Fine Print: Etchings at the Johnson

What do a 17th-Century Dutch printmaker, the Edict of Nantes and two present-day Ithacans have in common? Quite a bit, actually. So do the political commentary and a urine sample from Louis XIV. Their unifying thread is on display at the Johnson Art Museum’s new exhibition, Romeyn de Hooghe: Virtuoso Etcher, a show of de Hooghe’s etchings in subject matters ranging from the commercial to the political.

Masterpieces and Missteps

The artists of the Bloomsbury circle were at once radical and conservative, intellectually adventurous and promiscuously imitative. The group centered around the writers and thinkers Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey, who dominated English high society around the early years of the last century; the circle sometimes included other luminaries such as T.S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell and E.M. Forster. A current exhibit at the Johnson Museum, A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections, features the often overlooked visual artists who informed the group’s development as a hotbed of sexual and ideological libertinage as well as the bedrock of upper-crust cultural strictures.

Infinite Intricacies: Digging Deeper

At first glace, Merrill Shatzman’s work seems to convey some sort of message, carrying traces of symbols and patterns that appear to be jumping off the page, just waiting to be decoded. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that any message she attempts to convey is infinitely multi-faceted, as increasingly more layers of etchings and connections reveal themselves. In a statement, she says her work “… questions and examines the ‘universal language’ created by signs, symbols and pre-imagined images … us[ing] surroundings as both an idea and an artifact.” She describes her muse as graphic communication, markings and forms that have the ability to convey meanings through simple rearrangements and displacements of lines and curves.

Heaven Is a Place on Earth?

To further illustrate the point, the curators have organized the work into four sections: Paradise Lost, Paradise Reconstructed, Despairing of Paradise and Paradise Anew. Each offering its own insight onto the issue, contemplating Eden within the multi-faceted contexts of philosophy, art history and current affairs.
[img_assist|nid=34674|title=Visions of Paradise | Visitors to The Johnson Museum peruse “Picturing Eden” photographs.|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]

Strange Art From Down Under

It would be impossible to experience the Johnson’s exhibit Icons of the Desert without being profoundly disconcerted. Though the works on display are extremely graphic (so much that they could be confused with the works of Piet Mondrian or Robert Slutsky from a distance — both of whom lingered on patterns as well), these paintings are not to be confused with typical “fine art.” What is disconcerting about this exhibition is explained by their source:

Calligraphy Exhibit Explores the Power of Written Words

On a day when Ithaca was putting on its best impression of Seattle, and most Cornell students were returning to campus on (achingly long) bus rides, I was at the Johnson Museum for the second time in a week. My focus was placed solely on the calligraphy exhibit on the bottom floor. Thus, ignoring my natural tendency to run up the steps and check out the sculptures on the museum’s top level, I instead leaped down two sets of stairs to find the Gold Gallery, home of the Art of the Written Word: Calligraphy in Asia exhibit.

Battle of the Pen(cils)

For all students who have ever gotten bored in a class before, young or old, engineers or literary free spirits, there is good news. Your doodles, those things you sketch in the margins of your notebook as you struggle to keep your eyes open after a late night of partying, er, studying, are now considered art.

Back to Nature

[img_assist|nid=32001|title=Marc Swanson’s “Hurry on Sundown”|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Most of us are familiar with dioramas from grade school field trips to natural history museums: the frozen three-dimensional scenes of flora and fauna carefully arranged to resemble natural habitats. The diorama, as a miniature theater onto another world, creates a zone that is presented not so much as a replica of nature than as an illusion of looking on nature itself, captured in an iconic moment of time. Yet, even as the diorama obscures its own artificiality, the ideological assumptions implicit in diorama construction make the medium an intriguing one to contemporary artists.