Smash the Control Images: Idiosyncratic Visions in Late Century American Art
Setting the tone for the whole exhibition, David Gilhooly’s sculpture Bust of Victoria, Her 101st Year as Queen depicts the nineteenth century British monarch not as a powerful, imperial figure, but as a wide-eyed frog dressed in royal attire. Gilhooly was a major figure in late 20th century American art, a period defined by its critique of consumer culture, high-brow European art and the state of America during the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement.
Smash the Control Images: Idiosyncratic Visions in Late Century American Art takes works from the Gund Gallery’s collection that represent an important moment in American history. The exhibition also showcases various styles of American art, from Warhol-like Pop Art to large-scale works inspired by abstract expressionism.
“All the pieces are providing commentary on something the artists considered pivotal,” curatorial intern Roberto Vasquez ’19 said. “It’s interesting to see how, in reacting to artistic trends, artists comment on the larger aspects of life and lived experience.”
Gilhooly’s sculpture touches on one major theme of this exhibition: irony. Corita Kent also displays this postmodern penchant for irony by subverting the idea that art should showcase “the artist’s hand.” Her piece Fireworks seems to be composed of brushstrokes of different colors, but the artist’s hand wasn’t involved at all. It is a silkscreen print.
Not every piece in the exhibition makes a concrete statement. “Sometimes, the artists don’t know what they’re trying to say,” Vasquez said. “In these pieces, they are allowing themselves to think and develop a reaction — they are trying to discover a statement.”
Rhythmic Light: Contemporary Cuban Photography by Arien Chang Castán and Leysis Quesada Vera
In Arien Chang Castán’s photograph Untitled (Campo Series), a young man holds a seagull out in front of him, spreading its wings to the edges of the frame. To its right is Castán’s Untitled (2011), which shows a child peeking her head out of a train window as a seagull soars in the background. These two images serve to illustrate Castán’s unique perspective of everyday life in Cuba, where people, nature and industrialization interact in compelling ways.
In addition to the photography of Castán, Rhythmic Light features images by Leysis Quesada Vera, whose work explores the intricacies of Cuba, from its small, rural towns to its capital city, Havana.
In Untitled (An Interior View #4), a mother looks down on her daughter in a dim interior. A window in the background renders the mother as a shadow and casts bright sunlight upon the girl, suggesting that the mother’s hopes for the future rest with her daughter. This mirrors a sense in Vera’s greater body of work that Cuba’s future potential is vast, even while its past remains in shadow.
The work of both Vera and Castán, and the culture they chronicle, is a product of Cuba’s tumultuous history. After the Soviet bloc collapsed in 1991, Cuba lacked resources and its people were forced to adjust to more frugal conditions.
“The Cuban people started building from what they had; they made a way of life from what they had, not what they lacked,” Vasquez said. “They tried to uplift each other.”
Rhythmic Lights encourages viewers to embrace intricacy. “[Veras and Castán] focus on the insular aspect of what it is to be Cuban, the acknowledgement of the way Cubans make joy out of what they have,” Vasquez said.
Rania Matar: SHE
In Rania Matar’s photographs, vulnerability is empowering. Her new exhibition in the Gund Gallery, Rania Matar: SHE, features variations on the same kind of image, depicting women in natural spaces. The women are often young, and they usually stand alone, surrounded by nature. When this project started, Matar was primarily interested in how women interact with their physical environment, but she was struck by young women in particular.
“The vulnerability I saw in my daughters in their teenage years is still present now that they have reached their twenties,” she said. “I am trying to touch on the fragility of this age where they are supposed to be adults but they are not quite there yet.”
Matar began this project during a 2017 residency founded by the Mellon Foundation at the Gund Gallery. After photographing women first in Ohio (including students and faculty at Kenyon) then Massachusetts, she traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, to portray what it means to be a woman across cultures.
Assistant Professor of Dance Kora Radella and her mother Alice-Anne were two Gambier residents photographed for this exhibition in Kora and Alice-Anne, Gambier, Ohio. According to Radella, “She seems to intuit the central elements of the people with whom she works within short amounts of time.” In only about an hour, Matar guided her subjects’ improvisatory poses to become the one featured in the exhibition, where Kora stands center-frame, and her mother’s head and dress peek out from behind her.
Radella was pleased with the final product. “It feels like it really embodies us and our journey versus only that one moment,” she said.
Stories of Self-Reflection: Portraiture by Women Photographers
Though portrait photographs only depict an instant in time, the works in Stories of Self-Reflection: Portraiture by Women Photographers encapsulate much more. Mary Ellen Mark’s Tiny Blowing a Bubble, Seattle, for example, depicts a 14-year-old sex worker who has been put into the adult world. She wears all black. A veil obscuring part of her face shows her loss of innocence, but she is also blowing a bubble of gum, a reminder of her childhood.
For a long time, women in photography were primarily found in front of the camera, as subjects. In the 20th century, it became clear that women photographers had a perspective informed by their former position as the subjects.
In Vivian Maier’s New York City, September 10, 1953, the photographer stands before a window on a busy city street. Her reflection is visible, but the bustle of the traffic and the photographer’s indirect gaze suggest the role women were expected to assume in the 1950s.
“The works showcase how women photographers have a different perspective in street photography because they do not make themselves the center of attention,” intern curator Jess Alperin ’18 said.
Stories of Self-Reflection also showcases the ways in which the different types of access women have to female subjects influence their perspective and treatment of subjects. A Sally Mann portrait included in the exhibition shows the photographer’s young daughter, fully naked.
“The exhibition examines how women use portraiture as a means of self-reflection,” Alperin said. “Women have a different kind of access to things and can, as mothers, for instance, view young girls in a different way than men can.”