Category Archives: Art History

Hite/KMAC Summer Fellow Explores the Permanent Collection

By Hunter Kissel, Hite/KMAC Curatorial Fellow for Summer 2015

Hunter has completed his first year in graduate school pursing a dual Master in Public Administration/Master of Arts in Critical and Curatorial Studies at the Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville; he is a native Louisvillian.

I received my undergraduate degree from Transylvania University in Studio Art last May and now am pursuing a Master degree in Critical and Curatorial Studies at the Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville. The shift from amateur art-maker to aspiring exhibition producer has provided its share of challenges, namely in the language and art historical methods I now use. My personal appetite for participation in the broader arts community, however, has remained the same. The school year ended in the early weeks of May, and I began researching summer opportunities. I was soon offered a fellowship at KMAC.

Denzil Goodpaster. Selected works.
Denzil Goodpaster. Selected works.

As part of the Fellowship, I was given the chance to use KMAC’s permanent collection to display a selection of works in their Brown Forman Gallery. Director Aldy Milliken and Associate Curator Joey Yates often use the summer months to present works from the collection in a gallery setting, and this was sure to be a great chance to practice some of the curatorial methods I had been learning in school. KMAC begins planning their exhibitions as far as two years out in some cases, so completing the show in little over one month seemed like a tall order.

KMAC’s permanent collection contains works by acclaimed regional and national folk artists. Artists from Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia are heavily represented in the collection, and as a result themes of economic agriculture, religion, American identity, and wildlife are all very present. After browsing the catalogue of KMAC’s permanent collection and inspecting some of these artworks in person, I was able to narrow down my selection for the exhibition to about twenty pieces. I selected many of these Appalachian artists as well as some contemporary local artists working in glass, photography, or patchwork.

The selection process was not an easy one. While many of these artworks deserve to be shown, a number of constraints surfaced and I was unable to include objects I really admire. My conversations with Joey Yates were emphasized with the notion that “less is more.” The idea of a cluttered gallery made us uneasy, and subsequently space had to be compromised in order to include a diversity of artists as well as multiple works by the same artist when their breadth required it. Each object needed “room to breathe” (as the popular saying goes), and my selections were heavily influenced by the gallery space itself.

Marvin Finn, Crane 1980
Marvin Finn, Crane 1980

The final title of the exhibition was simple—Highlights from the Permanent Collection. There was no need to contextualize these works. The collection speaks for itself. The final display includes artists like Earnest Patton, one of the most renowned artists in KMAC’s collection, who carves human figures with precision and clean technique. His depiction of Adam and Eve is as topical as that of his mermaid or woman in a swimsuit. Minnie Adkins’ use of a fox motif translates fluidly from woodcarving to quilt, demonstrating the artist’s ability to execute in a variety of mediums. Carl McKenzie’s figures stand as anomalies, distanced from the comparable work produced by Patton, Denzil Goodpaster, and Junior Lewis. His splotched Lady Liberty and Red Cross Nurse are vibrant takes on popular subjects. Finally, Marvin Finn and his flock of familiar birds are at hand within KMAC’s collection.

The resulting exhibition advocates for the importance of collecting. Under Milliken and Yates, KMAC is transforming from an artist-represented gallery into an archival museum. KMAC’s current collection is a solid foundation for a more expansive holding of artworks. Highlights marks a checkpoint for an evolving institution.

Highlights from the Permanent Collection, curated by Hunter Kissel, will be on display in the Brown Forman Gallery at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft until mid-September. To see more from the exhibition, visit http://www.kmacmuseum.org. 

Looming Large

KMAC has gone stark weaving mad.

Artists from 16 countries currently fill our two main galleries with over two-dozen loom woven works. Shown in conjunction with the traveling exhibit The New Art of the Loom: Contemporary International Tapestry, KMAC has organized Looming Local as a response to some of the issues raised by the international artists. The works on view range in size and content from the large 8 ½ x 11 foot tapestry Porter with Bicycle: Espagne et Portugal by South African artist William Kentridge to the small, intricate and colorful weavings by Kentucky artist Tori Kleinert.

William Kentridge, Porter Series: Espagne et Portugal, 2004, 99 x 130" Stephens Tapestry Studio, Johannesburg. (Courtesy: Marian Goodman Gallery, New York)
William Kentridge, Porter Series: Espagne et Portugal, 2004, 99 x 130″ Stephens Tapestry Studio, Johannesburg. (Courtesy: Marian Goodman Gallery, New York)
Tori Kleinert, Hidden Semblance, 2004
Tori Kleinert, Hidden Semblance, 2004

The New Art of the Loom consists of contemporary tapestries that connect with the large, ambitious, narrative works that dominated artistic production in early Modern Europe. These early tapestries functioned as a decorative way to display a coat of arms, relay a familiar story or to illustrate scenes of victorious battles, but they also provided warmth, covering the walls of large drafty castles. After falling out of favor due to growing feminine and domestic undertones the tapestry was revived by British art activist William Morris in the late 19th century, making weaving fundamental to a burgeoning international design movement that promoted artisanship and hand-made activity.

Looming Local takes a peek at the immediate surroundings of the museum to show how four artists are exploring similar issues as their international counterparts and taking the weaving tradition into the more creative, expressionistic contemporary art form that it is today. Both exhibits combined communicate a broad range of materials, methods and multiple weaving processes. The four artists represented in the local show, though rooted in a loom based practice, are markedly different from their peers in technique and composition.

Spring on the Mountain, 2008, 30 x 62" Courtesy of the artist and Craft(s) Gallery, Louisville, KY
Dobree Adams, Spring on the Mountain, 2008, 30 x 62″

Dobree Adams creates loom woven works that capture the landscape in a manner intended to evoke the intermediate or transitional states that are associated with Tibetan Buddhism. The spiritual and meditative qualities that imbue her work connect well with other artists on show in the museum who deal similarly with nature, particularly with the tapestry “Without Notice” by the Japanese artist Miyuki Tatsumi. Adams and Tatsumi are both drawn to the calmness of nature, but also to its power to change and dominate our lives in mysterious ways and without warning.

Miyuki Tatsumi, Without Notice, 2008 8'3" x 3'10"
Miyuki Tatsumi, Without Notice, 2008
8’3″ x 3’10”

Tori Kleinert’s small format works, though diminutive in size, are big in meaning and content. They pack in loads of bold color and act as deeply personal explorations of ideas and emotions often connected to the history of female craft activity. She refers to the figures in her work as ancestors or semblances, an evocation of the spirits who live on informing the work of contemporary tapestry artists from around the world. Kleinert’s Terroristic Semblance from 2003/2004 commemorates the lives that were lost on September 11, 2001.

Tori Kleinert, Terroristic Semblance: Destruction of the Fold, 2003/2004
Tori Kleinert, Terroristic Semblance: Destruction of the Fold, 2003/2004

A sharp use of color adds intensity to her subject matter and relates to New Art of the Loom artist Christine Altona’s work, also from 2004. Based on an article in the Boston Globe about alleged child abuse, Altona created this particular tapestry as a tribute to the children who have been abused in the Roman Catholic Church. Several red cardinal hats are placed at the top of the work above a knotted red circle, suggesting the strong and powerful looking down on the weak bound together in struggle. The blue represents the earth and the prevalence of this transgression around the world.

Christine Altona, Hallelujah-Boston Globe, 2004, 7'8" x 7'3"
Christine Altona,
Hallelujah-Boston Globe, 2004, 7’8″ x 7’3″

Arturo Sandoval is an art professor at the University of Kentucky and a well-known weaver from the region. His sole work in the show is part of a long running series that looks at American democracy and one of the most potent symbols of our culture, the American flag. Sandoval conceived the State of the Union series in order to work through personal issues related to his time serving in the Vietnam War. His desire to create a political art series was to commemorate the sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who lost their lives in battle. The newspaper headlines and magazine images that are woven into this series were initially collected from 1980-1984. He has since continued the series as way to further express his feelings toward the recent war in Iraq.

Arturo Alonzo Sandoval, State of the Union No. 5: Baptism by Fire, 1984,  41” x 47”
Arturo Alonzo Sandoval,
State of the Union No. 5: Baptism by Fire, 1984, 41” x 47”

The most divergent work away from any form of traditional tapestry seen in either the local or international exhibit comes from Looming Local artist Philis Alvic from Lexington, KY. Her recent work consists of assembling remnants of older tapestries into fabric constructions, which she refers to as Portals. In this ongoing series of works, suggestive of windows, doors, and curtains, she intends to communicate the ideas of transition, passage, and change. Through the technique of fabric collage and drapery these works move into the more three-dimensional space of wall sculpture.

As Alvic digs through her own personal archive incorporating material from previous work she evokes the idea of the artist entering a metaphorical portal, passing from one era of creativity and production into another. In this particular series of works Alvic is weaving together remnants as well as personal histories. There are a number of transitional concepts related to creative growth and change that could be applied to this series. The idea of the portal as a signifier for moving from one period of life into another is an important factor in the life of every artist. It can often be a struggle to shift focus and enter new unknown territory, but it can also be a time when an individual artist develops greater clarity and confidence in their work.

Philis Alvic, Dark Entry, 2013 74” x 52”
Philis Alvic,
Dark Entry, 2013
74” x 52”

Love By Design: The Saarinen Women

Loja Saarinen, 1932, Cranbrook Archives
Loja Saarinen, 1932, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Eliel Saarinen’s wife, Loja (Loy-a) was trained as a sculptor, photographer and model builder. She became a textile designer and weaver when Saarinen became the chief architect of the Cranbrook campus located in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The campus consists of Cranbrook Schools, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum, Cranbrook Institute of Science and Cranbrook House and Gardens.

Studio Loja Saarinen, Loja (seated), 1930, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives
Studio Loja Saarinen, Loja (seated), 1930, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Studio Loja Saarinen was established to design and weave textiles, carpets, and rugs on a commission basis for many of the Eliel Saarinen designed buildings on the Cranbrook Campus. Consequently, Loja became the director of the weaving department at Cranbrook from 1929 until her retirement in 1942. At full production, Studio Loja Saarinen held close to 30 hand looms.

Kingwood School at Cranbrook, Textile design by Loja Saarinen. 1933, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives
Kingwood School at Cranbrook, Textile design by Loja Saarinen. 1933, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Eliel Saarinen began designing his house at Cranbrook in 1928, and he and Loja moved into the completed home in fall 1930. They lived in the house until Eliel’s death in 1950.

Living Room Saarinen House
Living Room Saarinen House
Swedish weavers making the rug for the Saarinen House.
Swedish weavers making the rug for the Saarinen House.
Loja Saarinen showing Eliel a cartoon of their tapestry, Sermon on the Mount, for Tabernacle Church of Christ (now First Christian Church in Columbus, Ind.), 1941. Courtesy of  Cranbrook Archives
Loja Saarinen showing Eliel a cartoon of their tapestry, Sermon on the Mount, for Tabernacle Church of Christ (now First Christian Church in Columbus, Ind.), 1941. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives
Marianne Strengell with Loja and Eero Saarinen, 1958. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives
Marianne Strengell with Loja and Eero Saarinen, 1958. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

In 1942, when Loja Saarinen retired from Cranbrook, Strengell replaced her as head of the Department of Weaving and Textile Design.

Aline Saarinen with art book, 1955. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Aline Saarinen with art book, 1955. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Aline was the associate art editor and critic for the New York Times and recently divorced when she met Eero in 1953.  She was on a trip to Detroit to meet the young architect whose General Motors Technical Center had proved to be a great success. She was to write a profile of Saarinen for the New York Times Magazine, eventually published with the title Now Saarinen the Son authored by Aline B. Louchheim. She would become Aline B. Saarinen a little over a year later.

Early Art Criticism by Aline (then Bernstein). 1934. Courtesy of the Archives of American Art, the Smithsonian.
Early Art Criticism by Aline (then Bernstein). 1934. Courtesy of the Archives of American Art, the Smithsonian.

A look into the intimate correspondence between both Eero Saarinen and Aline Saarinen is available online, digitized by the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian as the Aline and Eero Saarinen Papers, 1906-1977. Their letters track the history of their romance and provide an inside look at how two stars in their respective fields came to be partners.

Correspondence from Eero Saarinen to Aline, 1954. Courtesy of the Smithsonian.
Correspondence from Eero Saarinen to Aline, 1954. Courtesy of the Smithsonian.

After their marriage, Aline relocated to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where she continued to work as associate art critic for The New York Times and where she served as Director of Information Service in the office of Eero Saarinen and Associates (from 1954 to 1963). They had a son and named him Eames after Eero’s long time friend Charles Eames.

Eero, Aline, and Eames. Courtesy of Yale University Library
Eero, Aline, and Eames. Courtesy of Yale University Library

After Eero’s sudden death in 1961, she and Saarinen’s longtime partners Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo traveled around the country, making sure the firm’s nine commissions under construction or in design (including the TWA Terminal, Dulles Airport, two residential colleges for Yale, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the CBS Building) were all completed as Saarinen buildings. In 1962, she published a book of his writings, including black-and-white photographs of his projects, Eero Saarinen on His Work. This book is currently on display at KMAC as part of the Eero Saarinen A Reputation for Innovation exhibit.

KMAC Donors Tour Mayor Jim Gray’s Art Collection

In November, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft Donor’s Circle visited the magnificent art collection of Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.  Mayor Gray’s home is situated in the Gratz Park Historic District, one of the most beautiful areas of Lexington, Kentucky.

Lexington Artist Louis Zoellar Bickett offered us a tour through Mayor Gray’s well-appointed rooms, several of which feature Bickett’s assemblages and containers.  In the entrance hall, we admired a large black-and-white piece entitled Welsh Oaks (#3) (1998) by Vancouver School photographer Rodney Graham.

rgraham

Our group especially enjoyed becoming acquainted with the work of Lexington-area artist Mark Goodlett, who assembles ornate picture-boxes out of wadded paper while lying in bed.

Mayor Gray’s residence houses work by many world-renowned contemporary artists, such as Joseph Kosuth, Yinka Shonibare, Kara Walker, Richard Long, Vik Muniz , Claes Oldenburg, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Mapplethorpe, Gerhard Richter, and Fred Tomaselli.  Bickett informed us that Mayor Gray regularly rotates pieces in the house with others from his vast collection.

Great favorites amongst this art loving group were two pieces by English artist and Turner Prize winner Rachel Whiteread.  While viewers may be familiar with Whiteread’s plaster casts of vacant/negative spaces, the sculpture Untitled (Trafalgar Square Plinth) (1999) surprises with its use of resin to create a ghostly double.

r.whitehead

Another of Whiteread’s works, “Switch” (1994), creates a more subtle, playful effect.

On that perfect fall day, the group ventured on to galleries around town.  We are grateful to Mayor Gray and to Bickett for their hospitality.  Please join us on a future trip!

–Leslie Millar
KMAC Board Member
photos courtesy of Jody Howard

Bucking the Trend: Art Innovators on KMAC Radio

Tune in Mondays to KMAC Radio on ArtxFM from 11am to 12p where we use radio as a vehicle for exploring art, music, and social ideas. It’s simple to listen: Go to artxfm.com and click PLAY on the embedded player located in the upper left corner of the website. Monday’s show will be hosted by KMAC’s Communications Director Julie Gross and she’ll be discussing Bucking the Trend: Art Innovators.

On my recent trip to Rome and Florence Italy, I got more than the brain can handle in terms of sensory overload. Beauty lives in every corner and facet of these cities and I discovered more than just the art from the Renaissance masters.

"Portrait of the Dwarf Morgante" by Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino. Uffizi Gallery, Florence
“Portrait of the Dwarf Morgante” by Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino. Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Marcel Duchamp, In advance of the broken arm, 1915. Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome.
Marcel Duchamp, In advance of the broken arm, 1915. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome.
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome
Duchamp, Re-Made in Italy Exhibition at the Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna, Rome
Duchamp, Re-Made in Italy Exhibition at the Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna, Rome
Urs Fischer, Bed/Horse 2013. Gagosian Gallery, Rome
Urs Fischer, Bed/Horse 2013. Gagosian Gallery, Rome
Eero Saarinen, Tulip Chair blueprints, 1957
Eero Saarinen, Tulip Chair blueprints, 1957

C.C. Coyle and the Parables of America

In The Passing of Weary Souls (pictured above), 1921, a pair of black boots, set in stride, dominate the image. The boots are animated, but no person wears them. As though anyone might be walking in those shoes across the landscape, this painting is about a journey. Emerging from the storage of the collection of Berea College to the walls of the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, C.C. Coyle’s paintings are a moral journey through American life as told by a self-taught Kentucky country man.

Coyle’s paintings tell the stories of America through the land, family, history, and imagination. In many paintings, Coyle depicts the quintessential scenes of the American landscape. The expertly composed Yosemite, Bridal Veil, Nevada, and Vernal Falls, 1935, depicts the four great falls of Yosemite National Park. He also painted the famed Mariposa giant sequoia tree of southern Yosemite and Red Rock Canyon of the Painted Desert. During the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, Americans gained access to and protected these national treasures through the establishment of National Parks. Coyle painted these scenes in person, and occasionally through photographs. His landscape paintings echo the words of famed environmental advocate John Muir (1838-1914), whose tireless work led to the protection of the Sierra Nevada, when he stated in Yosemite, 1912, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

The falls of Yosemite appear again in the grand painting entitled The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World, 1935. This painting best illustrates Coyle’s sense of narrative as parable. Like a moral story, the painting is an illustration of the American dream and the value of motherhood. Coyle provides a rich description of this painting in his diary, stating, “I am giving this picture to the public believing that every great man or woman had for their background the training of a good mother. It has been said that many of our great men owe their crown of glory to a good wife. That takes us right back to the mother again. This wife got her training from a good mother. Of course we must make some allowance for a fertile brain; even a fertile brain can be ruined if it does not get the proper training and support.” Thus, the good mother rests near a cabin, representing a schoolhouse, surrounded by her four children at various stages of need and independence. It is clear that her good deeds lead great men to the innovations of technology and the pages of history contained on the right side of the canvas, from aircrafts and railroads, to memorials and the White House. A sweeping epic of generations, the story unravels across the canvas, floating on dream-like clouds.

C.C. Coyle, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Rules the World, 1935.
C.C. Coyle, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Rules the World, 1935.

In all of these paintings, and in the words of Coyle’s diary, there is an earnesty to his call for moral fortitude and the American spirit. Although Coyle might be considered a folk artist because he was not traditionally trained, his deliberately planned, studied, carefully executed and sophisticated painting style reveals a body of work that is far more complex and cohesive than might be imagined for a naïve artist. While some research has been done on the biography and interpretation of his works, there is great potential to reveal a rich tapestry of American life.

       -Eileen Yanoviak has been selected by KMAC as the incoming University of Louisville Hite Art Institute Fellow for 2013-2014.

#whoiscccoyle

The life story of Carlos Cortez Coyle is so similar to the many Americans that lived during the Great Depression that it’s hardly newsworthy. His stories of financial and emotional trauma during this time are not what make him unique. But what does separate Coyle and arouses public attention are his 24 paintings that are on exhibit at KMAC.  This is just a small sampling of his 82 piece collection stored at Berea College in eastern Kentucky. Compositions consisting of Kentucky and California landscapes, humorous morality tales, mystical visions and most importantly a visual diary of a man concerned with leaving a lasting heritage. This special research exhibition is presented in order to lay the groundwork of including him among the names of Modern self-taught artists and to begin answering the question of Who Is C.C. Coyle?

Coyle spent the early part of his life in Dreyfus, Kentucky and in 1889 he briefly attended Berea Foundation School (now Berea College) where he was introduced to Appalachian arts and crafts. Some of his early drawings of birds, plumes, feathers and goddesses can be found in an old school diary that Berea College now possesses. Coyle left Berea before graduating for reasons unknown and moved to Florida, then Canada and eventually to San Francisco where in 1929, at the age of 60, Coyle took up oil painting and completed over a hundred works in just thirteen years.

In 1942, prompted by his failing health, Coyle paid to ship four crates from San Francisco to Berea College in Kentucky containing 47 paintings, 35 drawings and an illustrative diary of his work. He wrote a letter to the college explaining his shipment of works and the intention “to give my art to the land of my birth where I played and spent most of my youth.” Berea staff were unsure as to what to do with this unexpected collection and the works were left crated and put into storage where they remained with the occasional piece being pulled from time to time until 1960 when art professor Thomas Fern discovered the collection and held Coyle’s first solo exhibition. The exhibit received some local public recognition from the Louisville Courier Journal’s art editor William Mootz who wrote that Coyle “may some day rank as an important American primitive.” Berea Art Department staff found Coyle who at 88 was suffering from blindness and residing in Leesburg, FL. He wrote a letter of thanks to the school for showing his work in the gallery. Carlos Cortez Coyle died two years later in 1962. He was 90.

The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft presents the work of C.C. Coyle to be viewed in the larger context of exceptional naïve artists and to recognize his place in Kentucky’s art history.

Image: Carlos Cortez Coyle, Age 65 and 22. 1936, oil on canvas, 44 x 36 in. Photo: Geoffrey Carr