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.

 

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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.

Hybridity and Exile in María Martínez-Cañas’ Photomontage

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.

Hybridity and Exile in María Martínez-Cañas’ Photomontage

Ali Singer 

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María Martínez-Cañas, Fragment Pieces #4, 1982, silver gelatin photograph, 16″ x 20″.            OAS AMA | Art Museum of the Americas

Last fall, I had the opportunity to visit the archives at AMA to research a handful of artists for Streams of Being.  Each time the archivists brought out a new folder, they reminded me to be attentive to the order of its contents, prompting me to visualize the ways in which we might think of each folder as a fluid text in and of itself.  The loose documents read like the pages of an artist’s book, with pieces added as AMA acquired them.  Yet the narratives nonetheless remain fragmentary, almost like a photomontage.  What I became more interested in as I read and studied each new document, each new trace of some history, were the spaces in-between this narrative.  Michel Foucault, in his text The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), envisions the archive as a way of studying, or constructing the past to shape meaning.  Foucault’s definition allows us to further think about the archive as a space of making.  One of the artists in our exhibition, María Martínez-Cañas, has helped to shape my own ideas about this exhibition through her own work, which acts as just such a constructed archive.  In particular, her photomontage Fragment Pieces #4 fits into a larger artistic narrative in which the medium of photography, and any singular image, is pointedly relegated.[1]  In its place, she often draws on her own histories, both personal and collective, tapping into many of the themes we studied throughout our seminar: exile and diaspora, global and local histories.  Her work strikes a balance between her own biography and the ways in which the objects themselves have meaning and agency, a theme that Raino Isto has explained here.

A topic that we explored in theoretical depth last semester, the theme of exile runs throughout our exhibition.  In this regard, the medium of photomontage has been particularly important to Martínez-Cañas because, as she says, it helps her “to create new memories that have to do with who I am.” Artists have often used the medium as a form of political protest, and Andy Grundberg suggests that perhaps the majority of these artists were also in exile or refugees.[3]  From this perspective, Martínez-Cañas engages her historical ties to a larger network of artists in exile at the level of medium.  We can see the fragmentary nature of her photomontage technique as operating at this initial level: the work exists as a single fragment of a larger narrative of artists in exile linked through this condition of medium specificity.

The images within the piece itself are also significant in their representation of the intellectual trajectory of our class as we shaped this exhibition.  The photographs depict pre-Columbian objects, suggesting a historical and hemispheric link for Martínez-Cañas as a Latin American artist.  The written text above and below the object on the left reads, “That which narrates can make us understand.  The primitive begins alone; he inherits no practice.”  The notion of inheriting practice subtly implies cultural hybridity, whereas “beginning” and “alone” taken together describe points of origin unfettered by outside input.  Cultural hybridity as well as the complex relationship between the local and the metropolitan, as we explored through the work of writers such as Fredric Jameson and Arjun Appadurai, resonated at the fore of our thinking around this exhibition.  Martínez-Cañas’ piece speaks well to these larger themes as the text, visually paired with pre-Columbian objects, engages to one half of the equation: the indigenous.  Yet the text also foreshadows later European conquest, particularly in the use of the word “primitive,” a European notion that relegated indigenous populations to a presumptively less civilized, and thus lower, social standing.

Many of the artists in this exhibition deal with notions of cultural hybridity.  Hybridity implies an initial flow and movement, perhaps due to exile or immigration, or even the liminal condition of the refugee.  Martínez-Cañas was born in Cuba, but she and her family fled to Puerto Rico as exiles shortly thereafter.  Thus, she has lived not only a life in exile but also one defined by cultural hybridity.  She moved to the United States only a few years before she produced Fragmented Pieces #4, a work that frames and augments the feeling of displacement.  The photomontage medium, as adapted in this piece, allows us to imagine the work itself as expressing a kind of hybridity.[4] The image of the book onto which Martínez-Cañas has placed the pre-Columbian images returns me again to the notion of the archive and the experience of flipping through the various fragments contained within each folder, a metaphorical “artist’s book.”  Fragmented Pieces #4 is emblematic of the themes and ideas we explored together as a class and, at a personal level, it registers the ways in which my thinking has been further shaped through the use of AMA’s archives.  My visit to AMA was crucial to my understanding of individual artists work.  Tellingly, it also inspired new creative conjunctions between  an artist, as pieced together by the archive, and the fragmented narratives and cultural fragmentation as experienced by an artist (herself) in exile.

 

[1] Although this specific piece is not included in our exhibition, this work by Martínez-Cañas expresses many of the themes central to our exhibition and guided my thinking during the course of my research in the archives at AMA.

[2] Andy Grundberg, “A Storm of Images: the Photographs of María Martínez-Cañas,” in María Martínez-Cañas: A Retrospective, April 30 – July 28, 2002 (Fort Lauderdale: Museum of Art, 2002).

[3] Andy Grundberg, “A Storm of Images: the Photographs of María Martínez-Cañas.”

[4] Olga M. Viso, “With Feet Firmly Planted,” in María Martínez-Cañas: A Retrospective, April 30 – July 28, 2002 (Fort Lauderdale: Museum of Art, 2002).

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.)