Looking Through the Mask

The following blog post is written by Ana-Alicia Feng, the Collections Management and Research intern at the University of Maryland Art Gallery. To learn more about professional development opportunities for UMD students at the Gallery, click here.

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Looking Through the Mask, currently on view in the Herman Maril Teaching and Research Gallery. Curated by Ana-Alicia Feng.

This past semester I was given the opportunity to work as a Collections Management and Research intern at the University of Maryland Art Gallery, as well as design and develop my own research project building upon my work with the African Art Collection. In the fall of 2016, I will be starting my senior year, pursuing a double degree in Studio Art and Marketing. As someone interested in visual arts administration, this was an incredible opportunity and experience offered by the Gallery.

The Department of Art History and Archaeology’s African Art Collection is one of the University’s largest and most understudied collections. I was able to work with the majority of these objects, specifically the items from late professor Ekpo Eyo’s teaching collection. For my research project, I proposed an exhibition titled Looking Through the Mask to encourage viewers to take a different perspective of the art. The exhibition seeks to explore the cultural context and meaning behind these wearable art pieces. These pieces represent more than just an aesthetic point of view and to understand them we need more than a visual analysis. Although these masks have fulfilled their spiritual purpose, they now serve as a commemoration to the culture, carvers, and performers that had the honor of interacting with these pieces.

The exhibition will hopefully inspire more professors to take advantage of the teaching collection, as well as give students an insight to the Gallery’s permanent collection. It was an amazing experience to work with the African Art Collection because I was able to apply the knowledge that I had learned in an art history class about some of the objects in the teaching collection. Apart from the knowledge I gained from my research, the exhibition would not have been possible without the help and guidance of Madeline Gent, the Permanent Collection Registrar and Graduate Assistant, and Taras Matla, the Gallery’s Assistant Director. Together, they helped me prepare for, and build the exhibition, as well as teach me about museum work. This exhibition represents my wonderful time at The Art Gallery as well as my interests in a career of visual arts administration.

The 2016 MFA Thesis Exhibition


We end every school year at the University of Maryland Art Gallery with the annual MFA thesis exhibition. The MFA thesis exhibition features the work of the Department of Art’s graduate students, and it is the culmination of their three years in the program. The exhibition is always a thought-provoking show and an insightful look into what is going on in the other half of the building. This year’s exhibition, which opened on May 11th, reignited my interest in the artistic work produced at UMD and affirmed the importance of a graduate-level education and training in the fine arts. Spending a few more years honing your craft under the watchful and critical eye of experts in your field results in a refined and thoughtful conception and practice. This show is evidence of that.


The front of the Gallery features Rural Decay Almanac, an exhibition by the artist Dane Winkler. Rural Decay Almanac is a series of pieces constructed from the fragments of a dismantled 100-year-old barn. Each of the constructions is an exploration and reinterpretation of the source material- its color, form, condition, and use. The work speaks to the material’s long history, as well as its contemporary transformation within the Gallery’s walls. It is this transformation that allows us to interpret and reread the works as both representational and abstract.


No longer a barn, the piece speaks to many contemporary art trends such as the re-examinations of minimalism, found art, and earth art, as well as the desire to create an immersive artistic experience. What I find most fascinating about Winkler’s work is his play between practicality (the wheel, the medium of wood, the importance of agriculture) and ‘high’ art (an exploration into the geometric form of the circle, the importance of color and perception, the extension of his installation out into the atrium, the value of the archive and documentation of his process). The works exist in the space in between the two, and the viewer cannot help but want to reach out and touch, feel, and turn the wheels (circles) throughout the front gallery’s space.


In the Liminal, an exhibition by Jowita Wyszomirska, is featured in the back gallery. As the viewer makes their way back, they only see a mere glimpse of the work; and, once they arrive, the impression and atmosphere is transformed as the visitor is completely surrounded by Wyszomirska’s three-dimensional drawings. These three-dimensional drawings reflect Wyszomirska’s process of marking, cutting, folding, erasing, layering, and arranging to create an immersive artistic experience, which blurs the boundaries between drawing, painting, and sculpture. The transition between the two exhibitions is a shift in perspective and experience, and Wyszomirska’s installation only further highlights that transformation.


An understanding and reinterpretation of medium and form also underpins Wyszomirska’s work. The piece does not speak to the material’s previous life as Winkler’s, but rather Wyszomirska’s skill in manipulating and mastering the form and function of that material. Deep and heavy blacks become light and airy, and both complement and contrast the work’s large swaths of white. The experience is both overwhelming and calming, as if one is at the beach watching dark and ominous storms clouds make their way to the shore.DSC_7129.JPG

Each installation marks the completion of three years of introspective training and practice. We look forward to seeing what these two artists produce next, and we congratulate them on a wonderful exhibition and their graduation from the program.


Augmenting the Exhibition: Augmented Reality (AR)


“Manhua + Manga” exhibit in the University of Maryland Art Gallery. Chinese and Japanese comics and cartoons on display. Photo by John Consoli/University of Maryland.

Augmented reality is a constantly trending hashtag on twitter. It seems that most museums are trying their hands at it these days, and if they are not, they are talking about it. Thanks to the presence of the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at UMD, the Gallery has been able to experiment with it as well– to some amazing results.

When I began planning my show, I knew I wanted some sort of augmented reality component to accompany the exhibition. In my previous position as a Graduate Assistant in art history, I had the opportunity to experiment with various platforms and apps in the name of research and pedagogy. I have not been a graduate assistant in three years; and because technology years run roughly equivalent to dog years, I was over twenty years behind. I needed to know what was out there and what would work for my show.

After I pitched my exhibition to Quint Gregory, the director of the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture, he helped me dream up the AR component currently available in the gallery. Guests are invited to borrow iPads from one of our attendants or download the Aurasma application on their smart phones. In the gallery, different objects are “tagged:” they trigger information and images available through the app. Hover the iPad over a cover by Chinese female cartoonist Liang Baibo to hear about her career and see other examples of her work. Interested in the Prange collection and how it came to UMD? Take the iPad over to the last viewing case in Japan. All five of the triggers are marked by small red dots.


“Manhua + Manga,” University of Maryland Art Gallery. Photo by Thai Nguyen/University of Maryland.

Augmented reality allowed me to add a new layer of information to the exhibition, as well as provided the audience with a different avenue to explore the exhibition. A special thank you to Quint Gregory and the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture for all their help.

Augmenting the Exhibition: Pop-up Library

One point that kept sticking in my mind throughout the curatorial and exhibition design process was the functionality of these objects. These objects now live in museum and archival collections; and during their stint at the University of Maryland Art Gallery, they are displayed in custom viewing cases. When they were originally printed, however, they were meant to be held, flipped-through, and closely read. It was important to me to acknowledge and convey that origin to the audience.


Pop-Up Library, Manhua + Manga, Photo by Thai Nguyen/University of Maryland.

For our previous exhibition at the University of Maryland Art Gallery, Timeline: The University of Maryland Art Gallery at Fifty, we worked with the University of Maryland libraries to create a pop-up library in the Herman Maril Teaching and Research Gallery. For Manhua + Manga, we decided to switch it up just a bit. We moved that pop-up library out into the space of the Gallery, and, rather than only feature reference text, we included manga and manhua in various languages from different authors and artists. In the center of the library sits a TV streaming several episodes from the early 1980s made-for-TV cartoon, Astro Boy.


Pop-Up Library, Manhua + Manga, Photo by Thai Nguyen/University of Maryland.

As a result, visitors to the Gallery could more fully realize the nature of the displayed material. They also could make visual and historic connections between the texts they could browse and those they could only read from afar.

Augmenting the Exhibition: Design


As the culmination of my two years at the Gallery, I was invited to propose, curate, and realize a month-long exhibition at the University of Maryland Art Gallery. Currently on view, the exhibition Manhua + Manga features a selection of Chinese and Japanese comics, cartoons, and caricature from the 1930s. I curated this exhibition as part of my doctoral dissertation process. My dissertation examines the covers of various journals and magazines printed in Shanghai in the 1930s in an effort to understand the visual experience and landscape of the city.


“Manhua + Manga” exhibit in the University of Maryland Art Gallery. View of Chinese journal covers. Photo courtesy of John Consoli, Between The Columns, April 2016.

For the exhibition I wanted to explore a tangential subject matter: the connection (or lack of one) between Chinese and Japanese comics during this period. It was important to me to show that these two mediums, China’s manhua and Japan’s manga, were distinct and rooted in local conditions, as well as drawing attention to the various transcultural flows between the two countries. China and Japan have a long history of shared cultural exchange, and this continued into the 1930s even under the threat of war.

How could I make this happen in a way that was respectful to the objects and cultures involved? I proposed to my supervisor “splitting” the Gallery in two: China on one side and Japan on the other. In this sense, the visitor could make their own connections while appreciating the differences between the two. During this initial discussion, he proposed constructing a map to display the objects upon. In place of traditional podiums, we would build tables that mimicked China’s coastline and Japan’s archipelago. To make this happen, we hired artist and designer Rob Hackett, a recent graduate of UMD’s MFA program. After a few meetings, the exhibition was sketched out and viewing cases ordered.


“Manhua + Manga” at the University of Maryland Art Gallery. Chinese and Japanese comics and cartoons on display. Photo Courtesy of John Consoli, Between The Columns, April 2016.

The design of this exhibition is my second favorite aspect of the show- second to the objects on display. (The pop-up library and the augmented reality component are a close third.) When the visitor enters the Gallery, they can either go to the left, the right, or proceed down the middle of the room between the two display tables. If he or she chooses the latter, he or she is standing in a figurative East China Sea. From there they can examine the work of each country as separate and distinct, as well as grasp the cultural proximity between the two art forms. To further reinforce the geographical context, we placed labels and dots closely approximating the artistic and publishing centers of Shanghai and Tokyo.


“Manhua + Manga” at the University of Maryland Art Gallery. Chinese and Japanese comics and cartoons on display. Photo courtesy of John Consoli, Between The Columns, April 2016.

Highlights of the Collection: Les Gens de Justice by Honoré Daumier

The following blog post is written by Zoe Copeman, the Curatorial Assistant for the exhibition Timeline: The University of Maryland Art Gallery at Fifty and recent UMD grad. To learn more about professional development opportunities for UMD students at the Gallery, click here.

Sleeping judges, double-tongued attorneys, and the morally inept. These are the stories behind the series Les Gens de Justice by Honoré Daumier. Originally published in the journal Charivari from 1845 to 1848, these prints satirize the daily lives of lawyers and judges.

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Honore Daumier, “Les Gens de Justice #4” from the journal Le Charivari, 1845, lithograph, 18.5 x 25.4, Gift of Robert Paul Mann (1975.1.1)

Daumier was a master caricaturist of the mid-19th century. Taking on a spectator role, Daumier found ways to criticize the whole of French society. His subjects often favored the scandals and legal corruption of his time. With the Industrial Revolution in full bloom, nineteenth century Paris streets rumbled with new technology, grime, and greed. In 1848, lawyers were preparing an ill-fitting constitution for France, and the Aristocracy was committing murders left and right. The lay people, with whom Daumier sympathized, were outraged. Les Gens de Justice was a timely series, exposing the nation through satire to the corruption of lawyers and the bourgeois. Daumier’s cartoons enlighten the viewer to these men made selfish and unprincipled by their seemingly unlimited wealth and power. Daumier’s simplistic compositions and exaggerated figural and facial expressions lend a depth to his works unmatched at the time, opening up a dialogue through which the ‘almighty’ could be criticized under the realm of humor.

The elusive Robert Paul Mann donated these seven prints to the University of Maryland Art Gallery (UMAG) in 1975, along with works by Kandinsky and other notable nineteenth century artists. These prints were the impetus for starting a permanent study collection, where professors of the University of Maryland could use the gallery as a mechanism for research and education within their classes. This interactive quality of the gallery has carried on to this day, becoming a large part of UMAG’s mission over the years and part impetus for the creation of the Herman Maril Teaching and Research Gallery within UMAG’s walls.

Exhibition Opening – Questioning the Bomb

The following blog post is written by Chloe Isaac, the University of Maryland Art Gallery’s new Coordinator of Social Media and Outreach. To learn more about professional development opportunities for UMD students at the Gallery, click here.

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Visitors take in a selection of posters in the front gallery, Questioning the Bomb: History and Non-Proliferation, September 2-October 23, 2015, University of Maryland Art Gallery

Earlier this month, The Art Gallery’s current exhibition Questioning the Bomb opened, and over 80 posters reflecting on the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bomb drop in Hiroshima were set for display.

As someone who wasn’t alive 70 years ago, and did not even learn much about Hiroshima in school, the nuclear bomb is kind of a foreign concept. I had seen the bomb drop in films and documentaries, but I had never understood its effect, or what it meant. Looking at the artwork in the exhibition changed my entire perspective.

The artwork in the exhibition consists of works of art not only specifically calling attention to the fateful day that in August of 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped, but also referencing the event and its effect on surrounding societies. Curated by James Thorpe, Associate Professor of the Graphic Design department, the works are posters made by designers from all over the world. These designers include Pentagram designer Harry Pearce, who used his own blood to create his poster.

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Harry Pearce, It’s All Our Blood, 2015, Digital Print, 24″ x 36″, University of Maryland Art Gallery

To know and understand the emotional connection the artists have to Hiroshima and its impact on their work is to understand the beauty of such an exhibition. Viewing the work as a group during the opening was an experience as well. People were drawn to different pieces according to their own preferences of color and line choice, but to see the somber, sedated looks on many of their faces when they step back and away from the pieces was enlightening.  It showed the effectiveness of the exhibit, and how 70 years is not long enough to ignore, especially when our Congress is negotiating the Iran Deal, which will have a huge impact on nuclear weapon production.

One of the most impactful parts of the opening was hearing both Taras W. Matla, our administrator, and Thorpe address the viewers. Matla stated that he should hope that if there is any takeaway from the exhibition, that it be we “…look at these posters as a call to arms, or, in the larger sense, a call to arts.” He wished that we would see the posters as an example of how impactful art can be, and how it can change the world. This was followed by Thorpe’s remarks, in which he mentioned his hope for an end to the creation of mass weaponry. And if his words were not enough, he informed us that the pillars within the exhibit space were made to be the size of average nuclear bombs. If those pillars were actually bombs, and were to go off, more than half of the United States’ population would be wiped out. In a room full of beautiful artwork, it is easy to forget the commotion around you. This exhibition is a combination of both worlds. It will be open through October 23, 2015.


View of Back Gallery, Questioning the Bomb: History and Non-Proliferation, September 2-October 23, 2015, University of Maryland Art Gallery