University Art Gallery

  • Fletcher Martin, Contract Miner, 1947

     

    Who are the Workers?

    Author: Joshua McDermott

    PhD student in Sociology and Work Forces workshop participant

    There’s a long and stubborn tendency among scholars and activist to narrowly define workers and the participants of labor movements as only those workers formally employed by a firm. In recent years, concepts such as “precarious workers,” “the precariat,” and others have been employed to claim to give theoretical salience to a supposedly new type of worker in the developed world whose work is defined by intermittent and unprotected employment. 

    In reality, there has never been a neat dividing line between workers and precarious workers, except, perhaps in the exclusionary strategies employed by some forms of trade unionism. From a historical perspective, what today we might identify as precarious workers, informal workers, household workers and the like have always been important, if not central, to labor struggles. In other words, radical worker’s movements have always been comprised of individuals who many scholars, to this day, fail to recognize as workers, due to their lack of formal employment, or the degree(s) of separation of their labor processes from direct commodity production. 

    This view is not only empirically and historically inaccurate, but also exclusionary. Through my field work in the cities of the Mano River Region of West Africa, it’s clear that informality has always been a feature of the labor movement in West Africa, where upwards of 90% of workers are either casually employed or self-employed as petty traders. Despite their lack of formal employment (i.e. employment regulated by the state, ensuring a semblance of worker protections), these workers are essential to the functioning of not only their national economies, but the global capitalist economy. 

    Pittsburgh’s labor history is no exception. My week-long immersion into the visual and archival history of Pittsburgh’s labor history during the Work Forces workshop only reaffirmed this fact. It was often in the most maligned and excluded portions of the working class that I found the most radical and coherent programs for social change. Indeed, it is on the margins of the working contract where the workers are usually the most vulnerable to mistreatment, but also the most consciousness of the injustices of the prevailing order.

    Painter Fletcher Martin’s Contract Miner, stands out as a piece within the University’s art collection that calls for direct acknowledgement of marginal workers, depicting a lone, faceless coal miner, explicitly lacking union protection. The archive’s collection of pamphlets and flyers from black workers’ and communist groups, and from feminist and women’s rights organizations, further attests to the priceless insights and holistic considerations that marginalized workers gave to the history of labor struggles in Pittsburgh. It is through the struggles and actions of the most overlooked and exploited workers that labor activism has often drawn its most profound and powerful lessons, strategies, and victories. 

    Labor historians and labor activists in Pittsburgh, and around the world, would do well to remember that. 

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Andrey Avinoff, Early American Room, 1938-1937

     

    From Massachusetts to Manila: George Clapp and the Nationality Rooms

    Author: Ellen Downs

    HAA 1020 Exhibition Development student - Fall 2019

    The Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning have long been a staple of Pitt’s campus and have evolved alongside the city since their inception in the 1920s. The newest of the rooms, the Filipino Room, opened this year in June 2019. Meant to evoke abahay na bato –stone style of house from the 18th century– this room was built to be recognizably Filipino to anyone who enters it. The room is also filled with a collection of artifacts from the Philippines, including ceramics, religious statuary and sea shells. Although not based on any specific building, the room, according to fundraising chair Tina Purpura, “reminds [her] of [her] grandparent’s home.”

    This latest addition is a world away from the first rooms built in the Cathedral. The Early American Room, constructed in 1938, was commissioned and funded by George Hubbard Clapp. Clapp’s collecting habits are subject to fresh investigation in the current exhibition at the University of Pittsburgh’s University Art Gallery (UAG), “The Curious Drawings of Doctor Clapp,” which is on show until 6 December.

    In addition to commissioning the Early American Room, Clapp also contributed to the design of the room. The room is reputed to be inspired by the ancestral home of Clapp’s first American forebear who immigrated to Massachusetts in 1630. Clapp’s own copy of the Memoirs of Roger Clap is now held in the University Library System collection, and is featured in the exhibition. Clapp also gifted many of the artifacts decorating the Early American Room, such as a needlework sampler and a set of his Colonial American coins to contribute to the room’s collection. Many similar items from Clapp’s collections are also display in the exhibition at the UAG, including his own specimens of shells collected from the Philippines and given to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    Given Clapp’s own passion for conchology, it is a curious twist that the newest Nationality Room should also include shells among its collections. Nationality Room committees may have a somewhat different agenda to that of Clapp and his peers in 1938, but at the same time, their goal of assembling the most evocative spaces and objects to represent their respective cultures remains very much the same.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    What is your aluminum story?

    Author: Sylvia Rhor Samaniego

    Director, University Art Gallery

    “What is your aluminum story?” That was the question we posed to visitors on Saturday, November 2 when the University Art Gallery (UAG) teamed up with Rivers of Steel (RoS) Arts to host a Hot Metal Happening in front of the Frick Fine Arts Building in Oakland. 

    The answers ranged from the school-spirited – dozens of Pitt students inscribed “H2P” into the mold – to the whimsical – children depicted cartoon elephants and stick figure family portraits. There were names etched in Arabic as an ode to a participant’s heritage and the symbol of the Alzheimer’s Association, as an homage to the those who work towards finding a cure for the disease. There were elaborate caricatures and elegant fleur-de-lis. 

    Whatever the subject, the finished aluminum tiles reflected the experiences and insights of the many people who visit the UAG on a daily basis. 

    That was the point. The event signaled a new phase for the UAG, which is opening its doors to community events that will allow the people of Pittsburgh to tell their own stories.

    Conceived as part of the programming for the Metal from Clay: Pittsburgh’s Aluminum Stories, currently on view in the gallery, the event is one of the many workshops offered by RoS that are inspired by the history of ironmaking on the Carrie Furnaces site. Visitors – novices and return guests, alike – are offered a chance to get hands-on and experience the metal-making process first-hand.

    More than 200 people dropped in for our workshop. Each visitor was given a scratch mold of sand to design, with the help of RoS staff. They then watched as the workers from RoS, suited in heated scrap aluminum to over 1200 degrees and poured the liquid metal into the molds. 

    The dramatic process at the foot of the Schenley Fountain, with the Cathedral of Learning rising in the background, made for an impressive site. Like the participants who added fragments of their own stories to the tiles, the event itself also told the Pittsburgh story. It spoke to the ways that aluminum is embedded into the everyday life of the city just as much as steel. 

    A selection of the finished aluminum tiles will be on view during the UAG’s second annual Maker Event on Thursday, December 5, from 5-7pm.

    Categories: 
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Learning of the Local and the Global in the Art Gallery

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2019

    My semester-long internship with the University Art Gallery promised from the start to be an exciting opportunity to expand my passion for audio-visual exhibition. The task was to assist with technological arrangements for an exhibition of Chinese video works being curated by Graduate Student Assistant Ellen Larson and set to open in the fall of 2019. The video technology aspect was mostly familiar territory for me, as I frequently organize pop-up microcinema events, which have afforded me with substantial experience in planning the logistics of presenting moving images in various formats. It was the geographic focus of the exhibition that mostly piqued my interest, as my knowledge of contemporary Chinese cinema was limited. As a cinephile who constantly endeavors to push my understanding of the medium and to foster a diverse knowledge base, this was one particular knowledge gap that I was eager to narrow.

    The perspective shift from understanding the world through the art of residents of a country foreign to my own was a welcome aspect of the internship. What I did not anticipate that my work with the UAG would encourage, however, was a different understanding of the gallery settings that were already so familiar and close to home. As the semester progressed, I was delighted to find that, in addition to a steady diet of contemporary Chinese film and video works, I was also offered opportunites to consider gallery exhibition practice beyond my familiar territory of audio-visual needs. It was often precisely in the areas where expectations were not met that I encountered the most enlightening learning experiences.

    Early in the semester, I had devised lists of equipment necessary to display each work selected for the exhibition. Moreover, I learned to use SketchUp software to create visualizations of each installation. The setups were generally straightforward -- display and playback devices, speakers, and various connecting cables -- though it was not until Ellen and I had the equipment in hand and completed a dry-run of the first setup that I began to understand some of the minutiae of exhibition planning for the gallery setting. With the installation assembled, I considered aesthetic details as precise as color and positioning of extension cords and other wires. 

    Although such elements seemed inconsequential at the SketchUp stage, seeing the installations progress from visualization to realization allowed me to understand the importance of such diminutive details to the overall aesthetic of each piece.  It also allowed me to more fully appreciate the labor that takes place within exhibition spaces. In this way, my internship with the University Art Gallery has provided a new way of seeing not just at the global level through a newfound appreciation for contemporary Chinese audio-visual culture, but also right here in Pittsburgh, since no gallery visit will ever be quite the same for me again.

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Spaces
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Version one of Mariko, Station 20

     

    Exploring Tōkaidō Road through Japanese Woodblock Prints

    Authors: Zoe Creamer and Alec Story

    Museum Studies Intern at Special Collections, University Library System - Spring 2018 and Special Topics: Museum Studies student - Spring 2018

    On March 31 2018, the Carnegie Museum of Art opened Hiroshige’s Tōkaidō Road to the public. It is the museum’s first exhibition of the Hōeidō edition of the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō in 25 years. This frequently-requested series of Japanese prints was introduced with ample information and enthusiasm during an opening lecture given by University of Pittsburgh professor and Japan Studies Coordinator Brenda Jordan, titled “A City of Consumption: The Woodblock Print Industry in Edo, Japan.” In her lecture, Dr. Jordan discussed the collaborative process of woodblock printmaking, as well as the timeless nature of Hiroshige’s Tōkaidō Road series.

    Just like any other Japanese woodblock print series, The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō required the collaboration of several skilled craftsmen in order to create a finalized print. This process began with the designer of the original image, who is usually the most well-known of the collaborators, drawing the intended design onto paper. After the designer is the woodblock carver, whose role is to whittle the base of a wooden block according to the drawn image; and then the printer, who inks the woodblocks and presses the prints. Finally, there were others who financially supported and distributed the works. In Utagawa Hiroshige’s case, the finished works were sold along the Tōkaidō road to collectors and travelers alike, either as souvenirs or as fine art to be displayed in one’s home.

    The Hōeidō edition was so immensely popular in its time that while many contemporary series produced around 8,000 copies, Hiroshige’s Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō was printed a staggering 20,000 times. This popularity was largely due to the timeless aesthetic of landscape prints compared to contemporary prints of popular subjects, such as those depicting courtesans or actors.

    When entering into the Hiroshige exhibit itself, visitors are invited “to follow in the footsteps of a 19th century traveler” and “proceed from Edo to Kyoto.” On the gallery walls are the Tōkaidō road prints themselves, some of which are duplicates that might easily be overlooked. Though woodblock prints are usually all printed from the same blocks, each print is unique due to variations in color, brightness, and quality from one printing to the next. One such print, the 20th station of the Tōkaidō, Mariko, is riddled with differences between prints. Immediately apparent is the difference in color between the two on display, but upon closer inspection, there is a spelling mistake corrected in the later printings; 丸子(Maruko) became 鞠子 (Mariko). The subject of the 20th station print is a Mariko teahouse known for its tororo jiru, a yam paste, for which the establishment remains famous to this day. The teahouse, or ochaya, also offered female entertainers, known as geisha, who, according to Japanese folk music, made it a necessary stop for traveling men. Looking to the background of the print, there stands the “Fuji of Mariko,” which references an aspect of Japan’s shared cultural knowledge that Hiroshige did not hesitate to draw upon throughout many of his works.

    The gallery also includes many elements other than the prints themselves allowing visitors to interact with and appreciate the culture of Japan. A 19th century-style board game set in the middle of the gallery attracts the attention of wanderers from the path (such as ourselves). Players can roll a die and advance along spaces that represent stops along the Tōkaidō Road in the style of Monopoly. Some spaces even listed happenings, such as delays crossing a river, adding a fun interactive element to the show which no doubt will interest many younger visitors to the exhibition. In addition to the game are two carved woodblocks, akin to those used in the printmaking process, open for visitors to touch. This tactile element offers a tangible peek into the creation of a woodblock print, as well as making the exhibit more accessible for those who are not sighted.

    Japanese woodblock prints are among the most recognizable works of art, yet the history of this medium is not often told. Our experiences in talking with Akemi May, curator of the exhibition, and listening to Dr. Jordan’s lecture, educated us in the printmaking process as well as printmaking’s historical context, enabling us to appreciate these prints for far more than just their aesthetic qualities.

    We encourage everyone, young or old, to venture into the world of Japanese printmaking by exploring the exhibit before it closes on July 22!

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Photography set up for documenting works on paper from UAG collection

     

    Documentation, Databases, and Attention to Detail

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2017

    In Spring 2017 I interned at The University of Pittsburgh’s University Art Gallery. As part of my work tasks, I worked with the CollectiveAccess database, updating object records and selecting works on paper from the collection to photograph for documentation.
    During the semester, I photographed hundreds of works on paper for several weeks, and imported nearly one hundred photographs into the database website. I archived other photo files to be easily accessible for future use. From the UAG’s extensive art collection, we prioritized documentation and photographs of Andrey Avinoff’s (1884-1949) watercolor sketches of the Nationality Rooms. Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar students used these sketches and images in the UAG exhibition, Narratives of the Nationality Rooms: Immigration and Identity in Pittsburgh

    Working alongside UAG curator, Isabelle Chartier, I found this work extremely rewarding and informative. Before this internship I had never had the opportunity to handle artwork so extensively. I value this new art handling experience while also being able to improve my skills in photography and photo editing. I enjoyed learning the gallery’s organizational systems, where I honed the attention-to-detail required to maintain accuracy within the database, object records, condition reports, storage locations, object IDs, and file naming. 
    For the internship I had to improve my time management and communication skills in order to successfully complete my work within the designated time frames. The skills that I gained while working on this project will benefit me both academically and professionally. I am thankful that I was able to complete an internship that provided hands-on experience in a gallery setting. 

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    • The Sick Child
    • Program for Death, Love and the Maiden
    The Sick Child

    1925 painting by Edvard Munch

     

    Death, Love, and the Maiden (and Me)

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Fall 2017

    I first read the title on an overcrowded spreadsheet, interesting, but no more so than Soup Tureens from the Campbell Museum, or America Underfoot: A History of Floor Coverings from Colonial Times to the Present. To me, it was just ‘EXH197502’, (no poster), one of 156 exhibits from 1969 till 2010. It only really caught my interest when I saw the program from an old file case in the Frick Fine Arts Reading Room. It was blue, crumpled, and featured a skeletal figure, cupid with a bow and arrow, and a sleeping woman. The program read, Death, Love and the Maiden with a conspicuous lack of an oxford comma. Grammar aside, it appealed to me.

    Most of my work this year, as an intern for the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery, has been useful if occasionally unglamorous. After I spent a month transferring the online exhibit Configuring Disciplines: Fragments of an Encyclopedia from the Constellations website to the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery website, I spent most of my time digitizing old posters and programs. It was a lot of unrolling posters, rerolling them into tubes, and balancing them on the shuttle on the way to the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center. Once there, I would unroll the posters, scan them one by one, and transfer the files onto a flash drive. Then I would reroll them into the tubes, balance them on the shuttle back to Hillman Library, where I would then crop and edit the files using Adobe Photoshop. After that I would crosscheck my spreadsheets, give them the proper file names, and upload them to the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery website.

    The work could become robotic, systematic, which was relaxing in some ways. It was an easy pattern I could fall into. The actual weight of what I was doing came in waves; I was holding something that might have been unseen for 40 years. These posters and programs are not just objects to be mindlessly catalogued. They are paper and cardboard objects yes, but they are also  primary sources, works of art unto themselves, and they are sometimes the last remaining artefacts of an exhibition.

    That wave of recognition came to me as I held the program for Death, Love and the Maiden in my hands. Outside of the usual research I did for my internship, I decided to investigate this particular show further. In my search, I came across a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article about the exhibition from May 21, 1975, entitled “Pitt Art Exhibit Views Women.”  The article describes the exhibition as “a modest multimedia exhibit” that is “not only inherently interesting, but does what scholarship should do: present information that deepens awareness of life and art.” The article identifies the Sick Child, a 1925 painting by Edvard Munch, as the centerpiece of the exhibit. It was the only painting exhibited and was lent to the University along with two prints of the same subject by the Munch Museum of Oslo.

    A little more research let me to an image of the painting itself. The painting is haunting; its use of bright colors stands in direct juxtaposition to its dark subject matter; an older woman sobbing next to a child’s sickbed. Clearly the image haunted Munch himself, who painted six different versions of the painting over the course of 40 years. Critics speculate that the girl in the paintings is Munch’s sister Sophie, who died of tuberculosis at 15.

    Confronted with this image, I am reminded of the closing words of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s article about Death, Love and the Maiden; “the exhibit will not be forgotten by those who study it carefully.” Forty-two years later, the statement still rings true. While working with historic objects, it is easy to become desensitized, to see them only as objects devoid of history. But every once in awhile, I come across something with a story, something that sticks to my bones, and I think of all the other people the object is still stuck with, the memories it helped create, and the effort that went into making it. Then I find myself in awe of the passage of time and the persistence of memory.

    See Madeline's work at the UAG here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Curation, CollectiveAccess, and Colloquia at the University Art Gallery

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Fall 2016

    This fall, I was brought on as the academic intern to assist UAG Curator Isabelle Chartier with organizing and entering information into CollectiveAccess, our current database. Because the UAG has a massive collection of over 3000 objects, I was tasked with working with large groups of objects at a time, researching their origins and related entities while filling in discrepancies in data. For four days of the week I would come into the gallery, plop down at my work station, log in to my computer, and get cracking at the database. While working, I would cross-check with primary sources: files on the donors, artists, and objects themselves. My work station was a perpetual mess, a space that remained in constant flux. My first duty took me a good five weeks, and that was working on the Inuit Art Collection. A large collection with a long history, it was my first real job getting used to the database and familiarizing myself with all of its fields. I was even given the chance to curate a small exhibition of works from it, which was a crazy experience - and a very rewarding one! Working with and handling the objects was nerve-wracking and thrilling, and it was a job that, in hindsight, I'm more than glad that I got the chance to help with. I moved on then to helping set up the online exhibition for Exposure: Black Voices in the Arts. This exhibition, put on last fall by the talented students of the Museum Studies Seminar, gathered works from black artists working in Pittsburgh and paired them with art by black artists within our own collection. My job was to enter each object into Collective Access, as well as any information on the objects we had, and format the exhibition to look nice. I also worked with Isabelle to send out e-mails to the artists to ask for their rights to put their images on the site. The exhibition should soon be on the UAG website for everyone to see and enjoy, so stay tuned! My last, big project was working with the Ackerman Collection, a collection of mostly contemporary prints and drawings gifted to the University through a philanthropic foundation called the Ackerman Foundation. This foundation regulated the donation of artwork to universities by connecting schools with individual donors, and then facilitating shipping and correspondence between all involved parties. When the gift arrived at Pitt, however, it came riddled with problems - some pieces were missing, with new, unmentioned ones coming in their place, among other things. The administration had documented these discrepancies before, but many objects had never been formally accessioned, and with our numbering system, both Isabelle and I were anxious about installing any changes that could cause ripples in how other objects were documented. I worked for weeks at combing through files for discrepancies, charting the movements of each object and entering in what information I could find, and with Isabelle's help and input, we got the chance to formally accession all of the works that were held in question, effectively closing the book on one of the collection's mysteries - literally on my last day at work! This internship reads on paper as a desk job working with a database, which may seem a stale prospect, but it was anything but. Working with Isabelle and Paulina Pardo, the graduate TA, was an incredibly rewarding, fun, and lively experience. Each day, I got to learn something new about our collection, and spend ages wringing my hands at questions of how to document objects as carefully as possible. At the end of the semester, I was even invited to speak at the HAA department's weekly colloquium about my work, which was a great chance to tie up loose ends, and reflect upon all that I had gotten to do here. The job was great fun, my boss was incredible (and patiently responded to all of my questions!), and I know that I'll miss going into work again when the new semester starts. Luckily, I know that I'll have another year to see all that the UAG has to offer, and I'm sure that everyone there will continue to educate, engage, and surprise us for years to come.

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