From the Curator's Desk

Spider-Man as Art

Rusty Freeman - Friday, July 30, 2021

One of many defining characteristics of the postmodern age was a willingness to see other genres besides oil paintings and bronze statues as art.  Where before genres like the movies and photography were not highly regarded, slowly as horizons and insights broadened, they gained acceptance.  Comic books were a part of this sea change.  

Spider-Man number #25 from 1965.  Photo courtesy of the blog writer 

What set Marvel Comics apart from other superhero tales was their superheroes dealt with real life issues and in the parlance of the day, they had “hang-ups.”  Peter Parker had girlfriends to deal with and homework to finish and a part-time job as a newspaper photographer.  His knack was always being around to photograph some exploit of the amazing Spider-Man.  All this made Spider-Man a relatable figure.  And just as ground-breaking, some Marvel superheroes acquired their super-powers through accidents of science, like being bitten by a radioactive spider.  Marvel superheroes lived in the real world, doing everyday chores that we all do.  

Joe Dodd, Spider-Man vs Carnage in Cathedral, 2010, graphite, Gift of the artist, 2013.8 Permanent Collection of Cedarhurst 

The amazing artist who drew our Spider-Man is Joe Dodd from Centralia, Illinois.  Dodd grew up in southern Illinois and enjoyed drawing his favorite comics as a young boy.  Dodd had his high school art shown in a Cedarhurst Scholastics exhibit.  Dodd turned his passion into a career later working for the now famed Marvel comics and later Mattel toys. 

Note, the blog returns in two weeks.  Next week, your friendly neighborhood blog writer is installing the 29th iteration of the Cedarhurst Biennial.  You do not want to miss this one!  Biennial opens August 7th!  

Binary Relationships

Rusty Freeman - Friday, July 23, 2021

The study of binary oppositions began long before the 1950s florescence of language theory.  Language had become the model describing how all systems or structures functioned.    

Beginning with Lao-Tzu and Socrates, philosophers studied language writing the rules for how it functions and meaning forms.  Language is but a tool that can distort reality, but also aid us in understanding very well what we are experiencing.  

A Medieval rendering of the traditional square of opposition. From a ninth century manuscript of commentary by Apuleius on Aristotle's Perihermaneias. Image courtesy of Citizendium 

Binaries form a fundamental mechanism of the language dynamic.  Binary relations are words that work together representing categories which are logically opposed, or in a relationship, e.g., Right-Left, Man-Woman, Nature-Culture. 

In many ways, identities are formed in opposition to the other. I hope to show “opposition” does not mean a completely negative relationship.  When two things are set in opposition, we compare qualitative similarities and differences.  

Jonathan Culler has written “Relations are important for what they can explain: meaningful contrasts and permitted or forbidden combinations.”  

To interpret anything, we get ahold of the topic by reducing it to discrete words or phrases (which later relink with larger concepts and theories) and this process often means beginning with binary oppositions.  

In Logic, the square of opposition graphically represents binaries and their relationships to other words and their connotations.  The square originated in the 4th century BCE with Aristotle.  In it, the propositions of four terms are “opposed” in four ways.  Meaning flows out of these oppositions.  

Based on the ancient square of opposition, the modern semiotic square was developed by Algirdas Greimas and published in 1966.  

Greimas square courtesy of Wikipedia 

A semiotic square is a kind of map or compass for navigating cultural meaning. The semiotic square models dimensions within language that are not seen but have great affect on meaning between the four terms. 

It is based on the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure’s principle of difference (1916) where meaning occurs in words by their difference from other words.  

The four corners of the square represent different positions in the production of meaning.  

Semiotic square of Sacred-Vernacular and Cathedral-Home, diagram my construction  

By juxtaposing two binary terms, we can begin to associate the connotations that accrue around the terms, and consider what is at stake when one term is used instead of another.  Values play a key role. 

My diagram of the semiotic square charts the connotations influencing the meanings of the terms. SACRED- VERNACULAR define each other in tandem by what the other is not. CATHEDRAL-HOME are related architectural terms, the physical representations of binaries. 

Oppositions create relationships: Light/Darkness; Up/ Down; Wave/Particle; and so on. Binary relationships explore and establish meaning. Each term defines the other by what it is not. “Up” has no meaning without “down.” A semiotic square shows how connotations influence denotation. 

The semiotic square unpacks binary oppositions and thereby elicits a bigger cultural picture establishing the personal and social contexts that influence the main terms. 



Northern Moon

Rusty Freeman - Friday, July 16, 2021

Northern Moon is a fine example of what an artist can accomplish when offered a studio, two assistants, a choice collection of metals, and a one-week deadline to create. During a visit over Christmas break with Canadian artist Rod Dowling, Illinois artist and SIUC art professor Aldon Addington created Northern Moon. Away with a project in Toronto, Dowling turned his Hamilton, Ontario studio and assistants over to Addington. Addington immediately began sketching.


ALDON ADDINGTON, Northern Moon, 1991, stainless steel, Collection of Goldman-Kuenz Sculpture Park
Two huge disc-shaped pieces—which were to become Addington’s moon—were previously purchased by Dowling at auction. Originally constructed as the end pieces for container tanks, these discs are made of spun stainless steel, which is rare. Typically it is aluminum that is spun or turned. Inspired by the natural moon, Addington began.
After sketching his ideas, Addington constructed a small maquette of the sculpture. With his model in hand and lots of steel tubes, he visited a nearby metal shop. Hamilton is known as a steel town. The bent steel tubes circling the moon were fabricated at the metal shop according to Addington's precise specifications. Returning to the studio, steel tubes at the ready, Addington and his two assistants, with the short deadline in their sights, began. Before the week was out, the twenty-two foot tall Northern Moon was completed.


Northern Moon, detail 

Aldon Addington taught art at Southern Illinois University Carbondale from 1967 to 2001. Addington guest-taught sculpture workshops around the world including the Glasgow School of Art, Scotland; the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland; and Art Park in Lewiston, New York.  His art is represented at Cedarhurst’s Goldman-Kuenz Sculpture Park, the Illinois State Museum, the University of Lapland as well as in numerous private collections across the US. Addington has a second sculpture, Untitled from 1980, that also resides at Cedarhurst.

Grant Wood and Midwestern Art

Rusty Freeman - Friday, July 09, 2021

Iowa born Grant Wood (1892-1941) is one of the major artists in American history and Midwest history. Wood set out to portray the essential identity of the rural Midwest.
As art historian John Wilmerding has noted, Wood developed his own style after studying in Europe the German, Flemish, and French primitives of the Northern Renaissance. Wood perfected sharp details, meticulous clarity, severe poses, and hard staring eyes. Wood became famous for his precise observations of everyday life in rural America. 

Cedarhurst exhibits Wood’s Self-portrait, 1917, Brass, [inset: 3x2”, art displayed in shadow box], Gift from the Estate of Virginia L. Rohrbacher, Cedarhurst permanent collection 2003.02


Renowned today for American Gothic, 1930, oil, 29x25”, Art Institute of Chicago, for which Wood’s sister and his dentist modeled. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Here, again, we see the major theme of the Cedarhurst collection of “everyday life” that runs through the entire historic sweep of American art and often clashes with the modernist current that flows alongside.
Wood along with Thomas Hart Benton (Missouri) and John Steuart Curry (Kansas) established Regionalism as a dominant style of American art in the 1930s. 


John Steuart Curry, Tragic Prelude, c.1940, oil, egg tempera, 11’4” x 31 feet, Kansas State Capitol, Topeka, KS. Image courtesy of Wikipedia 


The mural scale viewed by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (left) with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2012. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Art historian Ericka Doss wrote, “While seemingly focused on specific Midwestern places, Regionalism embodied the larger cultural project of blending America’s multiple “locals” into a national picture of unity.”
Regionalism, also known as American Scene Painting, was storytelling art in a decidedly optimistic mood. Hard work, self-reliance, and community were the social values immortalized in the art of Wood, Curry, and Benton.
“Regionalism’s brand of modern American art became a means of regaining the self-esteem and social respectability undercut by the Great Depression.” Art historian Erika Doss. 


Thomas Hart Benton, The Sources of Country Music, 1975, acrylic, 72x120”, The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville, Tennessee. Image courtesy of Wikiart
Regionalism as Wood, Benton, and Curry painted it, portrayed local community values as the standard for a cultural nationalism, striving to have the Midwestern ethos regarded as the essence of American national identity.
The early twentieth-century art themes of Robert Henri and the Ashcan artists that foregrounded everyday American life continued in the 1930s art of Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry, and Thomas Hart Benton and flowing right into the postmodern Midwest of famed comic artist Chris Ware.

Visit the permanent collection gallery at Cedarhurst to see firsthand the art of Robert Henri, Grant Wood, and Chris Ware.

Dennis Oppenheim Arrives at Cedarhurst 1997

Rusty Freeman - Friday, June 25, 2021

Dennis Oppenheim was a peripatetic artist, working as many did in the 1960s, first in Earth Art, then Body Art and Video Art, combining the last two in Performance Art, before moving on to Sculpture proper.  In each discipline, Dennis Oppenheim was an influential artist, well-respected by his peers.  Among Oppenheim’s many accolades, he was chosen for the 1997 Venice Biennale.  

Born in Electric City, Washington, Oppenheim grew up in San Francisco, and moved to New York City in 1967.  Oppenheim died in 2011.  

Combined Expressions, 1997, brand new version built specifically for Cedarhurst as negotiated by then Director of Visual Arts Bonnie Speed.  Photo from Mitchell Museum archives 

Cedarhurst’s Combined Expressions was a gift direct from the artist and the Oppenheim Foundation in New York City.  The gift transpired in September 1996 after a yearlong project spearheaded by Mitchell Museum Director of Visual Arts Bonnie Speed.  

“This gift recognizes the importance of Cedarhurst Sculpture Park as one of the top sculpture collections in the country,” Speed commented in the Register-News in 1996.  

Combined Expressions is emblematic of a body of work created in the late 1970s and 1980s called by the artist “machine works.”  According to Mitchell Museum archives, the original Combined Expressions was previously exhibited in New York and France.  The version negotiated by Speed was remade in 1997 by the artist using stainless steel which replaced the original’s galvanized steel.  With Oppenheim’s “machine works,” I would identify this as his structuralist phase.  

Dennis Oppenheim, with Crystal Garden installation Navalcarnero, Madrid, Spain, 2007.  Photo courtesy Juan M. Espinosa, Associated Press and The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

The highly regarded arts writer Eleanor Heartney described Oppenheim’s “machine works” as “denying the object its sculptural status, [which are instead] presented as complex constructions, systems open to both aleatory and an enigmatic mode of functioning.” Key word in the quote is “systems.”  Think of our Combined Expressions as a complete system.    


Combined Expressions today. Photo courtesy of Mitchell Museum at Cedarhurst archives 

As a “system,” Combined Expressions opens consideration to how the parts all work together.  This sculpture looks best at night with its—symbolic of fire—orange lights turned on; all four faces light up.  All four heads have smoke stacks and all four are interconnected.  What might be the significance of all four fiery furnaces, all four heads combined in an interlocking system?  The title gives a clue: Combined Expressions.  For the artist, this represents a “machine” or “system” where four individuals work together to achieve a common goal.  

Recent renovations at Cedarhurst removed a dying tree from the east side of the Shrode Art Center.  Our plan slowly evolved to re-site Combined Expressions just a few feet from its original installation.  Now complete with a new sidewalk, the sculpture is architecturally centered welcoming all to Cedarhurst.  


NEXT WEEK: From the Curator's Desk takes a break; See you JULY 9th!  

Juneteenth

Rusty Freeman - Friday, June 18, 2021

Slavery ended for millions in the United States with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865.  But celebrations began earlier with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which freed only the enslaved African Americans in ten of the eleven Confederate states.  However, news of the Proclamation took two and a half more years to reach all those eligible.  


Commemorative souvenir of the Emancipation Proclamation, published by Strobridge Lithography Company. Image courtesy of Library of Congress and BlackPast.Org.  

On June 19, 1865, the news reached Galveston, Texas, and more than 250,000 remaining enslaved black people were freed.  Considered the second Day of Independence in America it was also known as Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and nineteenth.  

The first Juneteenth celebration occurred in Texas in 1866 with cookouts, games, parades, prayers, and singing.  It was a time of reconnecting with lost family members.  

Inevitably, Juneteenth celebrations spread across the South and west to California.  

For 156 years, Juneteenth has been known in African American communities, but has only in the last few years begun to be more widely recognized.  Texas was the first state in 1980 to declare Juneteenth a legal holiday.  Most states today (49 plus DC) recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or observance; Illinois passed recognition in 2003.  Two days ago, June 16th, the Federal government officially recognized Juneteenth as a national holiday.  

Juneteenth also goes by Black Independence Day, Jubliee Day, Juneteenth National Freedom Day, and Juneteenth Independence Day.  

Juneteenth 1865 is an important day in American history and marked a new and tenuous beginning.  As a democracy is tenuous and requires vigilance, so does social justice.   

Language and literary scholar Elaine Scarry has written on the relationships between beauty and justice.  Beauty, in the philosophical sense, inspires Justice.  Scarry established the manifold relationships leading from beauty to justice.  

Justice as such is not available to be apprehended by the senses.  It requires an aesthetic analogue.  Scarry laid out just such an analogy between beauty and justice.  (Diderot’s Encyclopédie of shared knowledge and Jefferson’s use of Neoclassical architecture to publicly represent Democracy are prime examples of beauty’s analogous relationships with justice.)  

Scarry established “equality is the heart of beauty, and that equality is the morally highest and best feature of the world.”  

“Beautiful things hold steadily visible the manifest good of equality and balance.” 

Scarry cautioned that no claim was being made as to how long it might take—a year, a century, a millennium—for equality to inhere in social relations.  

“All that is claimed is that the aspiration to political, social, and economic equality has already entered the world in the beauty-loving treatises, as has the readiness to recognize it as beautiful if and when it should arrive in the world.”  

Juneteenth is a just beginning. 


References  Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, “The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth,”   https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/historical-legacy-juneteenth 

Fabiola Cineas, “Juneteenth explained,” Vox, 6/18/2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/6/18/21294825/history-of-juneteenth 

Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just, The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Yale University, March 25 and 26, 1998.  https://tannerlectures.utah.edu/_documents/a-to-z/s/scarry00.pdf 



Summer Vacations

Rusty Freeman - Friday, June 11, 2021

In this seasonal homage we pay tribute to the beauty of Summer with five thematic art works visualizing the best season.  Summer represents life at its fullest.  Summer is the time of partnerships, robust romance, for play amongst the idylls. It is the time of summer vacations.  


William Glackens is one of the central members of the Ashcan School, a group who broke from the Academy in order to paint subjects from everyday life. Robert Henri, the Ashcan leader, encouraged Glackens to take up painting.  Glackens’ job as an illustrator of newspaper stories prepared him as he painted colorful idylls of contemporary life inspired by the first modern art movement, Impressionism.  Glackens celebrates a fun-filled summer in Summer Day, Bellport, Long Island, 1913, oil, 26x32”, Gift of John R. and Eleanor R. Mitchell, Collection of Cedarhurst. 


Art historian T.J. Clark discussing Manet’s, Argenteuil, les canotiers, 1874, oil, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tournai, Belgium; image courtesy of Wikipedia.  “It is important that the picture is big.  It is a picture for the salon: a dominating image, four feet wide and nearly five feet high, whose message was meant to carry across a crowded room. […] The people in the picture are posing….  Their faces go blank, their bodies turn awkward, they forget how to look happy or even serious. […] This is a picture of pleasure, remember, of people taking their ease.  We need a word to express their lack of assurance in doing so; at least the curious, complex qualification of pleasure as these people seem to have it. […] The “cover of restraints” in the place of pleasure—that seems to me the great subject of Manet’s art. […] What Manet was painting was the look of a new form of life—a placid form, a modest form, but one with a claim to pleasure.  The careful self-consciousness of the woman, her guarded attention to us, the levelness of her gaze: these are the best metaphors of that moment.  It is Olympia’s gaze again, but lacking the fierce engagement with the viewer or the edge of insecurity.  This woman looks out circumspectly from a place that belongs to people like her.  How good it is, in these places, to find a little solitude on Sundays!”  (From The Painting of Modern Life, pp. 164-173).  


This scene may look familiar to Cedarhurst regulars.  Our Prendergast, The Hay Cart, 1914, oil, 19x24”, Gift of John R. and Eleanor R. Mitchell, Collection of Cedarhurst may be a companion piece to the National Gallery of Art’s Prendergast, Salem Cove, 1916, oil, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, image courtesy of nga.com.  The NGA website notes that Salem Cove is not too far from an industrial port, and that Prendergast instead chose to focus on the more idyllic atmosphere of people strolling and enjoying the cove’s natural beauty.   


Singapore photographer who goes only by his given name Nguan, has said “I like to say that each of my photographs is the middle of a story, where the befores and afters are left entirely to the viewer.”  He began his Coney Island series over ten years ago.  His biggest project may be his desire to photograph his homeland conveying a more faithful image than its current myth of a glamorized version of neoliberalism.  Nguan, Untitled, Coney Island series, 2007, color photograph, image courtesy of artsy.  


Postmodernist, Neo-Expressionist, “Bad Boy” Eric Fischl’s contribution to our Summer Vacation Theme features a painting made just before the catastrophic worldwide pandemic that is just beginning to ebb.   From the artist’s 2020 series Meditations on Melancholia, Fischl paints two people walking on the beach enjoying the robust setting sun.  Eric Fischl, Toward Day’s End: Looking Back, 2019, acrylic, oil on linen, 65x50”, image courtesy of ericfischl.com. 


The Op Art Vessel

Rusty Freeman - Friday, June 04, 2021

Tom Orr’s Vessel is a three-dimensional sculpture, but it also creates an amazing visual feature of moire patterns that echo historically the Op Art of the Sixties. Moires are the appearance of wavy lines that form when two separate sets of lines overlap. 


Vessel’s waves of moire, TOM ORR, Vessel, 2009, powder coated steel, Collection of Goldman-Kuenz Sculpture Park

Vessel at night
Two of the major innovators of Op Art, Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely, were together in the 1965 exhibition The Responsive Eye at MoMA. The show brought Op Art onto the international stage.
Op artists pursued 2D and 3D experiments involving light, illusion, perception, and the physical and psychological dimensions of color. 

 
BRIDGET RILEY, Stretch, 1964, Whitechapel Gallery, London; Blaze Study, 1962; Movement in Squares, 1961; both WikiArt
Bridget Riley (b.1931) was a master painter of 2D optical illusions. Riley gained international recognition with The Responsive Eye exhibition. During the 60s, Riley became Great Britain’s number one art celebrity. Riley excelled at presenting differing black-white or color palettes with optic affects. 


VICTOR VASARELY, Vega 200, 1968, WikiArt 


VICTOR VASARELY, Holld (Moire Tower), 1989, MFA Gallery, Oakland, CA
Victor Vasarely (1906 - 1997) was also a leader creating innovative works based on his study of color theory, perception, and illusion. The social context of art was more important to him than an isolated artist making art for a few; Vasarely wanted art to reach mass audiences.

We can imagine Cedarhurst’s Vessel as it moves effortlessly through the park creating optical waves of moire patterns in its wake.

Animals with Tales

Rusty Freeman - Friday, May 28, 2021

Fables, or animals with tales, are short stories that date to ancient times.  The two-thousand-five-hundred-year-old animal fables of the Greek slave Aesop are still heard today.  Often moralizing or satirizing, the stories are told by animals who speak.  Contemporary fables include Charlotte’s Web, 1952, by E.B.White  and George Orwell’s 1945 political fable Animal Farm.  Fables with talking animals remain popular in movies today with The Lion King, The Chronicles of Narnia, or Guardians of the Galaxy.  Cedarhurst’s permanent collection features works of art with animals as key characters.  

LEFT: JOEL B. FELDMAN, Fox with Carved Head (Aesop’s Fables), 1995, woodcut, Gift of Jack and Joan Goldman, 2000.01

Tension mounts as the Fox stares in contemplation of the Carved Head.  Aesop’s fable goes like this: 

“As a fox was rummaging among a great many carved figures, there was one very extraordinary artwork among the rest.  The fox stared at it for a while, and when he had thoroughly considered it, said, ‘Well, what pity ‘tis, that so exquisite an outside of a head should not have one grain of sense in’t.  It is not the barber or the tailor that makes the man, and ‘tis no new thing to see a fine wrought head without so much as one grain of salt in’t.’”  

We might say today, “don’t judge a book by its cover” or “beauty is only skin deep.”    


RIGHT: EUGENE HIGGINS, Kansas City, MO (1874-1958), The Philosopher, c.1917, Oil on canvas, Gift of John R. and Eleanor R. Mitchell, 1973.1.24

Higgins is considered a member of the Ashcan School as are George Bellows and Edward Hopper.  

Here, Higgins constructs a mythological tale creating an ambiguity between the painting’s two potential protagonists leaving for the viewer to determine which one is the philosopher.  


The GPS Kimball

Rusty Freeman - Friday, May 21, 2021

We reintroduce Kimball to remind everyone we have an amazing GPS location-finding map of every sculpture in the park. The GPS tracking feature is freely available from our website, HERE

The map used on a phone could be a fun-for-kids learning device with parents teaching children how to use it and find the sculptures.  

#1 Open the Cedarhurst website on your phone, tap Art Exhibits, then Goldman-Kuenz Sculpture Park, then GPS Map. 

#2 Tap Allow, you can shut off the GPS by tapping Stop GPS.

#3 Your phone appears as a blue dot.  As you walk through the park, you can see yourself move.  

#4 You can watch yourself move through the park.  

#5 You’ve arrived at 3, tap open for Kimball information.  Tap the play button for a short audio introduction.  

Kimball, over the years, has become the icon representing Cedarhurst Center for the Arts. 

A gift of Faye and John Page Wham, Kimball commemorates John Wham’s favorite horse, Kimball. But Kimball visually, does much more, as the social value of the draft horse is easily recognized by all who live in southern Illinois and work on farms. Kimball has become a symbol of the Midwest and its agricultural economy.  

John Kearney Kimball, 1994, Chromed car bumpers Gift of Faye and John Page Wham

Kimball was built to be slightly larger than life-size in order to emphasize the strength and courage of the majestic animal.  To create a dynamic sense of movement, the artist lifted opposing legs as if it was preparing to move into a trot.  

Chicago artist John Kearney (1925 - 2014) made animal sculptures from car bumpers for over thirty years. As you look closely at the elegant beauty of Kimball, compare the variety of bumper-shapes that Kearney used: long and straight rectangles, squares, trapezoids, etc. Many of the shapes are unaltered, yet, all contour lines come together to define the remarkable and convincing figure of a horse. Some shapes are rounded and modified to fit a specific area, such as the eyes, nose and mouth. But mostly, Kearney used the bumper straight from the automobile and fashioned them into a magical creature.

Cedarhurst thanks Eldon Benz for the creation and set-up of the GPS map.