The 2016 MFA Thesis Exhibition

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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“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.

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“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: 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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

Streams of Being: A First Look

The Art Gallery is currently hosting the exhibition Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas. Curated by Assistant Professor of Latin American Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Abigail McEwen, and University of Maryland graduate students, the exhibition features forty-five artists from sixteen countries across the Americas. To commemorate and celebrate this unique exhibition and collaboration between the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States and The Art Gallery at the University of Maryland, various University of Maryland graduate students and undergraduate students have taken over our blog. Below, University of Maryland senior Stephanie Gaither recaps the exhibition’s opening.

A First Look
Stephanie Gaither ’15

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The Art Gallery’s Taras Matla addresses the crowd at the opening. Photo by Madeline L. Gent

On March 25th, 2015, The Art Gallery presented the exhibition Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas. Despite earlier previews and some familiarity with the pieces, nothing could beat the feeling of seeing the complete installation for the first time.  Perfectly situated, the artworks create a balanced and harmonious ambiance that guides the visitor throughout the space, sustaining a steady excitement and emotional response through each of the four areas. The opening gathered students, faculty, artists, and art enthusiasts on campus to enjoy the wide selection of objects. Taras Matla of The Art Gallery, Andrés Navia of AMA, and Professor Abigail McEwen all spoke briefly at the opening “We were thrilled to partner with the Art Museum of the Americas, home to one of the preeminent public collections of modern and contemporary Latin American art,” McEwen later stated.  “This exhibition was a true collaboration between AMA and The Art Gallery and one that we hope to advance in future years.  I was delighted to see so many students at the opening, and I hope that the exhibition continues to draw the campus community to the Gallery in the next month.” Close to 200 people attended the opening reception.

A few days later, I had the pleasure to interview some of the students in Professor McEwen’s undergraduate colloquium who attended the opening. Lindsay D’Andelet declared, “I thought that the opening was very interesting; there were a lot of people there including the director of AMA. Walking in the gallery was really cool, because I was one of the first people here and the first thing that I noticed was the large piece on the back wall which drew me in.” Sibia Sarangan, a student and the Gallery’s Collections Management and Research Intern, stated, “The opening was really successful in my opinion. A lot of people showed up from different demographics– students, members of the community, and everyone seemed to really enjoy the art. The exhibition was the result of collaboration between a lot of different people and institutions such as the Art Museum of the Americas and The Gallery here at the university. I think it was a great success and everyone seemed to be either interested in the streams and how the different pieces are connected with each other.” Most people seem to agree that the opening was a success, and are all very excited to have more people visit the show this month!

Stephanie Gaither is a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is majoring in government and politics, and economics. Her interests include traveling, reading, and visiting art museums.

Dust and Ashes: A Poetic Reaction to Berni’s Imaginary World

The Art Gallery is currently hosting the exhibition Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas. Curated by Assistant Professor of Latin American Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Abigail McEwen, and University of Maryland graduate students, the exhibition features forty-five artists from sixteen countries across the Americas. To commemorate and celebrate this unique exhibition and collaboration between the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States and The Art Gallery at the University of Maryland, various University of Maryland graduate students and undergraduate students have taken over our blog. Below, University of Maryland senior Angela Seo-hyun Cho employs poetry to analyze and interpret a work featured in the show.

Dust and Ashes: A Poetic Reaction to Berni’s Imaginary World

Angela Seo-hyun Cho ’15

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Antonio Berni, Ramona, 1965, Xilo-Collage Relief, 14.75 x 10 in. AMA | Collection OAS Art Museum of the Americas

Antonio Berni fixated on two subjects, Ramona Montiel and Juanito Laguna, beginning in the mid-1950s. What was it about these two characters that so enchained him to their existence? One of these characters, Ramona, is on display in The Art Gallery. The artwork is black and white, slightly raised as to give it a three-dimensional appearance, but still almost cartoon-like and eerie. Berni might have appreciated a poetic rendition of and reaction to his many studies of the characters Juanito, a poor boy struggling to survive in an industrial shantytown, and Ramona, a working-class girl turned high-class prostitute, selling her body and soul.

Here follows my poetic take on the world of Ramona:

Dust and Ashes

Is poor so poor or rich so rich?
As far black as blackness goes or as far light as lightness goes,
you dig and build empires of dust all around you

So, is dust then so delectable and so palatable to your lips
that you should guzzle it down and stuff it down your throat?
Why are you so unquenchably hungry?

You fill your belly with dust and excrete human ashes
And you use the excrement to fashion ornaments
And figurines that resemble the echo of love

And you decorate your empires with lace and pearls,
and paint the towns with black ashes,
all the while licking off more dust from the sides of cars, buildings, anything you can find

But, alas, the empire rocks to and fro and finally, collapses on top of you:
Shards of wealth pierce you in between your second and third rib.
You choke on your own excrement and you violently cough up rubies and emeralds

And you wonder what happened to your soul
And you realize your soul was made dust too
And you ate it 634 days ago when you forgot that
To be unimaginably rich is not always rich
and to be desperately poor is not always poor.

I leave you with some questions. From whose perspective does this poem come from? And secondly, what is your personal interpretation of this poem? Of Berni’s work?

Angela Cho is a senior at the University of Maryland. She is studying english literature and is interested in art of all forms.

Recovering Renart

In the following weeks, a series of guest-blog posts will be published in anticipation of The Art Gallery’s next exhibition, Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas. This exhibition has been curated by Professor Abigail McEwen, Assistant Professor of Latin American Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland, and Ph.D. students from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland.

Recovering Renart

Cecilia Wichmann

 

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Emilio Renart, Drawing no. 13, 1965. Ink on paper, 44 x 30 in. Collection OAS AMA | Art Museum of the Americas

 

These untitled drawings suggest . . . that life is a recalcitrant force, not to be contained or defined by attributes given it by the human mind.

-Benjamin Forgey, The Sunday Star, December 5, 1965

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Entrance to “La Casita,” home to the archives and offices of AMA | Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC

Entering “La Casita” on November 6 for my first dive into the archive of the Art Museum of the Americas (Organization of American States), I was greeted by intrepid AMA collections curator Adriana Ospina. Adriana led me upstairs to a brightly lit landing, outfitted with a copier/scanner and desk on which she had neatly arranged what archival materials she had been able to unearth on Argentine artist Emilio Renart (1925–1991).

A month or so earlier I had happened upon an image of Renart’s Drawing no. 13 in AMA’s online collections portal and was intrigued. By the time that I encountered the work in person, a few weeks later, I had developed a minor obsession with the gossamer threads of white and ice blue inks that seem to materialize out of dark, oceanic depth and onto its raw paper surface.

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Photographs related to Argentine artist Emilio Renart’s 1965-66 exhibition at the Pan-American Union. [Archives of AMA | Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC]

The resources now arrayed in front of us included the artist file, the exhibition file for the 1965–66 show from which Drawing no. 13 had been acquired, and country files on Argentina covering the years immediately preceding the exhibition. Adriana wasted no time in confirming what we had both suspected about records for this little-known artist and unstudied drawing: the files were slim. But Adriana said she had also found something unexpected, something tantalizing, that she knew that I would like: an envelope containing fifteen photographs associated with Renart’s exhibition.

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Archival materials, AMA | Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC

The photographs tell a curious story of absence and surrogacy. As it turns out, José Gómez-Sicre, Chief of the Pan-American Union’s Visual Arts Unit from 1948 to 1976 and organizer of Renart’s exhibition, was not primarily taken with the artist’s drawings. He settled for the exhibition of works on paper only when it proved impossible to present Renart’s series of “strange and haunting” assemblages that the artist had begun to construct in 1962. These “queer . . . objects,” which Gómez-Sicre understood as simultaneously inhabiting the worlds of painting and sculpture, could not easily be transported. They may have been impossible to reassemble without the artist present (he was apparently unable or unwilling to travel to DC), and they were too large to fit comfortably in the Pan-American Union’s exhibition hall. The photographs serve as proxies for these three-dimensional “monsters,” as Gómez-Sicre refers to them in a brochure text, or “Biocosmos,” as inscribed on the back of each black-and-white print.

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Emilio Renart with Biocosmos no. 1, 1963. Archives of AMA | Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC

The photographs show three iterations within the Biocosmos series (a fourth is pictured elsewhere in the archive). In some instances, the artist is pictured, his body positioned behind or between the ridged skins and wiry cilia of these ambiguous, mammoth forms that suggest (extra-)terrestrial outcroppings, animate feelers, or perceiving machines.

Gómez-Sicre’s desire to show Renart’s assemblages in DC by no means suggests reluctance about the drawings. Though “calmer” than the “monsters,” they are “no less intriguing” in his view and may be intimately connected, spun of the same creative DNA: “In these refined and exquisite compositions, threads interweaving like strands of silk or human hair emerge from darker zones of free forms which can be considered the nucleus of every composition. Each thread flows miraculously in a different plane. When the lines are straight and cross each other, there is the same charm and the same definition of space as in the free lines. These lines and Renart’s eye-catching concept of three-dimensional and aerial space constitute the purest elements.” The archival envelope contained three photographs of drawings likely included in the exhibition, all part of the same series as Drawing no. 13.

Emilio Renart, Drawing no. 4, 1965. Archives of AMA | Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC

 

This cache of photographs left me with questions—what is the relation of Renart’s drawings to his assemblages? How did he achieve these fluid, interlacing lines and faulted surfaces in two and three dimensions? How might this body of work congeal an interrelation of the body, the biosphere, and the cosmos, and how do these forms signify beyond abstraction, fifty years ago and today?

Visit the online interactive Emilio Renart’s Creative Ecology: Anatomy of a Research Project on the Streams of Being exhibition website to explore these questions about Renart’s work in a constellation of contexts, from art history and anthropology to science and world politics. 

Workshopping Networks: Generating Lists, Synthesizing Lists

In the following weeks, a series of guest-blog posts will be published in anticipation of The Art Gallery’s next exhibition, Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas. This exhibition has been curated by Professor Abigail McEwen, Assistant Professor of Latin American Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland, and Ph.D. students from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland.

Workshopping Networks: Generating Lists, Synthesizing Lists

Raino Isto

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Eduardo Mac Entyre, Seis Formas en Dos Circunferencias [Six Forms in Two Circumferences], 1966. Oil on canvas, 56 ¾ x 70 ¾ in. Collection OAS AMA | Art Museum of the Americas.

How might one incorporate the critical legacy of postcolonial theory in its diverse forms with more recent work foregrounding the agency and autonomy of objects? This was one of the central questions that occupied our graduate seminar, offered by the Department of Art History & Archaeology, as we set about planning an exhibition of works from the Art Museum of the Americas (AMA). We wanted the exhibition to strike a balance between the complexities of artist biographies—no less, the formation of subjectivities in global, diasporic, and exilic contexts—and the agency of the art object itself as a unit in shifting networks of (cultural) capital, material goods, and ideas. In this post, I present an overview of our collaboration on the exhibition concept, tracing our ideas from their inception in particular theoretical models. These ideas, born from the themes of our seminar, underwent a long process of incremental revision and refinement. This process, I think, shows both the difficulties and rewards of trying to make objects speak about each other, about the artists who made them, and—ultimately—about themselves.

Our seminar readings focused primarily on questions of identity, self, and meaning in the conditions of late-capitalist globalization, drawing from an array of thinkers including Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, Stephen Greenblatt, Stuart Hall, Arjun Appadurai, Edward Said, and Walter Mignolo. Over the course of the semester, Cecilia Wichmann and I simultaneously delved into writings on Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) as part of the Theory Colloquium on “Subjects and Objects” offered by the Center for Literature and Comparative Studies. Actor-Network Theory treats both humans and nonhumans, subjects and objects, as parts of a social network in which all participants exercise agency and affect other members of the network. It often emphasizes the ways in which things commonly considered simply as objects, unable to produce change, in fact help to constitute a social world mutually conditioned by human subjects. In a parallel vein, Object-Oriented Ontology investigates the world of objects divorced from subjects; it ponders the strangeness of objects, seeking to understand the ways that they transcend the meanings we ascribe to them.

The conjunction of object-oriented models and postcolonial thought suggested a productive viewpoint from which to plan an exhibition. While curatorial practice can sometimes deal directly with artists and subjectivity, its engagement with objects (in our case, with many objects that have not been previously exhibited) is intrinsic.

Since both ANT and OOO are deeply interested in the notion of “workshopping” their theoretical models, we thought: what better way to workshop the intersection of these theoretical spheres than by designing an exhibition to explore the micro-histories of objects? Our exhibition explores their potential agencies, their relationships to a shifting collage of identities and representations, and their sly retreats; we probe their participation in assemblages of influence and expression and their roles in mutually constituting the subjectivities of the artists that created them. Particularly key to our thinking was the plausibility of applying Greenblatt’s “cultural mobility” model within the “white cube” of the gallery space.  We wanted to foster an understanding of how particular art objects and artists had moved along and across various borders, through various networks…but we needed to create this sense of motion and flux in a relatively isolated space. How could we show interconnection in an environment more favorable to sensations of timelessness and placelessness?

This question and the ideas it inspired floated across our minds as we prepared for our visit to AMA on October 2. In fact, the visit (about which Kathleen Weigand has written) served as the most important, conceptual catalyst for the exhibition. Seeing the works in person put our rather vast net of theoretical references into a new perspective, suggested fresh formal and critical connections, and—above all—made us tremendously excited about translating abstract ideas into discrete, visual narratives constructed around the objects themselves.

The curatorial process began in the wake of the museum visit, when I created a Google Doc and invited the other members of our seminar to enrich it with theoretical insights, specific ideas about works of art and groupings thereof, and installation models for The Art Gallery’s space. I asked: How might we make ANT or the concerns of OOO work in tandem with postcolonial critical approaches? I intended the concept to be as open-ended as possible, suggesting a hazy series of groupings related to “maps of networks,” “the multiplicity of connected objects/people/entities,” “the discrete self-contained aspects of objects,” and “the potential hybridity of nonhuman subjects and their position in networks of agency.”

Eduardo Mac Entyre’s Seis Formas en Dos Circunferencias serves as an apt visual metaphor for the refinement of our exhibition concept. In this work, Mac Entyre repeated the linear trajectory of a simple geometric form: the circumference of a circle. In doing so, he produced an image that possesses an overarching unity created out of a plethora of discrete and subtly displaced interior units. Likewise, our work on the exhibition unfolded as a gradual expansion and synthesis of lists of overlapping and disparate categories and objects. Over the course of the next month, our categories and groupings of artworks expanded, contracted, reformed, and redoubled as we established new relationships between works dealing with animals, the body in exile, maps and cartographies, the agency of objects, transnational flows of capital, and the materiality of particular media. These new sets of interrelated frameworks informed our initial exhibition roundtables and, alongside this proliferation of interpretive frameworks, our list of potential objects grew at a dizzying speed. Several weeks of slow circling around the problems of object agency and the formation of transnational subjectivities set the stage for both our research forays into the AMA archives (addressed in Cecilia’s upcoming post) and the expanding vision of the exhibition’s online companion (see Grace’s post)—two processes that have introduced a fresh cast of objects and their agencies in new and exciting ways.

I like to think that our collaborative process has tested the possibilities of “workshopping” encounters with objects, as envisioned by theories like ANT and OOO. Some objects we saw in person; others we encountered only through the mediation of digital reproduction (and still others only through their metadata). Likewise, our own interactions took place in person and through a vast network of digital mediators (email, Google Docs, Facebook, and others). And, like the asymmetrical networks of Actor-Network Theory, the complexity of our own interactions with each other was sometimes as confusing as it was enlightening—struggling to find the unified form within an increasingly disjunctive set of units.  As we continue to think more about how artists and objects function in webs of agency and signification, we find ourselves facing bafflement as much as understanding.  That, perhaps, is the most salient lesson to be gained from our work together on the exhibition: things of all kinds—objects, subjects, and their interstices—push us in new directions, outside of simple ways of thinking and away from reductive syntheses, into hidden spaces. Always shifting, they push us across borders.

Thinking Digitally: Chronicling the Creation of our Exhibition’s Website

In the following weeks, a series of guest-blog posts will be published in anticipation of The Art Gallery’s next exhibition, Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas. This exhibition has been curated by Professor Abigail McEwen, Assistant Professor of Latin American Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland, and Ph.D. students from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland.

Thinking Digitally: Chronicling the Creation of our Exhibition’s Website

Grace Yasumura

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Screenshot of work in Omeka by Grace Yasumura.

As Kathleen mentioned in the last post, our exhibition will feature a digital companion meant to reflect not only the artworks installed in The Art Gallery in March, but also to make the exhibition available to people who may not have a chance to see it in person. We considered three possible platforms to host our digital site: WordPress, Omeka, and Scalar.  Cecilia Wichmann and I were well placed to take the lead on this digital component, as we were both graduate assistants in the Collaboratory last fall and members of the DIG (Digital Innovation Group), in which we explored the relationship between art history and technology.

One of the central questions guiding our search for an appropriate digital companion was a simple one: How could we digitize materials in a web-friendly and accessible way, while preserving their historical integrity? We needed a platform that would allow us to accomplish three goals: the efficient organization of materials; the preservation of the exhibition’s intellectual spirit; and the creation of discursive space in which to share our curatorial point of view.

After a few weeks of research, we suggested that our class use Omeka, a free, open-source, web-publishing platform developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Omeka was created to display and store large numbers of objects and designed with libraries, archives, and museums in mind. We were particularly drawn to two of Omeka’s features: the capacity for data migration and the ability to create interactive content. To facilitate data migration, we used the CSV Import plugin[1] to quickly populate our Omeka site in a batch upload with images of the objects in our exhibition, including all appropriate Dublin Core[2] metadata.

But perhaps Omeka’s most compelling features are the platform’s narrative and didactic capabilities. The Exhibit Builder plugin allows for the creation of online exhibits, or custom web pages, that attractively highlight combinations of items (including images, video, audio, PDFs, and PowerPoint files) with accompanying narrative text. This exciting feature affords us the opportunity to consider alternate narratives that may be less visible in The Art Gallery due to limitations of space or to conventions of display and labeling. As we know, objects don’t just tell one story. Digital media can illuminate the complex histories and social biographies of artworks and their relationships to the spaces in which they continue to circulate. Within Omeka, the Neatline plugin facilitates the interactive and dynamic presentation of related visual materials – maps, paintings, photographs – through the artworks themselves.

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Untitled, Víctor Vázquez (Puerto Rico, b.1950), c. 1987. Photograph, 11¾ x 17¼ in. Collection OAS AMA | Art Museum of the Americas.

I am using Neatline to create an interpretive lens through which to understand Víctor Vázquez’s Untitled. Using Neatline’s annotation tools, I have drawn translucent outlines around particularly suggestive details of Untitled (see screen shot, above). As users interact with the annotations, they will discover related image and media files that that provide supplementary details and interpretive clues. Users will also see long-format text about the specific context within which Vázquez created the work. Both the Neatline and the Exhibit Builder plugins have been instrumental to our efforts to craft sophisticated and nuanced narratives about the objects in our exhibition.

As the semester came to a rapid close, Cecilia and I prepared to pass our Omeka project off to Professor McEwen’s undergraduate class, which is continuing work on the exhibition in this semester. Our goal at the beginning of last semester was to create the framework for the exhibition’s website, including a detailed site navigation. While we have accomplished this goal, we have also been able to add other, public-facing features—a blog, interactive Neatline pages, and online gallery exhibits. Omeka has proven to be a streamlined and effective platform for our digital companion.

 

 

[1] A CSV file or comma-separated values file is a file format that is used to move data between programs. For example, we are using CSV files to move the matadata of objects from an excel spreadsheet to our website.

[2]The Dublin Core is a set of accepted terms designed to standardize the metadata ecology.

OBJECT ENCOUNTER Visiting the Art Museum of the Americas

In the following weeks, a series of guest-blog posts will be published in anticipation of The Art Gallery’s next exhibition, Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas. This exhibition has been curated by Professor Abigail McEwen, Assistant Professor of Latin American Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland, and Ph.D. students from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland. Professor McEwen, the graduate students, and The Art Gallery would like to thank and recognize the Art Museum of the Americas for their support of the exhibition, especially Andrés Navia and Adriana Ospina; as well as John Shipman, the former Director of The Art Gallery, for his work in orchestrating the show.

OBJECT ENCOUNTER 
Visiting the Art Museum of the Americas

 Kathleen Weigand

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Raino Isto, Cecilia Wichmann, Tyler Shine, Eleanor Stoltzfus, and Alison Singer (left to right) with works on paper from AMA’s collection. (Photo courtesy of Abigail McEwen.)

Last semester, the members of the graduate seminar, “Aesthetics of Exile: Borderlands, Diaspora, and Migration,” under the guidance of Dr. Abigail McEwen, studied Latin American modernism through the lenses of various critical methodologies. We focused on the interventions of postcolonialism; diaspora and nomadism; studies of space, displacement, and border zones; globalization; and cosmopolitanism.

In partnership with the Art Museum of the Americas (AMA) in Washington, D.C., we had a unique opportunity to apply these theories to an exhibition of our own design, to open in March 2015 at the university’s Art Gallery. We curated this exhibition through our selection of objects from AMA’s permanent collection. The development of this show was a main aspect of our seminar work, which included lengthy conversations on the curation of objects; the design of gallery space; the creation of a digital exhibition by Cecilia Wichmann and Grace Yasumura to accompany the university show (which Grace discusses in our next post); and the development of our exhibition proposal, the critical theory behind which Raino discusses in another post to follow.

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Kathleen Weigand, Cecilia Wichmann, Eleanor Stoltzfus, and Raino Isto (left to right) with Oscar Muñoz (Colombia), Interior, c. 1987. Lithograph, 30 x 20″ (image) 37 ½ x 29½” (sheet), Collection OAS | Art Museum of the Americas. (Photo courtesy of Abigail McEwen.)

We achieved a breakthrough in our selection of objects for the exhibition during our first trip to AMA in October, when Adriana Ospina and her colleagues prepared over a dozen objects of our choosing, removing them from storage for a private viewing. Prior to our visit, we had browsed and selected a wide range of paintings, prints, and other works on paper through AMA’s collection online. It was crucial, however, that we view and discuss these selections in front of the objects themselves.

The snapshots above and below illustrate the variability of even the best digital reproductions and the importance of viewing artworks in person. Seeing their true appearance during our visit to AMA naturally led us to a more critical understanding of these objects and a revelatory reconsideration of the show. Only in person were we able to accurately apprehend the size, color, and effect of the artworks we had chosen. Our viewing of the objects also facilitated discussions of related design considerations, such as framing and matting, as well as our interest in alternative forms of display, such as the use of vitrines or monitors. Two of the group’s favorite object selections included Oscar Muñoz’s 1987 still image Interior, originally selected by Eleanor Stoltzfus, and my initial selection, Filemon Santiago Avendaño’s Untitled, a surrealistic watercolor from 1979.

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Oscar Muñoz (Colombia), Interior, c. 1987. Lithograph, 30 x 20″ (image) 37 ½ x 29½” (sheet), Collection OAS | Art Museum of the Americas.

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Filemon Santiago Avendaño (Mexico), Untitled, c. 1979. Watercolor, 18 x 24,” Collection OAS AMA | Art Museum of the Americas.

Avendaño’s watercolor incorporates beautifully subtle gradations in earth tones—ochers and browns—as well as blues, greens, flashes of red, and somber greys, all of which constitute the flattened, anthropomorphic shapes of fantastic animals and surrealistic, dream-like bestial bodies. While the subtleties of color are difficult to discern in the painting’s digital reproduction, the full depth and range of color became evident upon closer inspection. Variations of recognizable forms—goats, rabbits, chickens, pigs, cats, and dogs—as well as other amalgamations of farm and domestic animals, descend together in a mass of flailing legs, ears, tongues, tails, and horns. Creatures peck, nibble, and pull at each other amidst the rush of bodies detached from space; some recede in their declination, as if tumbling from a spectral, unseen pen or precipice. In the upper right-hand corner, bizarre, block-like forms and incomplete animal bodies evoke a sense of amputation and slaughter, while the frenetic mass of seemingly carnivorous creatures, and their carnal contact with one another, elicit a sense of the “uncanny strangeness” discussed by Julia Kristeva in her discourse on cosmopolitanism.

This “uncanny strangeness” of the nomadic artist’s encounter with other cultures is readily identifiable in his biography. A Mexican-born resident of Oaxaca, Avendaño spent much of his early artistic training and career in Chicago. In 1995, Avendaño’s “cosmopolitan” career took him to the Netherlands as a professor. He has since reclaimed Oaxaca as his permanent residence and workplace. The Art Institute of Chicago is one of several American institutions to collect his work.

Through our exhibition, we hope to bring rarely exhibited objects such as Avendaño’s watercolor to the university and the greater public. In foregrounding contemporary Latin American artists, often little known in the United States, and the critical discourse around them, we also hope to draw new connections within and between the university and its neighboring communities.

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Kathleen Weigand, Grace Yasumura, Raino Isto, Tyler Shine, and Alison Singer (left to right) with Filemon Santiago Avendaño (Mexico), Untitled, c. 1979. Watercolor, 18 x 24,” Collection OAS AMA | Art Museum of the Americas. (Photo courtesy of Abigail McEwen.)