Off the Wall

Off the Wall showcases pieces from our permanent collection individually so you can learn a little bit more about the pieces in our museum one at a time.

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Greta Garbo,
George Hurrell (1904-1992)
Gelatin silver print on foam core board, 1930. Gift of Marvin A. Sackner, M.D. 1993.4.3

George Edward Hurrell  was a photographer who made a significant contribution to the image of glamour presented by Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s.

Born in the Walnut Hills district of Cincinnati, Ohio, Hurrell originally studied as a painter with no particular interest in photography. He first began to use photography only as a medium for recording his paintings. After moving to Laguna Beach, Calif. from Chicago  in 1925 he met many other painters who had connections. One of those connections was Edward Steichen who encouraged him to pursue photography after seeing some of his works. Hurrell also found that photography was a more reliable source of income than painting. 

In the late 1920s, Hurrell was introduced to the actor Ramon Novarro and agreed to take a series of photographs of him. Novarro was impressed with the results and showed them to the actress Norma Shearer, who was attempting to mold her wholesome image into something more glamorous and sophisticated in an attempt to land the title role in the movie “The Divorcee”. After she showed these photographs to her husband, MGM production chief Irving Thalberg, Thalberg was so impressed that he signed Hurrell to a contract with MGM Studios, making him head of the portrait photography department. But in 1932, Hurrell left MGM after differences with their publicity head, and from then on until 1938 ran his own studio.

Throughout the decade, Hurrell photographed every star contracted to MGM, and his striking black-and-white images were used extensively in the marketing of these stars. Among the performers regularly photographed by him during these years were Myrna Loy, Robert Montgomery, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Rosalind Russell, Carole Lombard and Norma Shearer, who was said to have refused to allow herself to be photographed by anyone else.

In the early 1940s Hurrell moved to Warner Brothers Studios photographing, among others Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Ida Lupino,  Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney. Later in the decade he moved to Columbia Pictures where his photographs were used to help the studio build the career of Rita Hayworth.

He left Hollywood briefly to make training films for the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces. When he returned to Hollywood in the mid-1950s his old style of glamour had fallen from favour. Where he had worked hard to create an idealized image of his subjects, the new style of Hollywood glamour was more earthy and gritty, and for the first time in his career Hurrell’s style was not in demand. He moved to New York and worked for the advertising industry where glamour was still valued. He continued his work for fashion magazines and photographed for print advertisements for several years before returning to Hollywood in the 1960s.

Hurrell died from complications from bladder cancer shortly after completing a TBS documentary about his life. He died on May 17, 1992. Since his death, his vintage works have continued to appreciate in value and examples of his artistic output can be found in the permanent collections of numerous museums around the world.

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Sara Wearing Her Bonnet and Coat
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Lithograph.

Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, which is now part of Pittsburgh. She was born into an upper-middle-class family: Her father, Robert Simpson Cassat (later Cassatt), was a successful stockbroker and land speculator. Her mother, Katherine Kelso Johnston, came from a banking family. Katherine Cassatt, educated and well-read, had a profound influence on her daughter.  The family moved eastward, first to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, then to the Philadelphia area, where she started her schooling at the age of six. Cassatt grew up in an environment that viewed travel as integral to education; she spent five years in Europe and visited many of the capitals, including London, Paris, and Berlin. While abroad she learned German and French and had her first lessons in drawing and music. 

Though her family objected to her becoming a professional artist, Cassatt began studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia at the early age of 15. Part of her parents’ concern may have been Cassatt’s exposure to feminist ideas and the bohemian behavior of some of the male students. She continued her studies from 1861 through 1865, the duration of the American Civil War. Impatient with the slow pace of instruction and the patronizing attitude of the male students and teachers, she decided to study the old masters on her own. Female students could not use live models, until somewhat later, and the principal training was primarily drawing from casts.

Cassatt decided to end her studies: At that time, no degree was granted. After overcoming her father’s objections, she moved to Paris in 1866, with her mother and family friends acting as chaperones. Since women could not yet attend the École des Beaux-Arts, Cassatt applied to study privately with masters from the school and was accepted to study with Jean-Léon Gérôme, a highly regarded teacher known for his hyper-realistic technique and his depiction of exotic subjects. Cassatt augmented her artistic training with daily copying in the Louvre.

In 1868, one of her paintings, A Mandoline Player, was accepted for the first time by the selection jury for the Paris Salon. Cassatt was one of two American women to first exhibit in the Salon. 

Returning to the United States in the late summer of 1870—as the Franco-Prussian War was starting—Cassatt lived with her family in Altoona. Her father continued to resist her chosen vocation, and paid for her basic needs, but not her art supplies. Cassatt placed two of her paintings in a New York gallery and found many admirers but no purchasers. She was also dismayed at the lack of paintings to study while staying at her summer residence. Cassatt traveled to Chicago to try her luck, but lost some of her early paintings in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Shortly afterward, her work attracted the attention of the archbishop of Pittsburgh, who commissioned her to paint two copies of paintings by Correggio, advancing her enough money to cover her travel expenses and part of her stay. With Emily Sartain, a fellow artist, Cassatt set out for Europe again.

Within months of her return to Europe in the autumn of 1871, Cassatt’s prospects had brightened. Her painting Two Women Throwing Flowers During Carnival was well received in the Salon of 1872, and was purchased. In 1874, she made the decision to take up residence in France. Cassatt opened a studio in Paris. 

Cassatt continued to express criticism of the politics of the Salon and the conventional taste that prevailed there. Cassatt saw that works by female artists were often dismissed with contempt unless the artist had a friend or protector on the jury, and she would not flirt with jurors to curry favor. Her cynicism grew when one of the two pictures she submitted in 1875 was refused by the jury, only to be accepted the following year after she darkened the background. Out of her distress and self-criticism, Cassatt decided that she needed to move away from genre paintings and onto more fashionable subjects, in order to attract portrait commissions from American socialites abroad.

In 1877, both her entries were rejected, and for the first time in seven years she had no works in the Salon. At this low point in her career she was invited by Edgar Degas to show her works with the Impressionists, a group that had begun their own series of independent exhibitions in 1874 with much attendant notoriety. The Impressionists had no formal manifesto and varied considerably in subject matter and technique. They tended to prefer plein air painting and the application of vibrant color in separate strokes with little pre-mixing, which allows the eye to merge the results in an “impressionistic” manner. The Impressionists had been receiving the wrath of the critics for several years.

She accepted Degas’ invitation with enthusiasm and began preparing paintings for the next Impressionist show. She felt comfortable with the Impressionists and joined their cause enthusiastically. Her style had gained a new spontaneity during the intervening two years. Previously a studio-bound artist, she had adopted the practice of carrying a sketchbook with her while out-of-doors or at the theater, and recording the scenes she saw. She became extremely proficient in the use of pastels, eventually creating many of her most important works in this medium. Degas also introduced her to etching, of which he was a recognized master. The two worked side-by-side for a while, and her draftsmanship gained considerable strength under his tutelage.

The Impressionist exhibit of 1879 was the most successful to date. The group made a profit and sold many works, although the criticism continued as harsh as ever. Although critics claimed that Cassatt’s colors were too bright and that her portraits were too accurate to be flattering to the subjects, her work was not savaged as was Monet’s, whose circumstances were the most desperate of all the Impressionists at that time. She used her share of the profits to purchase a work by Degas and one by Monet. She participated in the Impressionist Exhibitions that followed in 1880 and 1881, and she remained an active member of the Impressionist circle until 1886.

Cassatt also made several portraits of family members during that period. Cassatt’s style then evolved, and she moved away from Impressionism to a simpler, more straightforward approach. She began to exhibit her works in New York galleries as well. After 1886, Cassatt no longer identified herself with any art movement and experimented with a variety of techniques.

Cassatt and her contemporaries enjoyed the wave of feminism that occurred in the 1840s, allowing them access to educational institutions at newly coed colleges and universities. Cassat was an outspoken advocate for women’s equality, campaigning with her friends for equal travel scholarships for students in the 1860s, and the right to vote in the 1910s. Although Cassatt did not explicitly make political statements about women’s rights in her work, her artistic portrayal of women was consistently done with dignity and the suggestion of a deeper, meaningful inner life.  Cassatt objected to being stereotyped as a “woman artist”, she supported women’s suffrage, and in 1915 showed eighteen works in an exhibition supporting the movement.

Cassatt’s reputation is based on an extensive series of rigorously drawn and tenderly observed paintings and prints on the theme of the mother and child. Some of these works depict her own relatives, friends, or clients, although in her later years she generally used professional models in compositions that are often reminiscent of Italian Renaissance depictions of the Madonna and Child. After 1900, she concentrated almost exclusively on mother-and-child subjects.

The 1890s were Cassatt’s busiest and most creative period. She had matured considerably and became more diplomatic and less blunt in her opinions. She also became a role model for young American artists who sought her advice. In 1891, she exhibited a series of highly original colored drypoint and aquatint prints, including Woman Bathing and The Coiffure, inspired by the Japanese masters shown in Paris the year before. Cassatt was attracted to the simplicity and clarity of Japanese design, and the skillful use of blocks of color. Also in 1891, Chicago businesswoman Bertha Palmer approached Cassatt to paint a mural about “Modern Woman” for the Women’s Building for the World’s Columbian Exposition to be held in 1893. Cassatt completed the project over the next two years. The central theme was titled Young Women Plucking the Fruits of Knowledge or Science. The mural displays a community of women apart from their relation to men, as accomplished persons in their own right. Unfortunately the mural did not survive following the run of the exhibition when the building was torn down.

As the new century arrived, Cassatt served as an advisor to several major art collectors and stipulated that they eventually donate their purchases to American art museums. Although instrumental in advising American collectors, recognition of her art came more slowly in the United States. An increasing sentimentality is apparent in her work of the 1900s; her work was popular with the public and the critics, but she was no longer breaking new ground.

A trip to Egypt in 1910 impressed Cassatt with the beauty of its ancient art, but was followed by a crisis of creativity; not only had the trip exhausted her, but she declared herself “crushed by the strength of this Art”. Diagnosed with diabetes, rheumatism, neuralgia, and cataracts in 1911, she did not slow down, but after 1914 she was forced to stop painting as she became almost blind. Cassatt died on June 14, 1926 at Château de Beaufresne, near Paris, and was buried in the family vault at Le Mesnil-Théribus, France.

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Watermelon and Peaches
Janet Fish (b.1938)
Watercolor on paper, 1990. Museum Purchase, Memorial and Acquisition Funds. 2000.16

Janet Fish was born in Boston, MA in 1938 and grew up on the Island of Bermuda.  Her grandfather was an American Impressionist painter, which inspired her.  Her father was an Art History teacher and her mother was a sculptor and potter.

She went to Skowhegan Summer School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and studied sculpture and printmaking at Smith College in Massachusetts, and graduated from Smith in 1960. She then went on to Yale University School of Art and Architecture in Connecticut, where she received her B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts) and M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) degrees in 1963. (She was one of the first women artists to receive her MFA from Yale.) At Yale some of her classmates included Rackstraw Downes, Chuck Close, Nancy Graves and Brice Marden.

She has shown her work in many major art institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago, and at many venues around the world. She has also won fellowships and awards, including American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, 1994, and a MacDowell Fellowships in 1968, 1968 and 1972. Her work has been published in several books – The Prints of Janet Fish, by Linda Konheim Kramer, Janet Fish by Garret Henry, and Janet Fish: Paintings by Vincent Katz. She is currently represented by D.C. Moore Gallery in New York City, and divides her time between her Soho loft and her farmhouse in Vermont. Her paintings reflect her indoor and outdoor domestic life, often containing still life objects from her collections of glassware and other objects.

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Flags II
Jasper Johns (b. 1930)
Screenprint on paper, 1973. John and Mary Pappajohn Endowment Fund Purchase. 1999.9

Jasper Johns was born on May 15, 1930 in Augusta, Georgia.  Johns studied at the University of South Carolina from 1947 to 1948, a total of three semesters.  He then moved to New York City and studied briefly at Parsons School of Design in 1949.  While in New York, Johns met Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, and John Cage.  Working together they explored the contemporary art scene, and began developing their ideas on art.  In 1952 and 1953, he was stationed in Sendai, Japan during the Korean War.

He is best known for his painting Flag (1954-55), which he painted after having a dream of the American flag.  His work is often described as a ‘Neo-Dadaist’, as opposed to pop art, even though his subject matter often includes images and objects from popular culture.  Still, many compilations on pop art include Jasper Johns as a pop artist because of his artistic use of classical iconography.

Most of Johns work can be found mostly on the east coast of the United States.  To name a few of the places, Museum of Modern Art in New York, the New York State Theater, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and many others.

In 1998, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York paid more than $20 million for Johns’ White Flag.  In 2006, private collectors Anne and Kenneth Griffin (founder of the Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel Investment Group) bought Johns’ False Start for $80 million.  Johns currently lives in Sharon, Connecticut.

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Best Buddies
Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Screenprint on paper, 1990. Gift of Steve, Todd, Derrick, and Tyler Sellergren in Memory of Wife and Mother, Penny K. Sellergren. 2007.1

Keith Haring was an artist and social activist whose work responded to the New York street culture of the 1980s.  Growing up in small town Pennsylvania, Haring developed a love for drawing at an early age, learning basic cartooning skills from his father and popular culture, especially Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.  After studying graphic design in Pittsburgh, Haring moved to New York where he found a thriving alternative art community developing outside the gallery and museum system in the downtown streets, subways, clubs and dance halls.  He first gained public attention with his subway chalk drawings, sometimes creating as many as 40 drawings in a day as he engaged with spectators.  During this time the “Radiant Baby”, a simple line drawing of a crawling baby with energized rays emanating from its body, became his symbol.

Haring’s brief but intense career spanned the 1980s, and during that decade his work was featured in over 100 solo and group exhibitions.  His art attracted a wide audience through his expression of universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war, using a primacy of line and directness of message.  Haring’s imagery has become a universally recognized visual language of the 20th century.

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Migration VI
Antonio Frasconi (1919-2013)
Woodcut on paper, 1959. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. John MacGregor in Memory of Henning R. Roden and Jay B. MacGregor. 1977.2

Antonio Frasconi was an Uruguayan – American visual artist, best known for his woodcuts. Antonio Rudolfo Frasconi was born in 1919 on a boat between Argentina & Uruguay. Frasconi’s mother managed a restaurant whilst his father was frequently unemployed. By the age of twelve, he was learning a trade at a printers.

During the war, an exhibition of impressionism and post-impression was organized by the French in Latin America. Artists such as Van Gogh and Cézanne captured his imagination. However it was the woodcuts of Paul Gauguin that he was attracted to most.

Frasconi moved to the United States in 1945 at the end of World War II. He worked as a gardener and as a guard at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. It was at that museum that he had his first dedicated show. His recognition was beginning to grow and within twelve months he had a similar show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

In 1959 he was a runner-up for the Caldecott Medal from the U.S. children’s librarians, which annually honors the illustrator of the best American picture book for children. Thus The House That Jack Built, which he also wrote, is retrospectively termed a Caldecott Honor Book. In 1962 Frasconi won a Horn Book Fanfare award for The Snow and the Sun – La Nieve y el Sol a book he had created in two languages. He has frequently produced multilingual books.

Between 1981 and 1986 he created a series of woodcuts under the name “Los desaparecidos” (The Disappeared). This series refers directly to the people who were tortured and killed during the Civic-military dictatorship of Uruguay.

Antonio Frasconi died on January 8, 2013.

*****

Dispatches
Glenn Ligon (b. 1960)
Aquatint with spit-bite and dry point on hahnemuhle copperplate bright white 300 gsm, 2011. John and Mary Pappajohn Endowment Fund Purchase.

Glenn Ligon is an American conceptual artist whose work explores race, language, desire, sexuality, and identity. Ligon engages inintertextuality with other works from the visual arts, literature, and history, as well as his own life.

He was born April 20, 1960 in the Bronx. At the age of 7, his divorced, working-class parents got a scholarship for him and his brother to attend Walden School, a high profile progressive private school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Ligon graduated from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in 1982. After graduating, he worked as a proofreader for a law firm, while in his spare time he painted in the abstract Expressionist style of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

Ligon works in multiple media, including painting, neon, video, photography, and digital media such as Adobe Flash for his work Annotations. Ligon’s work is greatly informed by his experiences as an African American and as a gay man living in the United States.

Although Ligon’s work spans sculptures, prints, drawings, mixed media and even neon signs, painting remains a core activity. His paintings incorporate literary fragments, jokes, and evocative quotes from a selection of authors, which he stencils directly onto the canvas by hand. In 1989, he mounted his first solo show, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” in Brooklyn. This show established Ligon’s reputation for creating large, text-based paintings in which a phrase chosen from literature or other sources is repeated over and over, eventually dissipating into murk. Untitled (I Am a Man) (1988), a reinterpretation of the signs carried during the Memphis Sanitation Strike in 1968 — made famous by Ernest Withers’s photographs of the march —, is the first example of his use of text.

Since 2005, Ligon has made neon works. Warm Broad Glow (2005), Ligon’s first exploration in neon, uses a fragment of text from Three Lives, the 1909 novel by American author Gertrude Stein. Ligon rendered the words “negro sunshine” in warm white neon, the letters of which were then painted black on the front. In 2008, the piece was selected to participate in the Renaissance Society’s group exhibit, “Black Is, Black Ain’t”., and appeared on the Whitney Museum’s facade in 2011.

In 2009, Ligon completed short film based on Thomas Edison’s 1903 silent film Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Playing the character of Tom, Ligon had himself filmed re-creating the last scene of Edison’s movie, which also provided his film’s title: “The Death of Tom.” But the film was incorrectly loaded in the hand-crank camera that the artist used so no imagery appeared on film. Embracing this apparent failure, Ligon decided to show his film as an abstract progression of lights and darks with a narrative suggested by the score composed and played by jazz musician Jason Moran.

In 2009, President Barack Obama added Ligon’s 1992 Black Like Me No. 2, on loan from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, to the White House collection, where it was installed in the President’s private living quarters. The text in the selected painting is from John Howard Griffin’s 1961 memoir Black Like Me, the account of a white man’s experiences traveling through the South after he had his skin artificially darkened. The words “All traces of the Griffin I had been were wiped from existence” are repeated in capital letters that progressively overlap until they coalesce as a field of black paint. Art critic Jerry Saltz called this work a “black-and-white beauty.”

On the occasion of Ben Stiller and David Zwirner’s “Artists For Haiti” charity auction at Christie’s in 2011, Jennifer Aniston set a record prize for Glenn Ligon’s work by purchasing his Stranger #44 (2011). At $450,000, Aniston beat Ligon’s previous record of $434,500 for Invisible Man (Two Views) (1991).

Ligon is represented by Regen Projects in Los Angeles; Luhring Augustine in New York; and Thomas Dane Gallery in London.  He currently lives and works in New York City.

*****

Spacescape
Bob White (1907-1986)
Fused Glass, 1947. B. Raymond Weston Memorial Fund Purchase. 1981.1

Francis Robert (Bob) White was a native of Oskaloosa, Iowa.  By the time he was 10 years old he had an intense interest in art, spending much of his time drawing, studying color, attempting to make statues, and other creative efforts.  Rather than prepare for a formal college education, White elected to go to Europe for two years to study firsthand the works of art about which he’d been reading.  Seeing the magnificent stained glass of Chartres Cathedral inspired him to study every major European glass work he could find.

White’s return to the U.S. was followed by an eclectic combination of work and education, including a stint at the Stone City Art Colony run by Grant Wood.  He worked as an apprentice at Wilkes-Barre Art Glass Company in Pennsylvania where he learned the basics of glazing and handling glass.  While living in New York he supported himself by making Gothic style stained glass windows. The Whitney Studio Gallery, later to become the Whitney Museum of American Art, commissioned an abstract window from White for their collection. This recognition by the nation’s leading institution devoted to American art led to a Guggenheim fellowship on which White returned to Europe to make an intensive study of medieval glass techniques.

White moved to Chicago where he became an administrator for the Chicago offices of the Illinois Arts Project, part of the Works Project Administration and then became the director of all WPA federal art projects for Iowa from 1937 to 1939.  He led the program from the Sioux City Art Center, where he served as director.  White served as a naval officer in the Pacific during World War II, earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Guadalajara University and operated a stained glass studio in Chicago for over thirty years.

Bob White developed and perfected a fused glass technique in which broken pieces, chunks, and granules of colored antique hand-blown glass are layered into a mold.  The mold is placed in a small furnace kiln to be fired at over 1,500 degrees, capturing the color inside.  When the first fully fused piece, a three-panel abstract study of Christ, was shown in 1964, it won White a much-coveted Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation prize.

First Presbyterian Church in Mason City worked with Bob White for 27 years to complete a series of large fused glass windows.  The Creator Window, the largest fused glass window of its time in 1973, was made from over 200 blocks of glass.  Other notable Mason City glass projects include the St. Peter and St. Paul windows of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration, the Meredith Willson Chapel Windows at the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ and windows in the Usonian-style Tom MacNider House.

*****

Gateways to the Sea
Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908)
Oil on canvas mounted on board, 1875. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. F.T. Davison. 1994.9

Alfred Thompson Bricher was an American painter who specialized in marine subjects, with particular emphasis on subjects from Maine, the Bay of Fundy, and the Maritime provinces of Canada. Largely self-taught, Alfred Thompson Bricher studied in his leisure hours at the Lowell Institute in Boston and also attended an academy in Newburyport, MA.  Bricher was a businessman in Boston from 1851 to 1858 before he became a professional artist.  Bricher was often associated with the group of painters known as “the Hudson River School”. He espoused a conservative and realistic approach to landscapes, while his interests lay not only in the play of light, water, and air, but in a sense of luminosity and spirituality in nature.

Oddly, Bricher continued painting peaceful scenes of nature even at the height of the horrors of the Civil War, a war in which he younger brother was killed. His perseverance in this style underscores his belief in the eternal forgiveness of Nature and the truism that whatever the acts of man, Nature is the more powerful force.

During the later part of his career, Bricher witnessed the advent of modernism, a movement that seemed to make many of his artistic concerns obsolete – but which, in another sense, owed a debt to the discipline and realism in works by Bricher and other Hudson River painters.  He is still considered one of the best maritime painters of the late nineteenth century.

*****

Camel
John B. Flannagan (1895-1942)
Fieldstone. Museum Purchase in Memory of Jerome F. Paulson with Funds Given by his Family. 1988.8

John Bernard Flannagan was born in 1895 in Fargo, North Dakota.  His newspaperman father died when John was five, forcing his destitute mother to place him and his sister in an orphanage.  Unrelenting poverty plagued him the rest of his life.  He got into carving as a youth and moved to Minneapolis in 1914 to study painting at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  During World War I he served in the Merchant Marines until 1922 and then took up residence in New York to resume his study of painting.

Around 1926, Arthur B. Davies, one of the prime movers and shakers in early 20th century American art circles and a key figure in the implementation of the famous “Armory Show,” discovered Flannagan in a state of near-starvation.  Davies took the still young artist to one of his farms and nurtured his health and spirit for about a year.  Flannagan was still pursuing his study of painting but at the suggestion of Davies in 1927, he tried his hand at wood sculpture, starting on a track that he would follow for the rest of his career.  He discovered stone as a medium in 1928 and it became his favorite.

He has been critically acclaimed as one of the best of his generation of artists employing what became known as the “direct carving” approach to making sculpture.  Flannagan’s own sculpture did not follow the academic traditions, which preceded and still dominated during his time.  He worked with fieldstones instead of quarried ones; a choice affected more at first by economics, but one that proved right for his art.

Personality was instilled into the stones touched by his tools and his imagination, capturing and reflecting many moods and mysteries of life.  In 1929, in a letter to Carl Zigrosser, John Flannagan said, “My aim is to produce a sculpture…with such ease, freedom and simplicity that it hardly feels carved, but rather to have always been that way.”

*****

Sunset (Farewell to Iowa)
Charles Atherton Cumming (1858-1932)
Oil, 1926. 2000.012

Charles Atherton Cumming was born in Rochester, Illinois to parents of French and Scottish descent, he became a leading painter in Iowa and also a key figure in establishing art related studies. He studied briefly at Reading College Academy in Abingdon, Illinois, and then enrolled at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. His talent was evident, and he was encouraged to attend the Art Institute of Chicago and there studied with Lawrence C. Earle. Lawrence Carmichael Earle was the first artist that Grand Rapids could call its own.

By 1895 Cumming became director of a young Des Moines Academy of Art. It enjoyed so much success under his leadership that in 1900 it was renamed the Cumming School of Art! In 1909 he was invited to establish an art department at the University of Iowa. Charles Cumming served as a superintendent of the Department of Art at the State Fair. He helped form the Iowa Art Guild in 1914 that was active into the 1970s. Cumming died in 1932, one of the earliest Iowans to become widely recognized as an accomplished painter, teacher and arts administrator.

His approach in painting as in his teaching was from an academic perspective.  He believed in fundamentals and in a personal discipline to be applied to the creation of art.  He produced images of still life, landscape, and many important people as one of the state’s most active portrait painters.  He had a special relationship with the State Historical Society of Iowa and was called on often to work on subjects that would become part of the Society’s collection.  At least twenty-four of his portraits are held by the Society, more than by any other artist.

As time and tide changed in the approach to teaching and creating art, in large part due to the advancement of “modernist” theories and practices, Cumming’s influence lessened and his name and his work has not remained in the limelight as much as he perhaps deserves.  It is, however, obvious when one reviews the record that Charles Atherton Cumming’s hand not only touched but also was at the root or seedling stage of much that happened in art in Iowa around the turn of and into the twentieth century.  And even though he didn’t “go with the flow,” Cumming put in a lot of the foundation blocks for all that we do and for all that we have in Iowa today.

*****

“Music Hath…”
Karl Mattern (1892-1969)
Oil on canvas, 1945. Gift of Miss Julia Annette Keeler 1970.4.1

Karl Mattern was born in Durkheim, Germany, on March 22, 1892.  He was a painter, and  specialized in watercolor. He came to the U.S. with his family when he was 13. After two years in the East he moved to the Midwest where he worked on a farm. Mattern studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Art Students League. He was a pupil of George Bellows. His career as an artist and teacher began in 1922 when he taught at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and at the Denver (CO) Academy from 1923-24. He also taught at University of Kansas, Lawrence in the painting department 1926- 48.

From 1948 until his death in January, 1969, he lived in Des Moines, IA, where he taught in the art department at Drake University. Karl Mattern exhibited his work continuously for over forty-seven years in national and local exhibitions. He painted nearly every day of his life. Mattern died in Des Moines, on Jan. 18, 1969.

*****

Queen Mary
Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
Watercolor on paper, 1937. Bequest of Mrs. Felicia Meyer Marsh. 1979.1.5

Reginald Marsh was an American painter, born in Paris, most notable for his detailed depictions of life in New York City in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He painted using egg tempera, a forgotten medium revived in the mid-twentieth century. He also produced many watercolors, oil paintings, Chinese ink drawings, and a number of lithographs and etchings.

Marsh attended the Lawrenceville School and graduated in 1920 from Yale University, he then worked as a freelance illustrator, then for the New York Daily News and for The New Yorker. He also submitted illustrations to the New Masses. Marsh was impressed by the ‘old master’ paintings he saw on a 1926 European trip. He returned with a desire to utilize the principles he felt were evident in the art of the Renaissance painters, particularly the practice of taking notes from observation of human subjects in their environments. Marsh then studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller, John Sloan and George Luks at the Art Students League of New York, and chose to do fewer commercial assignments.

Reginald Marsh’s paintings and drawings combine an almost baroque drawing style with a newspaper reporter’s attention to the minutiae of urban public life. Filled with facts, his art is unabashedly topical, often based on his own photographs and numerous on-site sketches. Marsh’s headlines, signs, and advertisements are specific and legible while his faces and figures are often indistinguishable.

Marsh was a great draughtsman, but did not think he would be a painter, for as he recalled, “Painting seemed to me then a laborious way to make a bad drawing. . .” He disliked oil, but of watercolor he said, “Watercolor I took up and took to it well, with no introduction.” In late 1929 Thomas Hart Benton and Denys Wortman introduced him to egg tempera on a gesso ground, which “opened a new world to me” because it was the perfect medium for a draughtsman. In 1930, having found his subjects and his techniques, Marsh joined the Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries and enjoyed artistic success and recognition for the rest of his life.

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Left-Sided Figure Pointing
Stephen DeStaebler (1933-2011)
Bronze, 1983. Museum Purchase from John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA. 1990.1

Stephen DeStaebler was born in 1933.  He is a nationally known, Bay Area based sculptor whose work is based on the expressive potential of the human figure.  His academic work was completed at Princeton University with a thesis on St. Francis.

After working primarily in clay during the 1960’s and 1970’s, he began to work with bronze in the 1980’s and began his association with Artworks Foundry, starting in the early 1980’s.

DeStaebler’s work can be seen locally at the City Center in Oakland, near the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the M.H. DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park and in the Oakland Museum.

His work was the subject of a major museum retrospective in 1988-89, which traveled to San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and other cities.  A catalogue of this exhibition, “Stephen DeStaebler: The Figure” was written by Donald Kuspit, and features many works in bronze that were cast by Artworks Foundry.

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Blues
Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)
Oil on canvas, 1959. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Winston. 1978.3.4

Adolph Gottlieb was born on March 14, 1903 in New York. From 1920-1921 he studied at the Art Students League of New York, after which he traveled in France and Germany for a year. In the mid-1930’s, he became a teacher using his acquired technical and art history knowledge to teach while he painted.

After his 1930’s one-man show he won respect amongst his peers. In 1935, he and nine others, including Ben-Zion, Ilya Bolotwsky, Louis Harris, Jack Kufeld, and Mark Rothko, known as “The Ten” exhibited their works together until 1940. They would come to be known as the Abstract Expressionists.

Gottlieb’s work and awards are found in the Dudensing Galleries in New York, the Guggenheim Museum.  Other places include Paris, Pennsylvania, Texas, Brazil, and others.  One thing that Gottlieb created was “Pictographs” and these are found in New York.

In 1932, he married Esther Dick.  In 1970, he suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair because he paralyzed his left side of his body, but he still continued to paint.  In 1972, he was elected member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.  On March 4, 1974, Adolph Gottlieb died in New York City.

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Off the Wall showcases pieces from our permanent collection individually so you can learn a little bit more about the pieces in our museum one at a time.

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Best Buddies
Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Screenprint on paper, 1990. Gift of Steve, Todd, Derrick, and Tyler Sellergren in Memory of Wife and Mother, Penny K. Sellergren. 2007.1

Keith Haring was an artist and social activist whose work responded to the New York street culture of the 1980s.  Growing up in small town Pennsylvania, Haring developed a love for drawing at an early age, learning basic cartooning skills from his father and popular culture, especially Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.  After studying graphic design in Pittsburgh, Haring moved to New York where he found a thriving alternative art community developing outside the gallery and museum system in the downtown streets, subways, clubs and dance halls.  He first gained public attention with his subway chalk drawings, sometimes creating as many as 40 drawings in a day as he engaged with spectators.  During this time the “Radiant Baby”, a simple line drawing of a crawling baby with energized rays emanating from its body, became his symbol.

Haring’s brief but intense career spanned the 1980s, and during that decade his work was featured in over 100 solo and group exhibitions.  His art attracted a wide audience through his expression of universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war, using a primacy of line and directness of message.  Haring’s imagery has become a universally recognized visual language of the 20th century.

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Migration VI
Antonio Frasconi (1919-2013)
Woodcut on paper, 1959. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. John MacGregor in Memory of Henning R. Roden and Jay B. MacGregor. 1977.2

Antonio Frasconi was an Uruguayan – American visual artist, best known for his woodcuts. Antonio Rudolfo Frasconi was born in 1919 on a boat between Argentina & Uruguay. Frasconi’s mother managed a restaurant whilst his father was frequently unemployed. By the age of twelve, he was learning a trade at a printers.

During the war, an exhibition of impressionism and post-impression was organized by the French in Latin America. Artists such as Van Gogh and Cézanne captured his imagination. However it was the woodcuts of Paul Gauguin that he was attracted to most.

Frasconi moved to the United States in 1945 at the end of World War II. He worked as a gardener and as a guard at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. It was at that museum that he had his first dedicated show. His recognition was beginning to grow and within twelve months he had a similar show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

In 1959 he was a runner-up for the Caldecott Medal from the U.S. children’s librarians, which annually honors the illustrator of the best American picture book for children. Thus The House That Jack Built, which he also wrote, is retrospectively termed a Caldecott Honor Book. In 1962 Frasconi won a Horn Book Fanfare award for The Snow and the Sun – La Nieve y el Sol a book he had created in two languages. He has frequently produced multilingual books.

Between 1981 and 1986 he created a series of woodcuts under the name “Los desaparecidos” (The Disappeared). This series refers directly to the people who were tortured and killed during the Civic-military dictatorship of Uruguay.

Antonio Frasconi died on January 8, 2013.

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Dispatches
Glenn Ligon (b. 1960)
Aquatint with spit-bite and dry point on hahnemuhle copperplate bright white 300 gsm, 2011. John and Mary Pappajohn Endowment Fund Purchase.

Glenn Ligon is an American conceptual artist whose work explores race, language, desire, sexuality, and identity. Ligon engages inintertextuality with other works from the visual arts, literature, and history, as well as his own life.

He was born April 20, 1960 in the Bronx. At the age of 7, his divorced, working-class parents got a scholarship for him and his brother to attend Walden School, a high profile progressive private school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Ligon graduated from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in 1982. After graduating, he worked as a proofreader for a law firm, while in his spare time he painted in the abstract Expressionist style of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

Ligon works in multiple media, including painting, neon, video, photography, and digital media such as Adobe Flash for his work Annotations. Ligon’s work is greatly informed by his experiences as an African American and as a gay man living in the United States.

Although Ligon’s work spans sculptures, prints, drawings, mixed media and even neon signs, painting remains a core activity. His paintings incorporate literary fragments, jokes, and evocative quotes from a selection of authors, which he stencils directly onto the canvas by hand. In 1989, he mounted his first solo show, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” in Brooklyn. This show established Ligon’s reputation for creating large, text-based paintings in which a phrase chosen from literature or other sources is repeated over and over, eventually dissipating into murk. Untitled (I Am a Man) (1988), a reinterpretation of the signs carried during the Memphis Sanitation Strike in 1968 — made famous by Ernest Withers’s photographs of the march —, is the first example of his use of text.

Since 2005, Ligon has made neon works. Warm Broad Glow (2005), Ligon’s first exploration in neon, uses a fragment of text from Three Lives, the 1909 novel by American author Gertrude Stein. Ligon rendered the words “negro sunshine” in warm white neon, the letters of which were then painted black on the front. In 2008, the piece was selected to participate in the Renaissance Society’s group exhibit, “Black Is, Black Ain’t”., and appeared on the Whitney Museum’s facade in 2011.

In 2009, Ligon completed short film based on Thomas Edison’s 1903 silent film Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Playing the character of Tom, Ligon had himself filmed re-creating the last scene of Edison’s movie, which also provided his film’s title: “The Death of Tom.” But the film was incorrectly loaded in the hand-crank camera that the artist used so no imagery appeared on film. Embracing this apparent failure, Ligon decided to show his film as an abstract progression of lights and darks with a narrative suggested by the score composed and played by jazz musician Jason Moran.

In 2009, President Barack Obama added Ligon’s 1992 Black Like Me No. 2, on loan from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, to the White House collection, where it was installed in the President’s private living quarters. The text in the selected painting is from John Howard Griffin’s 1961 memoir Black Like Me, the account of a white man’s experiences traveling through the South after he had his skin artificially darkened. The words “All traces of the Griffin I had been were wiped from existence” are repeated in capital letters that progressively overlap until they coalesce as a field of black paint. Art critic Jerry Saltz called this work a “black-and-white beauty.”

On the occasion of Ben Stiller and David Zwirner’s “Artists For Haiti” charity auction at Christie’s in 2011, Jennifer Aniston set a record prize for Glenn Ligon’s work by purchasing his Stranger #44 (2011). At $450,000, Aniston beat Ligon’s previous record of $434,500 for Invisible Man (Two Views) (1991).

Ligon is represented by Regen Projects in Los Angeles; Luhring Augustine in New York; and Thomas Dane Gallery in London.  He currently lives and works in New York City.

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Spacescape
Bob White (1907-1986)
Fused Glass, 1947. B. Raymond Weston Memorial Fund Purchase. 1981.1

Francis Robert (Bob) White was a native of Oskaloosa, Iowa.  By the time he was 10 years old he had an intense interest in art, spending much of his time drawing, studying color, attempting to make statues, and other creative efforts.  Rather than prepare for a formal college education, White elected to go to Europe for two years to study firsthand the works of art about which he’d been reading.  Seeing the magnificent stained glass of Chartres Cathedral inspired him to study every major European glass work he could find.

White’s return to the U.S. was followed by an eclectic combination of work and education, including a stint at the Stone City Art Colony run by Grant Wood.  He worked as an apprentice at Wilkes-Barre Art Glass Company in Pennsylvania where he learned the basics of glazing and handling glass.  While living in New York he supported himself by making Gothic style stained glass windows. The Whitney Studio Gallery, later to become the Whitney Museum of American Art, commissioned an abstract window from White for their collection. This recognition by the nation’s leading institution devoted to American art led to a Guggenheim fellowship on which White returned to Europe to make an intensive study of medieval glass techniques.

White moved to Chicago where he became an administrator for the Chicago offices of the Illinois Arts Project, part of the Works Project Administration and then became the director of all WPA federal art projects for Iowa from 1937 to 1939.  He led the program from the Sioux City Art Center, where he served as director.  White served as a naval officer in the Pacific during World War II, earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Guadalajara University and operated a stained glass studio in Chicago for over thirty years.

Bob White developed and perfected a fused glass technique in which broken pieces, chunks, and granules of colored antique hand-blown glass are layered into a mold.  The mold is placed in a small furnace kiln to be fired at over 1,500 degrees, capturing the color inside.  When the first fully fused piece, a three-panel abstract study of Christ, was shown in 1964, it won White a much-coveted Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation prize.

First Presbyterian Church in Mason City worked with Bob White for 27 years to complete a series of large fused glass windows.  The Creator Window, the largest fused glass window of its time in 1973, was made from over 200 blocks of glass.  Other notable Mason City glass projects include the St. Peter and St. Paul windows of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration, the Meredith Willson Chapel Windows at the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ and windows in the Usonian-style Tom MacNider House.

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Gateways to the Sea
Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908)
Oil on canvas mounted on board, 1875. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. F.T. Davison. 1994.9

Alfred Thompson Bricher was an American painter who specialized in marine subjects, with particular emphasis on subjects from Maine, the Bay of Fundy, and the Maritime provinces of Canada. Largely self-taught, Alfred Thompson Bricher studied in his leisure hours at the Lowell Institute in Boston and also attended an academy in Newburyport, MA.  Bricher was a businessman in Boston from 1851 to 1858 before he became a professional artist.  Bricher was often associated with the group of painters known as “the Hudson River School”. He espoused a conservative and realistic approach to landscapes, while his interests lay not only in the play of light, water, and air, but in a sense of luminosity and spirituality in nature.

Oddly, Bricher continued painting peaceful scenes of nature even at the height of the horrors of the Civil War, a war in which he younger brother was killed. His perseverance in this style underscores his belief in the eternal forgiveness of Nature and the truism that whatever the acts of man, Nature is the more powerful force.

During the later part of his career, Bricher witnessed the advent of modernism, a movement that seemed to make many of his artistic concerns obsolete – but which, in another sense, owed a debt to the discipline and realism in works by Bricher and other Hudson River painters.  He is still considered one of the best maritime painters of the late nineteenth century.

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Camel
John B. Flannagan (1895-1942)
Fieldstone. Museum Purchase in Memory of Jerome F. Paulson with Funds Given by his Family. 1988.8

John Bernard Flannagan was born in 1895 in Fargo, North Dakota.  His newspaperman father died when John was five, forcing his destitute mother to place him and his sister in an orphanage.  Unrelenting poverty plagued him the rest of his life.  He got into carving as a youth and moved to Minneapolis in 1914 to study painting at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  During World War I he served in the Merchant Marines until 1922 and then took up residence in New York to resume his study of painting.

Around 1926, Arthur B. Davies, one of the prime movers and shakers in early 20th century American art circles and a key figure in the implementation of the famous “Armory Show,” discovered Flannagan in a state of near-starvation.  Davies took the still young artist to one of his farms and nurtured his health and spirit for about a year.  Flannagan was still pursuing his study of painting but at the suggestion of Davies in 1927, he tried his hand at wood sculpture, starting on a track that he would follow for the rest of his career.  He discovered stone as a medium in 1928 and it became his favorite.

He has been critically acclaimed as one of the best of his generation of artists employing what became known as the “direct carving” approach to making sculpture.  Flannagan’s own sculpture did not follow the academic traditions, which preceded and still dominated during his time.  He worked with fieldstones instead of quarried ones; a choice affected more at first by economics, but one that proved right for his art.

Personality was instilled into the stones touched by his tools and his imagination, capturing and reflecting many moods and mysteries of life.  In 1929, in a letter to Carl Zigrosser, John Flannagan said, “My aim is to produce a sculpture…with such ease, freedom and simplicity that it hardly feels carved, but rather to have always been that way.”

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Sunset (Farewell to Iowa)
Charles Atherton Cumming (1858-1932)
Oil, 1926. 2000.012

Charles Atherton Cumming was born in Rochester, Illinois to parents of French and Scottish descent, he became a leading painter in Iowa and also a key figure in establishing art related studies. He studied briefly at Reading College Academy in Abingdon, Illinois, and then enrolled at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. His talent was evident, and he was encouraged to attend the Art Institute of Chicago and there studied with Lawrence C. Earle. Lawrence Carmichael Earle was the first artist that Grand Rapids could call its own.

By 1895 Cumming became director of a young Des Moines Academy of Art. It enjoyed so much success under his leadership that in 1900 it was renamed the Cumming School of Art! In 1909 he was invited to establish an art department at the University of Iowa. Charles Cumming served as a superintendent of the Department of Art at the State Fair. He helped form the Iowa Art Guild in 1914 that was active into the 1970s. Cumming died in 1932, one of the earliest Iowans to become widely recognized as an accomplished painter, teacher and arts administrator.

His approach in painting as in his teaching was from an academic perspective.  He believed in fundamentals and in a personal discipline to be applied to the creation of art.  He produced images of still life, landscape, and many important people as one of the state’s most active portrait painters.  He had a special relationship with the State Historical Society of Iowa and was called on often to work on subjects that would become part of the Society’s collection.  At least twenty-four of his portraits are held by the Society, more than by any other artist.

As time and tide changed in the approach to teaching and creating art, in large part due to the advancement of “modernist” theories and practices, Cumming’s influence lessened and his name and his work has not remained in the limelight as much as he perhaps deserves.  It is, however, obvious when one reviews the record that Charles Atherton Cumming’s hand not only touched but also was at the root or seedling stage of much that happened in art in Iowa around the turn of and into the twentieth century.  And even though he didn’t “go with the flow,” Cumming put in a lot of the foundation blocks for all that we do and for all that we have in Iowa today.

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“Music Hath…”
Karl Mattern (1892-1969)
Oil on canvas, 1945. Gift of Miss Julia Annette Keeler 1970.4.1

Karl Mattern was born in Durkheim, Germany, on March 22, 1892.  He was a painter, and  specialized in watercolor. He came to the U.S. with his family when he was 13. After two years in the East he moved to the Midwest where he worked on a farm. Mattern studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Art Students League. He was a pupil of George Bellows. His career as an artist and teacher began in 1922 when he taught at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and at the Denver (CO) Academy from 1923-24. He also taught at University of Kansas, Lawrence in the painting department 1926- 48.

From 1948 until his death in January, 1969, he lived in Des Moines, IA, where he taught in the art department at Drake University. Karl Mattern exhibited his work continuously for over forty-seven years in national and local exhibitions. He painted nearly every day of his life. Mattern died in Des Moines, on Jan. 18, 1969.

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