Posted by: vincentgaberlavage | December 8, 2021

Art Imitates Life At The Mount Holyoke Art Museum

On November 19th I attended the Art Imitates Life event hosted by the senior class board. This was a seniors only event (alcohol was provided) dedicated to giving the seniors a break towards the end of the semester as well as a chance to wander around the museum. I went with a friend of mine who works at the museum. Some people had dressed up for the event while others, like myself, simply came in what they had went to class in. Food was provided for free, I personally was a fan of the bruschetta. Students were free to move between the entrance where food and drinks were served and the museum. For the most part I deferred to my friend in terms of direction.

One of the first pieces we looked at was Twilight Over The Oxbow: The View from Mount Holyoke painted by Stephen Hannock. At first glance the painting is a simple landscape depicting sunset over the oxbow. However as the viewer gets closer to the painting they begin to notice notes scratched into the layers of paint, noting places where the painter spent time with others or giving directions to the various colleges in the area or sharing short anecdotes. The viewer will also notice photographs of friends of the artist painted into the scene. As in the photographs were painted over with a thin wash to better blend into the surrounding environment. The piece suggests a very interesting view of this landscape not as an untamed wilderness to be conquered as many landscape paintings depict, but as a place the painter has concrete connections and attachments to.

After this, while we were looking at a vanitas still life in the renaissance section, I heard strains of music coming from the entrance. I motioned to my friend, and we walked back up to the front to see what was going on. The class board had invited one of the acapella groups to perform, so we waited quietly until they finished before returning to the art.

At this point we started looking at some of the modern/contemporary artworks in the museum. One of my personal favorites being, Sculpture for Keyboards (Rocks and Minerals II) created by Lenka Clayton. The piece is a vintage typewriter with a semiprecious stone corresponding to each letter of the alphabet glued to the corresponding key. The typewriter is a medium of expression, it can be used to create works of art as a literary tool or to create ASCII art if you’re dedicated enough. However here the medium itself is rendered a piece of art. However by rendering the medium itself a piece of art it renders it incapable of producing art. Not only are the keys rendered non-functional by the rocks glued to it, but it is also kept out of the reach of theoretical artist that would use it by the barrier of glass. It reminds me of what happens when an artist becomes commodified. Can the artist truly produce art when they are locked into a brand? Can they ever make art again that is not in someway recursive and still satisfy their audience? Can they create authentic art when they are the one being sold?

My friend also directed me towards one of her favorite pieces in that specific room called, Petrified Glove, Brave Glove The piece consists of a reconstruction of a Victorian lady’s glove and a calcified Victorian lady’s glove from the Skinner museum’s collection. The Petrified glove is believed to have been sourced from Mother Shipton’s Cave in England, a popular Victorian tourist destination. The piece of course plays on the double meaning of “petrified” being afraid and being rendered stone, with the calcified glove being placed in contrast to the “brave” reconstruction.

At this point we turned to a piece my friend hadn’t considered very much in her time at the museum, Radio 05 painted by Supote Sivalax. It is a modern piece painted in 1967 but it looks forward to graphic design trends of the 90’s, especially those of the internet. We approached the painting from a formalist perspective looking at the techniques use to create it. We could see the way the painter layered patterns using tape and acrylic and created gradients using a tempura wash over the layers of acrylic (you could see the way the watery painted beaded up on top of the plastic based medium). You could still see faint pencil marks on the canvas marking where the artist planned to put tape and layers of patterns. The aesthetics of Adobe Illustrator brought forward in the sixties by an artist using mediums we use to train elementary schoolers in art. It struck me as a fascinating piece, and my friend and I had a really rich discussion about it.

In terms of the event itself, I enjoyed it however I feel like I could’ve had the same experience going to the art museum with the same friend. The snacks were nice, but I felt like the acapella performance disrupted our experience of the exhibits. Overall I’d recommend it but I’d also recommend just going to the art museum with a friend and wandering around.


Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing, Vincent! I think you ask a poignant question when you consider the commodification of the artist.


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