Archive for the ‘Collection’ Category

Coney Island: 1930’s Fun on a Budget

 

Edward Laning, Coney Island Beach Scene, 1938, oil on canvas, 35 5/8 x 41 3/4 in. Gift of his family in honor of Mr. Benjamin Cone’s 80th birthday, 1980.

On October 28, 1929, the stock market began its historic sink. By the end of the next day, the market had lost over thirty billion dollars, catapulting the United States and much of the Western world into the Great Depression. The Great Depression affected every aspect of life, from having a house, food, or job to how people spent their free time. Most people no longer participated in the overwhelmingly extravagant parties which had become identified with the 1920s. They now explored more affordable ways of entertainment, from parlor and board games to spectator sports and listening to radio broadcasts.

For many New Yorkers during this time, the best way to relax in the summertime was to go to the beach at Coney Island. The beach was free; just 5 cents for the subway ride was required. The amusements and atmosphere of Coney Island consequently became the subject of numerous artworks. Compare Laning’s painting with a painting by Louis Lozowick, Coney Island, from 1935:

Laning’s painting portrays the frivolity of Coney Island while still subtly showing the tense undertones evident during the Great Depression. Lozowick’s piece conveys a much more overt and ominous tone. His painting depicts the darkness and foreboding that permeated all aspects of life at the time, including leisure activities and amusement parks. In contrast, note the similarities between Edward Laning’s painting and this video of New Yorkers at leisure at Coney Island and in city parks.

Meet Me Down at Coney Island (1930)

Which work is most effective communicating the times in your opinion?

Edward Laning’s Coney Island Beach Scene can be seen at the Weatherspoon Art Museum as a part of their Telling Tales: Narratives from the 1930s exhibition in the Gregory D. Ivy Gallery until May 13, 2012.

Post written by Stephanie Krysiak, a second year History Master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

 

Tom Burckhardt Gift

 
"Whiteout" by Tom Burckhardt

Tom Burckhardt, "Whiteout", 2006, ink and digitized image on paper, 36 x 80 in. Gift of Lysiane Luong Grooms and Red Grooms, 2012.

The Weatherspoon Art Museum is pleased to announce that it just received a gift of a work on paper by the artist, Tom Burckhardt.  Burckhardt was a Falk Visiting Artist last semester, and his solo exhibition closed on Jan. 8th.  The new acquisition, entitled Whiteout, is unlike the works that were on display.  More narrative and descriptive, but equally conceptual, it features the artist in a snow-covered, Asian-inspired landscape contemplating an easel painting and by extension, the act and purpose of painting.

The work on paper was donated by the artist Red Grooms, whose work was recently on view in Altered States & Visions and for whom Burckhardt worked for many years as a studio assistant, and his wife Lysiane Luong.

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Bellocq’s Storyville: New Orleans at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

 
E.J. Bellocq, "Girl Lying on Grass Chaise Lounge"

E.J. Bellocq, "Girl Lying on Grass Chaise Lounge", c. 1911-13, gelatin silver print, 8 x 9 7/8 in. Museum purchase with funds from the Benefactors Fund, 1973.

Although he was wealthy from a family inheritance and considered a part of the elite of New Orleans, E.J. Bellocq made his living mostly by taking photographic records of landmarks, ships and machinery for local companies.  He gained posthumous fame, however, for his personal photographs of the hidden underside of local life, notably the prostitutes of Storyville, New Orleans’ legalized red light district. Although it is possible that these images were made for commercial purposes—photographs of prostitutes were included in Blue Books, advertisements created by the city’s brothels—it seems more likely that Bellocq personally knew the women in his photographs, given their ease with the camera and their willingness to pose and sometimes even feign for it. Upon his death in 1949, Bellocq’s possessions, along with the disreputable photographs, were given to his brother, Leon, a Jesuit priest. When the photographs were discovered years later, many of the women’s faces had been scratched out. Initially it was speculated that Leon scratched the photos upon receiving them, but this is no longer believed since the damage was done in the emulsion rather than on the glass plate negatives.

The young E.J. Bellocq

Young E.J. Bellocq. photo courtesy of Tulane Special Collections.

The district of Storyville was created in 1897 when Alderman Sidney Story decided that the expansion of brothels in New Orleans needed to stop because they drove down building and family values. Knowing full well that banning prostitution would be ineffective, Story set out to regulate it. He created a thirty-five block area in which prostitution was legal, and banned it in the rest of the city. This area quickly became one of the most scandalous red-light districts in the United States, and much to the ire of Alderman Story, came to bear his name.

Storyville and Bellocq himself, have become infamous symbols of New Orleans at the turn of the century. Several movies, including the 1992 film, Storyville, and the 1978 film starring Brooke Shields and Susan Sarandon, Pretty Baby, focus on this particularly notorious and fascinating part of New Orleans’ history. This photograph by Bellocq will be on display until April 8, 2012 in the exhibition To What Purpose? Photography as Art and Documentary at Weatherspoon Art Museum.

Post written by Stephanie Krysiak, a second year History Master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Thanks to Elaine Gustafson, Curator of Collections, Weatherspoon Art Museum.

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Great Depression Era Photography

 
Titus Oakley family stripping, tying, and grading tobacco in their bedroom...

Marion Post Wolcott, "Titus Oakley family stripping, tying, and grading tobacco in their bedroom...", 1939

The photograph of Titus Oakley and his family shows the necessity of a family working together to make ends meet. During the Great Depression, this was commonplace; families depended on the labor of all members to survive. Men felt responsible for supporting their families, and in the wake of the depression, were troubled by their inability to be the sole providers. Whether they could provide or not, men were still considered by society to be the head of the household. This belief is evident in through the photo of the Oakley family because Titus is the only person whose name is recorded. Even in later photographs, which focus on his wife and daughter and do not include him, his wife and daughter are not given names. They are defined in relation to him.

Marion Post Wolcott, the photographer of this piece, was hired by the Farmer Security Administration (FSA) during the Great Depression to document the lives of the rural and small town poor. From 1935 to 1944, the photographers hired by the FSA took photos, which were used to draw support for impoverished farmers. The images taken in this campaign were often published in popular magazines and are credited with creating the perception of the Great Depression held today. Wolcott took this picture, and two others, of the Oakley family working with tobacco. One is of Mrs. Oakley, barefoot, hanging the tobacco.

Mrs. Oakley

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection

Another photo of the Oakley family is of the Oakley’s eight-year old daughter stripping and tying the tobacco in their bedroom since it had become too cold for them to work outside.

Oakley Daughter

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection

These photos were taken in 1939, the year after Dr. Raymond Pearl published the first report stating that non-smokers lived longer than smokers. While this fact would be debated for many years, it marked a significant moment in the tobacco industry.

Through April 8, 2012, you can visit the Weatherspoon Art Museum to see the photo of the Oakley family (from the Weatherspoon’s collection) and try to figure out for yourself what their life was really like, in the To What Purpose? Photography as Art and Document exhibition in Gallery 6.

The Library of Congress also has over 160,000 of the FSA photos published online at the following website.

Post written by Stephanie Krysiak, a second year History Master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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Return of “Woman”

 
Willem de Kooning, "Woman", 1949-1950

Willem de Kooning, "Woman", 1949-1950, oil on canvas, Lena Kernodle McDuffie memorial purchase, 1954.

As many of you may know, WAM recently loaned Woman by Willem de Kooning (1949-1950, oil on canvas) to the Musem of Modern Art’s blockbuster exhibition de Kooning: A Retrospective (September 18, 2011–January 9, 2012). As is common among many museums lending artworks to exhibitions at other institutions, one condition of this loan was that a courier must accompany the artwork to and from the MoMA. The role of a courier is to ensure that an artwork travels safely to its destination, to monitor the unpacking and installation of the work, and to closely inspect the work’s condition to make sure that it has not been affected by the rigors of travel.  The Registrars Committee of the American Association of Museums even has a “Code of Practice for Couriering Museum Objects.” I was pleased to serve as the courier for the return of the work but also a bit nervous, knowing the responsibilities it entailed. My worries manifested in concerns of slipping on an icy New York sidewalk and rendering myself unable to perform my courier duties.

Arrangements were made for me to fly to New York and report to MoMA following the close of the exhibition. After providing the proper credentials, I was escorted by the exhibition’s registrar into the gallery where Woman hung, surrounded by other works from de Kooning’s second Woman series. Our Woman more than held her own amongst the other ‘gals’. Crates were staged along the floor and I quickly recognized the crate for our painting standing nearby.  A few other couriers were working in various areas of the gallery and overseeing their works being packed. I was assigned to one of the painting conservators working on the exhibition who, coincidentally, had examined Woman upon her arrival with Registrar Heather Moore back in August.

Willem de Kooning with WAM "Woman"

Photo: Harry Bowden, January 1950; photo of Willem de Kooning with WAM's "Woman" painting.

Together we closely examined the work, referencing the condition report created prior to the painting’s departure from the Weatherspoon. A condition report is a document containing images and detailed notes about the condition of a work (i.e. cracks in paint, marks, abrasions, etc.). After examining the painting and the frame we jointly concluded that there had been no changes to the condition of the work since its arrival at MoMA. I was happy to learn from the conservator that Woman was in good condition in relation to other de Kooning works from this time period.  Once we were finished with the condition report a team of two preparators (museum professionals whose duties include handling and installing artwork) packed the work into its crate while I observed. The crate was custom designed by a fine arts crater to protect the work during travel. After Woman was packed securely in the crate I reviewed the schedule and arrangements with the MoMA staff for the next leg of Woman’s journey via fine arts shipper.

Myra Scott at MoMA

In front of images demonstrating the stages of the artist’s work in de Kooning: A Retrospective

I reported back to the MoMA the next day to observe the crate being moved by the MoMA preparators through the museum and onto the fine art shipper’s awaiting vehicle. Trucks and vans used in fine arts shipping are typically outfitted with environmental controls (including temperature and humidity regulation), air ride and other security measures and are manned by two drivers. After the crate was loaded, strapped into place, and the doors to the vehicle secured, locked, and alarmed, I joined the two drivers as we set forth on our way back south.

Condition Report

My folder of paperwork with the condition report

The eleven hour ride home was fortunately fairly uneventful except for some very heavy rain in Virginia. As we drew closer to Greensboro I was in contact with WAM staff on the other end who were patiently awaiting our arrival. The painting was quickly and carefully offloaded and moved into our secure storage, where it remained crated for at least 24 hours to allow it to acclimatize. This is done so the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air and the microclimate existing in the crate slowly and gradually adjust so as not to cause any drastic changes that would cause damage to a work (i.e. a canvas expanding and contracting due to severe humidity changes). After the acclimatization period our preparators unpacked the work and it was examined again using the condition report. We were pleased and relieved to find that Woman had travelled safely to and from New York.

Traffic Greensboro

View of rainy highway en route to North Carolina.

You’ll have a chance to welcome Woman home when she goes on view in Highlights of the Permanent Collection this fall.

Posted by Myra Scott, Assistant Registrar, Weatherspoon Art Museum

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