Museum celebrates first e-book publication
University graduate art students and faculty, together with the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum staff, celebrated the debut of their first online publication yesterday, titled “Not About Face: Identity and Representation, Past and Present.”
Donna Gustafson, the Andrew W. Mellon liaison for academic programs and the Zimmerli Art Museum Curator, said the e-book was complied by graduate art students.
Gustafson said the students had to write short descriptions of two or three portraits of their choice from the museum’s collection.
Virginia Harbin, a third-year graduate student of contemporary arts, said her research consisted of looking at the museum’s archives to see how and when the museum received its work. Harbin also said she investigated how the artists approached their work.
“We went through our research to write the statements detailing both the artists themselves, and the work that they made,” Harbin said.
Harbin also said her contributions to the e-book project helped her understand how museum workers do their jobs.
Harbin said she was impressed by how the museum and University worked together.
“We got to see first-hand the role of the curator in maintaining a museum collection,” she said
Harbin chose to focus on two portraits of women for her e-book contributions. She said these choices reflected her studies of how women are represented in art. She found that one of the portraits, which had a woman dressed in black, has a hidden meaning behind it.
“She has an ambiguous pose, which makes you want to know more about her,” Harbin said.
Harbin said she hopes to expand people’s horizons with this project.
“I hope this challenges the viewer’s perception of what a portrait is, and how that affects the viewer’s perception of their own identity,” Harbin said.
Corina Apostol, a third-year graduate student in art history, said her e-book contributions were a portrait of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin being hugged by a semi-nude Greek muse who was drawing his shadow, and a painting of Karl Marx covered by a spider web made from hairclips.
Apostol mentioned Russian artists Komar and Melamid made the portrait of Stalin, and an artist from Kazakhstan, Shaji-Zija, made the Marx portrait. She also discussed how both these artists were trying to satirize Soviet propaganda in different ways.
Apostol said through his portrayal of Marx, Shaji-Zija was pointing out that the Soviet Union was not based on the ideas on which it claimed to be.
“It was a way for him to debunk the myth that the Soviet Union was founded on the egalitarian principles of Karl Marx, when it actually was a dictatorship with an elite class,” Apostol said. “Marx was no longer being portrayed as standing for what he was originally supposed to be standing for.”
Apostol said Komar and Melamid’s portrait of Stalin was their way of ridiculing the idea of Stalin’s portrayal as the ultimate authority figure and the embodiment of the nation and people.
“The painting makes fun of this aggrandizement and by combining the Ancient Greek myth of the origin of art and Stalin’s normal portrayal — [it] shows how Stalin was being very over-flattered,” she said.
Apostol gave her insight as to what inspired her to participate in this program.
“The portrait is a very important way to convey identity,” she said. “People try to identify and empathize with the people being depicted.”
Suzanne Delehanty, director of the Zimmerli Art Musuem, said one of the greatest benefits of the e-book is that students learned to write descriptions of art work in a way accessible to the general public. Delehanty also said K-12 teachers would appreciate this effort the most.
“They are one of the groups we want to serve,” she said.
Also, Delehanty said the graduate students and the museum both benefit from projects such as the e-book.
“On the one hand, it benefits the students,” she said. “It is a great opportunity for students, since they are the authors of the publication. On the other hand, it’s a great way for the museum to publicize its works.”
In addition, Delehanty said the cooperation between the art history department and the museum on the project combined the best of both worlds.
“We have a large collection of real works of art, and many art history students want to become museum professionals,” she said. “This gives them the experience and training for one of the aspects of museum work.