Researching the Collection

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Dodo in the Studio, 1910, Pastel on paper. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Gift of Paul and Susan Freehling in memory of Mrs. Edna Freehling, 2002.70.

The Smart has been awarded the Association of Art Museum Directors's first Samuel H. Kress Foundation Provenance Research Fellowship.

The year-long fellowship will allow Max Koss, a graduate student from the University of Chicago's Department of Art History, to delve into the full provenance, ownership, and exhibition histories of key works of art from the Museum's collection, including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Dodo in the Studio (pictured) and a number of other works featured in the upcoming exhibition Expressionist Impulses: German and Central European Art, 1890–1990. The fellowship includes a residency at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

In other collection research news, Rainbow Porthé has been named the Smart Museum's Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Curatorial Intern for 2015–2016. During the appointment, Porthé, who is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History, will research the Smart's collection of pre-1900 European art with a focus on a major upcoming exhibition that will offer a transhistorical perspective on "classicism."

The Mellon Foundation Curatorial Internship began at the Smart in 2009 and is awarded each year to an advanced graduate student at the University of Chicago.


Marcel Duchamp: Boîte-en-valise

By Angela Steinmetz, Former Head Registrar, Smart Museum of Art

In the late 1930s, Marcel Duchamp struck upon the idea of presenting a history of his best works in a small, portable box.

From this idea came the Boîte-en-valise, or “Box in a Valise,” which eventually grew to a series of 300 boxes (in seven separate editions) filled with reproductions of his works. This collection of multiples offers numerous starting points for dialogue on Duchamp, art history, and the nature of museums and exhibitions.

Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase.”—Marcel Duchamp

The Smart Museum acquired a Boîte-en-valise in 1983 with the understanding that it would be heavily used for education purposes. Of course, the Smart also has a mission to preserve its collections for future generations. Striking a balance between these two priorities has been a challenge, as opening the Boîte is an essential part of understanding the work but also causes inevitable wear and tear each time it is done.

Installation view of Marcel Duchamp, Box in a Valise (Boîte-envalise), 1935–41 (1963 edition)In Objects and Voices, the Boîte-en-valise is displayed together with a video of it being opened. To further facilitate use, extensive photo documentation of the piece is available online and a special display case was designed to limit unnecessary light exposure.

Following the exhibition opening, in spring 2015, the Smart received, as a gift from Helen Zell, a second example of the Boîte-en-valise. The acquisition resolves a major dilemma for the Museum and helps to ensure that visitors and UChicago students and scholars can continue to view this seminal, but fragile work by Duchamp.

A version of this article was originally published in the gallery guide to Objects and Voices.


Times and Places that Become Us

By Kenneth Warren, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago

On April 21st, 1969, Romare Bearden’s The Stroll was purchased for $500 from Bearden by Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man, which, along with Richard Wright’s 1940 Native Son and Toni Morrison’s 1987 Beloved, is one of the most important novels written by a black American during the last 60 years of the 20th century.

I confess I can’t help seeing in the more realistically depicted male figure a resemblance to a photo of Ellison of which I have a vague memory, and indeed it could possibly be true, given Bearden and Ellison’s decadeslong friendship, that the painter had Ellison in mind in creating the image.

In 1968, the same year as The Stroll, Ellison wrote “The Art of Romare Bearden” as an introduction to the catalog that accompanied an exhibition of the artist’s work at the Art Gallery of the State University of New York, Albany. In that essay, Ellison laid out a program for what he called “the Negro artist” who must face the challenge of acknowledging and yet overcoming, through the medium of painting itself, that which is merely social, merely sociological, or merely ethnographic in the experiences of blacks in America.

The mere fact that Bearden decides to depict just a moment, say, in the afternoon of a man walking his dog is in itself a kind of challenge to the history of the depiction of black Americans because it's such a casual, non-dramatic incident.”—Kenneth Warren

For all of the artists represented in my Objects and Voices micro-exhibition Times and Places that Become Us—Bearden, Kerry James Marshall, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems, the challenge is to stage, on flat surfaces upon which images are arranged and collaged, the agonistic encounter of social predicament and artistic imperatives.

Times and Places that Become Us conveys the often overlooked historical and temporal parameters that have shaped discussions of African American identity over the 20th century—the idea that “we” are never who we were, but are still in some ways subject to the pull of past times and remembered places.

A version of this article was originally published in the gallery guide to Objects and Voices. Join Professor Warren on a tour of the micro-exhibition on April 18.


Interaction: British and American Modernist Design

By Alice Kain, Assistant Registrar and Coordinator of Academic Initiatives

The Arts and Crafts movement is perhaps best described as an attitude rather than a style. Originating in Britain in the middle of the nineteenth century, its motivations were social and moral, placing the artisan above the machine. Arts and Crafts designers and philosophers believed that the production of beautiful handmade objects had the ability to lift up all classes.

I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few” —William Morris

By the turn of the twentieth century, Arts and Crafts designs and ideas had become internationally influential. In
Chicago, the philosophy of the movement was met with interest by professors at the newly founded University. Young architects and designers, as well as philanthropists and craftspeople, established the Second City as a hub for modernist design in America.

This Objects and Voices micro-exhibition shows the relationship between British arts and crafts and American design and architecture. Highlights include the effect the movement had on Chicago, and the role of this University at the time.

A version of this article was originally published in the gallery guide to Objects and Voices. Make your own beuatiful handmade designs during the Smart's free Clocks by Knox event on April 9.