Gregorio Prestopino (American, 1907–1984) Donkey Engine, 1948 Gouache on paper Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; Advancing American Art Collection 1948.1.29

Collection Spotlight: Gregorio Prestopino

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In this collection spotlight, advanced art history students in Dr. Emily Burn’s class Art of the United States have prepared two practicum exhibitions opening this fall.Pieces selected for the exhibitions were chosen from the museum’s permanent collection. The research below is from “The American City: Tourists and Denizens.”

Gregorio Prestopino
(American, 1907–1984)
Donkey Engine, 1948
Gouache on paper
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; Advancing American Art Collection

Rattling on the tracks, wheezing of steam, and grinding of gears as the engineer navigates from train-to-train—Gregorio Prestopino’s Donkey Engine invokes these noises. This painting communicates the radial churning of pistons around wheels easing this once majestic vehicle to a halt in the foreground of a train yard. In the background to the right, subway cars and boats repeat their daily routine. Born in the Lower East Side of New York City at the turn of the century, Prestopino is understood as a social realist because of his depictions of the grit and toil of city life. Here Prestopino draws attention to the docks and workers of the Lower East Side, highlighting labor vital to the city’s existence, yet often overshadowed by the glamour of urban life.

Gregorio Prestopino (American, 1907–1984) Donkey Engine, 1948 Gouache on paper Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; Advancing American Art Collection 1948.1.29

Collection Spotlight: Dale Kennington

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JCSM fondly remembers artist, patron and friend, Dale Kennington, at her passing in this special edition of Collection Spotlight.

Funeral Services will be at: First Methodist Church, 1380 West Main Street, Dothan, AL 36301, Friday May 5, at 11:00 a.m. Visitation will be at the church from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 am.

Dale Kennington
(American, 1935–2017)
A Question of Survival, 2005-2007
Oil on wood panel, skeleton-key lock mechanism, and hidden text in graphite
Gift of Dale Kennington

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

The folding screen is perhaps the best of all possible vehicles for Dale Kennington’s art. Its very nature as a pleated, 3-dimensional object allows subtle and transient visual effects to take place, enhancing the complex objectives Kennington pursues in her “flat” work. Kennington’s narrative tableaus have always operated on multiple levels. She evokes a feeling of certain familiarity with the subjects of her paintings, of identification with a place or group or time. “I’ve been there, I know those people,” are comments often heard uttered before Kennington’s work, even when the painting is a compilation of disparate elements or a recreated private memory of the artist. Yet, it’s not only her compositional details—places, people, objects—that elicit that kind of déjà-vu experience in their viewing. Kennington’s evocative portrayal of light and atmosphere, one of the means by which she summons a mood, brings about a more visceral sense of shared experience. “I’ve felt that” is a response in many viewers. Her images often emerge from pervasive darkness in scattered bits and pieces, with Kennington guiding the viewer’s awareness of the composition’s features through careful choice and placement of colors. She directs a viewer’s perception of a painting through both skillfully rendered realism and deliberate ambiguity.

In A Question of Survival, one side of the six-panel screen presents a desolate landscape distinguished chiefly by an apparently abandoned, yellow automobile in the corner of an empty parking lot. The car’s doors are flung wide open, suggesting a hurried departure by its occupants. The painting’s nearly impenetrable mass of dark green foliage is oppressive and foreboding. Other landscape elements, stormy-blue clouds and blacktop pavement, offer equally negligible cheer. Lines painted across the tarmac and curbing echo the widely scattered, spindly light poles, each contributing to the painting’s overall bearing of forlorn unease. With a stage set thusly, Kennington’s composition on the opposite side of the screen takes on correspondingly ominous overtones. There, a vacant interior’s emerald-green walls now seem grave and obstructive, like their landscape counterpart. Box flaps and yellow closet doors in the room are ajar, revealing the absence of contents. The interior’s gold-hued moldings recall the empty grid plotted across the screen’s exterior vista. And finally, the painting’s solitary figure, a young girl dressed in a sky-blue top and asphalt-black slacks, stands alone in the deserted room. Her attire invokes an association, in color at least, with the troubled landscape.

The screen’s dual or flip-sided nature is all-important. Kennington cleverly weaves the two compositions together, back-to-back, necessitating a playful cat-and-mouse game by the viewer to chase the meaning of the entire work. Were the paired images separated for display flanking each other, as a diptych on a wall, much of the work’s intrigue and challenge would be lost. As a two-sided screen, Kennington proscribes no definite order or sequence for their viewing: no front and back, nor first and last. A viewer might draw a very different reading if he studied the interior scene containing the figure before encountering the landscape. Additionally, Kennington exploits the folded screen façade to produce a result that cannot be appreciated in a flat reproduction on the printed page. It must be experienced dynamically. The screens’ accordion-like surfaces reveal different aspects when approached in the round. Seen from a particular angle, Kennington’s painted figure drops from sight into a fold of the screen, only to reappear with a change in the viewer’s position. Architectural planes such as floors, walls and staircases make similar shifts, transforming perspectives as the observer walks around each screen.

Kennington’s pictures are never what they seem at first glance. They are cagey constructions, reticent to disclose their meaning despite a proliferation of clues. Adding further to their mystery, Kennington incorporates hidden vaults within the screens. She has carved a secret chamber into one panel on each of the works. Therein, behind small locked and camouflaged doors, Kennington placed handwritten notes on paper with comments relevant to each painting. The message hidden away in the clouds on A Question of Survival reads:

I am kind

to animals

He is polite

to strangers

She is distracted

with family

They are convivial

with friends

We are a danger

to ourselves

and to others

Installation of Poppy Bouquet by Tenneson

Collection Spotlight: Joyce Tenneson

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Joyce Tenneson
(American, b. 1945)
Poppy Bouquet, 2003
Edition: 5/25
Archival pigment print, printed in 2014
Museum purchase

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

Joyce Tenneson is an award-winning photographer who has authored more than a dozen books of her work during the course of a career exceeding four decades. In the late 1990s, American Photo ranked her among the ten most influential women photographers in the history of the medium. Examples of her work have been published in Esquire, Time, and New York Times Magazine, and her original prints are collected widely by museums.

Photograph of poppies

Tenneson’s portraits of women and men, young and old, posed and natural, attempt to reach beyond obvious studies of surface to uncover the inner person behind the façade. Reflecting the artist’s deep spirituality, her images resonate with both a sense of the sitter’s individuality and reveal some aspect of her own personal history. Both of her parents were employed at a convent, so she and her sister spent their childhood among this religious order participating in daily and seasonal rituals. Tenneson has noted it is that sense of the mysterious and enigmatic that continues to shape her work.

Installation of Poppy Bouquet by Tenneson

This is equally true of her portraits of flowers, where she captures the blossoms as “distinctive personalities” that are as exceptional and as alive as her human subjects. In images such as the one here, she has immortalized the flowers at the height of their beauty, while in others cases she documents a very different aspect of beauty by recording their inevitable decay. This ethereal bouquet with sensually intertwined stems floating against the mysterious emptiness is very representative of the artist’s work in its depiction of beauty, magic, and otherworldliness.

The symbolic references associated with the beautiful but fragile poppy are wide ranging. Ancient Egyptians included the plant at funerals and in burial tombs. The Greeks used poppies in the shrines of Demeter, goddess of fertility, but they also reference them in various mythological tales for their powers to induce sleep and repose. Almost one hundred years ago poppies became an emblem of remembrance for those who died in WWI. And who can forget in the Wizard of Oz the scene of Dorothy and her friends falling into an opiate-induced slumber in the poppy field as the Wicked Witch gazed into her crystal ball and repeated the word “poppies” over and over?

In anticipation of Auburn’s celebration of 125 Years of Auburn Women, curators will campaign to acquire work by women artists, thus adding to the 54 females currently represented in the collection. Learn more.

Logo celebrating 1892-2017 and Auburn women
Pen and ink drawing depicting Bacchus with a faun and satyr.

Collection Spotlight: Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier

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Pen and ink drawing depicting Bacchus with a faun and satyr.

Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier,
called Le Barbier l’aîné (French, 1738–1826)
L’Offrande à Pan (The Offering to Pan), ca. 1770
Pen and ink with various shades of brown washes
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society, 2015

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier, called Le Barbier l’aîné (the Elder), demonstrated artistic talent at a young age, winning two first prizes at the École des Beaux-Arts of Rouen at seventeen. He moved from his native Rouen to Paris to study under Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Between 1761 and 1768, he traveled extensively in Italy (several drawings document his time in Rome). In Switzerland in 1776, he worked with Pierre-François Pâris and Claude-Louis Châtelet on Zurlauben’s travel guide, Tableaux de la Suisse ou voyage pittoresque fait dans les treize cantons du Corps Helvétique, executing drawings of views, monuments, and costumes. After returning to Paris, he was elected to the Academy in 1780, and became an Academician in 1785, exhibiting regularly at the Salon between 1781 and 1814. In the period between 1806 and 1810 he focused on religious themes and subjects of Royalist inspiration. His most famous work was a representation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a fundamental document of the French Revolution, which he illustrated in 1789.

Bacchus with a faun and satyr

The present drawing illustrates a tendency in Neoclassicism that art historian Robert Rosenblum called “Neoclassical Eroticism.” The discovery of the frescoes at Pompeii in 1748 introduced a new sensuality in French art. Erotic subjects inspired by the antique were combined with themes emblematic of the Rococo, an exaltation of pleasure and flesh. This drawing is a prime example of Le Barbier’s work, circa 1770–75, and can be compared to a pair of oval drawings in the Louvre, titled Baccanale, depicting Bacchus with a faun and satyr, and L’Offrande à Venus, signed and dated 1769, which exhibit his characteristic use of contour in black ink with brown washes and small curvilinear touches in the interior of figures that define volume and mass. It can also be compared with a drawing that is a design for a candelabrum depicting a nymph and two satyrs on the base. Le Barbier used the subject of The Offering to Pan several times, but in each drawing he employed a very different composition.

Artwork installed for the 1072 Society 2015, including La Barbier (The Elder)
Modernist print with fracturing natural forms and space into mosaic-like patterns.

Collection Spotlight: Maltby Sykes

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Maltby Sykes
(American, 1911–1992)
At Market, 1949
Edition: 36
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University;
Gift of Barbara Pritchard

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

Maltby Sykes traveled to Mexico City in 1935–36 to assist Diego Rivera in mural production at the Hotel Reforma. He had been accepted as Rivera’s assistant due, in large part, to a letter of recommendation from his print publisher, George Miller of New York.

Like so many others, Sykes wished to be a part of, and learn from, the painting “renaissance” that was taking place in Mexico. He had previously spent time painting in Taxco and would return there in the late 1940s, the period in which these two lithographs were produced. Sykes was attracted to the hilly landscapes of Guanajuato, canals at Xochimilco, and city squares of both urban and rural settings, which he often rendered in faithful naturalism. He was also keenly interested in Cubism. Many of his paintings and prints, such as Organitos and At Market, reflect that modernist approach, fracturing natural forms and space into mosaic-like patterns. Sykes was a long-time professor of art at Auburn University and honored as Emeritus Professor in 1977.

Modernist print with fracturing natural forms and space into mosaic-like patterns.
Installation of El Alma Mexicana with At Market
Installation of Robert Cottingham's alphabet letters JCSM in JCSM at 10 exhibition.

Collection Spotlight: Robert Cottingham

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Robert Cottingham
(American, born 1935)
Four prints from An American Alphabet
J, 2003 C, 2010 S, 2007 M, 2002
Edition: 7/40 Edition: 7/40 Edition: 7/50 Edition: 10/40
Color lithographs
Museum purchase

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

One of the most important painters to arise in the 1970s among a loose confederation of artists known as Photo-Realists, Robert Cottingham extends the rich tradition of American Realism in works that simultaneously evoke a sense of nostalgia for an era long past while operating on a cooler, and more formal, abstract level. His compelling art draws equal influences from the emotional cityscapes of John Sloan and Edward Hopper as from the geometric arrangements of Stuart Davis or Frank Stella.

Installation of Robert Cottingham's alphabet letters JCSM in JCSM at 10 exhibition.

After starting a career in advertising in the early 1960s, Cottingham devoted himself full-time to painting by the end of the decade and quickly gained success through exhibitions at O. K. Harris Gallery in New York, the leading advocate for the new trend of photorealism. Cottingham early on focused his attention on city facades, and most frequently created largescale depictions of commercial signage. He explained his fascination with the subject: “Commercial signs are amazing. Here are these elaborate, monumental structures designed solely to tell you that this is where you can buy a hamburger or pack of cigarettes.… All that effort, all the pomposity just to sell you something. And yet, they are a heroic attempt by someone to leave his mark.” His closely cropped and sharply delineated vignettes of movie marquees, department store facades, diners, and other familiar architectural forms resonate in a distinctly American voice.

Cottingham began working in printmaking in 1972 and discovered a medium that provided an important outlet of expression, often allowing him to experiment in themes and variations before rendering them in paint on canvas. An American Alphabet marks one of his longest running series of prints, an abecedary of twenty-six lithographs begun in 1994 and slated for completion in 2012.

Profile of rabbit sculpture with a bird on its head.

Collection Spotlight: Frank Fleming

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Frank Fleming
(American, b. 1940)
Serenade, 2013
Bronze, unique cast
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art,
Auburn University; museum purchase
with funds provided by Montgomery
Auburn alumni and friends, and JCSM
Art Society, Montgomery

Alabama artist Frank Fleming is widely acclaimed for his darkly whimsical sculptures in bronze and ceramic. He often combines human, animal, and plant forms, each rendered in minute detail, to create fantastical scenarios that bring to mind fairy tales, myths, and supernatural visions. Serenade is a recent work by the artist and new acquisition by the museum. In this composition a very apprehensive hare (termed by Fleming as a “swamp rabbit”) bares disturbingly sharp claws, while a bird perches lightly upon its ear. Perhaps the bird offers quiet advice or conversely is the source of the hare’s agitation. Fleming leaves that interpretation up to the viewer, although the title suggests a harmonious relationship between the two creatures.

Forward-facing bronze rabbit sculpture with bird
Profile of rabbit sculpture with a bird on its head.
Oversized-print of reproductions of moments in art history

Collection Spotlight: Sangbin IM

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Sangbin IM
(South Korean, born 1976; active in New York)
Metropolitan Museum Project (Modern Art), 2009
Edition: 4/5
Lambda print on Diasec
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society, 2011

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

Originally from Seoul, Republic of Korea, Sangbin IM came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship to study art at Yale University. He has resided in New York since 2006 while completing a doctorate at Columbia University. After arriving in America, IM achieved wide international exposure for his distinctive art, with exhibitions in Basel, Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Shanghai, Toronto, Zurich, and numerous sites in this country. His oversize prints are hyper-realistic inventions that seamlessly combine hundreds of photographs with digital images of his own paintings to create fantastic or idealized artificial environments.

IM’s recent manipulated subjects have included vast public spaces such as Central Park, Tiananmen Square, Times Square, and some of the world’s great museums. The present print is from a series of nine that focus on the extensive collections of objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. IM has acted as “curator” to assemble his favorite works of modern art at the Met in an outlandishly dense salon hanging. Across a monumentally scaled panel filled with minute details, IM at once acknowledges the canon of accepted icons of modern art while poking gentle fun at the voracious collecting capacity of certain dominant museums, all in a composition that would not seem out of place as a New Yorker magazine cover.

Oversized-print of reproductions of moments in art history

Underlying the image’s slightly humorous bearing, IM’s firm grasp of western art history, theory, and collecting practices is apparent. The image evokes earlier such compositions as Charles Willson Peale’s The Artist in His Museum (1822), wherein Peale literally draws back the curtain in a self-portrait to reveal his vast organized collection, the first museum in the United States. As with that original “cabinet of curiosities,” IM’s collection pairs odd bedfellows, reminiscent as well of the juxtapositions found in installations at the Barnes Foundation. In IM’s image, one finds a blue-period figure by Picasso facing Warhol’s Liz Taylor, while Van Gogh similarly rubs shoulders with Alex Katz. IM’s overarching composition is perhaps an intentional nod to a major tenet in modern art. He avoids rendering a deep spatial perspective, preferring instead to employ a flat, geometric design, reinforcing modernism’s primacy of the object over illusion.

Portrait of Hank Williams, Sr. in the style of record labels and carnival banners

Collections Spotlight: Roger Brown

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Roger Brown
(American, 1941–1997)
Hank Williams, Honky Tonk Man,
Oil on canvas
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art,
Auburn University; museum purchase

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

Alabama native Roger Brown frequently returned to subjects close to his southern upbringing. In this case, he portrays the early country music legend and fellow Alabamian, Hank Williams, in a fittingly monumental scale. Brown had a long-running fascination with folk art and craft, and imagery prevalent in popular culture. His heroic portrait of Williams recalls both the format of the once ubiquitous record album cover as well as the type of hand-painted banners found in circuses and fairground sideshows.

Portrait of Hank Williams, Sr. in the style of record labels and carnival banners
Lithograph of Mexican street vendors selling flowers

Collections Spotlight: Diego Rivera

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Diego Rivera
(Mexican, 1886–1957)
Mercado de Flores, 1930
Edition: 26/49
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; gift to the
Robert B. Ekelund, Jr. Collection in memory of his father, Robert B. Ekelund

Diego Rivera is arguably the most important figure in modern Mexican art, whose diverse body of work had a profound influence on his contemporaries and subsequent generations of Mexican and international artists. Rivera spent nearly 14 years in Europe early in his career, absorbing the range of early 20th-century modernist trends. Inspired by the Russian October Revolution, he returned home in 1921 carrying both a desire for social reform and strong aspirations to create a truly “Mexican art.” Those goals merged in the form of public murals, which Rivera and a host of his colleagues painted in Mexico City and in sites across the country. The ensuing “Mexican Mural Movement” attracted scores of artists from around the world—including Jean Charlot, Howard Cook, and Maltby Sykes, each represented in this exhibition—to engage in Mexico’s vibrant and politically charged artistic scene and, in particular, to learn from the modern master, Rivera.

Lithograph of Mexican street vendors selling flowers
Detail of lithograph of Mexican flower vendors

While best known for his public frescoes on a monumental scale, Rivera also produced many smaller paintings and prints, such as Mercado de Flores. The ability to create art that was accessible to “the people” motivated Rivera’s work in public murals. Similarly, the print medium allowed Rivera to make images that were widely distributable and affordable to the working class. Typical of Rivera’s art, Mercado de Flores, a lithograph produced during one of the artist’s most fertile periods, is imbued with subtle political undertones. Through simple lines, he renders a group of faceless, peasant, flower vendors on their knees before a parade of more bourgeois shoppers. That Rivera identified with the common workers is made clear in the fact that he placed himself, and thus his point of view, on the vendors’ side of the road.

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