Knowing What to Leave Out: Bowdoin Senior Learns the Art of Curating

Last summer Daniel Rechtschaffen ’18 found himself in a storage unit off campus sorting through hundreds of uncatalogued works of art of varying quality, all of them bequeathed to Bowdoin College by Artine Artinian ’31. Artinian was a literary professor at Bard College and a leading scholar of nineteenth-century French literature.

Artinian (1907-2005) was a colorful figure who arrived in the US as an impoverished European immigrant in 1920. For a while he worked as a shoe shine boy and learned English by listening to his customers, some of whom helped pay his fees at Bowdoin. He was also a prolific art collector, whose collection has not seen the light of day for nearly five decades.

Enter art history major Rechtschaffen, who volunteered his services to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art as a guest curator—his first experience as such—to put together an exhibition showcasing some of the Artinian collection.

Where the Artist’s Hand Meets the Author’s Pen: Drawings from the Artine Artinian Collection, runs until March 18, 2018. As well being an homage to Artinian himself, said Rechtschaffen, the show also provides an insight into aspects of French culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (Handily, Rechtschaffen is also pursuing a minor in Francophone studies.)

“We at the museum are very grateful to Daniel for taking on the mammoth task of sorting through these works and deciding which ones to put on display,” said curator Joachim Homann. “Previous staff here never got around to dealing with it and the collection fell in oblivion in off-site storage. Luckily Daniel stepped forward!”

On February 27, 2018, Daniel Rechtschaffen ’18 will be joined by Meryem Belkaid, assistant professor of Romance languages and literatures, for a discussion French caricatures, illustrations, and drawings by writers from the Artine Artinian collection. The event will take place at 4.15 p.m. in the Museum of Art’s Northend Gallery.

Alfred Le Petit. Masques Pour Le Mardi Gras ca. 1898

Cartoons inspired by the Dreyfus Affair

Among the works on display are a series of drawings by the French caricaturist Alfred Le Petit, inspired by the so-called ‘Dreyfus Affair.’ Alfred Dreyfus was a French army officer wrongly convicted and imprisoned for treason in 1895. Dreyfus was Jewish and his wrongful conviction is seen as an example of the widespread anti-Semitism in France at that time.

Among those who campaigned on his behalf was the celebrated author Emile Zola. Dreyfus was pardoned in 1899 and fully exonerated seven years later. Le Petit’s drawings betray the anti-Semitism of the time and cast Dreyfus in an unfavorable and often grotesque light.

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