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.


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.


The Gift of Art

Gifts constitute one of the most important ways that an art museum’s collection is sustained and increased over time. However, visitors to a museum rarely have access to the individual stories behind those gifts of art.

Listening to [artist Suh Se-Ok] reciting the poetry, I was overcome with a nostalgic longing, as for a brief moment, I thought I was hearing my own father.”—Gay-Young Cho (Member, Smart Museum Board of Governors)

Stralsunder Türme has been on my walls for sixty years”—Alan Fern (Former Director, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Life Member, Smart Museum Board of Governors; PhD'60, Art History, University of Chicago)

I think of it a bit like a mythical object conjured up by Borges in his wonderful story “The Aleph,” which is about a place in which infinity can be seen.”—W. J. T. Mitchell (Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Services Professor of English Language and Literature, Art History, and the College, University of Chicago)

Charles Edmé Saint-Marcel-Cabin, Studies of Vultures, n.d., Charcoal heightened with red chalk and white wash, Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Gift of Peter and Linda Parshall, 2014.58. 

It was the hilarious cast of characters in the drawing that I think struck us first: variously quizzical, huffy, flustered, predatory, and regal. These are probably either lappet-faced or red-headed vultures observed in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, a favorite haunt for artists at the time. The delicate pinks against the charcoal and gray paper help to convert a sinister gathering of raptors into a light-hearted comedy.”—Peter Parshall (Former Curator of Old Master Prints, National Gallery of Art; PhD'74, Art History, University of Chicago)

The Gift of Art, a micro-exhibition presented in Objects and Voices, features four diverse works given in honor of the Smart Museum’s 40th anniversary, accompanied by remarks from the donors—Gay-Young Cho, Alan Fern, W. J. T. Mitchell, and Peter Parshall—on what drew them to a given object in the first place, what living with that work has meant to them, and what caused them to choose the Smart as the best eventual home for it.

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


The Impact of a Collection

Installation view of Carved, Cast, Crumpled

By Anthony Hirschel, Dana Feitler Director

This is an extraordinary year for the Smart Museum. With the presentation this fall of Carved, Cast, Crumpled: Sculpture All Ways as the first of our 40th anniversary exhibitions, we provide persuasive evidence of the extent to which the ongoing presence of great works of art can help to define a museum’s path and establish its reputation.

The Joel Starrels, Jr. Memorial Collection of sculpture and related works arrived as a founding gift to the Smart through the friendship of members of the Starrels and Smart families. The collection, the subject of the inaugural exhibition in 1974, immediately established the Smart as an art museum of consequence.

Now, 40 years later, Carved, Cast, Crumpled pays tribute to the Museum’s early days; the Smart’s first exhibition inspired our decision to remake the entire Museum, turning our galleries over entirely to sculpture in all its glorious diversity. It makes for a remarkable and entirely unique transformation.


Material Study

NU-ACCESS material study at the Smart

Where does a sculpture come from? If it’s a bronze from the early 20th century, you can flip it over and check the foundry mark on the bottom. Occasionally, however, these sculptures were never stamped. In other cases, the foundry mark may be unreliable.

Over the past year, researchers from the Northwestern University–Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) analyzed the elemental compositions of 23 sculptures from the Smart’s collection using material samples and a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. Project team member Monica Ganio will share the findings at a public talk at the Smart on November 19 at 1 pm.