Finding art in unlikely places

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By Natalie Olivo ’13

Except for the lack of sirens and car horns blaring in Granville, the Denison Museum feels like it’s tucked into a cultural corner of downtown Manhattan.

Flanking the entrance is a room with glass walls that hosts a vibrant collection of cigarette ads. The current exhibit, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” takes its name from a Virginia Slims slogan. Across the polished wood floors are three more exhibits that were unveiled this fall: “Picasso at Denison,” “Théophile Steinlen,” and “From Paris to New York.”

“It looks like we took prints from storage and put them up on the walls,” said Anna Cannizzo, interim director and curator of collections. But the process of mounting and displaying these exhibitions proved a little more complicated than that.

Three years ago, the museum staff began working with donated prints that had been stored away for decades. Many of them had been torn and damaged from improper mounting and hinging materials, such as linen, paper, masking and cellophane tapes. So museum staffers began to stabilize the artwork for display, thanks to a conservation grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Now the shows are up and running through Dec. 10. The museum, located in the Burke building, is open daily from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursday from noon to 7 p.m. But for a sneak peek, check out the gallery below.


Picasso at Denison

Most folks might know Picasso as a cubist, but during his career, he also developed an interest in print-making. Many of Picasso’s prints challenged artistic conventions of the time by focusing on “the everyday man.” He created works based on observations of people and places around him, including bus stops and subways. He saw art in places that weren’t considered glamorous.


Théophile Steinlen

A common thread links the haunting humanity of Picasso’s work to the work of Théophile Steinlen. An artistic contemporary of Picasso’s, Steinlen was a Swiss artist who produced raw, shadowed prints of local vagabonds and street scenes. He also focused on World War I, including soldiers and families displaced by the battle. Like Picasso, he saw art in the everyday. One of his most famous works, Le Chat Noir, was based on cats that hung out at the bars he visited.


From Paris to New York

When World War I hit, many European artists fled to the United States, inspiring the name and theme for “From Paris to New York,” which shows a “panoramic view of the war’s impact” on the artists, according to the exhibit’s curator, Megan Hancock. Big-name artists like Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dalí, whose work is on display, arrived in the U.S. to find a hungry art scene. As the world changed around them, these artists introduced new stylistic approaches to the art world. Louder than the first two exhibits, this one bursts with colorful splashes of New York City grit. The bold, overlapping arrows and block numbers of a Robert Indiana piece are reminiscent of a bustling underground subway.


You’ve Come a Long Way Baby

Fast-forward through the decades to “You’ve come a long way baby,” an exhibit co-curated by Natalie Marsh and museum interns Hannah Miller ’12 and Melissa Grannetino ’12, and based on research by Robert Jackler of Stanford University. The wall-to-wall display of cigarette advertisements creates a cube of colorful snapshots into the past, including a bride posing with a pack of smokes. Many of the ads parallel the women’s liberation movement by portraying cigarettes as “torches of freedom.” The advertisements depict smoking as part of every social experience, from cocktail parties, to sailing, to horseback riding. They often feature blithe phrases as free as the smoke trailing towards the black frames, encouraging women to “believe in yourself” and “be happy – go Lucky.”

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5:56 AM September 30, 2010

Todd jamison wrote:

With respect to “You’ve come a long way baby,” I find it interesting that we so blindly accepted as good and liberating something so deadly and binding as smoking.

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4:51 PM October 6, 2010

Claire wrote:

Todd,

Denison taught me this: Do we see this ad as good and liberating? The “baby” in the tagline isn’t a celebration of feminism. It’s a tongue-in-cheek remark that’s cute and a good ad, but ultimately it still trivializes the feminist movement.

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