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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A Message from HAMS Vice President Carlos Kong

Hello, and welcome back to the blog of the History of Art Majors Society! My name is Carlos Kong, and I am excited to serve as vice president of HAMS this year. I am a senior in History of Art and Comparative Literature, and this is my second year participating as a member of HAMS. I’m writing to keep you apprised of our curatorial process and to introduce some preliminary thematic ideas for our programming and feature exhibition, opening at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in April 2015.

Comprised of fifteen bright, enthusiastic students from the History of Art department, HAMS works to foster an ethos of collaborative curating. Each week, all members of HAMS search the database of the Johnson Museum’s collection and select one work of art that they feel compelled to include in our exhibition. Most selected works of art are then physically brought out from storage, with the generous support from our advisor Alana Ryder and the Johnson Museum staff, and discussed among the group in our weekly meetings. The differences between seeing an image in an online database and viewing it in person are frequently illuminating and often surprising, and it is exhilarating to share the opportunity of experiencing the intimate details of a work of art with fellow members.

This year, our exhibition and programming will be oriented around the various conceptions of “Revolt”. Taking the plural implications of the revolt as a point of departure, that of both political mobilization and ‘revolting’ as an adjective of abjection and disgust, we have begun selecting a myriad of provocative works from the Johnson Museum Collection. In just the first two weeks, we have looked at photographs, etchings, political cartoons, paintings, archival collections, and sculptures from around the world, including works by Francisco Goya, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Juan Genoves, William Hogarth, Berenice Abbot, and Cao Fei, among others. Thus far, it has been thought provoking to discuss instantiations and interpretations of revolt across different time periods and geographies, a rich complexity that bespeaks both the challenges and the beauty of History of Art as a discipline of knowledge.

Throughout the next few months, our central task will be narrowing and refining the roster of art for our exhibition. In the upcoming year, we’ll be organizing auxiliary events, and are considering artist talks, film screenings, and a Symposium as potential complements to our exhibition. In conjunction with the opening of our exhibition, we will also be publishing an exhibition catalogue, an additional effort of collaborative scholarship. We look forward to keeping you updated on our progress this year!

Check back soon!

Carlos Kong

Carlos

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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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Framing in Negative Space by Katya Savelieva

László Moholy-Nagy’s Wie bleibe ich jung und schön? (How do I stay young and beautiful?) and Wassily Kandinsky’s Parallel Diagonals share certain abstract aesthetics of framing and are both related to the Bauhaus school.  The Bauhaus operated in Germany in the early to mid-twentieth-century.  It pioneered a new approach to studying design, giving equal importance to art, craft, and technology.  Kandinsky and Moholy-Nagy both taught at the first Bauhaus site in Weimar, Germany and thus their work exemplifies the ideals of the school. 

Through the unification of art, craft, and technology, the Bauhaus produced an aesthetic that continues to influence architecture and design to this day.  Specifically, Bauhaus focused on geometric shapes and their relation to the human body.  This aesthetic is present in both Kandinsky’s and Moholy-Nagy’s work, as they frame forms through positive and negative space.

In order to understand Moholy-Nagy’s Wie bleibe ich jung und schön? (How do I stay young and beautiful?), the viewer should approach from technical and aesthetic perspectives.  The composition, consisting of two figures and a thick circle that frames one of the figures, shows the balance of geometry and human form typical of the Bauhaus.  The implied movement of the figure on top balances the asymmetric placement of the circle on the page.  Both figures interact with the circle, creating a unity between the three elements.  The two figures can be seen as geometric forms themselves, as they frame each other in the abstract composition.

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Because of Moholy-Nagy’s involvement with the Bauhaus, this work should not be read as a commentary on youth and beauty, as the title of the piece suggests.  Rather, it should be framed in terms of its technical elements and the title left as an ambiguous edge to the compositional fusion of geometric forms. 

Moholy-Nagy’s work comes from his Fotoplastiken portfolio, which translates as “photo-sculpture.”  Thus, the piece is furthermore related to the ideals of the Bauhaus as the school believed the ultimate output of creativity to be a building.  The two-dimensional photograph gains implied three-dimensionality as it plays with framing through flattened form, positive and negative space, and the relation of geometry and the human figure.

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Like Moholy-Nagy’s piece, Kandinsky’s Parallel Diagonals also works with Bauhaus ideas of design, but to a lesser degree there is no incorporation of human figure.  Kandinsky’s composition is balanced through dichotomies of color, line, shape, and positive and negative form.  The Bauhaus curriculum relied on these elements in its Vorkurs, or preliminary course.  Kandinsky, a teacher at the Bauhaus school, utilized the color and design theories taught to first year students in his work.

The title of Kandinsky’s piece, Parallel Diagonals, furthers its relation to Bauhaus aesthetics.  The title focuses on the forms of the piece, just as the Bauhaus focused on the interaction of geometric shapes.  Thus, Kandinsky’s work of abstraction can be framed both through its technical elements of framing through lines, shapes, and positive and negative forms, as well as its greater frame of Bauhaus design. 

By Katya Savelieva, Class of 2015

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Guestblogger Katie Graves on Martin Creed’s Retrospective and “InstaArt”!

InstaArt: Martin Creed’s Retrospective “What’s the point of it?” Viewed Through a Filter by Katie Graves

 The first major retrospective of work by internationally acclaimed artist Martin Creed opened at the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre in London on January 29. The exhibition, titled “What’s the point of it?”, has taken Instagram by storm. With thousands of smart phone pictures of the show shared to date, the framing of the exhibit through social media has taken on a life of its own in creating a relationship between spectator and art.

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Cliff Lauson, Curator of the Hayward Gallery, recognizes Creed’s work as “both playful and thought-provoking. Crossing all artistic media and including musical and performative elements”. The exhibit contains a range of minimalist and expressionist art that has sparked analysis and interpretation. 

Creed said in 2001: “my work is about 50 percent what I make of it, and 50 percent what people make of it. Meanings are made in people’s heads. I can’t control them.”

Perhaps he wasn’t accounting for Instagram, which debuted in 2010, added Hashtags in 2011, and since then has become one of, if not the most, widely used photo sharing applications in the realm of social media.

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“Instagammers” from all over the world are transported to the Hayward Gallery at London’s Southbank Centre, located along the Thames River and Waterloo Bridge  through their smart phones. Instagram curates a virtual exhibit of the show that incorporates image and video. For the people around the globe who cannot gain physical access, the pictures shared with Instagram without restrictive privacy settings determine the perspective- the literal filter from which you will see, experience, and interact with the exhibit.

Each Hashtag paints a unique experience of what it would be like to be on the inside, snapping a photo or video of Work No. 1092: Mothers a huge neon sign spinning out of control, or posing underneath a floating pile of 7,000 white balloons known as Work No. 200: Half the air in a given space.

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These two tags create galleries of nine images that open a window into the world of Creed’s exhibit. Both compositions emote a cheery tone full of bold color, neon lights, and excitement that pass an essentially imagined experience through Instagram onto the social media spectator. 

It feels like you are receiving a comprehensive whole, 25 years of enticing, bold work by Martin Creed. However, the presentation through social media is a fragmented version of the show: a re-appropriated stream of art brought to you by the thousands of people who mill in and out of the Hayward gallery, device in hand, from January 29th to April 27th and then some. There are over 160 works in the exhibit, but only a small portion make it to the social media big leagues.

The introduction to the exhibit states that Creed’s work “reflects on the unease we face meeting choices, the comfort we find in repetition, the desire to control and the unstable losses of control that shape our existence.” This complex funnel of intended meaning and tone is lost on the stream of images. The social media frame of reference lends towards an aesthetic experience that is provocative and entertaining in its own right.

Martin Creed may not have intended his reach to go this far, but the question stands: what is the point of it? Adrian Hamilton, writer for The Independent, states that Creed doesn’t even know the answer to, or what “It” is. “It” could very well be Instagram, or more broadly social media platforms. It was just last year, that The Hayward Gallery forbid photography of their exhibition titled “Light Show”, a rule that has been overturned for Creed’s retrospective. In the world of mass technology and social media anyone can frame the world from their perspective. With the right hashtag, anyone curate Creed’s art through their own personal device.

By Katie Graves, Cornell University Film Major, Class of 2014

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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Abstraction through Cropping: Coplans’ Self Portrait by Kayli Callahan

Cropping and composition are integral elements to consider when breaking down the theme of framing. How the artist chooses to position the subject matter within the physical frame reflects the ideas surrounding the conceptual frame. For photographer John Coplans, the staging of the subject within the viewfinder is one of the most significant steps within his process, and because Coplans poses as the subject within many of his photographs, he directs an assistant on how to compose the image. He must dictate to the assistant the parts of his body he wants photographed, their scale, and their relation to the border of the image. He then sets the lighting, he arranges the printing, and he orders the physical frame. Coplans wrote that as an artist, he doesn’t do anything but talk. Yet, it seems that his talking is vital as it deals mostly with framing.

2000.98_coplans_1822 Self Portrait (Interlocking Fingers, No. 18) captures the artist’s intertwined fingers drawn together towards the front of the picture plane. The image is large-scale and closely cropped, removing the wrists and most of the palms. The close cropping and unusual framing presents an unconventional viewpoint of a common subject. Hands and fingertips are images encountered in everyday, daily life, but Coplans’ image presents a new take on this common subject. Fine lines and faint folds in the skin that ordinarily are barely visible on a life-size hand become thick, deep crevasses in Coplans’ 31 x 24 inch gelatin silver print. Coplans reimagines the common subject in a way that changes the original image.

 The closely focused composition and the narrowly positioned border removes most of the context that contains the subject matter. By composing the image so that the subject is obstructed, the framing begins to abstract the image. Coplans removes information from the image by closely cropping the hands, but he adds to the subject matter by enlarging the hands and creating new shapes. While the fingertips may still be recognizable in their larger-than-life state, new organic shapes and forms emerge from within the image. Coplans takes something common and ordinary and frames it in a new context, forcing the viewer to reexamine and reconsider the subject.

By Kayli Callahan, Class of 2015

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Art from Abroad: Cameron Ewing’s review of “Unstable Territory. Borders and identity in contemporary art”

When it comes to works of art, frames are invaluable tools; the way in which an artist crops a painting or photograph contextualizes it and allows the viewer to understand what the artist is trying to say. Through what he chooses to include and not include within the confines of the frame, through the point of view from which he captures his subject, and through his aesthetic treatment of the subject, an artist creates significance and meaning, transforming the unruly, evanescent world into an image or object that is coherent and enduring. In a similar way, national borders create artfully constructed states whose idealized vision of structured, orderly unity is often at odds with the lived reality of people within their boundaries. National borders are, like the frames of works of art, ways of mediating reality, and an exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Culture Strozzina, in Florence, explores the tension between the nation-state ideal of self-contained, impermeable monolithic units and the frequent reality of internal strife and conflict within, and exchange between, their territorial frames.

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London-based artists Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin address the theme of Unstable Territory. Borders and identity in contemporary art by exposing how Israel’s framing of itself as a nation differs from the reality within its borders. The subject of their video Mini Israel is an automated model of the country partially built with funds from the Israeli Tourism Office whose slogan is, “See it all – small”. The complex covers 14.8 acres and features replicas of 350 buildings and landmarks of national importance, as well as 30,000 figures and real cultivated bonsai trees. As the eerie, surreal video shows, however, this model Israel is an idealized and simplified symbolic construction of the country; Mini Israel is devoid of the wall, checkpoints, and observation tower that the government has erected in response to internal conflict, and the Arab population these have been built to confine and survey are transformed into unthreatening extras, bowed in positions of permanent prayer or statically standing watch over their livestock. The uncertainty and instability that characterize the real Israel are cropped out of the frame in Mini Israel, where the cars move back and forth on the single tracks to which they are attached and people sunbathe on the roofs of buildings forever.

Where Broomberg & Chanarin’s work displays Israel’s surreal, neatly framed image of itself, Richard Mosse’s video and sound installation, The Enclave, reveals the fractured, incoherent reality of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a region whose borders frame a hollow simulacra of a country. In a dark, enclosed room, video fragments playing simultaneously on six screens and accompanied by Ben Frost’s ambient audio composition comprised of recordings gathered in the war zone create a landscape that evokes the region’s reality of chaos. The installation sprawls out in all directions, overwhelming and disorienting the viewer by resisting any efforts to compartmentalize or frame the work. What Mosse seems to be unsettling is not so much efforts of the DRC government (such as it is) to fashion itself as the international community’s attempts to package the country’s conflicts, creating a narrative with coherence and clear moral guidelines through documentary practice and reportage photography. As the wall text accompanying his installation states, “Mosse in fact attempts to invalidate various characteristics typical of reportage photography, like the recognisability of the subjects or the matching of the subject represented and the aesthetic language”. One way in which he accomplishes this is by shooting his footage with Aerochrome film, which was developed in the 1940s to allow the U.S. army to detect armaments concealed by vegetation by rendering shades of green in shocking, fluorescent pink hues. With this technology, the DRC landscape is transformed into a sublime, otherworldly landscape, a kind of fantasy war zone or beautiful nightmare that offers no clear moral guidance for the viewer. Stripped of the frames placed around war-ravaged countries in conventional reporting and documentation, The Enclave defies viewers’ expectations for meaning or a safe perspective from which to view and understand the conflict, instead sucking them into the swirling, uncircumscribable chaos that characterizes life for citizens of the “country”.

Frames are an essential component of art and of life: they focus and direct our attention while simultaneously granting us the physical and psychological distance required for contemplation. As Unstable Territory. Borders and identity in contemporary art shows, however, there is danger in mistaking the mediated, simplified fragments the frame presents for reality. 

By Cameron Ewing, Class of 2015

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