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: 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: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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:

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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.

Strange Fruit: The Banana in the Americas

In anticipation of our current exhibition Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas, The Art Gallery’s blog featured posts from the University of Maryland graduate students who curated the show with their professor Abigail McEwen, Assistant Professor of Latin American Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. Below is the final graduate student post. Please stop by The Gallery before the show closes on April 25th!

Strange Fruit:

The Banana in the Americas

Tyler Shine

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Antonio Henrique Amaral, Banana, 1971, oil on canvas 66 3/4 x 50 1/2″ AMA | Collection OAS Art Museum of the Americas

Several rows of green and yellow bananas greet shoppers at my neighborhood grocery store in Washington, D.C. Stocked in groceries across the country, the banana is a familiar fruit that calls little attention to itself. But in a series of paintings made between 1968 and 1975, the Brazilian artist Antonio Henrique Amaral (b. 1935) transformed the humble banana into a monumental subject. Conjuring up associations to warmer climates, exotic bodies, and perpetual leisure, the banana has become a strange, but vivid metaphor for micro-histories of commodity markets, migration, popular culture, global economic regulations, ecological issues, and even the performing arts.

In our graduate seminar last semester, we discussed the physical and conceptual boundaries that mark the experiences of exile in Latin America. In this post, I explore the multiplicity of meanings embodied by the banana, particularly as it represents the landscape/body of the Americas. “Bananas are so common that they are almost invisible,” historian Virginia S. Jenkins remarked in Banana: An American History.[1] What forms of agency belong to this ubiquitous and allegorical fruit?

I began my research on Amaral’s paintings with a visit to the archives at the Art Museum of the Americas (AMA) where I found, in the artist’s file, an unexpected pamphlet for the Ninth Annual Banana Festival in the twin cities of Fulton, Kentucky and South Fulton, Tennessee. This slim volume led me to think about the ways in which the banana has continued to connect the United States and several Latin American countries. The banana arrived in the Americas from Asia by way of Africa, on ships of sixteenth-century Portuguese explorers. Bananas were a luxury import until the late nineteenth century, but the advent of new technologies – steam-powered ships, refrigeration, canning, and boxing – allowed tropical fruits to become widely available on the world market. The banana became popular in the United States following the Centennial Exposition (Philadelphia, 1876), which included a forty-acre display of “orange trees, a banana plant, date palms, wax plants, century plants, sago palms, fig trees, orchids, and pineapples.” As Jenkins explains, “The banana plant was so popular that a guard had to be posted near it so that visitors would not pull it apart for souvenirs.”[2]

Amaral developed his large-scale banana paintings in two phases. The first (1968-72), broadly titled Brasiliana, features solitary clusters of bananas in the green, yellow, and blue colors of the Brazilian flag. Paintings of the second phase (1973-75) are characterized as Campos de batalha (Battlefields). Amaral created the Battlefield paintings while in the United States, where he went in order to avoid censorship from the Brazilian government. These later paintings introduce sharp, metallic objects, such as forks and knives that stab and cut the ripening and rotting flesh of the bananas. In stating, “I reject all repression,” Amaral suggests both the specificity and universality of his artistic project.[3] We can see in Amaral’s banana paintings not only political resonances, but also ecological, racialized, and gendered meanings that reinforce the artist’s affirmative stance against oppression. In the lines that follow, I will briefly address the latter issues of race and gender.

In popular culture, the banana is often conflated with the Latino/a body and the tropical landscape. Sociologist Mimi Sheller, in an article on how the banana connects the complex systems of global transportation, communication and politics, writes that “food…is not simply something we consume; rather, it is a crucial part of the daily routines and actions of bodies through which racialization happens. Bananas contribute to racing space and bodies in several complex and interacting ways.”[4] As a tropical export crop, the banana depends on a racialized labor force of ‘Black’ and ‘Brown’ bodies distinct from its presumptively ‘white’ consumer in North America. (This distinction can be problematized if we consider that consumption of bananas in the North does not necessitate a white consumer.) Bananas also figure into evolutionary hierarchies as a food eaten by non-human primates like monkeys and chimpanzees, thus becoming a sign of ‘primitive’ association with animals. Lastly, the banana is sexualized due its phallic shape. In these ways, the tropics manifest a sexualized space inhabited by raced bodies deemed lower on the evolutionary chain of being, bodies that are further sexualized by their association with the banana.

Myra Mendible’s “ironic reference to bananas and buttocks” in the title of her edited volume, From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture, “conjures images of banana republics and fertile natural resources—literal and figurative ‘booty.’” Her words connote “a history of U.S. tropicalization vis-à-vis Latin America and evoke the kind of ambivalent desire and disgust that characterizes North-South relations and, by extension, inflects the Latina body as transnational signifier.”[5] (See Ellie’s post on the female body in exile, here.) One embodiment of this tropical, nonthreatening vision of South America was given by the Brazilian actress, singer, and samba dancer Carmen Miranda, whose flamboyant persona served as the inspiration for the United Fruit Company’s creation of Chiquita Banana a half-banana, half-woman cartoon character. With a heavy accent and fruit-topped headdress, she acted as the company’s “friendly face.” Caetano Veloso aptly summarized Brazil’s love-hate relationship with Miranda:

For the generation of Brazilians who…became adults at the height of the Brazilian military dictatorship and the international wave of the counterculture…Carmen Miranda was, first, a cause for both pride and shame, and latter, a symbol that inspired the merciless gaze we began to cast upon ourselves.[6]

The critical self-consciousness Veloso describes is embedded in Amaral’s paintings. Their protagonist is a discursive symbol reflecting nationalist struggles, oppression, economic exploitation, migratory patterns, racial and sexual tensions, subversive politics, and environmental denigration.

 

[1] Virginia S. Jenkins, Banana: An American History (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000), ix.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] Edward J. Sullivan, “A View from Abroad,” in Antonio Henrique Amaral: Obra em Processo (São Paulo: DBA, 1997), 281.

[4] Mimi Sheller, “Skinning the Banana Trade: Racial Erotics and Ethical Consumption,” in Geographies of Race and Food: Fields, Bodies, Markets (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 292.

[5] Myra Mendible, From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), 7.

[6] Ibid., 12.