Art world: get ‘grounded’
The Roman statue known as Trebonianus Gallus has been described as “the ugliest work of art in the Met” — but that’s not poor Trebonianus’s only problem. He also suffers from an identity crisis. Elizabeth Marlowe, assistant professor of art and art history, used the bronze statue as an example of an “ungrounded” work of art during her Art and Art History Colloquium Series talk in October.

The bronze statue Trebonianus Gallus (photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
    Marlowe explained that the 8-foot-tall bronze statue was sold to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art as a portrayal of Trebonianus Gallus, a Roman emperor who ruled from 251 to 253 CE. But, the identification was determined by an art dealer and not based on any secure evidence. Trebonianus Gallus was remembered by Roman historians as cruel and uncouth, and modern curators and scholars have understood the statue’s unattractiveness as confirmation of that identification. And so, the name has stuck. Marlowe believes, however, that the portrayal differs so radically from typical images of Roman emperors that we may be wrong not only about which emperor it depicts but also about the fact that it depicts a Roman ruler at all. Citing this and other case studies, Marlowe demonstrated how ungrounded works reaffirm pre-existing historical interpretations that may not necessarily be correct.
    She highlighted the lack of attention paid to the origins of artworks that have inhabited museums for more than a century, and how that can completely change how we view the piece. “Objects with no historical grounding end up reinforcing our preconceived ideas,” she said. “We need to own up to the idea that so much of what we think we know is based purely on connoisseurship.”
    Marlowe argued that historians of ancient art are rarely trained to pay attention to archaeological records, and, by extension, to the context from which the artworks came. This is a dangerous practice, she said, because a work of art’s background has a huge impact on how it is perceived.
    The complex issues that Marlowe posed also impact the way in which students approach their study of art. As Eliza Graham ’14 pointed out, “Professor Marlowe introduced an issue of high importance to ancient art — and one that should be applied to a variety of other areas of art historical study.”
— Hannah O’Malley ’17

Virtual theater
Theater professor April Sweeney performed in a production in Argentina this fall — from 8,000 kilometers away. The set: her very own house. The cinematographer: herself.
    Playing on screens for an audience in a Buenos Aires theater, the aptly named Distancia involved four actresses who streamed their performances live from their own corners of the world: Paris, Hamburg, Buenos Aires, and, in Sweeney’s case, New York.
    The protagonists, each in different phases of a relationship (Sweeney played a woman who was breaking up with her boyfriend), delivered interspersed monologues to their significant others. Each actress spoke in her native language (subtitles provided) and sang a song supported by musicians on stage. Distancia’s writer and director, Matías Umpierrez, was inspired by a 1930 French play called The Human Voice by Jean Cocteau.
    “It’s a meditation on how technology mediates our relationships and human interactions,” said Sweeney, adding that the production served as both a play and a film.
    Adding to the complicated nature of the production was the fact that Sweeney performed from more than one room. “Not only do I have to perform,” she said, “but I also have to set up the camera for the scenes.” She framed the shots with a laptop that she carried around.
    Although Sweeney has experience with live theater performances that incorporate the use of a camera, this was the first time she wasn’t able to see the audience’s reactions. “I was behind a screen, speaking into a green light, completely aware of my part and frame,” she explained. “However, the excitement and faith that people would lean forward in their seat remained.”
    With the Internet, the stage is limitless, but the expectations are bigger. Distancia revealed how theater can enter the virtual world and overcome borders. As Sweeney put it, the performance was “an exploration of the possibilities of the dramaturgy of technology.”

Up Close and personal


Under the gaze of Alex by Chuck Close, author Katherine Boo (facing camera) leads a discussion in the English department's Fager Student Lounge as part of her Living Writers Series visit in October. A panoply of art works now grace the walls of the lounge. (Photo by Erica Hasenjager)

English majors know a great setting when they see one. Their study space — the Fager Student Lounge on the third floor of Lathrop Hall — offers a scene like no other.
    While attending a meeting in the lounge last summer, Paul Schupf ’58, a contemporary art collector, trustee emeritus, and planning committee member for Colgate’s center for art and culture, looked at the room’s cathedral ceiling and massive arched window and realized its potential to display great works of art.
    In the months that followed, Schupf worked closely with English professors Jane Pinchin and Linck Johnson as well as trustee Mark Falcone ’85, John ’85 and Susan Pelosi ’85, Gregory ’88 and Jean Koerner ’88, and others to loan and install pieces by Alex Katz, Chuck Close, Richard Serra, and Diane Arbus.
    Upon entering, visitors are confronted with Close’s large-scale portrait of Katz, adjacent to two smaller takes on the same subject. The trio of images in ukiyo-e woodcut and linocut/silkscreen demonstrates Close’s use of various processes for artistic and analytical purposes. Innovative, disruptive artists like Close, Schupf said, “change the way we look at art.”
    Close is also represented with three images of Lucas, Leslie, and two self-portraits. Other works on display include Triplets in Their Bedroom and Patriotic Young Man with a Flag by Arbus; Paul and Cartoon for ‘Anne’ by Katz; and Clara, a Serra silkscreen in which the artist, using black paint stick, carves space from the white background, much as he would treat the three-dimensional world in one of his acclaimed sculptures.
    Above it all hangs a maquette for the PJS-1 guitar, commissioned by Schupf and created by renowned German luthier Jens Ritter. The PJS-1 itself (see photo below) is on display in another learning location: Case-Geyer Library, where works by Katz and Serra appear with Close’s Keith, Emma, and a 2005 self-portrait in fifth-floor group study rooms.
    This artistic disruption in spaces meant for other intellectual activity creates an enhanced atmosphere for students to study — and even meet with high-profile visitors (see photo above).
    “It’s nice to see walls that used to be blank covered in art,” said English major Kellyann Hayes ’16. “It will be great to look up from studying and see the different paintings and photographs — a great break, and a great atmosphere to focus and enjoy.”


The PJS-1 guitar, commissioned from renowned luthier Jens Ritter by Paul J. Schupf ’58 (photo by Jens Ritter Instruments)


Godfrey to lead arts education board
Kudos to DeWitt Godfrey, associate professor of art and art history at Colgate, who’s been elected to lead an organization that helps shape the direction of visual arts practice, education, and scholarship, and influences national arts policy. In May 2014, Godfrey will begin serving a two-year term as president of the College Art Association’s Board of Directors.
    Founded in 1911, the CAA aims to promote the visual arts and their understanding. Its membership includes more than 12,000 artists, art historians, scholars, curators, critics, collectors, educators, publishers, and other visual arts professionals, as well as 2,000 college and university art and art history departments, art schools, museums, libraries, and professional and commercial organizations.

Zadie Smith on life and death
Although she touched on seemingly morose topics like the certainty of death, Zadie Smith’s October reading in Love Auditorium was infused with lighthearted humor. Included on Granta’s list of 20 best young authors, Smith (most known for her bestsellers White Teeth and On Beauty) appeared as part of Colgate’s Living Writers Series.

Author Zadie Smith (photo by Andrew Daddio)
    Reading from a recently finished unpublished essay titled “Man Versus Corpse,” Smith admitted jokingly that her essay contrasted with the “Living Writers” headline. She accompanied her reading with what she deemed  a “crude” PowerPoint presentation, highlighting some of the main themes of her essay: a picture of Luca Signorelli’s drawing Naked Man, Carrying a Corpse; several works by Andy Warhol; and a photo of an iPhone crashing onto the ground.
    As she’s known for in her writing, the British novelist also touched on important racial and social issues. Part of “Man Versus Corpse” discusses the closeness of death and how people of different socioeconomic backgrounds find themselves at different distances from death: “but people, often brown, often poor, come from a death-dealing place,” she emphasized. Smith said that her responsibility as an author is to allow her readers to connect with her creations “even if you are far from them in terms of their class, race, [and] culture.”
    Smith also extolled the power of writing in catalyzing change: “You can read something from 500 years ago, and it could galvanize you to do something.”
— Marilyn Hernandez-Stopp ’14





Preview


(photo by JJ Tiziou)

The Headlong Dance Theater Presents: Shosha
Co-directed by David Brick, Andrew Simonet, and Amy Smith
Brehmer Theater, Dana Arts Center
Showtimes: Feb. 7–8, 2014, 8:00 p.m.

Inspired by Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel of the same title, Shosha is both literary and theatrical in nature — a retrospective examination of 1930s Warsaw, and the love and emotions expressed by Singer’s characters. The internationally renowned Headlong Dance Theater company’s choreography incorporates the audience, touching on deep themes of existentialism and faith in wartime situations.
    And, you can go in support of Colgate’s own Danielle Solomon ’13, who is doing a post-baccalaureate program at the Headlong Performance Institute.


Arts events: www.colgate.edu/arts
Headlong Performance Institute: http://headlong.org/