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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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. Frasconi was born April 28, 1919 on a boat between Argentina & Uruguay and was raised in Montevideo, Uruguay. Frasconi’s mother managed a restaurant whilst his father was frequently unemployed. Frasconi frequently quotes his mother and her view of his talents. He said that his mother talked of art at the church where she was brought up as if it had been done by God rather than man. She felt that if Frasconi had been born with a gift, he would already be a famous artist rather than working like her each day.

By the age of twelve, he was learning a trade at a printers after abandoning a course at Círculo de Bellas Artes. During his teenage years he admired Gustave Doré and Goya, whilst indulging in creating caricatures of political figures.

During the war, an exhibition of impressionism and post-impression was organised 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. Also in 1962, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1969.

In 1982 Frasconi was the Distinguished Teaching Professor of Visual Arts at the State University of New York at Purchase.

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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. 2014.1a-d

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.

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, 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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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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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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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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Dillinger: The Great Mason City Raid
Warrington Colescott (b.1921) 
Etching on paper, 1965. Gift of Norwest Bank of Mason City. 1995.11.5

Wisconsin artist Warrington Colescott is best known for his satirical etchings.   Born in Oakland, California to parents of Louisiana Creole descent, food, music and Creole culture played a large role in upbringing.  Comic strips were also important to the young Colescott, especially the work of Des Moines Register cartoonist, Jay “Ding” Darling.  Darling’s caricatural and narrative components greatly influenced Colescott’s mature work.  As a teenager, he discovered vaudeville and burlesque.  The broad humor and slapstick, as well as the eroticism of these performances, would inform his art throughout his career.

Colescott created a series of etchings about the Depression-era gangster, John Dillinger, which grew into a suite of images mixing fact and fiction about the farm boy-turned-outlaw who mesmerized the public in the 1930s.  Colescott had no compunction about enhancing the narratives with imagined details and anachronistic additions.

Colescott portrayed Dillinger, known at the time as Public Enemy No. 1, as a super anti-hero in the series.  For The Mason City Raid, he came to the scene and interviewed locals who had been at the event.  Colescott’s version of the crime has the feeling of a movie still, with department store signs in the background and gun molls accompanying the thugs.  Colescott observed, “The Dillinger men took their girls with them wherever they went.  I’ve tried to convey the feeling of the gang: very rowdy, very adolescent, very sexual.”

On March 13, 1934, John Dillinger and his gang robbed the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa, and escaped with approximately $52,000.  Surprised bank employees and citizens were used as shields from police gunfire.  A switchboard operator on an upper floor of the bank crawled to a window and shouted news of the holdup to a man in the alley.  He brandished a machine gun and shouted back, “You’re telling me, lady?”  The man was Baby Face Nelson who was standing lookout.

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Twilight
Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900)
Oil on canvas. Museum purchase, 1979.002

Born on his father’s farm in upstate New York in 1823, Jasper Cropsey had recurring periods of poor health as a child.  While absent from school, Cropsey taught himself to draw.  His early drawings included architectural sketches and landscapes drawn on notepads and in the margins of his schoolbooks. Trained as an architect, he set up his own office in 1843. While traveling abroad for much of his early life, he returned home to New York and opened a studio where he specialized in landscape paintings of the Northeastern United States.

Cropsey’s interest in architecture continued throughout his life and was a strong influence in his painting, most evident in his precise arrangement and outline of forms.  But he was best known for his idealized and lavish use of color and, as a first-generation member from the Hudson River School, painted autumn landscapes that startled viewers with their boldness and brilliance. The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement by a group of landscape painters, whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism.  As artists, they believed landscapes were the highest art form and that nature was a direct manifestation of God.  They felt a patriotic affiliation with nature and saw his paintings as depicting the rugged and unspoiled qualities of America.

As with most of his works, Cropsey experimented with the abstract properties of color, light, and form in this work.  The magnificent mountains dominate this work, while the small deer drinking at the bottom of the painting demonstrate the enormity of the landscape comparatively.  Cropsey uses color to suggest to the viewer, that night is indeed approaching.