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Blog Category: Highlights

November 22, 2011

Sending stone soaring to the heavens: the photography of Via Lucis

I’m trying to capture the architecture, the play of light on stone, and the beauty of the church. I try to find a way to express the spirit of the church. Sometimes I’m just moved by the shapes and the patterns.

PJ McKey

I’m trying to find hints of what moved the people who built the churches. And then I’m amazed by the genius of the builders.

Dennis Aubrey

Eglise Abbatiale Saint Vigor; Chevet and crossing tower, ca. 1032-1072 | Cerisy-la-Forêt, Manche, France | Photographer: Dennis Aubrey | ©Dennis Aubrey, Via Lucis Photography

To celebrate the recent release of images from Via Lucis in the Digital Library, Artstor invited photographer Dennis Aubrey to share a history of the project.

At the core of this project to document and explore the great Romanesque and Gothic churches of France and Spain lies a mystery. At the turn of the first millennium, the French monk Raoul Glaber wrote that it seemed that “the whole world were shaking itself free, shrugging off the burden of the past, and cladding itself everywhere in a white mantle of churches.” Our question is “Who were the builders?” Who were the people who, uncompelled, built their thousands of shrines that have lasted a thousand years? Their archives have disappeared, so often we don’t even know their names. But merely knowing their names would not tell us anything about who they were and how they came to perform such tasks. What kind of belief impelled and motivated them? This is the mystery we explore.

Basilique Sainte Madeleine; Capital – The Duel, early 11th century | Vézelay, Yonne, France Photographer: Dennis Aubrey | ©Dennis Aubrey, Via Lucis Photography

As the 11thCentury dawned in France, the world seemed under attack from all directions. The Carolingian stability had disappeared in a wave of invasions – the Norsemen raided the rivers and coasts from the North, the Saracens ranged over the South as they crossed the Pyrenees and swept up the Mediterranean, and the Magyar horsemen invaded from Hungary and the east. Cities were pillaged, churches destroyed, and society disintegrated. The invaders actually fought battles against each other over the spoils of France. But a new society began to emerge, one led by a religious movement of profound importance.

Eglise Saint Pierre; Notre-Dame-de-la-Volta, 11th century | Prades, Pyrénées-Orientales, France | Photographer: Dennis Aubrey | ©Dennis Aubrey, Via Lucis Photography

The Christian monastic orders emerged as the mortar of society, the bond that kept it together. Through these orders, Christian Europe began to defend itself, not just in arms but philosophically. The Church needed to restate its very identity. That restatement was powerful and profound. The Christian identity was re-imagined completely, not merely rediscovered. The Church incorporated the new learning of the day – the sciences of logic and philosophy. In doing so, Christian Europe managed two monumental feats; they united faith and intellect and created a completely new architecture.

The great Abbe Angelico Surcamp of the monastery of La Pierre Qui Vire near Vezelay, recently described to us that Romanesque architecture is fundamentally monastic – inward-looking and contemplative. Gothic, he suggested, was directed outwards as a public display of faith. Yet both combined to create an architectural vocabulary that transmuted stone into an expression of man’s Belief. Our project at Via Lucis is to explore this great achievement, that of sending stone soaring to the heavens.

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November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from Artstor

The Artstor staff is hurrying to wrap up projects before the long Thanksgiving weekend that starts this Thursday. The holiday is officially celebrated in the United States every year on the fourth Thursday of November.

Making Medicine | Making Medicine drawing of mounted hunters pursuing a deer, having flushed a turkey and chicks from cover, 1875 | National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

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October 27, 2011

Danse macabre

Jacques-Antony Chovin | Tod zum Narren [death figure wearing foolscap and robe and holding out a string of bells clasping hand of jester; from La danse des morts , 1744 | Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Continuing our spooky Day of the Dead/Halloween theme, we now present you with a slide show of the Danse Macabre. The Dance of Death was an allegory that began in the Middle Ages (possibly in response to the ravages of the black plague) in which death dances with people from all walks of life; it was meant to remind us that no matter our social station, life is fleeting and death inevitable.

The etchings in this slide show were made in the mid-18th century by Jacques-Antony Chovin based on prints by Matthäus Merian from a century before. They come to us from the Harry Ransom Center (University of Texas at Austin). Search for Chovin’s name in the Artstor Digital Library to see the accompanying text, which includes dialogues between death and her victims.

Jacques-Antony Chovin | Tod zum Narren [death figure wearing foolscap and robe and holding out a string of bells clasping hand of jester]; from La danse des morts , 1744 | Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Jacques-Antony Chovin | Tod zum König [death figure blowing horn and leading a king by the arm]; from La danse des morts, 1744 | Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Jacques-Antony Chovin | Tod zur Königin [death figure with snake around its neck leading a queen by a waist sash]; from La danse des morts, 1744 | Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Jacques-Antony Chovin | Tod zum Blinden [death figure with moustache and goatee and wearing a feathered hat holds staff of blind man and extends scissors to guide dog's leash]; from La danse des morts, 1744 | Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Jacques-Antony Chovin | Tod zum Koch [death figure carrying a spit with chicken over his shoulder and leading a stout man who carries a spoon and pitcher]; from La danse des morts, 1744 | Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Jacques-Antony Chovin | Tod zum Ritter [death figure wearing armor and holding a sword tripping a knight in armor]; from La danse des morts, 1744 | Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Looking for more creepy stuff? Try these posts:

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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 28, 2011

Focus on the telephone

Siemens & Halske A.G., Munich, (Manufacturer), Telephone, 1955. Image and data from: The Museum of Modern Art

The initial entry of our new Focus series presents a chronicle of the telephone using some of the numerous collections in the Artstor Digital Library that center on history.

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September 23, 2011

Welcome to the first day of Autumn

Autumn has arrived in New York City and there are signs of it everywhere. The leaves are turning shades of red, orange, and gold, and when I stroll under the trees I look out for acorns falling. Outside of the city the changes are more striking. Before long the leaves will be piling up.

Vincent van Gogh, Large Plane Trees, 1889. This image and data was provided by The Cleveland Museum of Art.

When I think of fall, I picture vivid colors and dramatic light. Different artists come to mind, but one of my favorites is Vincent Van Gogh because of his use of color and his bold brushstrokes. Last year I got the opportunity to see some of his works in person at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and I keep a few postcards of his work posted up next to my computer.

This particular work by Van Gogh was painted on a cold day in November in Sainte-Rémy in southern France. He painted the golden leaves of the large plane trees and the laborers working beneath them on a piece of cheap linen fabric; zoom into the image in Artstor to see the pattern of red diamonds on the linen showing through where the paint is thinner. It is fantastic to see these types of details in a work by an artist I truly enjoy.

What other images make you think of fall?

 – Lucy Sawyer, ITHAKA Marketing Enablement Manager

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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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September 9, 2011

Remembering 9/11

It’s been several years since the attacks on 9/11, but the events refuse to be confined to history. They continue to shape life and discourse in New York City, the United States, and the world, and the subject touches on disciplines as varied as social studies, journalism, political science, international relations, religious studies, economics, and civics. The Artstor Digital Library offers extraordinary images that provide many angles through which this complex episode can be considered.

A dazed man picks up a paper that was blown out of the towers after the attack of the World Trade Center, and begins to read it. ©Larry Towell / Magnum Photos. Image and original data provided by Magnum Photos

Dozens of images of the attack on the World Trade Center are available in the Magnum Photos collection, which also includes photographs of New York City in the following days and subsequent commemorations such as the Tribute of Light at Ground Zero on the second anniversary of the attacks. The collection also features magnificent views of the World Trade Center from the 1970s to the 1990s.

The event and its ensuing developments brought forth a wide range of reactions; these are represented in the Digital Library with works by contemporary artists, from the elegiac National Tribute Quilt in the American Folk Art Museum to searingly critical pieces by renowned political artist Hans Haacke in Contemporary Art (Larry Qualls Archive).

There are also glimmers of wonder among the many solemn images. A particularly touching piece is a Mexican retablo commissioned in gratitude for the survival of a loved one who was working in the Twin Towers during the attack.

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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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