Johnson, she shrieked “Yes, you did!” And that is how we became friends and laughed together for the rest of the trip—agreeing that yes indeed, it is a small world.

—Susan Wallen, Gibbes Museum Docent

Susan Wallen

Susan Wallen is a docent at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Docent-led tours are offered free with admission at the Gibbes Museum of Art every Friday at 2:30pm.

A version of this story was published in Charleston Currents on May 26, 2011.

Layers of History—Passage on the Underground Railroad

Untitled from the Passage on the Underground Railroad Series, 2005, by Stephen Marc (American, b. 1954)

Last Friday, the Gibbes opened the exhibition Stephen Marc: Passage on the Underground Railroad, featuring the digital montages of contemporary photographer Stephen Marc. The exhibition is a timely one, as it coincides with the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Any discussion of the Civil War must address slavery, and Marc’s work does so in a very powerful way.

Over the past decade, Marc has traveled throughout the United States and Canada photographing and researching sites connected with the Underground Railroad. His work conveys the stories of slaves who traveled the Underground Railroad in pursuit of freedom and those who helped them along their journey. To accomplish this, Marc conducted primary research in archives and historical societies throughout the United States. He gathered documents, artifacts, and ephemera from his research and digitally combined the material with contemporary photographs of the Underground Railroad sites. The resulting montages elegantly weave together the past and present and challenge viewers to contemplate the legacy of the Civil War today.

Viewing Marc’s exhibition requires some time, as each work contains a great deal of information. The stories of the Underground Railroad are fascinating, but also devastating. One montage in particular stops me dead in my tracks each time I walk through the gallery. It is an untitled work from 2006 that includes the figure of a woman shown from behind, her back covered with markings intended to mimic the keloid scars that resulted from whipping. But what really gets me is the illustration on the right, taken from an 1850 slave narrative autobiography. It depicts an enslaved woman being whipped while her infant is ripped from her hands. It is utterly devastating.

Stephen Marc’s work is challenging, but so is the history of the Civil War. It is my hope that this exhibition will help foster honest dialogue about all aspects of our nation’s history—both the good and the bad.

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

Stephen Marc: Passage on the Underground Railroad is on view at the Gibbes Museum of Art from April 7–July 10, 2011.

An Artist Revealed


Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Colonial Williamsburg to oversee the installation of the Gibbes watercolor Tranquil Hill which is on loan to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum for the next two years. This painting depicts an early nineteenth-century plantation landscape and has been in the Gibbes collection since 1972. Though the general location of the scene is clearly inscribed at the bottom of the painting, “Tranquil-Hill The Seat of Ann Waring, Near Dorchester,” the artist who painted it remains a mystery…or does it?

Recent research has linked our Tranquil Hill to the famous painting known as The Old Plantation, an image that has long been considered the best known depiction of early American slave life and culture in existence. The Old Plantation has perplexed art historians for generations. Who painted it, when was it made, where are the subjects, and what are they doing, were all unanswered questions. But over the last decade, Dr. Susan Shames, decorative arts librarian at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, has worked diligently to unravel these unsolved mysteries. In her recent book The Old Plantation: The Artist Revealed, Shames brings to light the evidence that led her to solve one of the great art mysteries of modern day.

Shames’ intensive research has definitively identified the artist of The Old Plantation as John Rose (1752/53-1820), a South Carolina planter, and suggests that the image was likely painted on his plantation near Beaufort around 1785–1790. The fascinating detective work that led Shames to this conclusion and much more about the painting is successfully presented in her book as well as in the recently opened exhibition. In both, Shames also examines the Gibbes’ mysterious painting Tranquil Hill and posits that it too may be a work by the hand of John Rose.

The evidence is still inconclusive on this last matter, as the two images are stylistically quite different, but Shames’ research uncovered several important facts about Tranquil Hill that connect it to John Rose. Rose and his family moved from Beaufort to Dorchester in 1795. There, he and Ann Ball Waring attended the same small church, lived in close proximity, and clearly traveled in the same social circles. The watermark on the paper suggests that the painting was likely made after 1805 during the time Rose lived in Dorchester. This information supports Shames’ theory that Rose, who painted as a hobby, made it as a gift for his friend and neighbor Ann Waring. This new hypothesis certainly inspires further investigation into this painting.

If you like a good art detective story, check out the The Old Plantation: The Artist Revealed by Susan Shames. Tranquil Hill will be on view with The Old Plantation and one other work by John Rose at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum through 2012.

Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

You Can’t Go Home

Having grown up in Charleston, with much of my identity shaped by the customs and unique character of the land and the people, I care deeply about the welfare of the place.

My first exposure to art was at the Gibbes, and I remember anticipating the classes in the Queen Street annex with great pleasure. So when the Industrial Scars project reached a point of maturity, one of the first people to whom I showed it was Angela Mack, Executive Director at the Gibbes. She liked it and understood my intentions immediately, and suggested that an exhibit focused on the southeast would be particularly relevant and timely.

Of course, it took several years to go from planning to execution, which turned out to be a good thing as I used the interim to do some aerial shoots of the industries around Charleston. My intention in making these pictures is to make beautiful images that move people and stimulate dialog about these threats to us and our children. I do not aim to vilify any given company, because they are, as a rule, acting within the law.

Agent Orange, 2009, by J. Henry Fair

As the show evolved, my research showed that my home town was besieged with millions of pounds of highly toxic pollutants that are affecting our health, lifestyle, and our ability to think clearly. Several photographs in the exhibition illustrate the waste from nearby coal-fired power plants impacting our natural resources (remember that these facilities are all operating within the law). Agent Orange depicts fly ash slurry from a coal-fired electrical generation station. When ash comes into contact with water, contaminants including arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and others can migrate into groundwater, lakes, and streams.1

I discovered that the industries within a 100 mile radius of the Holy City emit almost 1000 pounds of mercury into the air annually. According to the EPA, “Symptoms of mercury poisoning include: tremors; emotional changes (e.g., mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness); insomnia; neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching); headaches; disturbances in sensations; changes in nerve responses; performance deficits on tests of cognitive function. At higher exposures there may be kidney effects, respiratory failure and death.” 2 And if you thought that 1000 pounds of this element is not so much to worry about, symptoms appear with as small a dose as 0.025 mg. I am often amazed by the willingness to class “the environment” as a special interest, when in fact, it is nothing more than the set of natural systems that sustain life on this planet.

Coal Slurry (Residue stream of water and chemicals resulting from coal washing, Kayford Mountain, WV), 2005, by J. Henry Fair

Coal Slurry, 2005, by J. Henry Fair

Coal Slurry captures waste impoundments in West Virginia. Coal must be washed with water and processed with a variety of chemicals before it is used. This creates tremendous volumes of “slurry” which are stored in impoundments created by building earthen dams across the edges of valleys. On numerous occasions impoundments have failed, releasing large quantities of the toxic mixture to devastate the valley below.3

I take issue with the oft repeated mantra that we cannot do anything about the environment as it will cost jobs. My experience is exactly the opposite: in West Virginia, where coal mining is king, the shift to extraction by mountain-top removal, a much more damaging technique than traditional deep mines has simultaneously obviated 90% of the coal mining jobs due to mechanization.

Is saving a few pennies per kilowatt of electricity worth these results?

—J. Henry Fair, photographer and guest blogger

Fair will be at the Gibbes at noon on Saturday, February 26, to sign copies of his new book The Day After Tomorrow: Images of Our Earth in Crisis.

J. Henry Fair: Industrial Scars is on view at the Gibbes Museum through March 27. His photographs are also on view at the The Cooper Union in New York City.

For more information on the state of the environment where you live, visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency homepage and enter your ZIP code in the text field labeled MyEnvironment.

1 Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice. Coal Ash Waste Contamination Study – 31 New Water Pollution Cases | Earthjustice. Earthjustice: Environmental Law: Because the Earth Needs a Good Lawyer | Earthjustice. 24 Feb. 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2010/coal-ash-waste-contamination-study-31-new-water-pollution-cases.

2 “Health Effects | Mercury | US EPA.” US Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 24 Feb. 2011 http://epa.gov/hg/effects.htm.

3 United States of America. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Solid Waste. Coal Combustion Waste Damage Assesment. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 9 July 2007. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. http://www.publicintegrity.org/assets/pdf/CoalAsh-Doc1.pdf (PDF).

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