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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Man with Green Eye
Nathan Oliveira (1928-2010)
Oil, 1959. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Winston. 1965.2

Nathan Oliveira was an American painter, printmaker, and sculptor, born in Oakland, California to immigrant Portuguese parents. Since the late 1950s Oliveira has been the subject of nearly one hundred solo exhibitions in addition to having been included hundreds of group exhibitions, in important museums and galleries worldwide.

Oliveira graduated from San Francisco’s George Washington High School. He studied at the California College of the Arts in Oakland where he earned a BFA in 1951 and an MFA in 1952. After graduation Oliveira taught art at several colleges, including the California College of the Arts, The California School of Fine Arts (now The San Francisco Art Institute) The University of Chicago, UCLA and Stanford University.

Oliveira established an early reputation for his depictions of isolated figures painted in an improvisational style. Over time his subjects and style varied tremendously as he created images of animals, birds of prey, human heads, masks, nudes and still lifes of fetish objects. Oliveira also developed a series of “sites” that told the story of an invented culture with shamanic characteristics. Most of the artist’s paintings are either vividly colored but somber human figures or abstract expressionist works that vaguely resemble seascapes.

During his lifetime Oliveira made notable works in a huge range of media including oil paintings, acrylic paintings on paper, drawings in ink, charcoal and pencil, lithographs, etchings, posters, and sculptures in clay, wax and bronze. Nathan Oliveira was especially noted for his work in the monotype medium, in which single printed impressions are made from a painting executed on a metal plate. He was also an accomplished sculptor.

In 1999 Nathan Oliveira was awarded the Distinguished Degree of “Commander” in “The Order of the Infante D. Henrique,” awarded by the President of Portugal and the Portuguese government, for his artistic and cultural achievements.

Nathan Oliveira died at his home in Stanford, California on November 13, 2010.

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All About Blue
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
Color lithograph on paper, 1994. John and Mary Pappajohn Endowment Fund Purchase. 2004.2

Helen Frankenthaler, one of America’s most influential women abstract painters, was born in 1928 in Manhattan.  She and her siblings grew up on the Upper East Side, where Helen and her sisters were introduced arts and culture by their intellectual parents at a young age.  Her career was launched in 1952 by the work Mountains and Sea, a large painting that appears to be watercolor, however, is in fact an oil.

Originally associated with abstract expressionism, Frankenthaler would be later known as a member of the Color Field School of painting.  Color Field is defined by the flat single colors that dominate the work.   These painters set themselves apart from the Abstract Expressionists by eliminating the emotional, mythic, or religious content and the highly personal application of the paint associated with Abstract Impressionists.  Frankenthaler pioneered the technique called “soak stain” which required diluting oil paints with turpentine so that the colors would soak into the canvas.  While revolutionary at the time, unfortunately this led to damage of the canvas long term, as the turpentine caused the canvas to rot away eventually.  She used sponges and even windshield wiper blades to create the effect, manipulating the canvas to be visually flat.

Unlike many female artists of her time, she did not consider herself a feminist; in fact she said “For me, being a lady painter was never an issue.  I don’t resent being a female painter.  I don’t exploit it.  I paint.” Art at this time, however, was still a very male dominated field.  Some critics criticized her work, calling it “sweet” and “poetic” and other terms often associated with females.  But admirers appreciated her gift for freedom and spontaneity.

From 1985 – 1992 she served on the National Council on the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts and in 2001 she received the National Medal of Arts.  She stirred controversy in the 1980’s due to her disagreement over funding of individual artists.  She felt that artists such as Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe (MAY PEL THORPE) reflected a trend in which the National Endowment for the Arts was supporting work of “an increasingly dubious quality.  Is the council, once a helping hand, now bringing to spawn an art monster?  Do we loose art…in the guise of endorsing experimentation?” she suggested.

*****

I’ll Be A Monkey’s Uncle
Kara Walker (b. 1969)
Lithograph on paper, 1996. John and Mary Pappajohn Endowment Fund Purchase. 2003.1

Kara Walker creates dreamlike narratives of nineteenth-century slavery and African-American history using the cut-paper format popular in the Victorian parlor.  In her work she challenges historical memory rather than recreates history.  She turns the safe and domestic silhouette style on its head to explore racial stereotypes in a lyrical and horrific blend that is part slave narrative, part Harlequin romance, and part fairy-tale illustration.

Walker’s silhouettes have elicited an uncomfortable blend of emotions in viewers since she first began showing them.  She refers to the images in her work as her “inner plantation” and states, “The whole gamut of images of black people, whether by black people or not, are free rein in my mind.  Each of my pieces picks and chooses willy-nilly from images that are fairly benign to fairly charged.  They’re acting out whatever they’re acting out in the same plane; everybody’s reduced to the same thing.  They would fail in all respects of appealing to a die-hard racist.  The audience has to deal with their own prejudices or fears or desires when they look at these images.  So, if anything, my work attempts to take those pickaninny images and put them up there and eradicate them.”

I’ll be a Monkey’ Uncle from 1996 is one of Walker’s earliest prints. Just a year later, in 1997, she was the youngest artist to receive a prestigious MacArthur Award.

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Modern Head No. 1
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Woodcut on paper, 1970. John and Mary Pappajohn Endowment Fund Purchase. 1985.2

Roy Lichtenstein was an American artist known for his paintings and prints which referenced commercial art and popular culture icons like Mickey Mouse. Composed using Ben-Day dots—the method used by newspapers and comic strips to denote gradients and texture—Lichtenstein’s work mimicked the mechanical technique with his own hand on a much larger scale. He was a leading figure in establishing the Pop Art movement, along with Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns.

Born on October 27, 1923 in New York, NY, he studied under painting under Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League of New York after graduating from high school. Drafted by the US Army during World War II, he notably encountered the works of European masters and contemporary artists while stationed in France.

After the war, he returned to America and completed his degree at Ohio State University, producing paintings in the vein of Abstract Expressionism. Lichtenstein began teaching art at Rutgers University during the late 1950s, meeting fellow faculty members involved in the New York art scene, including the performance artist Allan Kaprow.

By the early 1960s, he had begun showing with Leo Castelli gallery in New York, and made major breakthroughs with works such as Drowning Girl (1963), a satirical take on melodramatic pulp fiction of the era. Themes of irony and cliché prevailed throughout the remainder of Lichtenstein’s career, as evinced in his Haystacks (1969), a take on the canonical series by Claude Monet. The artist died on September 29, 1997 in New York, NY. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Tate Modern in London.

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The Sea
Armin Hansen (1886-1957)
Oil on canvas, not dated. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Winston. 1978.3.6

Armin Hansen, native of San Francisco, is prominent American Painter of the En plein air school, best known for his marine canvases. En plein air is a French expression which means “in the open air”, and is particularly used to describe the act of painting in the outside environment rather than indoors.  His father Hermann Hansen was also a famous artist of the American West.

At the Mark Hopkins Institute Armin Hansen studied under Arthur Frank Mathews from 1903 to 1906. Arthur Frank Mathews was an American Tonalist painter who was one of the founders of the American Arts and Crafts movement.  Moving to Germany, Hansen became the student of Carlos Grethe at the Stuttgart Royal Academy and also studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. He also had exposure to the art centers at Paris, Amsterdam and Brugges. Wishing to see the world through marine eyes, he became a deck hand on a number of commercial vessels, one being a Norwegian steam trawler.

After his studies in Germany, Armin Hansen taught at the University of California, Berkeley and in 1913 moved to paint in Monterey, a budding art colony of the era. In this period he utilized both painting and etching techniques in the style of Impressionism. He was a founder of the Carmel Art Association and became enamored of creating marine scenes, particularly involving man’s relationship with the sea.

In the 1930s Hansen’s paintings become more intense and use of light more pronounced. Later in Monterey Hansen led a group of artists in opposing a plan to remove Fisherman’s Wharf as part of a grandiose redevelopment scheme. Fisherman’s Wharf is an historic wharf in Monterey, California. Used as an active wholesale fish market into the 1960s, the wharf eventually became a tourist attraction as commercial fishing tapered off in the area.  The wharf was an important subject of their art, besides the fact that Hansen identified with the simple life of a fisherman. These artists were considered a Bohemian group, living in the St. Peter’s Gate area of Monterey, but amazingly they prevailed against bigger business interests.

*****

Soviet American Array VII
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)
Intaglio w/photogravure in color on paper. Museum Purchase. 2005.2

Robert Rauschenberg is regarded as one of the most important figures in the move away from the Abstract Expressionism that dominated American art in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Rauschenberg’s earliest works were minimalist monochromatic paintings, but in the mid-1950s he began to incorporate three-dimensional objects into what he called ‘combine paintings’.  The best-known example of these is Monogram, which features a stuffed goat with a rubber tire around its middle.  Rauschenberg used other castoff objects in his combines including Coca-Cola bottles, fragments of clothing and quilts, electric fans, and radios.

In the 1960s, Rauschenberg returned to working on a flat surface and was particularly active in the medium of silk-screen.  He was interested in combining art with new technological developments, and was active in forming Experiments in Art and Technology, an organization to help artists and engineers work together. The print in the MacNider’s collection is from his project of the 1980s, Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Exchange, and includes his own photographs of New York and Russia.  This undertaking fostered cultural exchange in cities outside the usual contemporary art circuit and reflected his broad interest in social causes.

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Self-Portrait (48)
Mauricio Lasansky (1914-2012)
Intaglio on paper, 1948. Museum Purchase in Memory of R. Lyle Bergo. 2013.3.1

Mauricio Lasansky was an innovative printmaker equally well-known for a series of drawings depicting the horrors of Nazism.

Lasansky was born in Argentina of Eastern European Jewish parents.  He came to the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1943 and spent a year carefully examining more than 100,000 works in the print collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  In 1945, Lasansky accepted a teaching position at the University of Iowa where he established a printmaking department that quickly gained international attention.

As a master of printmaking technology, Lasansky along with his students pushed the limits of the medium.  He was known for the grand scale of his images and the complex layering of multiple techniques in a single work.  His largest prints required as many as 60 different plates to make up the different sections of the image and many trips through the press.  He devised a recipe for paper that could withstand the repeated stress his methods required and had it specially milled in France.

Lasansky remained the head of the Art and Art History Department at the University of Iowa until he retired in the mid-1980s.  His legacy as an educator can be seen in the many strong printmaking departments his students established at other universities.  Lasansky became a citizen of his adopted country and died in 2012 at the age of 97 at his home in Iowa City.

*****

The Watcher
Marvin Cone (1891-1965)
Oil on canvas, 1947.
Museum Purchase with funds from the Roy B. Johnson Memorial. 1976.1

Marvin Cone was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa where he found a lifelong friendship in the state’s most famous artist, Grant Wood. Cone graduated from Coe College at which he’d later teach for more than 40 years. He furthered his education at the Art Institute of Chicago but his studies there were cut short by his service in WWI.

Following the War, Cone studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in France. École des Beaux-Arts (“School of Fine Arts”) refers to a number of influential Art schools in France. The most famous is the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, now located on the left bank in Paris, across the Seine from the Louvre, in the 6th arrondissement. The school has a history spanning more than 350 years, training many of the great artists in Europe. Beaux Arts style was modeled on classical “antiquities”, preserving these idealized forms and passing the style on to future generations.

Upon his return to Iowa, Cone was active in the Cedar Rapids Art Association and was instrumental, along with Grant Wood, in promoting the short-lived Stone City Art Colony. Cone lived his entire life in Cedar Rapids and is remembered for his regionalist interpretive landscapes, unique vision, and long and influential teaching career.

*****

Michigan J. Frog
Chuck Jones (1912-2002)
Animation cel (original hand painted with hand-made background), 1980. Gift of the Clark Family in honor of Beje Clark. 2006.1

Charles Martin “Chuck” Jones was an American animator, cartoon artist, screenwriter, producer, and director of animated films, most memorably of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts for the Warner Bros. Cartoons studio. He directed many classic animated cartoon shorts starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, Pepé Le Pew, Porky Pig and a slew of other Warner characters.

Jones was born on September 21, 1912 in Spokane, Washington. He later moved with his parents and three siblings to the Los Angeles, California area. During his artistic education, he worked part-time as a janitor. He worked his way up in the animation industry, starting as a cell washer.

Jones joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, the independent studio that produced Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Bros., in 1933 as an assistant animator. In 1935, he was promoted to animator. During World War II, Jones worked closely with Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, to create the Private Snafu series of Army educational cartoons. Jones later collaborated with Seuss on animated adaptations of Seuss’ books, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in 1966. Jones directed such shorts as The Weakly Reporter, a 1944 short that related to shortages and rationing on the home front. During the same year, he directed Hell-Bent for Election, a campaign film for Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Jones remained at Warner Bros. throughout the 1950s, except for a brief period in 1953 when Warner closed the animation studio. During this interim, Jones found employment at Walt Disney Productions, where he teamed with Ward Kimball for a four-month period of uncredited work on Sleeping Beauty (1959).

With business partner Les Goldman, Jones started an independent animation studio, Sib Tower 12 Productions, and brought on most of his unit from Warner Bros. In 1963, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contracted with Sib Tower 12 to have Jones and his staff produce new Tom and Jerry cartoons as well as a television adaptation of all Tom and Jerry theatricals produced to that date.

As the Tom and Jerry series wound down Jones produced more for television. In 1966, he produced and directed the TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, featuring the voice and facial models based on the readings by Boris Karloff.

MGM closed the animation division in 1970, and Jones once again started his own studio, Chuck Jones Enterprises. He produced a Saturday morning children’s TV series for the American Broadcasting Company called The Curiosity Shop in 1971.

Jones resumed working with Warner Bros. in 1976 with the animated TV adaptation of The Carnival of the Animals with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Jones was painting cartoon and parody art, sold through animation galleries by his daughter’s company, Linda Jones Enterprises.

Jones died of heart failure on February 22, 2002.

*****

Azteca Yellow Persian Set with Black Lip Wraps
Dale Chihuly (b.1941)
Blown glass, 2000. Museum Purchase Funded by Lena Keithahn. 2001.6

Dale Chihuly , a native of Tacoma Washington, is famous for his dazzling artistic glass creations.  Orbs, cylinders, spikes and spirals – Chilhuly’s work appears to defy gravity.  After receiving an undergraduate degree at the University of Washington in Interior Design, he later received a Master’s degree in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin – Madison where he has studied under the famed glass artists Harvey Littleton in 1967.  On a Fulbright scholarship in 1968 he traveled to Venice and received a Masters of Fine Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design.  He founded his own glass school in 1971, named Pilchuck Glass School, located in Standwood, Washington.

Due to a personal injury to his shoulder sustained in a body surfing accident, Chihuly was forced to give up glass blowing himself, relying on assistants to do the physical labor, while he served as artistic director.  He explained his role as “more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor.”  In the 1970’s he began to use a team approach to glass blowing which allowed him to achieve massive glass sculptures that would have been impossible for one artist to accomplish alone.

In recent years, he has made his artwork a household name by his entrepreneurial ventures that include retail stores in high-end areas, documentaries, and artwork prints made for commercial purposes.  His team approach made it possible for him to create large works that now reside with many companies who want large-scale impressive installations in their building.  In 2012 the Chihuly Garden and Glass center opened in Seattle.

*****

Blue Light
Stephen Greene (1918-1999)
Oil on linen, 1994. Gift of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York; Hassam, Speicher, Betts, and Symons Funds 1996. (1996.1)

Stephen Greene was born in New York, where he studied at the National Academy of Design from 1935-1936. He continued his studies at the Art Students League, the Richmond Division of the College of William and Mary, and then at the State University of Iowa under Philip Guston. The work of Northern European Renaissance painting and Max Beckmann were also early influences.

Stephen Greene’s 1950s paintings of classic religious themes meld the precision and spirituality of the great Renaissance masters with the moody, stylized symbolism of postwar Existentialism. Of his early figurative work, Greene has stated, “I was essentially involved in a psychological state, a prison-like configuration that mirrored contemporary ideas…In painting the events of Christ’s passion, I, in the twentieth century, was not returning to another period’s aesthetic mode, but dealing with the possible meanings of hallucinations.” Greene universalized his religious themes to speak to a post-war culture of anxiety.

The paintings from Greene’s first three solo shows at Durlacher Brothers (1947, 1949, 1952) are his best-known figurative work. Of the fifteen paintings from the 1952 exhibition, nearly half are in museum collections, including the Tate Gallery, London (The Return); the Whitney Museum of American Art (The Shadow); the Nelson-Atkins Gallery, Kansas City (The Kiss of Judas); and the Art Museum, Princeton University (The Massacre of the Innocents). Greene was selected for the inclusion in the 1955 traveling exhibition organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, The New Decade: 35 American Painters and Sculptors.