Intentional Exposure: Interdisciplinary Perspective

From April 2 through June 1, 2019, the student-curated exhibition “Intentional Exposure: Photography from the Permanent Collection,” was on view at the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art in the Malinda Berry Fischer Gallery. Part of my Spring 2019 course on the history of photography and museum studies, the exhibition prompted a series of responses from students. Those responses will be featured on the blog throughout the next few months—this week, with a post by architecture student Hope Bailey.

As the only architecture student helping curate Intentional Exposure: Photography from the Permanent Collection at the OSU Museum of Art, my experience was incredibly enriching. I was tasked with doing something that had absolutely nothing to do with my profession – writing the catalogue essays – and, overall, it was a wonderful experience! While writing certainly isn’t my area of expertise, it was still interesting trying to analyze the prominent themes in the exhibition and reflect on our experiences as a class working with the incredible photographs from the OSU Museum of Art’s collection.

Though writing essays was a challenging and refreshing change of pace, what I found most enjoyable from the whole experience was drawing those first, early concepts of the exhibition. In a way, this was the part that related most to my career in architecture; visually analyzing, finding aesthetic connections between different works, and thinking deeply about concepts that could connect the works are all things that I’ve done in my career and will continue to do professionally. However, doing those things formally for a museum exhibition as opposed to buildings was an interesting treat, especially when working with several people with backgrounds in art history.

When we were first tasked with making connections between three broad categories from the photography collection – landscape, photojournalism, and abstract – my contemporary-design-oriented mind went straight for the abstract works, making visual connections about technique and design. After hearing the interests and connections other students were making and then arguing for the abstract works, I found that I was one of the few who shared this mindset among the class of curators.

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Arnold Genthe (American, b. Germany, 1869-1942). “Their First Photograph, Chinatown, San Francisco,” 1895-1906 (printed later). Gelatin silver print, Oklahoma State University Museum of Art, Gift of Robert Flynn Johnson, 2015.014.024.

At that point in the semester, I didn’t understand why so many people cared so much about the historical, photojournalistic works that now make up much of the exhibition. This perception was truly changed over the course of the semester as I learned more about the history of photography and began to understand what made those photojournalistic photographs, which I had hardly given a second thought to, so great. In addition to learning about the larger movements that shaped modern photography, doing my own research on photographers like Arnold Genthe made me understand that street photography can be emotional as well as documentary, as most of his photographs were incredibly invasive for his subjects in Chinatown.

Understanding historical contexts like in the photograph I got to write about, Their First Photograph, made me appreciate photography more wholly, and allowed me to begin to understand how historical photographs are beautiful and thought-provoking. For that, I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to have this experience both in curating Intentional Exposure, and in learning a bit about the history of photography – these have shaped my design career and appreciation for history greatly, and will be memorable for the rest of my life.

Hope Bailey

 

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Intentional Exposure: Mademoiselle Anita’s Night Out

From April 2 through June 1, 2019, the student-curated exhibition “Intentional Exposure: Photography from the Permanent Collection,” was on view at the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art in the Malinda Berry Fischer Gallery. Part of my Spring 2019 course on the history of photography and museum studies, the exhibition prompted a series of responses from students. Those responses will be featured on the blog throughout the next few months—starting with this post by art history MA student Catarina de Araújo.

My goal in this blog entry is to expand upon the exhibition label I wrote for the photograph titled Mademoiselle Anita (1951) by Robert Doisneau (French. 1912-1994), which was on view in “Intentional Exposure” (OSU Museum of Art, April 2 – June 1, 2019).

Doisneau Mademoiselle Anita

Robert Doisneau (French, 1912-1994). “Mademoiselle Anita,” 1951. Gelatin silver print, 7 3/8 x 5 inches. OSU Museum of Art, Gift of Robert Flynn Johnson, 2013.007.046.

Although Doisneau is mainly linked to straight photography and a photojournalistic style, his portrait of Anita has a mysterious, almost pictorial quality thanks to the out-of-focus people in the background, her feathery hair, and Doisneau’s dramatic use of light and dark values. All of these elements instill a magnetic and poetic quality in the work. More so, and which is true of all old photographs, we are drawn to the past by the trace of a person who may no longer exist.

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Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). “L’Absinthe,” 1875-76. Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

While talking about this image with others, Édouard Manet’s painting, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), and Edgar Degas’ L’Absinthe (1875-76) were brought up in comparison to Mademoiselle Anita.

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Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883). “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère,” 1882. Oil on canvas, Courtauld Gallery, London.

I wondered how much impact these works had on Doisneau. Was he carefully composing this photograph thinking about these French Impressionist painters? I assume that he was at least familiar with both Degas and Manet’s approach to a similar subject.

From day one, I felt drawn to this photograph, advocating for its inclusion in the show on several different occasions. I envision myself as her, sitting on the leather banquette, alone, arms crossed, gazing down. The punctum* here, for me, had to do with the personal feeling of being alone in a room filled with people: a deep sense of disconnect with the environment. So the story I invented for Anita was a familiar one. Urban girl sits in a quiet bar, coming down from a late night of partying elsewhere.

Later, it was brought to my attention that another print of this photograph included the following inscription, signed by Doisneau:

“Ce n’était sans doute pas son vrai prénom mais on l’appelait: ANITA un nom de dancing bien sûr. Elle avait vingt-ans – c’est à peu près tout ce que je sais d’elle – Il y a trente ans – Ne sombrons pas dans la mélancholie.”

Which roughly translates to: “This was probably not her real name but what she was called: Anita, a dancing name, of course. She was twenty years old – that is almost everything I know – this was thirty years ago – do not become melancholy.”

In the end, the story I made for Anita was most likely not the most accurate one, yet, it is still my favorite.

Catarina de Araújo

* To Barthes, unlike the studium which refers to our intellectual experience of any image, the punctum pierces us with an unexplainable, familiar feeling, deeply bonding us to the photograph (Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida : Reflections on Photography. 1st American ed.. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981).

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Intentional Exposure: Installation week

Last week was installation week for students in ART 4813/5813: Museum Exhibition/History of Photography. We went from blank walls:

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Through some discussion and design:

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And some strategizing by the education team:

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To … well, you’ll have to come and see!

Flyer. Intentional Exposure 2019

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Intentional Exposure: Students Curating the Permanent Collection

This spring, I’m teaching ART 4813/5813: Museum Exhibition; our special topic is the history of photography. Student curating is always an adventure, because it brings together group work, subject learning, and real-world outcomes—all on an ambitious timeline! In fact, in just two weeks, our exhibition, “Intentional Exposure: Photography from the Permanent Collection,” will open at the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art.

Thirteen students have been working since January to curate the exhibition. We jumped right in at the start of the semester, visiting the museum to see a selection of photographs that demonstrated some of the strengths of the collection. Registrar Cindy Clark and I had done some behind-the-scenes prep work: she sent me illustrated lists of  every photograph in the collection—there are over 500 of them—and I selected 150 for students to work with. For our first visit, I sorted them into three rough thematic categories: landscape, abstraction, and photojournalism. As we looked at them together, the students realized that these loose categories were fluid: some landscape photographs are abstract, and some photojournalist images of people make their point by situating their subjects in meaningful landscapes. What was attracting us to certain images regardless of category, and how might we turn that into a conceptual question that would guide our curatorial process?

Brainstorming a concept question for “Intentional Exposure.”

Back in the classroom, with reproductions of the artworks spread across the seminar table, we discussed themes that emerged in our museum visit. We thought about the photographs as physical objects: how did technical experimentation inform the images that artists produced? We also considered subject matter: how do photographers use framing, pose, and other formal elements to create a visual narrative that tells a story—or invites the viewer to do so? At this stage in the process, the students confronted the eternal curatorial challenge: they had to narrow down the list of photographs that they found intriguing—that they had become invested in, intellectually and emotionally—to a number of objects that would fit comfortably in the gallery. To help make these difficult decisions, they developed their conceptual question: “How do artists use the formal techniques of photography to tell stories that conceal/reveal their subjects?”

Refining keywords for “Intentional Exposure.”

Using that conceptual question as a guide, students did independent research on photographs they felt should be included in the show. Creating “inclusion statements” that were loosely based on the type of acquisition statement prepared by museum curators when proposing additions to the permanent collection, each student made a case to their peers for specific artworks. Once we’d narrowed the selection down from  50 to about 35, we started thinking about the photographs as a group, rather than as individual works of art. What common threads connected them, and how might we tell a curatorial story? The process began with brainstorming: looking at the photographs on our short list, what compels us about them? What do they share? As the students talked, three key themes emerged from their conversation: concealing, sensuality, and memory.

Developing the title of “Intentional Exposure.”

Those keywords helped the students focus the exhibition, and we eventually narrowed our object list to the 24 that will be included. As the students continued their research on the individual artworks, our next deadline was a title. How could we transform our concept question and keywords into a title that enticed museum visitors and conveyed some of the content we are eager to share? We began to play “magnetic poetry” with words and phrases that had come up over the course of our many conversations: writing words on individual sheets of scrap paper, rearranging them as a brainstorming tool, and writing completed ideas on the white board. For the students, there were several takeaways from this process: first, the importance (and difficulty!) of avoiding clichés; second, the seductive appeal of alliteration; and third, the power of choosing precisely the right words. “Intentional Exposure” won everyone’s vote because in just two words it captured a surprising variety of meanings—without giving anything away.

Senior art history major Tanna Newberg explaining an aspect of the proposed exhibition layout for “Intentional Exposure” to art history MA student Bianca Martucci-Fink.

With the opening date getting close, we started to think about the visual element of curatorial storytelling: the exhibition layout. Art history students are used to telling visual stories: in papers and presentations, they compare objects and images, using them to drive explorations of all sorts of history. But in the gallery, the material reality of objects is suddenly a factor to be considered. Unlike images in a powerpoint slide, artworks in a gallery can’t be resized or cropped in order to conform to the needs of the presenter! Two students, Tanna Newberg and Sheridan Dunn, were in charge of leading a discussion about layout. Once again, we met at the museum, where Tanna and Sheridan offered their classmates a proposed layout. From that starting point, we discussed sightlines, visual rhythm, and graphic design, along with educational elements and other considerations.

Students in ART 4813/5813: Museum Exhibition discussing the layout of their show, “Intentional Exposure.”

Working around the current exhibition, “Washed Up,” students enthusiastically debated solutions to all of these concerns—and discovered once again that they were emotionally, as well as intellectually, invested in the outcomes. Passionate about objects that they’d been researching, and bringing their experience as museum visitors to bear on the process, they made thoughtful cases to one another for particular decisions. By the end of the class period, they had agreed on two things: they had a layout with which they were satisfied, and they will almost certainly want to make changes when they see the actual artworks in the gallery next week.

“Intentional Exposure: Photography from the Permanent Collection” opens at the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art, 720 S. Husband St, Stillwater, OK 74074 on April 2, 2019. An opening reception, including a guest lecture from museum donor Robert Flynn Johnson, will be held on Wednesday, April 3, from 5-7pm (talk at 6).

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Robert Mapplethorpe, Imogen Cunningham, and Modernist Photography

The author of this month’s essay, James Adam Sanders, was a student in Art Since 1960 when he wrote it. In the essay, he considers the lasting influence of American modernist photography (as represented by OSU Museum of Art collection artist, Imogen Cunningham) on later photographers—and considers how Robert Mapplethorpe, in particular, transformed that influence in work that asks social questions still relevant today.

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Robert Mapplethorpe, “Lisa Lyon,” 1981. Gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches.

To many viewers outside the world of art, Robert Mapplethorpe’s work of the 1970s and early 1980s raises questions. Mapplethorpe himself acknowledged that he was extremely attracted to pornography and the hidden world of S&M—a fascination that he talked about openly in a 1983 interview. Mapplethorpe says in the interview that he wanted to see how far he could stretch the line between art and porn. Many have given him credit for creating the genre of fetish art, and there can be no argument that he definitely brought it to the forefront of conversations about contemporary aesthetics. Although some American audiences weren’t ready for Mapplethorpe’s work, it started a dialogue that needed to be opened. He prompted viewers to ask why the source of one’s passion matters, and whether we have to agree with each other about sexuality in order to have engaging conversations about passion and beauty.

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Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976), Tower of Jewels (Magnolia Blossom), 1925. Gelatin silver print, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, Oklahoma State University.

In terms of both quality and thematic subject, Mapplethorpe’s work strongly resembles Imogen Cunningham’s photographs from the 1920s. Both artists are directly or indirectly addressing sex, be it a sensual plant or a nude person. Their images are both repulsive and engaging, and they share a use of strong contrast with excellent composition and an ability to make even the darkest image pretty. Regardless of subject matter, Mapplethorpe’s work is simply beautiful. He used similar formal techniques to photograph people, flowers, erotic scenes, and more. His uniformly careful craft elevated these images, in the eyes of critics, to the status of art. His work has been extensively exhibited in galleries and collected by museums.

I would like to think that he wants us to question his artwork, and try to expand our thinking into the possibilities of a greater acceptance of each other. I also feel that we, as the viewers, having these discussions would make Mapplethorpe proud, knowing that we give his art recognition and find meaning in it for ourselves.

Further resources:

http://www.mapplethorpe.org/

http://www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Mappleth/MappPg1.html/

http://www.robert-mapplethorpe.com/

 

This essay has been edited for clarity, but the argument has not been altered.

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Karl Umlauf and Industrial Art

This essay was written by Kat Thornton while she was a student in Art Since 1960.

Karl Umlauf’s River Retrieval, 1998, in the permanent art collection is a large, expansive, and foreboding piece of art. The feel of industry, of cogs and gears, of darkness obtained through the use of black and grey and ochre pastels on a massive piece of paper reminded me of steampunk and industrial punk. It looks like the artist is expressing a fascination with the real context of metal, the feel of its rough texture, and the grease and oil that lubricates gears and drills. Although a large five-holed disk takes center stage, there is no main mechanism that the art is trying to depict; instead it is a collage of pieces that disappear into one another throughout the drawing.

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Karl Umlauf (American, b. 1939). “River Retrieval,” 1998. Pastel on paper, 44 x 30 inches. Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, 98-0054.

Karl Umlauf obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin and his Masters of Fine Arts from Cornell University. He is most known for his works in large outdoor and wall-supported sculpture based on geological formations and his depictions of industrial metal works from refineries, stell mills, and salvage yards. [Editor’s note: Read student writing about Umlauf’s sculpture, also in the OSU art collection, here and here.] He was an artist in residence at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, from 1989 until his retirement in 2015. [Editor’s note: See more of Umlauf’s studio in this post about OSU staff going to pick up a gift of his work.]

Umlauf’s connection to contemporary Neo-expressionism comes to light in his statement about his works: “[t]he multi-planographic sequences of surface imagery and color are used to create polarities, properties of tension, measured rhythms and surface energies, indicative of a visual form of physics. If the work appears to have an abstract yet unique personal identity and if it provided a distinct physical presence, then I have succeeded in establishing my visual signature.”

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Gilbert and George (British, active since 1967). “Speakers,” 1983. Hand-colored photograph mosaic, collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Umlauf’s description of surface imagery and polarities, tension and measured rhythms and surface energies sounds similar to the British artists Gilbert and George’s use of repeated forms and rhythms of color to create symmetry and tension within their work. Umlauf tends to borrow images of machinery and splice them or collage them together to create a rhythm and a harmony amongst the pieces. They tend not to be symmetrical, and his colors are not overly bright or eye-catching like Gilbert and George’s work. But even though their works look very different, the artists all share the concept of using visual imagery to create rhythm and express the tension of the world.

I was initially drawn to this pastel because it reminded me of steampunk industrialism. It has a feel of Hayao Miyazaki’s work in Howl’s Moving Castle, or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, or Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy. Of course, Umlauf’s work in charcoals, mixed media, pastels, and metals is not meant to be steampunk—they are images and pictures of existing structures and components, or collages thereof, rather than do-it-yourself costuming or idealized neo-Victorianism. Umlauf’s pictures share the sense of self-expression that is characteristic of steampunk as well as of Neo-expressionism as a contemporary art movement.

Read More:

New Baylor Retirees: Karl Umlauf (art), from Baylor University

Half-Century of Artistry Makes Up Umlauf’s Baylor Show, from the Waco Tribune-Herald

Artwork Inspired By Life, from the Waco Tribune-Herald

 

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Op Art at OSU: Richard Anuszkiewicz and Victor Vasarely

This essay was written by student lopeeta tawde while enrolled in Art Since 1960.

Various art movements emerged during the 1960s, the era of minimalism, postmodernism, the Black Arts movement, and the women’s liberation movement. “Optical Art,” more commonly known as “Op art,” was a style of painting that emerged during 1960’s and soon became popular in the United States. Op art, as its name suggests, has to do with vision. It is comprised of illusions created by playful compositions of lines, geometric shapes or different color schemes and patterns. Artists such as Richard Anuszkiewicz, Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, William Smith, and more created highly acclaimed Op artworks. In this essay, I compare the techniques and approaches of two OSUMA permanent collection artists, Richard Anuszkiewicz and Victor Vasarely.

Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) was a Hungarian-French painter and famous figure in the field of Op art. He discovered a new way of creating art through abstraction that was innovative in its use of color and optical illusion. He emphasized the idea more than the object or the materials used. His art work was comprised mainly of geometrical forms, organized flat with the standardized used of the colors to create the sense of visual illusion. He believed that form and color are inseparable. His works show that he used a variety of different media to achieve a sense of visual illusion that had a deep impact on architecture, computer science, fashion, and the way we now look at things in general.

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Victor Vasarely (Hungarian-French, 1906-1997), “Vega Per,” oil on canvas, 1965.

Vasarely’s motto was “Art for all.” His 1965 painting, Vega Per, creates an unreal space through the use of vibrant color combinations and gradual change in the background color while the circles on the background are consistently red and green. When we look at the painting from different angles, it creates a sense of movement in the painting. [Editor’s note: a similar illusion of depth can be seen in the OSUMA screenprint by Vasarely, Test Tarka, of 1990. In his lucite sculpture, Tower, ca. 1980, which is also in our collection, Vasarely combined two-dimensional geometric designs into a three-dimensional form, adding complexity to his illusionism. Click on the links to read student essays about these works.] Vasarely’s paintings are approachable for all people, not just artists, because there is a kind of playfulness in his artwork.

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Richard Anuszkiewicz, Untitled from the “Inward Eye” portfolio, 1970. Color screenprint, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection.

Richard Anuszkiewicz, an American artist from 1960’s was also known for creating Op art. His works are mainly comprised of lines drawn to achieve his desired visual effects, and he often chooses a palette of complementary colors. Inward Eye is a color screenprint made in 1970. Placement of lines is very important in this print; Anuszkiewicz has used concentric lines repetitively to create a sense of inward and outward movement. As in Vega Per, its effect changes when observed from different angles and sides. Like Vasarely’s prints and paintings, Inward Eye creates a three-dimensional surface on the two-dimensional paper, changing the background colors while keeping solid color for the foreground lines, thus creating a sense of illusion. Both artists concentrate on line work, technically strong composition of geometric forms, and movement created by a dramatic use of color. The use of color, especially vibrancy between the complementary colors, creates an illusion of movement. Focusing on physiological effects rather than representational symbolism, the two artists seem to share the ideology of making art available for all people.

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