At the Sculpture Exhibition

I’m just starting research on a new project about public sculpture in New England. In the paper I’ll be focusing on art in Fitchburg, MA. There are some great monuments and works from the late 1800s and new works that have been installed in the past few years. I’m looking for a way to create a dialogue between the two.

"At the Sculpture Exhibition," Charles Courtney Curran, 1895

“At the Sculpture Exhibition,” Charles Courtney Curran, 1895

Probably the most famous sculptor from Fitchburg is Herbert Adams. From the age of five he was raised and educated in Fitchburg. The above painting by Charles Curran depicts the National Sculpture Society’s second exhibition in New York City in 1895. Herbert Adam’s relief (designed by August Saint-Gaudens, carved by Adams) for the Judson Memorial Church is mounted on the Ionic columns in the background.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens relief sculpture carved by Herbert Adams for the Judson Memorial Church in New York City

Augustus Saint-Gaudens relief sculpture carved by Herbert Adams for the Judson Memorial Church in New York City

About the Sculpture exhibition and this painting, from the book Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery:

The exhibition “changed the way Americans experienced sculpture.” “…The society accented the pieces on view with a lush array of plants and flowers creating a tranquil haven just ‘one step from the noise of the New York streets.'” (see “The Sculpture Society” New York Times, 7 May 1895, 5.)

The artist portrays himself on the left and all the figures seem lost in contemplation. “Curran’s figures demonstrate precisely the kind of ‘idleness full of thought,’ the leisurely breathing in of a refined environment, that was commonly prescribed in the Gilded Age as an antidote to the stress of the modern urban experience. Amid such noble statuary, visitors might forget the bustling metropolis outside.”

From the American Art Annual vol. 1, 1898 (277):

“At New York, in 1895, for the first time, sculpture was accorded her rights, being exhibited for the first time by itself, and exhibited, too, with such a background of architecture, trees, shrubbery and flowers, as sufficed to suggest what beautiful results might be won, if it were employed with artistic feeling in conjunction with the efforts of the landscape gardener and the architect.

It is an education which reaches in many directions. It has taught the sculptors that they must labor outside of their studios in order to gain the ear of the great busy inattentive public. Insistence on the claims of sculpture is one of the hard facts to be faced and met if the art is to be brought from the cold and marble distance where it lies closer and closer to the sympathies and affections and needs of the public. Again it is an education for art lovers who have taught themselves to discriminate fairly well in matters of oil painting and water colors, but have only vague ideas regarding that branch of art in which the element that is strongest is form, not color.”

Resources to look at:

Fitchburg Art Museum

This was my first visit to the Fitchburg Art Museum in a long time. I grew up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and remember visiting the museum on class trips and for art studio classes. It was the first museum that I spent much time at. I also completed a summer internship at the museum during my undergraduate years. It is a small museum with an encyclopedic look at art history. The galleries on the first  floor consist of Asian art, South American art, Greek and Roman art, and then in a separate space Egyptian art. Much of the art is on loan from the Sackler Museum in Washington D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the the Harvard affiliated Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Dancing Ganesha, India, 900-1000 AD, sandstone, Fitchburg Art Museum. Photograph by Tad Suiter.

Dancing Ganesha, India, 900-1000 AD, sandstone, Fitchburg Art Museum. Photograph by Tad Suiter.

Also on the first floor is the Community Gallery – a hallway space reserved for art created by students. The current exhibit consisted of papier-mâché dogs designed to reflect the art of famous artists. My favorite was the Jim Dine dog by Daphne Wong.  Each work also featured an artists statement and in Wong’s we learn that her inspiration was Dine’s Valentine paintings and Five Feet of Colorful Tools. I like the mix of hearts, pastels, and tools.

Upstairs, the main exhibition was Jeffu Warmouth: NO MORE FUNNY STUFF.

Dueling Banjo and exhibit text for Jeffu Warmouth show. Photo by Tad Suiter.

Dueling Banjo and exhibit text for Jeffu Warmouth show. Photo by Tad Suiter.

The show closed on 6/1 and if the day before it closed was any judge of attendance there might have been a couple people that got out to see it on its last day. Warmouth is an artist from New England who teaches at Fitchburg State College. Much of the work here was video and installation based. Some highlights for me included an installation of competing fast food chains “JeffuBurger” and “JFC”. At JeffuBurger I ordered the Massachusetts burger which consisted of a meat patty shaped like the state, topped with baked beans, cranberry sauce, and Boston creme. I then got to watch Jeffu take a bite.

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JeffuBurger – Massachusetts burger

Taking up a whole wall was a grocery store installation of boxes and cans, each with a custom label featuring a pun or abstract idea. There was much to read and look at here, and even later I find enjoyment in ones that I missed at first.

Jeffu Warmouth groceries

Jeffu Warmouth groceries

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Jeffu Warmouth groceries

Most all of the labels for the exhibit and throughout the museum were available in English and Spanish which I thought was interesting and a sign that the museum is trying to accommodate and engage with the Spanish-speaking demographic in Fitchburg. The museum worked with a class at Fitchburg State to create some interactives. My husband Tad enjoyed stretching his sketching skills.

The next gallery featured all video installations. A couple were video game influenced. My favorite was a set up of four TV monitors each with a Jeffu face in them. They would randomly start screaming.

The last room we went in was showing videos created by Jeffu. They were short films featuring vegetable (and some fruit) puppetry. These were funny and reminded me of the Food Party videos Thu Tran does on YouTube.

After leaving the Jeffu exhibit we checked out the photography exhibition “Building a Collection: Photography at the Fitchburg Art Museum.” This exhibit included some spectacular photographs including images by Harold Edgerton, Kenro Izu, Alfred Stieglitz, and Charles Sheeler’s camera case.

Overall, definitely a fun museum experience with a wide array of art from different cultures and time periods. I didn’t talk about the Egyptian art much in this post, but there were a few interactives we really enjoyed. These included a royal thrown that visitors are encouraged to sit on and a chance to interview for a job in Ancient Egypt. Also there were many painted panels of ancient tombs by Joseph Lindon Smith that were interesting. We flew through the African art which is located sort of awkwardly on a sky bridge that connects the two main buildings. I’m looking forward to see what comes next for the Fitchburg Art Museum.

Group of Four Trees by Jean Dubuffet

I am happy that I got to see Jean Dubuffet’s Group of Four Trees (1969-1972) sculpture out of my window last weekend while staying near Wall Street in NYC.  The financial district boasts some cool sculptures and is so small it’s easy to walk around and see all of them. The Louise Nevelson Plaza and the Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi were also not far away and I came across them by accident.

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View from Club Quarters hotel.

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From high above I thought the trees resembled a Chinese dragon, with the trunks resembling legs, but up close they sort of look like mushrooms more than trees. They are white with black outlines which makes them look like a three dimensional drawing before it has been colored in.

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