Tag Archives: art

" Astronauta y testigos, televisados," 1971, oil on canvas by RAQUEL FORNER, Argentine, 1902-1988. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin; Gift of Barbara Duncan, 1973.

First Exhibition of Art from Across the Americas Influenced by the Space Race and Science Fiction opens at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Exhibition charts artistic production from North, Central, and South America during the Cold War Era, featuring works by Raquel Forner, Gyula Kosice, Roberto Matta, and Robert Smithson, among others.

" Astronauta y testigos, televisados," 1971, oil on canvas by RAQUEL FORNER, Argentine, 1902-1988. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin; Gift of Barbara Duncan, 1973.

” Astronauta y testigos, televisados,” 1971, oil on canvas by RAQUEL FORNER, Argentine, 1902-1988. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin; Gift of Barbara Duncan, 1973.

Opening March 5, 2015, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art presents an exhibition that explores the impact of the Space Race, science fiction, and the explosive growth of technological innovation on artists of the Americas from the 1940s to the 1970s. Past Futures: Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas features over 60 works in a range of media and creative styles—from expressionist paintings and kinetic sculptures to graphite drawings and conceptual pieces. Drawing on works from public and private collections from North and South America, the exhibition investigates how artists from the United States and several Latin American countries interpreted notions of conquest, discovery, and crossing into new territories—both terrestrial and celestial. Curated by Sarah J. Montross, Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Curatorial Fellow at the BCMA, and on view at Bowdoin from March 5 – June 7, 2015, Past Futures broadens the conversation beyond avant-garde art of postwar Europe, the Soviet Union, and the United States by shining new light on artworks created by Latin American artists at this time, and examining the complex relationships between the American continents during this transformative era.

The works featured in Past Futures are presented against the backdrop of mounting Cold War tensions as the United States called for Pan-Americanist economic and political policies that emphasized stronger North and South American solidarity against the spread of communism. Simultaneously, the rise of the Space Race gripped international attention, and the science fiction genre flourished in film and literature cultures across the Americas. Past Futures investigates how artists from the United States and several Latin American countries, including Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, navigated these complex political and cultural shifts and showcases their creative reactions to the emergence of new technologies, such as robotics, rocketry, and computer systems.


"Fra Mauro Region of the Moon," 1972, from the series "Lithographs Based on Geologic Maps of Lunar Orbiter and Apollo Landing Sites," 1972, ten lithographs. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Gift of Anne MacDougall and Gil Einstein in honor of Marjorie B. Cohn (M26547). © Nancy Graves Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

“Fra Mauro Region of the Moon,” 1972, from the series “Lithographs Based on Geologic Maps of Lunar Orbiter and Apollo Landing Sites,” 1972, ten lithographs. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg
Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Gift of Anne MacDougall and Gil Einstein in honor of Marjorie B. Cohn (M26547). © Nancy Graves Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

“Artists practicing in the Americas during the postwar period have an extraordinary, underexplored story to tell,” said Montross.

“By merging the empirical languages of science and technology with their expansive imaginations, they developed their own ‘visual science fictions,’ many of which have only come to scholarly attention in recent years. Given their diverse experiences of exile and migration—as they traveled throughout the Americas and Europe—the themes of extraterrestrial travel and alien encounters added metaphorical value to their art. Technological and scientific innovations developed quite differently across the Western hemisphere, and the work in Past Futures offers a unique lens to consider inter-American exchanges and divergences related to art, science, and technology.”

Offering an in-depth view of this artistic period, Past Futures is centered on four principle themes: representations of cosmic spaces and otherworldly encounters; the possibilities of space travel through new visual technologies; the dynamics of time travel; and the preoccupation with utopian or dystopian futures. Notable works in the exhibition include:

  • Roberto Matta’s La Vie Est Touchée (1957), a stunning canvas that depicts alien-totemic figures and threatening technological devices that shuttle across a cosmic inscape;
  •  Robert Smithson’s Yucatan Mirror Displacements (1969), a series of nine photographs based on the artist’s installation of 12-inch square mirrors on dispersed sites, created during his trip to Mexico in 1969. Together, the mirrors reflected and refracted the surrounding environments, shattering and displacing images of the landscape—thus destabilizing traditional notions of the passage of time.
  •  Raquel Forner’s painting Astronauta y testigos, televisados (1971), a vibrantly colored painting picturing an encounter between astronauts and mutant beings from outer space; and,
  •  Gyula Kosice’s La ciudad hidroespacial (1942-1972; ongoing), a visionary multimedia project consisting of small-scale Plexiglas maquettes, architectural diagrams, and writings that detail designs for a new society stationed thousands of feet above the earth’s surface, which conveys the artist’s belief in the future as a site of unrealized and unlimited opportunity.
  •  Michelle Stuart’s Southern Hemisphere Star Chart I (1981), a mixed media piece based on the artist’s travels to southern Peru where massive abstract and figurative patterns believed to correspond to constellations appear in the Nazca desert.

Past Futures provides an exciting opportunity to engage our Museum, College, and broad visiting audiences with art works that spark both the scientific and artistic imagination, and transport us to an era rich with inventive and creative possibilities,” said Anne Collins Goodyear, Co-Director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. “The exhibition, along with its accompanying catalogue and public programs, brings to light a crucial aspect of the postwar period that will strengthen not only our knowledge of these works of art but also our understanding of this complex period of inter-American relations amid the Cold War,” continued Frank Goodyear, Co-Director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Published in conjunction with The MIT Press, a fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition and includes essays by Sarah J. Montross, as well as Rodrigo Alonso, independent scholar and curator; science fiction scholar Miguel Ángel Fernández Delgado; and Dr. Rory O’Dea, an expert on the work of Robert Smithson. The publication will lay groundwork for future research on the works included in the exhibition, as well as American art of the postwar period as a whole.

Major programming related to the exhibition will feature a keynote public lecture by a major visiting scholar, a music performance, as well as gallery talks and film screenings, including:

  • “Music at the Museum: Sebastian Back to 2001: A Space Odyssey” – March 5, 2015
    Presented in conjunction with the opening of Past Futures, Bowdoin Artist in Residence George Lopez presents an evening of “Futurist music” and close encounters with the “alien” in the history of musical evolution.
  • Latitude 0’08791: Latin American Artists and Science Fiction” – March 26, 2015
    A keynote lecture by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, Ph.D., director of the Cisneros Foundation, that will explore the ways in which various artists from Latin America used science and space travel as metaphors for expressing present day realities and imagined futures.
  • Film Screening: “Nostalgia for the Light” (2011) – March 31, 2015
    A film screening of the award-winning documentary exploring the convergence of astronomical observations, pre-Colombian archaeology, and Chile’s tumultuous political history, followed by a panel discussion with Allen Wells, Roger Howell, Jr., professor of history, Sarah Childress, visiting assistant professor of cinema studies, and Sarah Montross.
  • “Snapshots of Dust and Time: Astronomy and Visual Art” – April 16, 2015
    Elise Weaver, laboratory instructor in Bowdoin’s department of physics and astronomy, leads an interdisciplinary discussion about representations of the cosmos in astrophotography and other visual media.
  •  Artist’s Talk: Saya Woolfalk – April 30, 2015
    Contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk presents on how science fiction and ethnography have informed her recent multi-disciplinary series, including her creation of the “Empathics,” an invented society of mythological beings who blend racial and ethnic differences, and dissolve the line between humans and plants.

The exhibition is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

by Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Fifty Years Later: Museum’s Landmark 1964 Exhibition Comes Back to Life, Digitally

Contact sheet of photos taken in the days leading up to the 1964 opening of The Portrayal of the Negro in American Painting. Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine.

Contact sheet of photos taken in the days leading up to the 1964 opening of The Portrayal of the Negro in American Painting. Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine.

Fifty years ago, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art opened its exhibition The Portrayal of the Negro in American Painting. This critically acclaimed show, featuring 80 works brought together from major museums and private collections nationwide, was visited by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other luminaries during its extended run during the summer of 1964.

Now, that landmark show has been born again as a virtual exhibition. Launched on November 11, Fifty Years Later: The Portrayal of the Negro in American Painting is the result of a collaboration between Bowdoin students, faculty, and staff in the Museum, Art History department, Digital and Computational Studies Initiative, and Library.

The website’s launch will be marked with a lecture by visiting speaker Bridget R. Cooks, associate professor in the program in African American studies and the department of art history at the University of California, Irvine. Held in Kresge Auditorium at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, her talk Double Consciousness: Remembering Black Images in American Struggles for Freedom will explore the exhibition in the context of American struggles for racial equality for the visual arts. The lecture will also be streamed live on Bowdoin’s Live Webcasts page.

The Fifty Years Later project germinated when the Museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Sarah Montross, began talking with Assistant Professor of Art History Dana Byrd about ways to commemorate this important exhibition on its fiftieth anniversary. Byrd decided to bounce some ideas off of the students in her upper-level seminar Race and Visual Representation. “When I mentioned the show to them, they were so excited about creating a digital legacy for it,” Byrd said. Her course syllabus switched gears, and her students began digging for archival information about the exhibition. Each researched the backgrounds of 10 artworks and wrote a research paper related to the show. Then the students distilled their papers into shorter essays for the website.


The Orchard, oil on canvas, by Francis Coates Jones, American, 1857 –1932. Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine. An essay by Taylor Guiffre ’14 explores the significance of this work.

The result was something that not only commemorates the historic show but actually breathes new life into it, establishing a widely accessible resource that can be used for years to come. The eighty artworks are digitally reproduced in full color on the Gallery page of the site, while a History page of essays by students and faculty provides historical and sociopolitical context for the show.

“We’ve created a bigger picture that documents the art in the show, the people responsible for bringing this collection together, and the atmosphere of Bowdoin during the civil rights movement,” said participant Elisabeth Strayer ’15. Strayer’s essay focuses on renowned historian Sidney Kaplan, author of the introductory essay to the exhibition’s original catalogue.

Montross noted the “concentric circles of research” that went into the site. “There are essays focusing on single works of art in the show, and then there are essays about overarching themes of the show and how it affected the Bowdoin campus, and then how it related to major issues such as the civil rights movement at the time,” she said. “So through the website you can explore the exhibition on all of those different levels.”

She added that she and Byrd have found few examples of similar digital exhibitions, and fewer still that rival the caliber of Fifty Years Later. “It’s a forward-looking project,” she said.

Alongside the student essays the site contains pieces by Montross, Byrd, and Jen Jack Gieseking of the Digital and Computational Studies Initiative. As a third advisor for the exhibition, Gieseking helped the team conceptualize the scope of what could be accomplished technologically and provided ongoing digital expertise for the website and its content – such as the “provenance map” featured in one of the essays, depicting the geographic movement of the paintings between 50 years ago and today.


Cover of the 1964 exhibition catalogue The Portrayal of the Negro in American Painting, published by Bowdoin College. Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine.

Yet another collaborative partner in the project was the Bowdoin College Library’s George H. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives, where students conducted much of their archival research with additional guidance from director Richard Lindemann. This past summer, Special Collections staff and students also digitized the exhibition’s original catalogue, designed by artist Leonard Baskin and now out of print, as a pilot project for their new initiative to digitize all of the Museum’s catalogues.

The digitized catalogue is accessible through a link on the About page of the new website, which also acknowledges some of the many contributors to the virtual exhibition project.

The site itself was designed by computer science and visual arts student Cody Stack ’16, recruited by Gieseking for the project. Never having designed a website before, Stack started out by modifying a WordPress template – but, finding it unequal to his vision for the site, scrapped the template and began teaching himself new coding skills. Working through the summer on a Mellon Humanities Fellowship, Stack created a whole new site from scratch. Not only is this an impressive demonstration of technological skill, Montross said, “it’s also really sophisticated to take all of this unfamiliar art historical material and synthesize it in a way that’s so clean and accessible.”

As Montross and Byrd hoped, the site helps the exhibition to be recognized for what it is: a groundbreaking show for its time. In her essay The 1964 Show: An Overview, Emily Stewart ’16 explains:

Portrait of a Gentleman, ca. 1830, oil on panel, by an unknown American artist. Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine.

Portrait of a Gentleman, ca. 1830, oil on panel, by an unknown American artist. Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine.

Marvin Sadik, the museum curator, had a distinct vision for the show, which reflected his views of the function of art museums in society and the correspondence between African-Americans’ position in society and their representation in art. His mission was not to create an activist social commentary, but rather to provide a survey of great American paintings with largely positive portrayals of African-American subjects.

Yet, Stewart continues,

The exhibition concluded with Jack Levine’s Birmingham, 1963, a social realist painting that comments on racial injustice. These final images suggest emerging African-American social independence and reaction against oppression. They create a narrative of social progress that was well suited to the show’s political context during the civil rights movement.

In addition to being sociopolitically important, the 1964 show also marked a turning point for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. As curator, Sadik – who is profiled in an essay by Gretchen Williams ’14 – spent a full year’s exhibitions budget on the summer show, which then brought in more visitors than the Museum had formerly seen in a year.

“It was really eye-opening for the students, because when you look into the archives you get to see this correspondence from Sadik inviting important figures like Jacqueline Kennedy and the Treasurer of the NAACP to this exhibition,” Montross said. “So you see the way this exhibition really had a national presence, and how ambitious the curator and the organizers were at the time.” The exhibition, along with Baskin’s masterfully executed catalogue, helped to establish the Museum as a nationally recognized venue for large-scale exhibitions and world-class publications.

Jessica Holley ’15 does archival research for the virtual exhibition

Jessica Holley ’15 does archival research for the virtual exhibition

This digital boost is critical in giving the 1964 show the attention it deserves. “The exhibition is included in the art historiography, but not as well as we would like it to be,” Byrd said. The original catalogue – while historically important, as described in an essay by Alex Pigott ’14 – reproduces the paintings only in black and white.  To physically recreate the exhibition would be overwhelmingly expensive and laborious, given that the artworks are owned by major institutions across the country.

The virtual exhibition elegantly circumvents these limitations with its complete, full-color gallery and its rich contextual information, all available for anyone to work with – from Bowdoin professors using it as a tool in their classes, to interested students, to scholars worldwide, such as guest speaker Cooks. And it may even pave the way toward solving some mysteries about the exhibition – for example, the whereabouts of a handful of paintings that have disappeared in the past half century. “Maybe by disseminating this we’ll encourage someone to come forward and share,” Byrd said.

The site’s functionality is also what made it such a valuable learning and teaching opportunity for Byrd’s class. “The students mentioned that it was exciting for them to work on this seminar topic that allowed the world to see what they were doing, rather than just having their professor read a 15-page paper,” she said. “That really motivated them.”

Learn more by visiting the digital exhibition itself, Fifty Years Later: The Portrayal of the Negro in American Painting.

by Bowdoin

Slideshow: A Night Mingling With Art

In what has become a fall tradition, Student Activities last Friday threw its annual evening soiree at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and invited the entire student body. About 450 students came out for the semi-formal party to see friends, check out the museum’s exhibitions and listen to a cappella performances.

Photos by Dennis Griggs

by Rebecca Goldfine

Creating in Community

Bowdoin Students Design Art For Brunswick Spaces

During the fall of 2013, students in Mark Wethli’s community-based Public Art course (Visual Arts 3804) turned their artistic vision toward the Brunswick and Bowdoin communities. Responding to an open call from the Brunswick Public Art Committee, each of the eighteen students in Wethli’s class designed and proposed a public art piece for a space in Brunswick’s Fort Andross. The BPA committee encouraged students to consider the social and ecological significance of the building: the historic textile mill is now a hub of local commercial and artistic activity. In a gathering at the Fort in the late fall, students stood in front of poster boards and pitched their ideas to committee and community members. Imagined artworks took on a range of materials and spaces: from murals on the building’s exterior, to outdoor and indoor courtyard spaces, to large-scale sculptures. Students Fabiola Navarrete and Mik Cooper, both seniors, are now semi-finalists in the competition. The BPA is considering their mural designs alongside proposals from local working artists for installation in the fort.
creating 1 creating 2
Bowdoin has a longstanding relationship with the Brunswick Art Committee, forged by Professor Mark Wethli and his students through four prior semesters of Public Art courses. Today, artworks by alumni of the course exist in various public spaces throughout town, including Hannaford, Harriet Beecher Stowe School, and the Mid Coast Primary Care and Walk-in Clinic.

While the proposal for the fort was one of the culminating projects of the course, Public Art students took on several other design projects during the semester. Another assignment invited the class to create intervention artworks on Bowdoin’s campus: students donned crazy costumes for performance pieces, slipped fortune cookie messages into campus mailboxes, turned over all of the flyers in the union hallway, and distributed poetry. A solicitation then came from Brunswick’s new Orange Leaf frozen yogurt joint, and the class designed murals for the store’s interior. Senior Haley Gewandter’s proposal especially appealed to community members, who voted in the store and online, and she now waits to paint her winning design in the store. The course has formally ended in the new 2014 semester, but individual visions are still manifesting out in the community.
creating 4

This is the second in a series highlighting Bowdoin students’ engagement in Maine communities through courses and research.

by McKeen Center

Visiting Artist Joins Printmaking Students in New Studio

Bowdoin’s new printmaking studio hummed with artistic energy during a recent visit from printmaker Susan Groce, chair of the art department at the University of Maine and an acclaimed artist whose prints and drawings appear in collections and exhibitions all over the world. Groce took part in Bowdoin’s Spring 2014 Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project, which brings one distinguished printmaker to campus each semester for a week of student workshops, public lectures, and collaborative printmaking.

Printmaking at Bowdoin from Bowdoin College on Vimeo.

Sponsored by the Marvin Bileck and Emily Nelligan Trust, the semiannual project is a win for everyone who participates, said organizer and Assistant Professor of Art Carrie Scanga, Bowdoin’s resident printmaker. “The visiting artists get to work on their own professional pieces, and the students get to work side by side with them,” which gives students an opportunity to both pick up new skills and gain insight into the world of professional artists, Scanga said.

During this spring’s incarnation of the project, Groce made progress on her current artistic endeavor (a series of about 40 large photopolymer plates that will be tiled to create one immense work of art) in collaboration with pairs of students who assisted her in shifts, and offered a public lecture about her environmentally-focused artistic process and experiences, including her extensive research on developing safer print techniques. She also presented a multi-day workshop for students enrolled in Printmaking I, taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Becky Blosser this spring while Scanga is on parental leave. Blosser’s students worked with Groce to try out an array of techniques for making color prints, using their own copper plate etchings created earlier in the semester.

The hub of all of this printmaking activity was the Edwards Center for Art and Dance, which opened last fall to become the centralized home to the College’s visual arts and dance offerings. Bowdoin’s printmakers have moved into an airy new studio, leaving behind a much smaller facility in Burnett where artwork was constrained by space limitations. “It was elbow to elbow,” Scanga said. “Now there’s more room to spread out and the work itself can actually be bigger.”

“We’re also incredibly lucky in terms of getting this beautiful sunny room that’s becoming a community gathering space in the art building,” Scanga added, noting that “printmakers typically enjoy collaboration and working together in a space” as they share the tools, supplies, and large equipment necessary for their art. “The new studio has become kind of like a hive, of trading ideas and sharing techniques and helping each other along. I couldn’t be happier about that.”

by Bowdoin

Annual Student Art Show Spreads Through Smith Union

For several days before and after the annual Delta Sigma/Delta Upsilon Art Show reception last week, student art was practically everywhere you looked in Smith Union. Sculptures stood guard in front of the bookstore, big oil paintings adorned hallways, drawings were tucked into nooks, and paintings, jewelry, photographs, prints and watercolors were set up throughout the rest of the union.

This was the 15th year of the Delta Sig art contest, and the largest show yet, with works from more than 120 students.

Bonnie Pardue, manager of the Bowdoin Craft Center and student activities, has organized the show since its inception in 1999. She credited much of this year’s growth to the creation of the new student-run Bowdoin Art Society, which encouraged more artists to submit work than ever before. “What was great about the show was that it had all levels of art,” Pardue said. “Everyone felt comfortable submitting, from beginners to art students.”

Tom Rosenblatt ’16, president of the Bowdoin Art Society, said that he had been impressed by previous years’ shows and wanted to expand upon the event and make it more accessible to students. Students submitted 175 individual works, roughly double the number of submitted works in past years.

Each year, the former Delta Sigma/Delta Upsilon fraternity organizes the juried art show, awarding the top artists with $200 each. Peter Simmons ’78, director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival and former member of Delta Sigma/Delta Upsilon, presented the awards to six students.

The criteria included “creativity” and “technical expertise,” Simmons said, though he noted that the wealth of excellent material this year made the selection extremely difficult. This year’s winners, chosen by a blind jury, were Ella Blanchon ’16, Max Blomgren ’14, Samantha Broccoli ’15, Margaret Bunke ’14, Sarah Haimes ’15 and Elijah Ober ’15.

The Delta Sigma/Delta Upsilon fraternity was always progressive, becoming the first Bowdoin fraternity to accept Jews, students of color and women. In 1990, the fraternity sold its house and used the proceeds to establish two funds: one to provide scholarships for students majoring in the visual arts, and the other to support student activities in the arts, including the yearly competition.

by Erica Hummel '16

New Berkeley Show Fusing Art, Science Warns of Songbird Collapse

A Bowdoin ornithologist, two artists and a composer have collaborated on an evocative new art installation that warns its viewers of collapsing songbird populations while mesmerizing them with its moving images and music.

The installation, called Quiet Skies, will be at the Kala Gallery in Berkeley, Calif., through Sunday, March 30. The artists behind the multimedia presentation are printmaker Barbara Putnam, a former Bowdoin Coastal Studies Scholar, and two Boston University faculty: Associate Professor of Art Deborah Cornell and Professor of Music Richard Cornell. They worked with Nat Wheelwright, who is Bowdoin’s Anne T. and Robert M. Bass professor of natural sciences. Wheelwright studies the behavioral ecology of birds.

While they work in different disciplines, the artists and scientist share something in common. They are all deeply concerned about the environment, and their work touches on the deleterious effect of humans on habitats and ecosystems. Wheelwright writes in a 2007 article for the Christian Science Monitor, “Since my grandfather introduced me to birds just half a lifetime ago, once-common species have declined by as much as 80 percent due to the usual suspects: habitat loss, pesticides, introduced species, and climate change. The songs of tens of millions of birds have been silenced. It feels as if the lights are dimming.”

The exhibition was only possible through the partnership between Wheelwright and the artists, Putnam said. As much as she can, she aligns her art with scientific research to help convey the knowledge that scientists uncover about the changing world.  “I want to create a more visceral response to what is happening in the environment,” she explained. “Data gives people the facts. Art gets into somebody’s soul.”


Barbara Putnam (left), Richard Cornell and Deborah Cornell (on ladder) in front of the “Quiet Skies” print

Quiet Skies
When guests walk into the gallery, they are immersed in a landscape of color, images, video and music. Richard Cornell composed a sound montage of birdsongs, using recordings taken by Wheelwright of Savannah Sparrows on Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy. The island is home to the Bowdoin Scientific Station, where Wheelwright has been researching migratory songbirds for 35 years.

“My contribution is basically a sound piece, a piece of electronic music that contains within it many, many generations of individual sparrows,” Richard Cornell said. “All the generations’ songs are simultaneous in this piece.” He also digitally slowed and expanded the songs, originally one to three seconds long, to several minutes, revealing a level of detail not easily audible to humans.

“It’s not just twittering,” Richard Cornell noted. “The songs are highly structured, and there are ideas that go through the song from one end to the other.” The songs open with an introduction, move into a complicated middle section and end with a trilled descent that relates back to the song’s beginning. The Savannah Sparrows use these musical phrases to mark their territories. Although the song follows a template, each sparrow produces a unique version of the tune.

Richard Cornell also created one of two videos for the show, his being an interactive movie that simulates a wheeling bird flock. “My adaptation has birdlike forms flying through space,” he said. The flock begins to vanish as viewers stand in front of the movie and speak to one another. “Depending on how loudly they’re talking, the flock will disappear or gradually come back.” The audience won’t be told this is happening — they’ll just have to observe how they affect the spectacle.

The artists designed the responsive multimedia exhibition to reinforce the notion of personal responsibility. “We’re trying to…speak about migratory species and the mortality that is occurring because of human interference,” Putnam said. “We’re bringing it close to home.”

Deborah Cornell and Putnam designed a 12-foot by 18 composite of digital prints and shibori-dyed fabric for Quiet Skies, forming a backdrop for two overlapping videos. This wall piece is divided into three parts, reflecting the three sections of Savannah Sparrow birdsong. It transitions from cool blues to hot reds and yellows, symbolizing toxicity and warning. They also incorporated one of Wheelwright’s graphs into the piece that depicts the drastic decline of Tree Swallows from 1990 to 2010. The videos projected onto this composite wall shift its surface and texture.

Deborah Cornell contributed the second video to Quiet Skies, a piece that “connects to natural forms and progressions,” she said. The video illuminates images of a bird nest and a map of an ancient sea bed, as well as ambiguous forms that could be bones, bar graphs and cautionary triangles indicating danger. “Video projections onto the image surface suggest environmental rhythms and sea forms,” according to the exhibition’s artist statement.

The environmental theme of Quiet Skies is not a departure for either Putnam or Deborah Cornell. “We are looking at the interactions between cultural experience, scientific experience and occurrences in the land, the gambling with our natural processes,” Deborah Cornell said.

Despite the urgency of the exhibition’s message, there is another level to the experience of the installation. “It leads us to the idea of the earth regenerating and the idea that somehow, something will happen next,” Deborah Cornell said. “While I’m not mitigating the importance of what is happening now with the environment, there is a sense that the natural process will take care of itself. There’s always an after.”

by Rebecca Goldfine

Students Invited to Rare Glimpse of Art Museum Archives

Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Bowdoin College Museum of Art

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art, like most museums, sits on a trove of art and artifacts that rarely gets displayed. To give students a chance to see some of these treasures, the museum recently offered special tours to Bowdoin students, providing a rare opportunity to see museum areas normally restricted to staff members.

The storage facility, located beneath the museum and extending underground to the next-door Visual Arts Center, holds approximately 20,000 pieces of artwork in a space roughly the size of two classrooms. Roughly 1,200 of these works are paintings; the rest are prints, photographs and objects. 

“It is always a lot of fun to assess the collection and spend time down here going through the artworks,” Museum Curator Joachim Homann told the 15 or so students on the tour. “We always find something new and always find fresh ways and angles to look at the art we have.”

Unknown Artist  Fragment of Glass with Figure, 200 BC-001 BC glass 2 3/16 in. x 1 9/16 in. (5.5 cm. x 4 cm.) Gift of Edward Perry Warren, Esq., Honorary Degree, 1926 1915.58

Unknown Artist, Fragment of Glass with Figure,
200 BC-001 BC, glass, 2 3/16 in. x 1 9/16 in. (5.5 cm. x 4 cm.) Gift of Edward Perry Warren, Esq., Honorary Degree, 1926, 1915.58

The storage area is divided into two main sections: paintings to the right, and paper, object cabinets to the left. To the back are rows of Solander boxes that hold prints and photographs in a acid-free, micro-climate controlled environment.

Laura Latman, registrar and collections manager for the Museum, devised a way to organize the Museum’s many tiny objects in a series of drawers. Students on the tour leaned in close to examine some of the drawers’ contents, such as jade pieces from ancient China, statuettes from ancient Greece, and shards of precious glasses and gems.

“People say it doesn’t seem like we have 20,000 objects in our collection but that could be misleading because every little thing counts. For example, in our drawer of ancient glasses are essentially shards of glasses,” Latman said. “They add up quickly.”

In the tour, Homann also outlined the Museum’s philosophy to acquiring art for its collection. “For two hundred years, each generation of curators, directors, faculty and students responded to the question: ‘What do we want this museum to be?’ The result is an interesting, broad collection of artwork.”

Unknown Artist, Buckle, ca. 220 BC, jade/jadeite 5 1/4 in. x 2 5/8 in (13.33 cm. x 6.67 cm.) Gift of Mrs. Frederick Blackmore. 1953.23.1

Unknown Artist, Buckle,ca. 220 BC, jade/jadeite
5 1/4 in. x 2 5/8 in (13.33 cm. x 6.67 cm.) Gift of Mrs. Frederick Blackmore. 1953.23.1

Today, the Museum tries to present art that reflects the world we live in. For example, as the College attracts more students and faculty from around the world, the Museum — which was traditionally focused on Western art — now tries to bring in art from different cultures and societies, such as African American art or Asian art.

Homann also explained how the museum acquires new art. In rare occasions, the museum receives large collections, such as the Vogel donation made last semester. Usually, the process begins when it receives an offer from an alumnus, parent, foundation or donor. The museum’s team bases its decision on the piece’s condition, its value for teaching and whether its quality is on par with the rest of the museum’s collection. Whether the Museum has the space for new art is a factor, too, since its storage is limited.

“We only accept pieces that are good fits for us and would enhance our collection for a long time,” Homann said. “ We do not just accept everything.”

As students exited the tightly secured storage facility, Homann recalled the time when he brought a scholar down to storage to examine the Museum’s jade collection, and found out that a pair of jade dragons were used as belt buckles by aristocrats in 2000 BCE. “She also said that the museum she works for in China doesn’t even have jade of that quality,” Homann said. “This find and others inspired us to mount The Object Show: Discoveries at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, on view until June 1.”

by Sophia Cheng '15