Archive for the 'Curatorial Perspective' Category

Stellar Sculpture and Other Exciting Summer Acquisitions

Faith, 1866–1867

Faith, 1866–1867
By Hiram Powers

New acquisitions to the collection are always exciting, and this summer the Gibbes has been very fortunate. Thanks to William and Susanne McGuire and the McGuire Family Foundation, an acquisition fund was established in 2011 to bolster the museum’s sculpture collection in preparation for the renovation and reopening of the Gibbes. Recognizing the significance of the Rotunda gallery to the architectural history of the building and to visitors’ experience, the McGuires have been working closely with the Gibbes staff for the last three years to find sculptural pieces that will enhance the reinstallation of the collection in this magnificent gallery which was originally designed to function as a grand sculpture gallery. Our goal has been to locate exceptional examples of nineteenth-century marble sculpture by American artists in keeping with the tradition of Charlestonians who patronized American artists working in Italy during that era. This summer, two remarkable works of neoclassical sculpture were secured as part of this effort. Full size busts of Faith, by sculptor Hiram Powers and Helen of Troy by Pierce Francis Connelly (a student of Powers’) are premier examples of work by these nineteenth-century American artists. These remarkable statues will soon reside in the beautifully restored Rotunda, with the support of Board members Susan and Van Campbell.

Helen of Troy” by Pierce Francis Connelly

Helen of Troy” by Pierce Francis Connelly

In addition to our major sculpture acquisitions we also received a very generous donation of two watercolor paintings Wednesday Chores (2004) and Sweet Potato Pie (1998) by Charleston artist Mary Whyte. Donated by David Inge of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, these works are featured in Whyte’s book Down Bohicket Road: An Artist’s Journey. Paintings from this series— including the two in this donation—document the Gullah women of the Hebron Saint Francis Center on John’s Island. Soon after her permanent move to Charleston, Whyte joined the group’s weekly fellowship meetings and began to sketch portraits of the women and their activities—bible study, quilting and meal preparation. The experience represents a turning point in the artist’s career and resulted in an acclaimed series of watercolors honoring the women and their dedication to family and faith.

Wednesday Chores, 2004, by Mary Whyte

Wednesday Chores, 2004, by Mary Whyte

Finally, as part of our effort to develop an outstanding collection of contemporary art by southern artists, the Gibbes purchased Wave Upon Wave (2014) by John Westmark from the recent solo exhibition John Westmark: Narratives organized by the Gibbes and on view from April 4–August 3, 2014. Westmark was the 2012 recipient of the Factor Prize for Contemporary Southern Art (now the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art). His large-scale paintings explore the human figure through an innovative use of text and paper sewing patterns collaged on canvas. Westmark’s paintings depict strong courageous women, some portrayed as stoic martyrs and others as warriors engaged in conflicts of rebellion.

Wave Upon Wave, 2014

Wave Upon Wave, 2014
By John Westmark

We are looking forward to seeing all of these new additions to the permanent collection on view in the renovated gallery spaces!

Sara Arnold, Curator of Collections

Curatorial Perspective: Celebrating Contemporary Art

Since the Gibbes Museum of Art first opened its doors in 1905, contemporary art has been a core component of the museum’s mission. Much of the institution’s beloved historical art collection was, in fact, contemporary when it joined the museum collection. This spring, the Gibbes celebrates our continued commitment to the art of our time with two special exhibitions, John Westmark: Narratives and Beyond the Darkroom: Photography in the 21st Century. Both exhibitions will be on view April 4 through July 13, 2014.

The Narratives exhibition showcases new work by John Westmark, a contemporary artist who weaves imaginative story lines into his large-scale paintings. Westmark explores the human figure in dynamic ways through his innovative use of text and paper sewing patterns collaged on canvas. His paintings depict strong courageous women, some portrayed as stoic martyrs and others as warriors engaged in conflicts of rebellion.

Trained as a painter, Westmark created Abstract Expressionist work in graduate school but was searching for a new direction. One day, he noticed a pattern his wife was using for a sewing project. Westmark was intrigued with the pattern design and the cultural meaning of the pattern itself. He began reading feminist theory and also creating collage studies with the sewing patterns. Over time, Westmark found his artistic direction, combining painting and collage to explore the traditional roles of women, and how those roles have shifted over time. It is no coincidence that his change in approach occurred shortly after the birth of his second daughter. Westmark wanted to create art that had meaning for those around him, particularly his wife and two daughters.

In Westmark’s current body of work, many of the paintings depict women preparing for an impending crisis or conflict. Some women are stoic, some are playful, and others steel themselves for battle. Paintings such as Wave upon Wave and The Tinderbox portray women actively engaged in conflict, fighting to enact social change. Other works, such as Exaltation, show moments of transcendence after the conflict has ended.

Exaltation by John Westmark

“Exaltation,” by John Westmark (American, b. 1963)

Of this work he writes,

“My intention with “Exaltation’” is to present a scene suggesting a violent event, in this case an explosion. This event functions as the first layer to be peeled away to expose a deeper meaning of transcendence. The figures are not so much victims of a destructive event as they are propelled by the intense energy of white light. They are the beneficiaries of something powerful and unexplained. The sewing patterns are released from the role of containing flesh to fly away,” says Westmark.

With each painting, the narrative is open to interpretation; however, the embedded text offers clues to the implied storyline.

A resident of Gainesville, Florida, Westmark holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from the University of Florida. In 2012, he received the Factor Prize for Southern Art, (renamed the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art) awarded by the Gibbes to an artist whose work contributes to a new understanding of art in the south.

The Gibbes explores another aspect of contemporary art through the exhibition Beyond the Darkroom: Photography in the 21st Century. Since the invention of photography in 1839, the medium has constantly evolved with the development of new technologies. In the twenty-first century, photographic processes have shifted from the darkroom to the digital world, bringing new possibilities to the medium. Beyond the Darkroom examines a variety of photography-based works acquired over the past ten years for the Gibbes Museum’s collection. Ranging from the text and photo-based works of Carrie Mae Weems to the digital montages of Stephen Marc, this exhibition showcases the great innovation in photography today.

A great example is Botany Bay Plantation Boardwalk by Atlanta-based artist John Folsom. Trained as a photographer, Folsom begins his mixed-media landscapes with a photographic image. Using digital software, the image is then divided into a grid and printed on separate panels. The panels are then attached to a large wooden panel to create a unified image. However, the grid remains visible as a reminder that the image is a construction of the artist’s making, not an objective representation of nature. Folsom pushes this idea further by working the surface of the image with oil paint and sealing it with a wax medium. The technique gives the surface of Folsom’s work a rich patina that suggests the layers of history accumulated in the Lowcountry landscape.

Botany Bay Plantation Boardwalk by John Folsom

“Botany Bay Plantation Boardwalk,” by John Folsom (American, b. 1967)

The connection between past and present is an underlying theme of Beyond the Darkroom. The introduction of the exhibition offers a history of photographic processes, including early works from the Gibbes collection. An antebellum daguerreotype, late nineteenth-century albumen prints, and early twentieth-century stereographs give context to the remarkable contemporary works on view. By combining the old and new, Beyond the Darkroom highlights a great strength of the museum’s collection—to engage people with the past while building an appreciation for the present.

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

John Westmark: Narratives and Beyond the Darkroom: Photography in the 21st Century, are on view at the Gibbes Museum of Art from April 4–July 13, 2014. Visit our online calendar to find programs and events related to these exhibitions.

Curatorial Perspective: Japonisme in Charleston

Rough Sea at the Naruto in Awa Province, No. 55 from the series Pictures of Famous Places in the Sixty Odd Provinces, 1855, by Ichiryusai Hiroshige

Rough Sea at the Naruto in Awa Province, No. 55 from the series Pictures of Famous Places in the Sixty Odd Provinces, 1855, by Ichiryusai Hiroshige

This winter the walls of the Rotunda Galleries will be decked with a vibrant array of Japanese woodblock prints from the Gibbes permanent collection. These examples of eastern art from Japan’s ukiyo-e school will be accompanied by works produced by Charleston artists who were profoundly influenced by the influx of Japanese art during the early 1900s. Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” is a term reflecting the long-held Buddhist belief in the ephemeral nature of the world of pleasure. Images by ukiyo-e artists were intended to appeal to broad audiences. Popular subjects were those of Kabuki theater actors, courtesans in the entertainment quarters, famous scenic spots, and views of the natural world.

“Japonisme” or, a taste for things Japanese, peaked in our port city during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Early introductions to Japanese art and culture in Charleston can be traced to the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition of 1901-02, and to the 1905 inaugural exhibition at the Gibbes which included a room dedicated to the display of Japanese prints. Additional exhibitions of Japanese art took place at the College of Charleston and the Charleston Museum between 1905 and 1907.

Moonlight on the Cooper River, ca. 1919, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (American, 1876–1958).

Moonlight on the Cooper River, ca. 1919, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (American, 1876–1958)

The Japanese print collection at the Gibbes is comprised of over seven hundred prints, dating from early works of the mid-seventeenth century to the decadent styles of the mid-nineteenth century. The core of the collection was assembled in Charleston by Motte Alston Read between 1909 and 1920. Read began collecting Japanese prints after his retirement from Harvard University, where he was a professor of Physiography.  He acquired a cross section of types, styles, and methods from a wide range of artists, including works by ukiyo-e masters such as Utamaro, Sharaku, and many by Hokusai, and Hiroshige.

Read encouraged local artists to use his collection for study and many artists of the Charleston Renaissance period (1915 to 1945) found inspiration in the clean designs and vertical compositions characteristic of Japanese prints. Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Anna Heyward Taylor, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, and Antoinette Guerard Rhett all studied traditional Japanese printmaking processes and learned to assimilate elements of the Japanese aesthetic in their own work.
Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Great Wave: Japonisme in Charleston is on view January 17–March 23, 2014.
See our calendar for programs and events related to this exhibition.

Curatorial Perspective: Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper

Friends and colleagues, Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper are considered two of the most significant American watercolor painters of the twentieth century. They were also among the many American painters and printmakers who visited South Carolina in the early decades of the century. During the months of October, November, and December we are pleased to display paintings by these two American masters side-by-side.

Gateway to Mule Stables [Camp Jackson, South Carolina], by Charles Burchfield (American, 1893–1967)

Gateway to Mule Stables [Camp Jackson, South Carolina], 1918, by Charles Burchfield (American, 1893–1967)

During World War I, Burchfield was stationed at Camp Jackson, South Carolina, from July 1918 until January 1919. It is estimated that he created as many as sixty watercolors while in residence at the camp. Most of these pictures were created in the form of sketches, done rapidly on weekend excursions, in the evenings, and even during lunch breaks. This past June, the Gibbes acquired one of Burchfield’s South Carolina watercolors for its permanent collection, Gateway to Mule Stables [Camp Jackson, South Carolina]. This purchase was made possible with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Van and Susan Campbell, Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Jeannie Dolson, Mrs. Katy Huger, Dr. and Mrs. Anton and Caroline Vreede, Mrs. Prudence Yost.

Charleston Slum, 1929 Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967)

Charleston Slum, 1929, Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967)

Edward Hopper (1882–1967) and his wife, Josephine “Jo” Nivison Hopper (1883–1968), came to Charleston for a brief visit in April 1929. During their three-week stay, Hopper produced at least twelve watercolors of Charleston, including Charleston Slum, which is on temporary loan to the Gibbes from a private collection.

Both Hopper and Burchfield chose watercolor as their primary medium, and both thrived on picturing everyday subjects. In an age of growing nationalism, American art and American subject matter was gaining recognition. In 1928 Hopper wrote an essay on Burchfield that was published in the July issue of Arts magazine. He declared, “The work of Charles Burchfield is most decidedly founded, not on art, but on life, and the life that he knows and loves best.” In turn Burchfield wrote of Hopper, “Edward Hopper is an American… It is my conviction that the bridge to international appreciation is the national bias, providing of course, it is subconscious. [For] An artist to gain a world audience must he belong to his own peculiar time and place.”

Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

Curatorial Perspective: The Fine Art of Printmaking

The Gibbes’s permanent collection is rich with examples of fine art prints made by artists ranging from James McNeill Whistler to Jasper Johns. While printmaking techniques have been around for thousands of years, American artists’ interest in printmaking as a fine art form did not develop until the mid 19th-century. Since then, printmaking has played an important role in many artists’ creative repertoire. This fall, the processes behind some of the best-known printmaking techniques are explored in The Fine Art of Printmaking now on view in Gallery H.

Canyon Wall, ca. 1975, by Boyd Saunders

Canyon Wall, ca. 1975, by Boyd Saunders

Various methods of printmaking have evolved over the long history of the medium. This exhibition features examples of woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, and screenprints by a variety of artists who mastered these techniques including James McNeill Whistler, Alfred Hutty, Prentiss Taylor, and Hale Woodruff. Prints are created through an indirect transfer process in which an image is produced on a surface (known as a matrix) such as a metal plate, wood block, or stone. The surface of the matrix is then inked and the image is transferred to paper by applying pressure. The resulting impression or print is a mirror image of the composition on the matrix. Numerous prints can be made from a matrix, so unlike paintings or drawings, prints usually exist in multiple impressions.

Returning Home, Selections from the Atlanta Period, 1935, reprint 1996, by Hale Woodruff

Returning Home, Selections from the Atlanta Period, 1935, reprint 1996, by Hale Woodruff

To learn more about the art of printmaking, please join us November 1-3 for the second-annual Art on Paper Fair weekend! The Fair celebrates the visual arts of Charleston with lively programs, conversations, and even artist demonstrations. Most importantly the Fair features works on paper for sale from eight premier dealers from across the Southeast.

Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Gibbes Museum of Art and Redux Studios teamed up with Marcus Amaker to create a video examining the tradition of printmaking in Charleston. Gibbes Executive Director Angela Mack, and Gibbes Curators Sara Arnold and Pam Wall share works from the museum’s collection and discuss the history of printmaking in the Lowcountry. Redux artists Alex Waggoner and Kate MacNeil discuss the current relevance of printmaking in today’s artistic community. Watch the video on YouTube.

Curatorial Perspective: Photography and the American Civil War

In a matter of days the Gibbes will open the highly-anticipated exhibition Photography and the American Civil War. The show is traveling from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it attracted great attendance and received rave reviews from numerous media outlets. We are thrilled to bring the exhibition to Charleston, the very city where the Civil War began with the first shots fired over Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

Photography and the American Civil War includes over 200 photographs, ranging from large-format, framed prints to ambrotypes and tintypes housed in handheld cases. There are also small card-mounted photographs known as cartes de visite, hand-tooled leather albums, and even Mathew B. Brady’s camera and tripod. Together, these objects explore the role of photography during a defining period in American history, the Civil War years of 1861–1865.

Unknown photographer, [Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, Company E, "Tom Cobb Infantry," Thirty-eighth Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry], 1861–62; Quarter-plate ambrotype with applied color; David Wynn Vaughan Collection.

Unknown photographer, [Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, Company E, "Tom Cobb Infantry," Thirty-eighth Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry], 1861–62; Quarter-plate ambrotype with applied color; David Wynn Vaughan Collection.

Each photograph in this exhibition tells a story. These photographs are fascinating, not just for the images they convey, but for the ways they were used. Portraits of soldiers headed to war were treasured objects for family members on the homefront—a tangible piece of their beloved son or father or husband who may never return home. The double portrait of the Hawkins brothers is one such example. Charles, on the left, looks strong and confident, with his arm around John—perhaps a gesture of support for his brother who appears a bit more timid. I can only imagine how their mother felt at the start of the war. Perhaps this photograph provided a small measure of comfort.

The exhibition also includes a number of battlefield views, including a well-known photograph titled A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Due to the technical complexity of producing photographs at the time, photographers rarely attempted action shots on the battlefield. They generally arrived after the battle to capture the destruction left behind. Here, Timothy O’Sullivan documented dead bodies awaiting burial on the fields of Gettysburg, a gruesome reminder of the horrors of war. Photographs such as this one were used to communicate news from the battlefield back to the homefront. In many ways, Civil War photography represents the birth of photojournalism.

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, born Ireland, 1840–1882), Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.), A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863; albumen silver print from glass negative, accompanied by text page from Gardner's Sketchbook; The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, born Ireland, 1840–1882), Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.), A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863; albumen silver print from glass negative, accompanied by text page from Gardner’s Sketchbook; The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Harvest of Death also brings to mind a rather eloquent quote from a solider who fought in the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, the single bloodiest day in the history of the United States. In the words of Union Captain John Taggert: “No tongue can tell, no mind conceive, no pen portray the horrible sights I witnessed this morning.” Though no media could fully communicate the horrors of war, photography was a powerful tool for delivering information to the public and a means for loved ones to feel connected with soldiers in the field. To learn more about these and the many other roles of the camera during the Civil War, please visit Photography and the American Civil War at the Gibbes from September 27 to January 5, 2014.

Pam Wall, curator of exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

Access our mobile website, http://bit.ly/CivilWar_Photography, to learn more about the exhibition.

Information about related programming can be found on our Calendar of Programs & Events.

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

Curatorial Perspective: An Upcoming Exhibition Takes Shape

Manifest, 2010, by Stacy Lynn Waddell

Manifest, 2010, by Stacy Lynn Waddell (American, b. 1966)

Over the next few weeks, the Gibbes collections and curatorial staff will be hard at work in preparation for the opening of Stacy Lynn Waddell: The Evidence of Things Unseen. On view September 3 – December 5, 2010, this exhibition will feature recent work by contemporary artist Stacy Lynn Waddell in her first solo museum exhibition. Waddell’s work is a fascinating blend of painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, and installation created with her innovative technique of burning, singeing, and branding paper and canvas.

Organizing an exhibition such as this is no easy task. It is truly a team effort that requires close to two years of planning. This particular exhibition began with a series of conversations between me and the artist. Together, we hatched a plan for the overall scope of the exhibition and important details such as the dates, gallery location, number of works, etc. As luck would have it, the Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro was also interested in hosting an exhibition of Waddell’s work, and a collaboration was born.

To prepare for the exhibition, I took two trips to Durham, NC to visit Stacy in her studio, along with Xandra Eden, the Curator of Exhibitions at the Weatherspoon. Studio visits are one of the best parts of my job. I get to see artwork first hand while building a relationship with the artist—important things when curating a contemporary exhibition. During our visits with Stacy, our main objective was to select the objects for the exhibition. It was important for Stacy, Xandra, and I to meet as a group and develop an object list that worked for both venues and also matched Stacy’s vision for the show.

But selecting the works in only half the story. Once the object list is finalized we need to figure out how to pack the works, ship them to the museum, and install them in the gallery. This requires hard work and ingenuity on the part of our Director of Collections Administration, Zinnia Willits, and our Director of Operations and Preparator, Greg Jenkins. Greg and Zinnia are our resident experts on all things related to art handling, movement, and installation. In the meantime, I am busy writing an essay for the exhibition brochure, preparing label copy and text panels, planning the exhibition layout, and managing all other details of the project. Did I book Stacy a hotel room for the exhibition opening? Do we have high resolution images for our marketing materials? These are the things that pop into my head at 3 o’clock in the morning…

Many, many emails and phone calls later, we are in the home stretch. I have to say, I am really looking forward to seeing this exhibition on the gallery walls, and I know Stacy is too. Come see the final results—the exhibition opens on Friday, September 3—it should be a good time.

—Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art