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An abstract drawing of a seated woman

Collection Spotlight: Grace Hartigan

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Grace Hartigan is known as a “Second-Generation Abstract Expressionist,” but she did not exclusively tether herself to the movement. Her close friendship with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning, as well as her immersion in the 1950s New York art scene, influenced her painting. However, Hartigan remained autonomous and forged her style that seamlessly melded together abstraction and figuration. She painted under the pseudonym “George” until 1953 in homage to 19th-century female writers: George Sand and George Eliot.

In “Seated Figure I”, Hartigan’s unique marriage of abstraction and figuration is present. The curving lines of the female figure gracefully flow diagonally across the canvas. Thick black lines establish a background yet abstract the composition as a whole. Marks that initially look random – an outburst of artistic expression – become a vital part of developing the figure. It appears that two opposed styles have come to rest upon Hartigan’s muted canvas.

By Leslie Schuneman, curatorial intern

An abstract drawing of a seated woman

Grace Hartigan
(1922-2008)
“Seated Figure I” (circa 1952)
Pen, brush, black ink, and ink wash on paper
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University

“If you’re an extraordinarily gifted woman, the door is open. What women are fighting for is the right to be as mediocre as men.”

Grace Hartigan
Three girls sit on a bed in a silver gelatin print.

Collection Spotlight: Diane Arbus

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By Leslie Schuneman, curatorial intern

Diane Arbus is known for her psychologically compelling portraits of socialites and outliers alike. Arbus began her photography career in fashion and advertising and was published in “Vogue” and “Harper’s Bazaar”; yet, feeling that her work was banal and repetitious, Arbus took to the streets. She photographed everything from high-class women donning fur coats with their lapdogs to a family casually lounging in their nudist camp. Regardless of subject matter, Arbus probes the identity of her subjects with a light of familiarity and foreignness.

In this famous photograph, the triplets confront us with an intense gaze, but there still remains a sense of intimacy. They are pictured in their personal space – three identical beds and repetitive diamond wallpaper that echo their own similarities. The triplets almost appear to become one person as their dark skirts and bright white shirts bleed together; yet, their individual personalities play across their faces. Arbus stated that triplets reflected herself as they presented three different identities tied into one.

“We’ve all got an identity. You can’t avoid it. It’s what is left when you take away everything else.”

Diane Arbus
Three girls sit on a bed in a silver gelatin print.

Diane Arbus
(1923-1971)
“Triplets in Their Bedroom, N.J.”, 1963
Silver gelatin print
The William Dunlop Collection
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University

Joshua Shaw (American, 1776-1860) Stoney Creek, North Carolina, No. 3, n.d. Oil on paper laid down on panel Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; Gift of Jane and Mike McLain 2011.19.1

Collection Spotlight: Joshua Shaw

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Advanced art history students in assistant professor Emily Burns’ classes will get a hands-on look at the world of art curation and have a unique experience for their portfolios using the collections of Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University. The students will research, curate and present on a two-part exhibition in the Chi Omega-Hargis Gallery during the spring 2018 semester.

Below is a Collection Spotlight from the first exhibition, “Strokes of Nature: Plein Air Painting in the 19th Century.”

In an extant letter related to this painting, Joshua Shaw states that this scene “has nothing in it historically interesting… and I sketched it entirely for its wild and picturesque appearance.” Not searching for a specific historical landmark, Shaw stumbled upon this small creek bank on his journey throughout the wilderness of North Carolina. Shaw’s choice signals a growing interest in the early nineteenth century in representing quotidian landscape. The artist’s eclectic style challenges the viewer to understand whether Shaw painted this scene outdoors or by memory. By eliminating brushstrokes and smoothing the surface, he reduces a sense of time. Yet the glistening of the water crests, the wispy clouds, and the sketchy nature of the leaves draw the viewer into a serene experience of the momentary.

Joshua Shaw (American, 1776-1860) Stoney Creek, North Carolina, No. 3, n.d. Oil on paper laid down on panel Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; Gift of Jane and Mike McLain 2011.19.1

Joshua Shaw
(American, 1776-1860)
Stoney Creek, North Carolina, No. 3, n.d.
Oil on paper laid down on panel
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; Gift of Jane and Mike McLain
2011.19.1

Edmund Petitjean (French 1844-1925) Les Côte du Nords, Bretagne (The Shell Gatherers), n.d. Oil on Canvas Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; Gift of Noel and Katheryn Dickinson Wadsworth

Collection Spotlight: Edmund Petitjean

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Advanced art history students in assistant professor Emily Burns’ classes will get a hands-on look at the world of art curation and have a unique experience for their portfolios using the collections of Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University. The students will research, curate and present on a two-part exhibition in the Chi Omega-Hargis Gallery during the spring 2018 semester.

Below is a Collection Spotlight from the first exhibition, “Strokes of Nature: Plein Air Painting in the 19th Century.”

Rather than rendering every specific detail on the beach at Côtes-d’Armor, formerly known as Côtes-du-Nord in northern Brittany, Edmund Petitjean gives the viewer a general sense of the surroundings: debris and plants, the movement of the receding waves, the shadows created by the larger rocks scattered over the shore. He illustrates the rocky coast with bright hues of green ranging from light olive to emerald to a deep almost-black green. He captures the ocean breeze using swirling and airy brushstrokes of aquamarine with additives of white to highlight the dynamic shapes of the clouds in front of him. Petitjean’s swift brushstrokes and dabs of color indicate the artist’s hastiness to capture a singular time of day. As a result of this plein-air grounding and Impressionist handling, a momentary quality entices the viewer to share his experience.

Edmund Petitjean (French 1844-1925) Les Côte du Nords, Bretagne (The Shell Gatherers), n.d. Oil on Canvas Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; Gift of Noel and Katheryn Dickinson Wadsworth

Edmund Petitjean
(French 1844-1925)
Les Côte du Nords, Bretagne (The Shell Gatherers), n.d.
Oil on Canvas
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; Gift of Noel and Katheryn Dickinson Wadsworth
1980.1

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
1948.1.29

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
Lithograph
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.

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