We’re open! It was incredibly gratifying to see more than three hundred people at our community opening last Thursday, and I hope we’ll see many of those who were in attendance again in the weeks to come—as well as those of you who couldn’t make it!
Soon, we’ll start installing Sharing a Journey: Building the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art Collection. In the meantime, however, we’ve installed highlights from that exhibition in the Malinda Berry Fischer Gallery at the Postal Plaza Gallery/OSU Museum of Art. My goal in both exhibitions is to offer many levels of engagement to our visitors, from those who just want to come and check it out to those who are deeply knowledgeable about the history of art. With the Highlights show, I’ve tried—with the help of graduate students Krystle Brewer and Mary Kathryn Moeller—to lay out the gallery in a way that maximizes the number of conversations each artwork can have.
My hope—I would even say my responsibility as a curator—is to engage you in those conversations regardless of your background knowledge. In other words, at least some of the relationships between artworks near each other in the gallery should be evident to anyone who takes the time to look closely and compare them with one another.
To show you what I mean, I’d like to share an example with you all.
In the southeast corner of the gallery, American art, Asian art, and African art from the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries bump up against one other.
Thomas Moran’s etching, at the far left in the panoramic view of the gallery, shows the influence of Chinese and Japanese aesthetics on American printmakers of the 19th century in its flattened perspective and use of negative space. Compare it, for example, to the painting by Lü Shaozhong, which also makes effective use of white space to create a sense of compositional balance.
What’s more, Moran’s print, made during the American Etching Revival, was a carefully hand-crafted response to the emergence of the mechanical image-making process of photography—invented in the mid-19th-century, and present in the gallery in the form of the anonymous tintype and daguerreotype on display on the other side of the doorway from Moran’s print.
Around the corner, Japanese artist Kaoru Kawano’s woodcut print shows the reverse influence – of American and European aesthetics on Japanese printmakers of the 20th century. Modernism in the United States and Europe, and increasingly around the world, emphasized handcraft and simplified forms. This was a contrast to traditional Japanese printmaking, which was produced by workshops and valued complex, highly finished images.
The emphasis on simplification and handcraft in Modernism was heavily influenced by traditional African art like the Asante akuaba figure on view next to Kawano’s print. European and American artists were newly exposed to wood carvings like our akuaba at the turn of the 20th century as a result of the 19th– and 20th-century European colonization of Africa.
That exchange, too, went both ways, and in the briefcase from Dakar we see French-language comics and advertisements for American movies that were scavenged from the city dump. (The presence of both akuaba and briefcase in our collection, incidentally, is thanks to the cultural exchange started by JFK with the Peace Corps, in the 1960s, which sent alumnus Larry Harms first to Guinea and then across the Sahel.)
The comics in the Senegalese briefcase point across the way to Roger Shimomura’s recent self-portrait as a “Kansas samurai,” in a print that takes us back to the history of Japanese printmaking (including replicated woodgrain in the background pattern) as well as to American comics — reminding us that American identity is itself the product of ongoing global migrations.
The Shimomura, a product of the renaissance in American printmaking at the end of the 20th century, brings us back full circle to the history of American printmaking represented by the Moran. It also reminds us that self-fashioning through portraiture has been an ongoing motivation for art-making, from the 19th-century daguerreotype and tintype, through the George Luks portrait on view near the entrance to the gallery, and back to the portraits of French society created by Jacques Callot, an example of which is on view near the Luks.
Every part of the Highlights exhibition contains conversations like this—discoverable in the objects themselves by anyone willing to look closely. I hope they pose engaging and thought-provoking questions—and for our students and those passionate about art and its history, I hope that the search for answers is ultimately what this museum is about.
What’s your favorite conversation in the gallery?