Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lamar Dodd

No visitor to the University of Georgia, or, in fact, the state of Georgia, can avoid seeing the name Lamar Dodd plastered in all kinds of locations: The Lamar Dodd School of Art (University of Georgia), The Lamar Dodd Art Center (LaGrange College), Lamar Dodd Professional Chair (a real job title), and even "Light one for Lamar" (a real anti-smoking ban protest). With his name being such a part of Georgia vernacular, Lamar Dodd’s actual identity eludes many – wealthy benefactor? Ancient regent?

Lamar Dodd at the Georgia Museum of Art

Dodd is actually one of the South’s most important and influential artists, contributing more than just his name to buildings, schools, and strange protests. His paintings are held in the collections of the Smithsonian, the Whitney, and Metropolitan Museum of Art – and of course at the Georgia Museum of Art – as exemplary pieces of Southern art. He enjoyed commissions from the likes of NASA, and his prolific output still permeates Southern culture, and particularly the Athens community, which Dodd made his home until his death in 1996.

Dodd’s beginnings are rooted in the region. He studied architecture at Georgia Tech, and then taught for a while in Alabama, but finding his greatest interest in painting and developing his own practice, he headed to New York in the late 1920s/early 1930s. This was a wise move – his stylized scenes of Southern landscapes and daily lives charmed New York crowds. Often dark in color, and with heavy black shadows, Dodd’s paintings of the American south appear sombre, yet romantic. This combination led to his first solo show in the city in 1932, and toward a name for introducing a renaissance in Southern art. He soon won the Norman Walt Harris Prize for his painting, “Railroad Cut,” which is now on display at the Georgia Museum of Art. 

Lamar Dodd, "North of Pratt City"

Following this, Dodd was invited to become the artist-in-residence at the University of Georgia, and so gladly returned to Georgia, and the South, to make art and advocate for its inclusionary sharing. He began giving lectures and teaching painting, and was appointed head of an essentially non-existent art department at the university. He expanded its programs, introducing more classes and a variety of courses, funded scholarships, saw the opening of the Georgia Museum of Art, and founded the Cortona Study Abroad program that is still enjoyed by students today, growing the art school until it was the biggest and most influential in the South. He retired in 1967, 16 years after the original residency program that was only intended to last a year. However, Dodd's legacy doesn't just lie with the school – he never ceased painting throughout these years, and exhibitions of his work continue today. The Monehegan Museum in Maine is currently showing a series of his works in an exploration of his 'artistic history.'

Lamar Dodd is an excellent figurehead for our institution as a great leader of the concept that we still work toward today – art for everyone. His name is proudly used to reflect the values that he instilled in (what he didn't know would become) the Lamar Dodd School of Art, and that they maintain in his memory. The school was renamed after him in 1994, not long before Dodd's passing, in celebration and tribute to his contributions to Southern art and its community, and you can visit the Georgia Museum of Art to see some of the paintings from the beginning of this great movement.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Museum Mix

Despite the fact that it happens three times a year, the Georgia Museum of Art’s Museum Mix never fails to send a buzz through the office. This season’s incarnation was no exception (knowing DJ YaTuSabes and D:RC (aka Darcy Reenis) are setting up on the floor below makes it difficult to concentrate), but the excitement is never just ours.

Keep 'em dancing, D:RC!
Last week, nearly 400 Athenians and visitors of all ages joined us at the free event on Thursday night for a full evening of drinks and dancing, helping us get through several cases of PBR and break in a makeshift dance floor after we were forced inside due to the rain. Coinciding with our exhibition of the 20th-century Mexican printmaking of El Taller de Gráfica Popular, the museum’s entire downstairs was mobilized with the aid of salsa dip and salsa music, and we got some great feedback on the opportunity to see this fascinating show in such a special way – late at night and with a glass of wine in hand.

As always, the museum is proud to be at the center of such a fun and engaged community. We love to see both young and old experiencing the museum in such a variety of ways and share our space for such lively events.

Museum Mix continues later this year – we hope to see you at the next one (hopefully rain-free) on October 1.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Artist Spotlight: Elaine de Kooning

Elaine de Kooning in her studio at the University of Georgia, ca. 1977-78.
The multi-faceted life and work of Elaine de Kooning, an equally accomplished artist, writer and teacher, makes her a captivating topic of study. Her contributions to the art world and the arts communities of the early 20th century at the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement mean that she has remained a consistent source of public and art historical fascination, ensuring her position as an arts, and feminist, icon. We’ve explored this, and de Kooning’s striking work in the Georgia Museum of Art’s collection before here on Holbrook’s Trunk, but now, de Kooning is back in the spotlight with an excellent exhibition of her work currently on show at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, and the conversion of her former East Hamptons residence into an inspiring artist colony. Although no survey of this prolific artist can ignore her unsettled marriage to Dutch émigré Willem de Kooning, who would go on to become one of the most revered and renowned artists of their generation, Elaine de Kooning’s accomplishments are decidedly her own, and her position in the history of American art is distinct and continuing.

De Kooning, a native New Yorker, had been creating works for much of her life but did not have her first solo exhibition until the early 1950s, at the city’s Stable Gallery, when she was in her mid-30s. Instead, she had focused on criticism, and became an esteemed writer and editor — she was one of the first critics to take note of the likes of Mark Rothko and became an associate editor at Art News in the late 1940s.

This exhibition at Stable Gallery became the first of many, and as her practice grew more distinctive, so did its public appreciation. While many of her post-war New York contemporaries, the renowned action painters that included her husband Willem, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, were making physical, powerful, Abstract Expressionist works, de Kooning took this gestural style and worked it into more figurative series, often veering into portraiture. This combination of the traditional form of posed portraits with the abstraction that was so attached to the zeitgeist is a fascinating blend that gives a great insight to the cultural landscape of the post-war United States. Elaine’s often faceless representations of the male form, which ranged from anonymous basketball players to her famed commissioned images of John F. Kennedy, pervert or subvert the traditional artist-sitter relationship, and make her sitter subject to a female gaze. The basketball players in particular almost appear as a 20th-century retroversion of Edgar Degas’ amorous, voyeuristic images of young female ballet dancers — nameless, faceless, elegant female forms drawn and painted tirelessly by a 19th-century male at the forefront of Impressionism, 100 years earlier, seeming antiquated alongside de Kooning’s expression of female power.

Elaine de Kooning, "Bacchus #81" (1983)

This progressiveness in de Kooning’s work is what is still recognized and appreciated today — the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington exclusively highlights her portrait work and has been years in the making, and examples of de Kooning's work are featured in collections across the world, from the Guggenheim to the Georgia Museum of Art. “Bacchus #81,” in the collection and on display at the museum, is a mesmerizing example of many of these features, and its position at the museum is a particularly appropriate choice — de Kooning held a long and interesting history with the University of Georgia. She taught at a variety of esteemed institutions from Yale University to the Parsons New School for Design, before settling for some time as a Dodd Visiting Professor here at UGA. She held a studio on campus during this time in the late 1970s, where her artistic output was particularly fruitful. In fact, de Kooning actually began her Bacchus series in this studio at the university, as seen in production in the picture at the top of this post, following an affecting experience with Jules Dalou’s “Le Triomphe de Silene,” a violent sculpture featuring Bacchus and figures in similar forms to those in the painting, in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris.

“Bacchus #81” is one work in the museum’s collection of nearly 10,000 that is particularly at home. A stone’s throw away from where Elaine de Kooning began its series, it acts as a great representation of the museum’s — and de Kooning’s — contributions to the history of American art.