Delights and Discoveries at the Barrick Museum’s Library Collection

MARJORIE BARRICK MUSEUM_JOYCE

Rob Burton, a retired Professor of English from California State University, Chico, has been cataloguing the Literature section of the Barrick library.  He writes about his experience. (He also took the photographs.)

Recently, I helped the Barrick Museum of Art at UNLV to catalog more than two hundred works of literature that have been on loan from the Las Vegas Art Museum since it closed in 2009. The collection is impressive, ranging from twentieth century classics by Graham Greene and André Gide to a special 40th Anniversary edition of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, all in excellent condition. There are also six of The Sandman series of graphic narratives by Neil Gaiman and a five-volume set of collected works by Ronald Firbank, an experimental modernist who is less known than his contemporaries, Virginia Woolf or D.H.Lawrence, but is equally compelling and cosmopolitan.

Most of the books in the collection were formerly owned by two patrons of the arts: Wally Goodman and William Stanton Picher. Their signatures and margin notes grace the pages of the books bringing the works of literature alive in vibrant and personal ways. For example, Picher fills the margins of James Joyce’s Ulysses with copious comments and questions as if he is in deep discussion with the novel’s hero, Stephen Bloom. Picher also makes the following sardonic comment at the end of an essay on the poetry of John Keats by an eminent Harvard professor: “stupid, bigoted, smug, ass of a prefacer.

MARJORIE BARRICK MUSEUM_KEATS ASS

Picher’s mother, Emily, also makes a valuable contribution to the collection. On the inside front cover of a slim paperback by Lord Macaulay entitled John Milton: An Essay, she has written: “Emily Trish Stanton, English-Classical School, Pasadena CA. Monday, March 4, 1895.” I can imagine the thrill that Emily (a teenager at the time, clearly in love with literature) must have felt as she signed the book on that spring day in Southern California at the close of the nineteenth century.

But my most poignant experience handling these books was discovering a boarding pass that belonged to Wally Goodman and was stuck inside a collection of essays by the British writer, E.M. Forster. Evidently, Goodman flew from Las Vegas to Chicago on October 11, 2001 and took Forster’s book with him for some light reading on the plane. Using the boarding pass as a book mark, he decided to stop reading after an essay entitled, “Does Culture Matter?” The answer that Forster gives to this question in the essay must have resonated with  Goodman. Bemoaning the rising popularity of “cheap amusements” all around him, Forster argues that “the understanding and enjoyment of art should be regarded as a mark of culture.”

MARJORIE BARRICK MUSEUM_BOARDING PASS

Indeed, Wally Goodman’s contributions to the understanding and enjoyment of art in Las Vegas and beyond are legendary. Along with his partner, Patrick Duffy, he donated over $500,000 worth of art and literature to the Las Vegas Art Museum. Further donations of art works, photographs, and other material from his life as a collector went to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.. After his death in 2008, a colleague paid tribute to him by saying, “Wally was a born connoisseur who inspired everyone around him with his gift for really ‘seeing’ in all situations.”

So, if you want to see for yourself how culture matters in these troubled times, take a trip to the Barrick Museum’s library and gallery spaces where, thanks to the generous gifts of connoisseurs like Wally Goodman and William Stanton Picher, you can be reminded of the transformative power of great works of art and literature.

Note: The research library at the Barrick Museum of Art is available by appointment only. Please email Paige Bockman (Office Manager) at paige.bockman@unlv.edu for further information.

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Zully Mejia responds to Mundo Meza.

MARJORIE BARRICK MUSEUM_ZULLY MEJIA_WHITE ON WHITE CROPPED TO HAND

Last week, UNLV student Zully Mejia installed an exhibition of her paintings and drawings in the campus’ Grant Hall gallery. The show, Un Orgasmo d’Arte, runs until March 29th. Here she talks about the inspiration she found in Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. when she looked at the work of Mundo Meza.

In a society where the validity of artmaking as a profession is constantly questioned, why choose art as a career path? What kind of impact can an artist accomplish? In answering these questions, it is helpful to investigate what art does. At its core, art communicates beliefs and expresses ideas. Every artist has the opportunity and potential to shape cultural values and practices through their work. Developing artists like myself can look to those who have come before us for guidance in the endeavor of creating community impact. One artist who illustrates this pursuit is Edmundo “Mundo” Meza, whose work intended to create awareness of his identity as a queer Chicano individual and bring to light the difficulties that many queer/Chicanx people faced during a difficult period in U.S. history, during the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Through examination of Meza’s work, I am able to gain insight into ways of encouraging reconsideration and awareness in my community.

Meza’s artwork sought to expand awareness of artistic identity for queer Mexican-Americans in the United States. Despite the stigma he experienced due to his identity, he used his voice within the art world to express himself without shame. Meza worked across various media, but throughout much of his life, he was regarded as a painter. His paintings tell a raw and sincere narrative of his experience, capturing both vibrant and colorless moments in his life. Looking at Meza’s work, I connect with his desire to change the way his community treated a stigmatized culture he belonged to. Our work shares the intent to shift the cultural stereotypes associated with our identities; in his case, as a queer Mexican-American individual; in my case, as a Peruvian-American woman.

Meza’s artwork drew from his experiences and the shared stories of loved ones, whom he sometimes portrayed in his work. Similarly, the prejudices and discrimination I have experienced and the shared stories of women from my community motivate my investigation into ways of shifting the perception of womanhood through my art practice. Meza’s work has allowed me to understand my work better, and it has given me a reference to what activism through painting can look like. One of the most significant lessons I learned from studying his work was the empowerment that comes from portraying one’s vulnerability. His Untitled (Male Nude) (1983) acted as a guide for me towards creating artwork that supports healing. I was inspired to paint a mostly colorless self-portrait during a time of depression and grief — something I had never done before. Learning from those who have come before us is a powerful tool for artists, wherein future generations are able to find mentorship from the past. We grow from the opportunity to see how other creative individuals have used art as a medium of cultural influence historically.

To say that the pursuit of cultural impact is tough would be an understatement, particularly when it involves attempting to remove stigma. Certain cultural mechanisms, such as the stigmatization of a group of people, are created through years of social construction, and they require years to deconstruct. Through the bold work of artists like Mundo Meza, progress can be achieved. While choosing a career in the arts is a risky endeavor, it gives individuals a platform for creating impact in their communities.

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The image Mejia supplied for this article is the “colorless self-portrait” she mentions in the third paragraph: White on White, 2019.

Human Contact, by Samantha Castle

MARJORIE BARICK MUSEUM_ELIZABETH BLAU REDLINING

Barrick intern Samantha Castle has installed a three-work pop-up exhibition in our West Gallery.  The show features work by Audrey Barcio, Elizabeth Blau, and Rachel Stiff. In this piece she talks about the reasons behind her choice.

There is no denying that there are many important issues that exist around the world, but the most prominent one is the natural world itself.

The ecosphere is comprised of all the natural systems that make this planet thrive. However, impending desolation is on the horizon. Some of the issues that are of major concern include the ramifications of climate change, habitat destruction, and animal extinction. Human Contact aims to confront this complex problem by bringing awareness and inducing critical thinking on how to respond to these imminent emergencies. With an extensive group effort, rehabilitation is surely possible. My exhibition consists of three art pieces that were specifically chosen because of their resemblance to animals and the habitats they live in. My curatorial vision is to induce a new perspective emphasizing the grand scheme of these worsening conditions.

On one side, Rachel Stiff’s Long Distance, 2013, is an abstract painting that embodies the formational process of a desert environment. In my eyes, the wide array of orange pigment exemplifies the increase of rising temperatures while the jagged blue shapes depict consequential water shortages. On the other side, Redlining, 2017, by Elizabeth Blau, displays a glacial transformation over time. It deliberately shows this progress by incorporating scientific data in the form of a prominent red line. Changes occur universally and can sometimes be observed in the physical world. For instance, Lake Mead National Recreation Area includes another form of demarcation with its noticeably white ring surrounding the basin, which implies drought. According to my interpretation, the different elements of Long Distance and Redlining show the juxtaposition of the earth’s environmental extremes, while the contrast of the two pieces demonstrates that from deserts to glaciers there is not one region that is more affected by irregularities than another.

Stationed in the middle is a rock-like sculpture by Audrey Barcio called Beautiful Nothing #19, 2014. In  regards to the comprehensive theme, I propose that its miniature presence on the wall represents the diminishing resources and biodiversity remaining in the confines of all natural terrains. Next, the fur’s position smeared against the pink foundation delicately portrays the blood that is shed due to the eradication of animal species. Lastly, the fact that people instantly want to touch it stands for the accountability of human contact.

Overall, joining these three pieces together and making connections between them connotes the severity and scope of environmental degradation. These horrible conditions persist because of our disregard for the repercussions of our actions. Therefore, we have the responsibility to preserve and conserve the earth we share as much as possible, for the next generation deserves to enjoy the captivating beauty it has to offer.

Illustration: Elizabeth Blau, Redlining, 2017, Acrylic on canvas

 

Tiger and the Eternal Struggle, by Catherine Swift

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Barrick intern Catherine Swift opened her self-curated pop-up exhibition, Tiger and the Eternal Struggle, in our West Gallery today. This is the research piece she wrote to accompany the show. A piece by intern Samantha Castle — whose own pop-up is installed on the wall opposite Swift’s — will be posted next week.

What can happen when artists draw from art history traditions and modern symbols in a piece of artwork? The collection at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art contains two works by UNLV alumni Sush Machida Gaikotsu and Eri King that present art and concepts of the past alongside current products and themes in Western society. Gaikotsu’s Tiger (2007) and The Eternal Struggle (4ever21) (2017) by King, investigate the interesting interaction of distinct cultures and time periods. Both works of art depict how traditional and contemporary ideas come together to suggest a sense of displeasure or unrest against the status quo of today.

Gaikotsu uses color and pop art imagery to create his multipart compositions. Not only drawing from clipart-like images that can be seen in modern technology, the artwork is also visibly shaped by the stylistic elements and animal depictions of traditional Japanese art. Tiger is reminiscent of older works such as Kano Eitoku’s 6-panel folding screen, Chinese Lions (1590), located at the Museum of the Imperial Collections in Tokyo, and Kishi Ganku’s late Edo period hanging scroll, Tiger (19th c.), located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Both artworks feature stylized animals, a vertical composition, and lack a clear horizon line. Additionally, there is a red stamp meant to identify the artist in the upper left portion of Ganku’s piece. In Gaikotsu’s work, a horizon line is also nonexistent and his red, stamp-like initials are painted with care in the upper left corner. The entire background is a gradient grey blue night sky, with no distinction of where the animals came from. Elevating the animals into the unknown is the gentle image of a cloud outlined with a stark red line.

Movement is hinted through the use of the gradient yellow within the outline of the cloud. The vertical format of the wood panel resembles a mounted wall scroll or a single panel in a folding screen. As one looks deeper into the composition, a narrative ensues between a ferocious, formidable tiger and an endearing, unassuming heart-eyed mouse. The miniscule mouse is clawing onto the foot of the tiger, visibly infuriating it, as the head of the tiger is turned angrily in its direction. Lifted into the unknown realm, the two conflicting animals are in such disagreement that the viewer remains curious about where they could end up.

As mentioned in Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design by Merrily Baird, tigers can signify courageousness and power, while mice can represent prosperity and misfortune in traditional Japanese art. Within Gaikotsu’s Tiger, the irritation of the tiger and the glare directed at the eager mouse suggest a discontentment or feeling of antipathy towards the representation of prosperity and its effects. The tiger may view the lingering mouse as a bad omen.

Decorating the subjects and their surroundings is an explosion of familiar, clipart-like images and mass produced items that serve many purposes in technology and the everyday. Depictions of little green tree air fresheners, a tiny dragon, star beams, small birds, a single flower, a tattoo gun, and — the most recognizable of the bunch — an Andy Warhol banana riddle the composition. Like cells, many of these images have been replicated throughout the piece. One larger green tree air freshener is even stuck to the back of the tiger, almost as though it is attempting to infect it. The Andy Warhol banana and the tattoo gun are gingerly balancing on the claws of the tiger. The former is symbolic of commodity, while the latter suggests artistic freedom and originality. Through the presentation of these items alongside the traditional, it is hinted that replication through mass production could turn a one of a kind artwork or design into a commodity.

In everyday life, these symbols and products have a perceived value based on how they are used; to freshen up a room, signify importance, accompany a text message, and even create something unique. By working with these traditional components in tandem with the depiction of mass produced items and symbols, it is suggested that there are differences between how society values the things we have now in comparison to the past. Our current world is flooded with commercialism, but we can still find ways to bring back ingenuity. For the tiger, the travelling cloud may be the only way to escape from the lure of prosperity or journey to the freshness of creative freedom.

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Tiger and The Eternal Struggle (4ever21) could be interpreted as modern takes on the Japanese genre of ukiyo-e, also referred to as “the floating world.” The clouds in both compositions quite literally lift the subjects into a floating world. The concept of this artistic genre was described by historian Paul Varley as:

“…In the broadest sense the insubstantial and ever-changing existence in which man is enmeshed. To medieval Buddhists, this had been a wretched and sorrowful existence, and ukiyo always carried the connotation that life is fundamentally sad; but in Genroku times, the term was more commonly taken to mean a world that was pleasurable precisely because it was constantly changing, exciting, and up-to-date.”

The Eternal Struggle (4ever21) by King employs strong visual components from well-known artworks whilst drawing from elements of Japanese art and contemporary life. Her artistic mission is to “draw upon the vast reservoir of the banal, unnoticed, and repetitive actions as a way to increase visibility and perceived value of these overlooked aspects of lived experience.”

As a part of her Unnutritious Facts series, this mixed media drawing also seems to explore the everyday in combination with remnants of the past. Ukiyo-e is suggested through the figures and their interaction with the objects of mass consumption. Hoisted above the happenings of humanity by way of the clouds, the two figures are in a state of retreat, emoting an intense sadness. Their bodies take the form of the subjects in the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden (1424-27) by Masaccio and are adorned with images derived from The Last Judgment (1536-41) by Michelangelo.

Surrounding the emotive subjects are the objects of mass production. Visibly heartbroken, one figure is attempting to hold the other close while they dry their eyes with a bag of Cheetos. The recognizable arms of Mickey Mouse tightly grip the two figures, almost as if the appendages desire to hold them together or squeeze the life out of them. Another prominent Disney element is Snow White and the Prince filling the space between the sensitive figures. Off in the distance, the storefront of a business called Forever is floating in midair. Complete with fabricated cell tower palm trees, it is a scene the viewer has certainly encountered in everyday life. For the two figures, this could be understood as the objects and places of their everyday activities. Forever, as a literal interpretation, could be the physical manifestation of “the floating world” in the form of a floating store. The references to contemporary material reveal not only societies dependency on pleasurable, idyllic actions in everyday life such as the consumption of media, shopping, and food, but also the ability of these objects to make individuals miserably dissatisfied and unhappy. Like Adam and Eve, these figures have been exiled from a place of satisfaction that no longer serves them. What was once a source of comfort, is now a source of great pain. The work suggests mass production and consumerism is damaging to the self and possibly even draining us of our creativity and uniqueness as human beings. We are ultimately at the hands of the capitalist system and its “unnutritious facts.”

In placing Tiger and The Eternal Struggle (4ever21) on common ground, the intent is to portray complex narratives with analogous iconography and inspiration. In the case of Gaikotsu and King, it appears that their subjects are being transported out of the common world and into an altered realm. Within this realm, The Eternal Struggle (4ever21) and Tiger express to the viewer not only the power of capitalism and wealth, but also courageousness and free will. Utilizing elements prominent in our everyday synonymously with the concept of ukiyo-e and motifs present in Japanese art, the artists successfully portray their take on the condition of contemporary life — as an ever-transforming source of unrest and displeasure.

In an interview with the blog Light Leaks, King states, “I believe desire is what creates value to the things that surround us.” The want or need for products, media, and knowledge generates the monetary or sentimental value associated with it. Tiger and The Eternal Struggle (4ever21) provide viewers with multifaceted perspectives on items that are given worth in these depicted worlds and how they can negatively affect the self. What is perceived as harmless can be more detrimental than we will ever know.

References

Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc., 2001. (pp. 156, 164).

Durmysheva, Yana and Aaron Kozbelt. “Lifespan Creativity in Non-Western Artistic Tradition: A Study of Japanese Ukiyo-e Printmakers.” The International Journal of Aging and Human Development. Vol. 65, no. 1, p. 23-51. Sage.

Light Leaks Interview with Eri King. September 12, 2018.

Varley, Paul. Japanese Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2000. (pp.182)

The illustrations Swift gave us for this article are 1) Kano Eitoku, Chinese Lions, 1590, Momoyama Period. Six-panel folding screen, color, ink and gold leaf on paper, 88in x 178in. Museum of the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan; and 2) Sush Machida Gaikotsu, Tiger, 2007. Acrylic on panel, 72in x 16in x 1.75in. The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art.