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Blog Category: Features

October 21, 2011

Day of the Dead, Halloween, and the scary side of Artstor

Katsukawa Shunsho | The actors Ichikawa Danjuro V as a skeleton, spirit of the renegade monk Seigen… | Edo period, 1783 | The Art Institute of Chicago | Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago

Some blocks in my neighborhood are getting downright spooky – front yards are filling with spider webs and tombstones, and ghosts peek through the bushes. Along with the piles of pumpkins and inevitable candy corn appearing in the supermarket, they are a reminder that Halloween is just around the corner. Americans celebrate Halloween on October 31 by trick-or-treating, displaying jack-o’-lanterns (carved pumpkins) on their porches or windowsills, holding costume parties, and sharing scary stories.

Halloween stems from the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain (roughly, “summer’s end”) held on October 31–November 1, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. The festival was integrated into All Saints Day, a Catholic holiday observed on November 1 to honor saints and martyrs. The evening before All Saints Day was referred to as All Hallows’ Eve, which eventually became Halloween.

Day of the Dead figurine, skeleton dog | 2002 ca. | Mexico | Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology

In countries with Roman Catholic heritage, All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 2) have long been holidays in which people commemorate the departed. The tradition in my native Mexico is known as Día de los Muertos, “Day of the Dead,” and celebrations take place on the first two days of November, when family and friends gather to remember loved ones who have died. Similar to the evolution of Halloween, the celebration conflates the Catholic holidays with an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl, the “Lady of the Dead.” I have fond memories of visiting the cemetery with my family to clean my grandfather’s grave and play with the children of other visiting families. People in Mexico often build altars using brightly decorated sugar skulls, marigolds (popularly known as Flor de Muerto, “Flower of the Dead”), and the favorite foods and beverages of the deceased. I was particularly fond of the sugar skulls; I always tried to bite into them, but they tend to be so hard that I would have to ask my father to break mine with a hammer.

Multiple Carvers | John Sanders; Hannah Saunders, 1694 | Salem, Massachusetts | Image and data From: The Farber Gravestone Collection, American Antiquarian Society

Many Latin American countries hold similar celebrations, with some colorful regional differences:  In Ecuador, the Day of the Dead is observed with ceremonial foods such as colada morada, a spiced fruit porridge, and guagua de pan, a bread shaped like a swaddled infant; in addition to the traditional visits to their ancestors’ gravesites, Guatemalans build and fly giant kites; and in Brazil, Dia de Finados(“Day of the Dead”) is celebrated on November 2.

German School | Dance of Death | 16th century | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

To help you celebrate the season, there are thousands of suitably macabre images in the Artstor Digital Library. A great starting point is the Farber Gravestone Collection (American Antiquarian Society), which contains more than 13,500 images of early American grave markers, mostly made prior to 1800. You can also do a search for “Day of the Dead” to find images of calacas, skeleton toys from Mexico. There are also some artists who were great at portraying the dark side: You may be familiar with Henry Fuseli’s famous “Nightmare,” but a simple search of his name leads to several equally scary works, including a different version of the painting and several prints with the same theme; a search for caprichos will lead you to Francisco Goya’s legendary series of prints, rife with witches, demons, and gloomy owls, and a search for Goya witches to a set of his most unsettling paintings and etchings; similarly, search Baldung witches to see a number of the German Renaissance painter Hans Baldung’s ghoulish drawings, or search for his name to see his famous “Death and the Maiden”; and a search for Jose Guadalupe Posada will result in the Mexican artist’s famous “Calaveras,” satirical engravings of skeletons popular during the holiday.

Is this getting a little too dark for you? Try Hine pumpkin to see cheerier photographs by legendary documentary photographer Lewis W. Hine.

–  Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

Book of Hours. Use of Rome; Folio #: fol. 072r | 16th century, second quarter | Image and original data provided by the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

What are you afraid of? Find something to keep you up at night with this list of our spookiest posts:

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October 19, 2011

Focus On the Great Depression

Dorothea Lange | Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona, 1940 | George Eastman House

This installment of our Focus series presents an account of the Great Depression illustrated with selections from the numerous collections in the Artstor Digital Library that center on history.

The Great Depression was the longest lasting and most severe period of low general economic activity and unemployment of the 20th century. Lasting approximately a decade, it devastated economies around the world, leaving as much as a third of the population in some countries without jobs, and slashing international trade by more than half.

Berenice Abbott | Wall Street, Looking West from no. 120, 1935-1938 | Museum of the City of New York

The Great Depression was triggered by the Wall Street Crash of October 29, 1929 (also known as “Black Tuesday”). The crash ensued from a speculative boom that began in the late 1920s in which hundreds of thousands of Americans invested in the stock market, many of them with borrowed money. As stocks started to tumble, investors rushed to sell, starting a panic. From Thursday, October 24 to Tuesday, October 29, stocks lost more than $26 billion in value. Prices continued to fall, and banks that had invested large portions of their clients’ savings in the stock market were forced to close, inciting another panic as people across the country rushed to withdraw money, which caused further banks to close. As a result of the crash, businesses had to lay off employees, cutting into consumer spending power, which in turn led to further businesses to fail, creating a severe downward spiral.

Reginald Marsh | Crowd of unemployed, ca. 1932 | Image and original data from: Virga, Vincent, and Curators of the Library of Congress

The situation was exacerbated by the Dust Bowl, a combination of drought and dust storms that decimated farmers. Small farmers typically borrowed money for seed and paid it back after the harvest; when the dust storms damaged the crops, famers went broke. Banks foreclosed on farms, leading to further unemployment and homelessness.

The slump in the American economy curtailed the flow of American investment credits to Europe, which particularly affected Germany and Great Britain, the two countries most deeply indebted to the United States after World War I. Unemployment rose sharply in Germany, reaching 6 million workers by early 1932, and Great Britain’s industrial and export sectors were badly bruised. A domino effect began to upset the rest of Europe’s economies. In an attempt to protect their domestic production, nations imposed tariffs and set quotas on foreign imports, halving the total value of world trade.

In the United States, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to the presidency in late 1932, and he instituted the New Deal: increased government regulation, such as the establishment of the Federal Depository Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the passage of the Securities Act of 1933, and the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, and massive public-works projects to promote recovery, such as the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration), the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), and the WPA (Works Progress Administration).

Moses Soyer | Artists on WPA, 1935 | Smithsonian American Art Museum | Art (c) Estate of Moses Soyer / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Roosevelt’s efforts brought some relief, but approximately 15 percent of the work force remained unemployed in 1939. It’s commonly agreed that unemployment dropped rapidly in the US after war broke out in Europe thanks to the new jobs in armaments and munitions factories. Recently, Alexander J. Field disputes this assumption, arguing in “A Great Leap Forward” that productive capacity increased during the Great Depression, and that is what led to the post-World War II boom.

–  Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

Artstor Digital Library Collections:

Newman | A monthly check to you, ca. 1935 | Image and original data from: Virga, Vincent, and Curators of the Library of Congress

The Carnegie Arts of the United States documents the history of American art, architecture, visual and material culture; Eyes of the Nation: A Visual History of the United States (Library of Congress) is a pictorial overview of American history through images from the Library of Congress’ special collections; George Eastman House offers the history of photography, including many key figures from the 1920s and 1930s; Museum of the City of New York features documentation of the built environment of New York City and its changing cultural, political, and social landscape, including more than a thousand photographs from the 1930s; Georgia O’Keeffe Museum has hundreds of works from that period by the legendary artist; The Schlesinger History of Women in America Collection includes hundreds of images by professional and amateur photographers documenting the era; Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection features more than 600 works by American artists, famous and forgotten, from the decade of the Depression; and, similarly, the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, which also includes more than one hundred images by American artists of the period.

Using the Advanced Search function, searches limited to dates between 1929 and 1940 are rich with pertinent materials. Search for “unemployed” to find suitable images from the U.S. and Belgium, Nazi propaganda, and social realist paintings by lesser-known artists; search for “depression” to find hundreds of documentary photographs, images of fashions and architecture of the era, and diagrams of relevant economic statistics; and search for “WPA” for artwork and propaganda posters made for the program.

You can also find dozens of images by characteristic artists of the period such as Reginald Marsh, Ben Shahn, and Thomas Hart Benton, and documentary photographers such as Lewis W. Hine, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Berenice Abbott by searching for their individual names.

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September 20, 2011

Interview with the World Monuments Fund

Bonnie Burnham, President of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), the leading independent organization dedicated to saving the world’s most treasured places, talks to Christine Kuan about the history and future projects of WMF. The Artstor Digital Library recently launched WMF’s images of architecture, sites, and monuments from around the world.

Jaisalmer Fort; Exterior, India. | Photographer: Mark Weber. | World Monuments Fund

CK: What is the mission of WMF?

BB: World Monuments Fund works globally to ensure that heritage sites of worldwide significance are preserved, protected, and play a meaningful role in the local and global community today.

CK: How many countries has WMF worked within since its founding in 1965?

BB: In our more than 45 years of serving the field of heritage conservation, WMF has conducted and supported field projects in more than 100 countries, at nearly 600 sites.

CK: What are the challenges of preserving world monuments in the 21st century?

BB: Heritage sites face a range of threats, which have to do with changing ways of life, values, and the impact of a changing environment. Everything from the past cannot be saved as the world continues to reshape itself. In spite of their best efforts, governments cannot protect every site that is confronted with potential loss. Communities rally around the monuments that are most meaningful for them to save, but often they do not have the vision, the resources or the momentum to achieve their goals. This is where an international organization, the voice of an international concerned citizenry can help. The biggest challenge for the preservation field today is to preserve not only buildings themselves, but a meaningful context that will allow them to continue to play vital roles within the community where they exist.

CK: What is the most complex project you’ve worked on during your tenure at WMF?

BB: Sometimes projects are complicated from a technical perspective and sometimes they involve bringing together a diverse political consensus. It is the latter situation that is more complex. After the end of the Soviet period, WMF began to work extensively in eastern and central Europe. Many great heritage sites had been neglected for ideological reasons, especially sacred places and estates associated with the aristocracy. There was no prioritization or sense of how and where to start. Local authorities had no experience with how to make a monument economically self-sufficient. In the communist system the state had owned and paid for everything. Powerful officials made all the decisions. Our process of forging consensus about what to do and how to make it happen was a new idea to our counterparts in the former soviet bloc. It was a very exciting but often frustrating and complicated process. We never knew where we stood, and whether at the end of the day someone could stand in the way of all we were trying to achieve, simply because they had the power to do so. Working in postwar Iraq there is a similar feeling of uncertainty about whether the good alliances we have formed with our local counterparts will stand the test of time, as the government is still rapidly changing and evolving. Until things settle down and normalize politically, it will be difficult for people in the cultural sector to achieve lasting results that the society can embrace.

CK: How has Internet impacted the work of WMF?

Maya Sites of the Yucatan Peninsula, Yucatán, Mexico, ca. 600-900. Photographer: Bonnie Burnham. World Monuments Fund.

BB: The Internet has had a wonderful impact on our work in making it more widely accessible in ways we could not have imagined or planned for. When our World Monuments Watch list is announced every two years, the information reaches millions of people around the world in a matter of minutes. We get extraordinary responses from people everywhere who are moved by the places we are trying to defend. We can get a feeling for the local events they are organizing – a vigil, a rally, or a hearing. The connections are immediate.

Another way the Internet helps us is as a virtual environment for presenting the places we are trying to preserve, giving many people an opportunity to experience a real sense of place. With the development of other forms of new technology, such as laser scanning, we are now able to recreate monuments that are far away, inaccessible, or even lost, for a worldwide audience. This is a powerful new form of education.

CK: Part of WMF’s mission is education and training, what are some of the most critical education programs sponsored by WMF?

BB: We support many hands-on training programs at sites where we work. It is wonderful to see our trainees become personally involved with and committed to saving places that they might have been indifferent to prior to this opportunity, simply because they had not been able to see what we valued in those places. It’s very inspiring when a young person with no educational preparation comes to share and embody the values that inspire your own work. But my favorite educational program is one that WMF helped to establish at the Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design in Brooklyn, NY. The curriculum at this school draws completely upon learning directly from experiences in the built environment surrounding the school and in the community. Every academic course curriculum at every grade is interwoven with experiential knowledge from local landmarks – whether it’s English, math, science or history. The students learn from the monuments around them. I believe it is a very good way to learn, and the academic success of the students in the school has borne that out. Sometimes their lives are transformed by this opportunity. I wish I had had a similar experience when I was growing up.

CK: Has digital photography been useful to the work of WMF?

BB: Digital photography has and will continue to transform our ability to understand places. So much can be done to work with these images, integrate them together, transmit them around the world, and keep them permanently as a record of a given place at a given time, that digital images have almost outdated traditional photographic means. Traditional photography has become as a consequence more of an art form, a way of recording a moment or a sensation or a sense of place. All that is wonderful and legitimate, but perhaps the two have different purposes and different uses today.

CK: You studied at the University of Florida and l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne and devoted your career to cultural heritage preservation. Are there notable different cultural approaches to the preservation of world monuments?

BB: Nothing in my academic training prepared me for my career in heritage conservation, unless it was the opportunity of international study, where I learned very quickly that there are completely different cultural perspectives and approaches to education itself. I continue to be educated by every new project, country, and cultural environment in which we work. There are indeed different ways of thinking about monuments, different aesthetic and ethical approaches to preservation, and different ways in which communities and authorities locally express their respect for these sites.

Preah Khan; Exterior, ca. 12th c. Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. Photographer: John Stubbs/World Monuments Fund

CK: Is there any site/monument that you’ve always wanted to work on but never had the chance?

BB: Yes. The Taj Mahal. We were able to do a little work there, but not enough to help transform the run-down area around the monument and improve the overall experience of visiting the Taj, which would have been our long-term goal.

CK: What is one of the most endangered sites/monuments now that everyone should be aware of?

BB: The most endangered monuments today may be those that are most appreciated by the public. It is very rare for a good system to be in place to help preserve and protect monuments in relation to their own public. That public, especially in the form of tourists, can completely change the nature of the place, without meaning or wanting to do so, just by their very presence. The most endangered monument that is being lost, probably irretrievably, today is Venice. This is because of a range of factors working together to produce a net loss, which is getting worse as the years go on. The environmental impact of rising water is ominous. The demographic changes of the city, with the Venetians leaving or being forced out because of rising property values, the unregulated numbers of tourists and the insensitive commercial decisions – from allowing oversized tour boats in the canals to selling huge space for advertising panels on key monuments – have degraded its sense of place, and it is steadily losing its appeal as a living community. The political powers of the city, and its citizenry, do not seem to have the will to save historic Venice as a vital city.

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June 20, 2011

35 Years of Ephemeral Art: Martha Wilson on Franklin Furnace

Franklin Furnace was founded in 1976 by artist Martha Wilson to champion ephemeral art forms neglected by mainstream arts institutions. The organization provided a much-needed forum for artists’ books, temporary installation art, and performance art, and launched the careers of artists whose work has greatly influenced art and cultural discourse in this country.  After 35 years, Franklin Furnace continues its mission to present, preserve, and advocate on behalf of ephemeral art. In 2008, Franklin Furnace partnered with ARTstor to digitize and publish on the web documentation of events it presented and produced.

To celebrate the most recent addition of images and documentation of Franklin Furnace events in the Digital Library, Artstor invited Founding Director Martha Wilson to share a history of the renowned venue.

If I had known 35 years ago how much work it was going to be to establish a not-for-profit organization in my living loft at 112 Franklin Street in TriBeCa, I probably would not have done it. Several times I was tempted to fold the tent. Yet the vacuum in the art world that need to be filled (with hot air!) was obvious, and kept me going: none of the major institutions in town were paying attention to what artists were doing. Artists were publishing cheap stuff, artworks masquerading as books. Around the same time, Printed Matter was being formed (as a for-profit corporation at first) by a collective of artists and activists, to publish artists’ books; soon we divided the pie such that Franklin Furnace took on the exhibition and preservation of artists’ books, Printed Matter, Inc. took on their publication and distribution.

Dolores Zorreguieta "Wounds" (1994)
Dolores Zorreguieta "Wounds" (November 11 - December 10, 1994). Photograph by Marty Heitner.
Laurie Anderson reading (1977)
Laurie Anderson reading (May 3, 1977). Photograph by Franklin Furnace.
Dara Birnbaum "(Reading) Versus (Reading Into)" (1978)
Dara Birnbaum "(Reading) Versus (Reading Into)" (April 11 - April 27, 1978). Photograph by Franklin Furnace.
Karen Finley, "A Woman's Life Isn't Worth Much" (1990)
Karen Finley, "A Woman's Life Isn't Worth Much" (May 18 - June 16, 1990). Left to right: Karen Finley, Martha Wilson. Photograph by Marty Heitner.
Jenny Holzer, "Truisms" (1978)
Jenny Holzer, "Truisms" (December 12 - December 30, 1978). Pictured: Mike Glier. Photograph by Franklin Furnace.
Tehching Hsieh, "One Year Performance" (1983)
Tehching Hsieh, "One Year Performance" (February 16 - March 12, 1983). Photograph by Franklin Furnace.
Tina Keane, "Playpen" (1981)
Tina Keane, "Playpen" (March 17, 1981). Photograph by Franklin Furnace.
Leslie Labowitz, "Sprout Time" (1981)
Leslie Labowitz, "Sprout Time" (March 20, 1981). Photograph by Franklin Furnace.
Ana Mendieta, "Body Tracks" (1982)
Ana Mendieta, "Body Tracks" (April 8, 1982). Photograph by Franklin Furnace.
Shirin Neshat, "Unveiling" (1993)
Shirin Neshat, "Unveiling" (April 2 - May 1, 1993). Photograph by Marty Heitner.
William Pope.L, "How Much is that Nigger in the Window?" (1991)
William Pope.L, "How Much is that Nigger in the Window?" (June 1 - August 31, 1991). Photgraph by Franklin Furnace.
William Wegman, Reading from War and Peace with Man Ray (1977)
William Wegman, Reading from War and Peace with Man Ray (February 15, 1977). Photograph by Jacki Apple.

In the early days, I asked artists to read from their published works; this immediately became the performance art program. To complement the cheap stuff we were archiving, Franklin Furnace began exhibiting artworks in book form; this soon turned into the temporary installation program. Franklin Furnace often premiered artists in New York who later emerged as art world stars: Ida Applebroog, Eric Bogosian, David Cale, Patty Chang, Willie Cole, Sue de Beer, Nicole Eisenmann, Karen Finley, Kate Gilmore, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Ann Hamilton, Murray Hill, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Liza Lou, Taylor Mac, Robbie McCauley, Rashaad Newsome, William Pope.L, Emily Roysdon, Dread Scott, James Sienna, Theodora Skipitares, Michael Smith, Annie Sprinkle, Krzysztof Wodiczko, and Paul Zaloom, among hundreds of others. Franklin Furnace has had an indelible impact upon art by launching the careers of artists whose work has influenced art and cultural discourse in this country.

Franklin Furnace occupied the ground floor and then the basement of 112 Franklin Street for 20 years. In the wake of the Culture Wars, we decided to “go virtual” to give artists the freedom of expression they had enjoyed in the loft during the 1970s. We moved to the Financial District until 9/11 made it depressing and archivally challenging, then responded to an RFP to move to 80 Arts in the BAM Cultural District, where we live today with collegial organizations like Bang on a Can, Bomb Magazine, Sound Portraits, and Witness.

Franklin Furnace collaborated with the Abrons Art Center of Henry Street Settlement to present “The History of the Future: A Franklin Furnace View of Performance Art” during the Performa 07 biennial. We presented live performance artists interspersed with historical video footage of performance art works from the last three decades. At the end of the evening, audience members were invited up on stage to enjoy drinks, and have their pictures taken with Marina Abramović. A couple approached me to say, “Hi, we’re Julie and Glenn Gribble and we live in your old loft at 112 Franklin Street.” We made a deal to throw a party someday. As our 35th birthday party appeared on the horizon, the plans took shape: We held our celebration not only in our original loft, but on our actual 35th birthday. Ame Gilbert and Deena Lubow of Communal Table prepared spectacular food, and got spinach pie from the nearby Square Diner, where many a lunch was eaten back in the day. Marja Samsom, who had performed as “Miss Behave” at Franklin Furnace in 1980, returned as the “Dumpling Diva” to make her signature mushroom dumplings. And Vince Bruns, proprietor of Westfield Seafood (and my partner of 18 years) provided shrimp and crab cakes.

As part and parcel of the entertainment at the party, we showed slides of artists’ installation and performance artworks which also showed the loft in all its gritty glory. These slides were harvested from a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Booth Ferris Foundation to digitize Franklin Furnace’s first decade of event records, to publish them on our website, and to contribute them to ARTstor’s database so they might be used in art and art history classrooms.

During the last 35 years, Franklin Furnace’s mission has remained constant—to make the world safe for avant-garde art—but the implementation of our purpose has evolved from presenting space to research resource. Instead of 75 people sitting on hard folding chairs, now our online audience is a worldwide mix of artists, students, scholars and regular folk from 65 countries. If I had had unlimited resources, I probably wouldn’t have taken Franklin Furnace into the virtual realm; and I occasionally feel nostalgic for the loft space at 112 Franklin Street. Yet I’m not sorry history turned out like it did!

–Martha Wilson, April 2011

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April 11, 2011

Judith: the original femme fatale

Conrat Meit Judith with the head of Holofernes (detail ), 1512-1514

Conrat Meit, Judith with the Head of Holofernes (detail ), 1512-1514 Alabaster with gilding 30 cm high Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich

In the Old Testament’s Book of Judith, the beautiful widow saved the besieged city of Bethulia by charming her way into the tent of Assyrian general Holofernes and beheading him, enabling the Israelites to defeat the invading army.

The Artstor Digital Library features more than 600 images depicting the story of Judith and Holofernes, attesting to the powerful appeal the Judith narrative has over artists. The Jessica E. Smith and Kevin R. Brine Charitable Trust sponsored 330 new images to be added to the Digital Library’s existing 300 images based on the story. Images on the theme range from an 11th century illuminated manuscript to an unnerving tableau by Judith Greifinger Klausner from 2008 that features insects playing the parts of the two characters.

Hans Baldung, Judith with the head of Holofernes, early 16th century

Hans Baldung, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, early 16th century. Oil on panel , 92 x 77 cm. Schloss Friedenstein Museum, Gotha.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1609-1610

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1609-1610.Oil on canvas, 125 x 101 cm. Galleria Borghese, Source Image and original data provided by Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

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February 24, 2011

Artstor Talks to the American Folk Art Museum

Christine Kuan interviews Maria Ann Conelli, Executive Director of the American Folk Art Museum


CK: What’s special about the American Folk Art Museum?

MAC: The American Folk Art Museum is the only museum in the United States dedicated to traditional folk art as well as creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists; it is home to one of the world’s premier collections dating from the eighteenth century to the present.

Henry Darger, Child-Headed Whiplash-Tail Blengins, Blengiglom-enean Island

CK: Many more people are interested in folk art today, why do you think that is?

MAC: I think that folk art and the art of the self-taught have an inherent accessibility people can relate to. What is amazing is that the art is made by individuals with no formal artistic or academic training who nevertheless have the need to articulate their passion to create. The result is these astounding works that speak to a broad and varied audience.

Artist unidentified, Witch on a Broomstick Whirligig

CK: What’s your favorite work in the collection?

MAC: That’s like asking a parent which child is her favorite.

CK: Why did the Museum decide to make digital images of the collection available in the Artstor Digital Library?

MAC: A large part of the museum’s focus is on education. We take great pride in our educational website,, through which teachers have access to museum-generated lesson plans for grades K through 12. One of the exciting aspects about our collaboration with Artstor is that it allows us to reach a collegiate audience in ways that were not available to us before. It also allows us to share very high-resolution image files of thousands of objects in the museum’s collection that offer important details, such as stitching in textiles and signatures on paintings—details that are crucial to the study and preservation of folk art for generations to come. Providing high-resolution images to teachers, scholars, and students is extremely important to us—we want the works in our collection to be shared with as large an audience as possible.

Ammi Phillips, Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog

CK: How is your museum taking advantage of digital technologies?

MAC: We are using the Internet more and more to reach a larger audience and stay in touch with those who may not be able to actually visit the museum. Digital photography, because of its ease of use, makes it possible for us to share the collection with people around the globe, and social media outlets allow us to offer behind-the-scenes looks at the museum. Through the museum’s main and educational websites, as well as Facebook and Twitter, we are able to engage audiences around the world by sharing archival and installation information that we were not able to provide in the past.

Artist unidentified, Chevron Doll Quilt

CK: What’s the biggest challenge facing American museums [or your museum] today?

MAC: I think all museums are grappling with how to attract and engage a younger audience. We have a teen docent program that we’re all really proud of—our museum educators teach high school students how to serve as gallery guides to their peers. It’s a huge time commitment for the students and our educators, but I think it’s valuable for the participants to develop not just visual literacy but also writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills. The museum’s online presence can be a great introduction to the art, especially for younger audiences—but I think they know that the “real thing” is so much more interesting.

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November 10, 2010

Ten Questions for Judy Chicago

Judy Chicago images; see image credits below

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974-1979, © Judy Chicago Photo © Donald Woodman, | Judy Chicago, Turn Over a New Leaf (from Resolutions: A Stitch in Time), 2000, © Judy Chicago Photo © Donald Woodman, | Judy Chicago and Donald Woodman, Bones of Treblinka (from the Holocaust Project), 1988, © Judy Chicago,

Judy Chicago is an artist, author, and educator whose work has significantly transformed the traditional art historical canon. She and her husband, photographer Donald Woodman, have collaborated throughout their marriage of twenty-five years in art projects and team teaching at such institutions as Western Kentucky University, Cal Poly Pomona, and Vanderbilt University. Through the Flower, a nonprofit Feminist art organization founded by Chicago in 1978 and based in New Mexico, serves the general public and especially K-12 schools by creating educational programs dedicated to communicating the importance of art and its power in countering the erasure of women’s achievements.

Judy Chicago image; see image credits below

Judy Chicago, The Creation (from the Birth Project), 1984, © Judy Chicago,

CK: From the seminal work The Dinner Party (1979) to the present, do you think the art world has changed?

JC: Since the time I created The Dinner Party there have been many changes in the art world, which has become globalized. Women and artists of color are free to openly address issues of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation in their work, which was not true when I was young. Moreover, there is no dominant style but rather a plethora of approaches to art-making, along with a wide range of media, all of which is to be celebrated. At the same time, in terms of the major museums, permanent collections continue to be only 3-5% women and only 2.5% of commercial solo art publications are devoted to women. This institutional resistance is what I set out change many decades ago.

CK: Many well-known artists today are women. How has your work as artist, photographer, and educator impacted the recognition and preservation of women’s achievements?

JC: Obviously, The Dinner Party, which traveled to sixteen venues in six countries and three continents to a viewing audience of over one million people, helped to educate many viewers about women’s achievements. Its permanent housing in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum is extending its reach, as people are coming to see it from all over the world. In addition to The Dinner Party, my other collaborative projects (the Birth Project, 1980-85; the Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light, 1985-1993, created with Donald Woodman; and Resolutions: A Stitch in Time,1994-2000) helped to bring women’s experiences and perspectives into the art discourse. And over the course of its three decades of existence, Through the Flower has done exhibitions and programming aimed at highlighting women’s achievements in the arts.

CK: Are there challenges today that women artists face today that were not issues in the past?

JC: This is a difficult question for me to answer, given where I am in my career. However, from my perspective, the greatest challenge is that, as stated by the pioneering women’s historian Gerda Lerner, “women don’t know what women before them thought or taught” (and I would add created). Consequently, instead of being able to build upon the achievements of their predecessors, women artists are caught in the same cycle of repetition that The Dinner Party recounts.

CK: In recent years, “feminism” has taken on a wide spectrum of meanings both positive and negative. What does “feminism” mean to you?

JC: The definition of feminism is not a personal choice; it is a philosophy that dates back two hundred years or more, specifically to Mary Wollstonecraft’s famous tract “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” published in 1792. Since that time, there have been many feminist theories, all of which advocate the political, social and economic equality of the sexes. Successive waves of feminist movements have attempted to achieve such equality in the face of fierce resistance because sexual equality would upend the structure of power on the planet.

CK: What do you think has been the greatest accomplishment to date of Through the Flower?

JC: Through the Flower has survived over the course of more than thirty years with little support from traditional funding sources and very few grants. Instead, it has been sustained by individuals who believed in my work and the goals of Through the Flower, thereby demonstrating the power of the individual to contribute to social change. I believe that this is an important model for alternative arts organizations, particularly those aimed at enlarging the art dialogue. Over this time, Through the Flower has provided a framework for my collaborative art-making which—in addition to producing works of art—empowered many of the participants. Moreover, given its modest staff and funding base, Through the Flower has managed to accomplish many significant goals. For more information, go to

CK: Judy, you and Frances Borzello just published the book Frida Kahlo: Face to Face. Many conversations are focused on the so-called “death” of scholarly art publishing. What do you think is the future of print art publications?

JC: I hope that print art publications never end, because there is no digital version that is even close to providing the pleasure of the printed page in terms of images and text. That said, I believe that text-based print books will be replaced by digital forms. But fine art printing will survive because I cannot imagine a reader getting the same satisfaction viewing Frida Kahlo: Face to Face online as they will by holding this large format, sumptuously illustrated book in their hands and turning the pages to discover the many beautiful images and reading the texts.

CK: You continue to exhibit and your works continue to attract large audiences. What do you hope viewers come away with from your current show, Surveying Judy Chicago: 1970-2010?

JC: Surveying Judy Chicago: 1970-2010 at ACA Gallery, New York, from October 14 through December 4, 2010 is intended to provide a glimpse into my overall body of art. Although I am gratified by the attention The Dinner Party brought me, it is my abiding hope that one day it will be seen as only one work in a large and varied oeuvre. Hopefully the ACA show will be a step towards the achievement of this goal.

CK: You’ve contributed 367 images of your works to the ARTstor Digital Library and they’ve just gone live. Why did you decide to make your images available to educational and scholarly users via ARTstor?

JC: I wanted to make my images available via ARTstor because I recognize its crucial role in providing images to teachers and professors. My study of history taught me that many women artists have been erased from history and one of my goals has been to overcome that erasure—for myself, for the 1038 women represented in The Dinner Party, along with the countless women artists Through the Flower has exhibited and honored. I am deeply appreciative that ARTstor has accepted this gift and hope that it will prove useful.

CK: Has the digital medium impacted your work?

JC: The digital medium has definitely impacted both my work and my career. For example, several of my recent lithographs (from Retrospective in a Box, seven prints surveying my career) combine digital imagery with traditional lithography. The Internet has provided a means of sharing my work with a worldwide audience through my website, And Through the Flower’s K-12 Dinner Party Curriculum is available online as a series of free, downloadable pdf files. These are just a few examples of the many ways in which the digital medium is transforming our lives.

CK: What inspires you to continue working and collaborating with other artists?

JC: I have always worked both individually and collaboratively. Some projects are best realized by one’s own hand while others require the participation of people with different skills. As to what inspires me? An ongoing passion for art, something that I’ve had since I was a child.

Judy Chicago’s current exhibition, Surveying Judy Chicago: 1970-2010, is on view from October 14, 2010 to December 4, 2010 at ACA Gallery, 529 20th Street, 5th Floor in New York City.

Judy Chicago and Frances Borzello’s new book, Face to Face: Frida Kahlo is published by Prestel and launched with a lecture and book signing at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Chicago will be doing book events around the country with an English book tour to follow in June, 2011.

Learn more about the Judy Chicago Collection in the ARTstor Digital Library.
View the Judy Chicago Collection in the ARTstor Digital Library.

To learn more about Judy Chicago, go to

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July 23, 2009

Artstor celebrates the life and work of James Conlon

Artstor celebrates the life and work of James Conlon, Director of the Visual Media Center at Columbia University, who passed away suddenly on July 17, 2009 at the young age of 37. He was a wonderful friend, colleague, and champion for the use of new technologies to enable the documentation and study of cultural heritage sites and monuments.

In 2008, Conlon contributed his personal collection of digital photographs of art, architecture, and sites throughout Mali and Yemen to the Artstor Digital Library to enable students and scholars around the world to teach and study with his images. He was about to embark on an Artstor-sponsored campaign this summer to photograph the Dogon region in Mali, West Africa. Together with Susan Vogel, Professor of African Art and Architecture at Columbia University, and other experts, they were to create approximately 200 QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) panoramas of important sites and architecture on the sandstone Cliffs of Bandiagara, which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1989. In addition, the team was to capture the cultural landscape of the region through approximately 1,200 still digital photographs of the core towns and significant areas on the Bandiagara escarpment, ranging from ritual dances and other ceremonies to the practices connected with the design and use of individual works of art. Unfortunately, this campaign is now on hold until further arrangements may be made.

Conlon studied the social history of the Near East at the University of Rochester and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University. He also completed a post-graduate certificate in the Conservation of Archaeological Sites and Historic Buildings from Columbia University. At Columbia, he explored the potential of new media to facilitate the interpretation and conservation of the built environment. He eventually became the Director of the Visual Media Center at Columbia and participated in several important projects to document major monuments around the globe. We at Artstor had the pleasure of working with a generous, knowledgeable, and kind expert. Artstor will preserve and share Conlon’s beautiful collection of photographs with you now and for many years to come.

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