On Yuken Teruya’s Notice—Forest (Breakfast Street)

By Virginia Girard

“A gifted artist can make a small thing of greater value than a grand work by an artist who is not gifted…Beauty not in object but how rendered”

- Albrecht Durer

Yuken Teruya’s Notice—Forest (Breakfast Street) addresses revolt in all meanings of the word, and speaks to a timeless challenge all artists face. The paper bags placed before the viewer are a short-lived commodity in reality. Their lifetime most likely consisted of holding tantalizing pastries before being discarded in an undignified manner. A paper bag covered in grease is immediately revolting when it is no longer of use, and most can found on the pavement mixed with cigarette butts, decaying leaves, and rotting scraps. The paper bag is in object that can be categorized with all forms of detritus in the urban setting, all of which are synonymous with grime and disgust.

Teruya’s piece defies all of these lowly associations, elevating an object of simple construction into an elegant artwork and generating dissonance in the viewer’s previous notions of trash and high art. Each bag is revived from its crumpled, broken state, but evidence of its past is visible. The spoiled remains of breakfast left on each bag are cues for revulsion in any viewer; no one would be tempted to handle these objects or even acknowledge them if encountered in a heap of trash. But Teruya boldly commands the reader to Notice, to see what our eyes pass over and label as revolting before we have examined them properly.

Her ability to find beauty in an object that is basic in its conception, and even more unappealing when it has been used and discarded, is a revolt against our tendency to see trash as a bottom line, a final word in the lifecycle of the objects we’ve produced. The delicate trees carved in the paper are evocative of lace, juxtaposing the blank, unassuming form of the bags. Her decision to depict trees on these paper bags speaks to the irony of humanity’s tragic ability to transform timeless natural beauty into products with a lifespan that begins and ends in minutes. Our ability to see nature as beautiful in the face of our own destruction of it is a revolting notion in itself, and Teruya asks the viewer to consider redefining this materialistic conception of waste. Rather than accepting trash as a state of demise and a point of no return, the viewer can learn to see potential rather than disgust, and effectively revolt against their own preconceived notions of beauty.

Breakfast Street

Notice—Forest (Breakfast Street)

Yuken Teruya

Undated

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On Xu Bing’s Travelling To the Wonderland

By Yuanyuan Tang

A few weeks ago, instead of going to the weekly HAMS meeting, I went to artist Xu Bing’s talk held by the Department of Art. Renowned for playing with language in his works, Xu Bing not only illustrates the immortal essence of language, but also projects the cultural issues in China by representing language in such playful manner.

In the talk, Xu Bing introduced his recent works, which includes the animation The Character of Characters, the multi-media work Book from the Ground, and the latest installation Phoenix in New York City, etc. Among all of these fantastic works, his installation Travelling To the Wonderland in Victoria and Albert Museum impressed me the most.

Situated at the courtyard of John Madejski Garden in V&A Museum, the work Travelling To the Wonderland was an artificial pool with rockery surrounding. Taking the fact that the pool was enclosed by classical European architecture, and outside the architecture was the vibrant and modern city of London, Xu Bing thought that to bring Eastern elements and fuse them into this work would be a good idea. Combining the “geometrical style” of European architecture with Chinese garden – the natural, pleasant and soothing – together, the installation achieved “the internationality of work” as Xu Bing expected.

Therefore, Xu Bing designed the pool like a scroll of classical Chinese landscape painting, and added rockery composed of rocks from different areas of China to give it diversity. According to him, each trait of different rocks represented a distinctive “character of Chinese calligraphy”. Even though there was no visible word could be read from this work, it still had “rich cultural background”.

For the presentation of objects on this installation, Xu Bing attempted to find a balanced effect between the 2D look and the 3D one, more likely to be of “two and half dimension”. Thus, the objects surrounding the pool, including the rockery, and artificial villages, islands, animals all made from ceramics, looked like half-animation and half-real. The interesting and innovative media he combined delivered a dreamy-like feeling to viewers when “they participated into this work”, and made the fantasy of “travelling to the wonderland” possible.

Also noticeably, “the ceramics villages” featured in this work actually had reference of a Chinese classic The Peach Blossom Spring about a fisherman’s chance discovery of a utopia where people lead an ideal existence in harmony for centuries. Bringing such a theme into this work, Xu Bing said that it was his way to not only “question the harmony in Chinese society today”, but “bring political and social consciousness” to the public. The nostalgia of a utopia was truly an artist’s uprising to nowadays’ universal value.

Finally, when I asked Xu Bing about his inspiration in creation, he insisted that the “forces pushing him” were always external. “They come from outside the field of art”, and the work for him, an artist, is to “translate the reality into concrete forms of art”.

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Meet The HAMMIES!

Meet our 14 Fabulous Members:

Cameron

Cameron Ewing (President)

Class of 2015

Majors: Art History & Asian Studies

Favorite part of HAMS: The opportunity the club gives me to get to know other students in the major

If you could live in a painting: Jean-Honore Fragonard’s The Swing

Alanna

Alanna Klein

Class of 2015

Major: Art History; Minor: French

Favorite part of HAMS & the Art History Department: Making new friends and meeting people who love art as much as I do and being challenged by them

If you could live in a painting: Water Lilies by Claude Monet or The Persistence of Memory by Dali

Haley

Haley Knapp

Class of 2015

Major: Art History; Minor: Visual Studies

Favorite part of HAMS: Having the unique undergraduate curatorial experience and working with other people who have such a great passion for art

 If you could live in a painting: Monet’s Water Lilies 

Yuanyuan

Yuanyuan Tang

Class of 2016

Majors: Art History and Asian Studies

Favorite thing about HAMS: I am able to work up curatorial practice in our school museum, and with so many art history lovers.

If you could live in a painting: Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre, Spring Morning

Lucius

Lucius Elliott

Class of 2015

Majors: Art History and English Literature; Minor: French

Favorite part of HAMS & the Art History department: I appreciate, both in the art history department and HAMS, my forced exposure to pieces and movements that I would otherwise ignore or be ignorant of. I also appreciate the trust that the museum and the department place in students to curate a show, which is fairy remarkable if you think about the experience of the ‘real’ curatorial staff.

If you could live in a painting: Anthony Gormley’s Blind Light

Virginia

Virginia Girard

Class of 2017

Major: Art History Minor: Business

Favorite part of HAMS: having the opportunity to work with people who have a similar appreciation for art, as well as the chance to explore the Johnson collection on a more intimate level. I love that HAMS encourages students to experiment with artistic interpretations, learn from other students, and practice applying what we have learned in class in a more professional setting.

If you could live in a painting: one of Kandinsky’s abstract works

Piotr

Piotr Pillardy

Class of 2015

Majors: Art History and History

Favorite part of the Art History department: the Impressionism in Society class as well as starting my honors thesis

If you could live in a painting: Monet’s Japanese Bridge 

Lara

Lara Abouhamad

Class of 2016

Major: Art History; Minors: Visual Studies and Business

Favorite part of HAMS: our weekly meetings in the museum basement and @insta__hams (follow us!)

If you could live in a painting: Degas’ Milliners 

Chinelo

Chinelo Onyilofor

Class of 2015

Majors: Art History and Chemistry & Chemical Biology

Favorite part of HAMS: The installation portion where we decide on how to organize the exhibition space. This includes choosing how to group the selected works, color of the paint of the walls, and how to make it interactive with the viewer.

If you could live in a painting: Water Lilies by Monet

Daniela

Daniela Pimentel

Class of 2016

Majors: Art History and Fine Arts

Favorite part of HAMS: Enjoying the Johnson Museum collections with a group of my peers. Of course, the Johnson encourages students of all fields of study to pull works, but it is really enlightening and fun to explore the wealth of works with others with the shared goal of putting together a great exhibition.

If you could live in a painting:  any Karen Kilimnik piece in the outdoors, preferably with snow, animals and a carriage. Or glitter. DEFINITELY glitter.

Wylie

Wylie Rechler

Class of 2016

Major: Art History; Minors: Visual Studies and English

Favorite thing about HAMS: Selecting possible works for the show. Cornell has such a rich collection of art and it is so fun to dig around the online database.

If you could live in a painting: Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Zoe

Zoe Carlson

Class of 2015

Major: Art History; Minor: French

Favorite part of HAMS: Going into storage and seeing all of the works in a different context. It’s kind of weird to see them some place else than on a gallery wall; hidden away.

If you could live in a painting: Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance

Oscar

Oscar Rieveliing

Class of 2016

Majors: Art History and French

Favorite part about the Art History department: The broad course offerings of interdisciplinary nature that not only address topics relevant to visual arts, but across many other fields as well.

If you could live in a painting: John Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold

Katya

Katya Savelieva

Class of 2016

Majors: Art History and Fine Arts

Favorite part of HAMS: Discovering new pieces in the Johnson’s collection and allowing viewers to also discover them through our exhibition.

If you could live in a painting: An Ed Ruscha

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“From Havana to Paris: Pop Style in the Political Counter-Culture 1967-68”

By Cameron Ewing and Oscar Rieveling

Under the theme of “Resistance & Empire”, the annual Graduate Student Symposium brought Thomas E. Crow to deliver the keynote address entitled “From Havana to Paris: Pop style in the Political Counter-Culture”. In this presentation, he explored the influence that the Pop style has had on the creation of politically related imagery in both countries. Whether employed as a means of state propaganda or as a form of public protest, the Pop aesthetic’s legibility and clarity is ideal for effectively synthesizing and conveying a particular message. The mutual and retroactive nature of the relationship between pop art and revolutionary social movements can also be traced throughout history, evidencing the influence of art and politics upon each other. More than fifty years after its initial development, the Pop aesthetic does not seem dated or out of fashion, as contemporary artists continue to incorporate aspects of it within their work. Considering the revolt theme of our upcoming exhibition, this presentation provided HAMS members in attendance with new ideas and directions that we will be able to continue to explore in our own selection of works.

In a general sense, Pop art is a distinct attitude towards art-making that originated in the 1950’s, where artists began to incorporate aspects of popular culture to challenge preconceived notions of what fine art should be. By displacing advertisements, newspaper clippings, or other visual elements into a new context, they were able to produce ironic statements concerning modern day life. These subjects are rendered in such a way that the imagery is reduced to its most basic and essential elements, producing iconic images that can capture the attention of viewers upon a mere glance. When considering one of Pop Art’s most emblematic works, Andy Warhol’s series of Campbell’s soup cans, one is able to observe these stylistic features in effect. Turning away from the non-figurative and painterly technique encouraged by Abstract Expressionism that was popular at the time, Warhol’s piece is provocative in the sense that he introduced an outright commercial subject in his work, during a time where it was believed that art should transcend the mundanity of contemporary life. Making use of a semi-mechanized process to produce the image in which the individual artist’s mark-making or distinctive technique is inconsequential, also allowed the work to inspire a new means of art-making beyond the traditional media used in the past. Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring are other notable artists renowned for their role in popularizing this particular style as well. However, it is important to note that Pop art transcends geographical boundaries, being equally appropriated by people in different countries and cultures.

Indeed, a major transformation in Pop Art’s history took place in Cuba in the late 1960’s, where the graphic aesthetic language and device of Warhol, Lichtenstein, and other American artists was first exploited to politically radical ends. Following the fall of dictator Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro’s government encouraged the development of a fresh national identity through, for example, the development and use of new, innovative art forms. This desire for experimentation, combined with a need for visual language to broadcast new ideas and political propaganda to the Cuban public, led to the appropriation of the schematic, stylized and heraldic imagery of Pop artists, as seen in the work of Andy Warhol in particular. The transformation of Guerrillero Heróico, a photo of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara taken by Alberto Korda in 1960, into an instantly and internationally recognizable revolutionary symbol illustrates the power of Pop to broadcast political ideals. Though the photograph itself is iconic, the image’s transformation into arguably the most reproduced image in history should be credited to Jim Fitzpatrick, whose simplified and flattened interpretation of the photo circulated in Cuba and worldwide following the revolutionary’s death. Fitzpatrick’s high-contrast drawing, which, like Warhol’s soup cans, transforms its subject into a series of graphic black lines separating flat expanses of color, distances the image from the ambiguities and subtleties of lived reality and reduces the revolutionary to the level of an idealized abstraction and political symbol. Following its creation, the image of Che Guevara took on a life of its own, starting with its printing on a 5-story high banner to commemorate Che’s death in the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana in 1967 and its subsequent replication on everything from New York City subway billboards to magazine covers around the world.

Crow also cites the student-led protests in 1968 France as another example of a socio-political movement that made use of the simplified, linear qualities of Pop art in the production of graphic imagery to incite action and support from the public. Expressing their inconformity with the politics and the structuring of institutions that were ignorant of their needs, French students were responsible for coordinating series of large-scale protests that with the additional support of millions of factory workers, led to the collective halt of the economy in France. The impromptu and de-centralized nature of this type of revolt produced a striking contrast to the bureaucratic operations of the government. As a means of creating a unified platform and identity for the movement as a whole, art students and faculty from the École des Beaux Arts joined to form the Atelier Populaire, creating hundreds of posters that were distributed and displayed throughout France. Salaires Legers, Chars Lourds [Light Wages, Heavy Guns] is a 1968 offset lithograph poster that evidences the stylized silhouettes and solid blocks of color that were characteristic of the posters that they produced. It is also interesting to note the influence that members of this group later had upon a similar appropriation of Pop art in Cuba, where its stylistic conventions were also first being employed to political ends, but at the service of the state and not the general people.

The concern with engaging the public as a whole and not just a select few is a distinct feature of Pop art that made it suitable for addressing political issues, in addition to employing modern printing technologies like silk-screening that facilitated the reproduction of copies to disseminate a targeted message to a broad audience. More importantly however, is the accessibility and democratization of art that the pop aesthetic provides, as it does not require academic training or conformity to a particular set of standards in its making. The artistic movement is also responsible for enacting a radical change in establishing a new definition of art, by challenging the distinction and boundaries between fine art and popular imagery. Through the functionalization of Pop aesthetics to apostolic ends in Havana, Paris, and around the world, the monumentalization of the mundane and accessible was brought full circle, re-entering the egalitarian world of popular culture from which artists such as Warhol initially took their inspiration.

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The Meaning of “Revolt”

As we explore the boundaries and meanings of what we would like our exhibition to demonstrate and what we are trying to present to our visitors of the exhibition, we took the word revolt, and considered it in many different aspects. Each member of HAMS came up with what “revolt” represented within the world of art, but also within the historic representations of revolt and what it meant within the world of Cornell. Here are some excerpts from a few members’ definitions:

‘Weaving together the stories of past decades’ movements against war, climate change or capitalism, the outrageous, fierce, or humorous messages delivered by art in this exhibition keep pushing the boundaries of the culturally and socially acceptable’

-Yuanyuan Tang

‘The exhibition aims to provide a history of revolt at Cornell and beyond while highlighting revolt in the artistic process’

-Katya Savelieva

‘Revolt can describe the rejection of conformity, as seen in the way many contemporary artists operate, or can be told, as a story, through the content of a work of art’

-Wylie Rechler

‘Revolt can occur in many different forms: it can present itself as an alienation or disengagement from society, a violent rebellion, or an internal conflict. What remains constant, however, is the tension between the present condition and the yearn for change’

-Lara Abouhamad

‘To be revolting is to be repugnant or to disgust. There is a certain fascination, however, in such disgust, and this exhibition seeks to define the aesthetic appeal of a word that, on the surface, is rarely associated with art’

-Virginia Girard

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On “Anti-war protest in Barton Hall” by Wylie Rechler

When organizing an exhibit on revolt, it’s important to recognize the fact that a large portion of political protesting or uprising is enacted by college students, like ourselves. This trend makes complete sense because university campuses are where young, bright minds congregate for four years of higher education. On campus, we are exposed to peers from different walks of life, coursework that opens our minds and fills them with knowledge of the past, and different modes of thinking that can change our perception of the world.

Revolt on campus exists not only today, but can also be traced far back into history. The U. S.’s involvement in the Vietnam War was one political issue that caused much uproar from students across the country. From Claes Oldenburg’s 1969 installation of Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks at Yale University, to the organization of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), campuses have seen a variety of different demonstrations protesting this involvement.

One image that shows our own campus’s involvement in this moment in American history is a photograph entitled “Anti-war protest in Barton Hall” taken on April 10th, 1970. Just one year after Oldenburg’s demonstration at Yale, Cornell saw it’s own anti-Vietnam war protest. This work is a black and white negative print showing thousands of students organized in Barton Hall, listening to a speech by Cornell’s own Father Daniel Berrigan who, at the time, was convicted of destroying draft cards using napalm—a flammable, jelly-like substance that U. S. troops adhered to flamethrowers while attacking villages in Vietnam—while in government office. While Father Berrigan was able to appear at Cornell’s two-day long, anti-Vietnam rally called “America is Hard to Find,” he was found by the FBI two months later and subsequently incarcerated for two years. This photograph not only documents an important moment of revolt in out nation’s political history, but also speaks to Cornell’s student body today—so often there are opportunities for activism on campus that we (myself included) take for granted.

It is important to note that the “American is Hard to Find” rally is just one of many student-run protests in Cornell’s history. Stay tuned for more representations of revolt on Cornell’s campus.

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Welcome Back from HAMS President, Cameron Ewing

Greetings and thanks for checking up on the blog for the History of Art Majors Society (HAMS) at Cornell University! My name is Cameron Ewing, and I’m the president for this year, attempting to fill the (metaphorically) giant shoes of last year’s president, Maggie Merrell.

For those who don’t know about the History of Art Majors Society, our main focus each year is the curation and organization of a full exhibition at the university’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum. The society gives undergraduate art history majors an opportunity to apply their knowledge of the discipline in a curatorial context: we work with amazing pieces from the museum’s permanent collection, and, with the help of the museum, in particular our liaison Alana Ryder, help organize symposia and artist talks, as well as write and design an exhibition catalogue.

Though HAMS works closely with the museum, and with the Art History Department, it is an independent, student-run organization, meaning that students have a truly unparalleled experience to dictate and direct the exhibition process. The members of HAMS have great power and, as we know, great power comes with great responsibility, so students who participate in the group gain incredible experience of the organizational and logistical challenges that must be surmounted to successfully put on an exhibition. As part of the group’s effort to raise awareness of our spring exhibition and engage with the broader Cornell community, we also work with our student organizations and host events throughout the year, including museum trips, film screenings, and lectures.

I have been a member of HAMS since freshman year, and served as secretary of the society when I was a sophomore. HAMS has without a doubt provided me with some of my fondest memories and most valuable experiences at Cornell, and, as president this year, I’m excited to help provide other students with the kind of opportunities that have been so important to and memorable for me.

I encourage you to look at blog posts from last year, if you haven’t already, for a sense of the organization, and to keep checking in for updates on progress for this spring’s exhibition. This year, our exhibition’s focus will be ‘revolting,’ and we’ll be posting on the blog regularly about relevant artworks, lectures or events on campus, and points of contact between our exhibition and broader issues in the world. Though HAMS is, out of necessity, comprised of a small group of students, this blog is open, and I hope you will not only read posts, but also comment, sharing thoughts, ideas, and suggestions about the direction our organization is taking.

Come back soon!

Cameron Ewing

Hameron Ewing

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