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One of the many reasons why visitors say they enjoy the Hood Museum of Art is because the line between art and artifact has been so splendidly blurred in its collections. The museum’s curricular relationships with studio art, art history, anthropology, classics, and Native American studies, among others, have over the years encouraged a broad assessment of what defines a work of art. Siegfried Kracauer, the German-born theorist who spent much of his life in America, and whose work was celebrated at a 2008 conference at Dartmouth College, helped focus attention on the ephemeral, the popular, and what he called “mass ornament.” He completed his doctoral degree in engineering on the art of wrought iron, and certainly the issues of function and decoration, for both ordinary and exalted purposes, are preoccupations in art at all times. Contemporary art is in a sense a misnomer, for all art was contemporary once. While the concept of the avant garde, the so-called cutting edge in art, has captured the term contemporary art, museum exhibitions in winter 2009 admirably demonstrated the actual range of the contemporary.
Spirit of the Basket Tree explored the tradition of ash splint basket making by Native American basket makers from Maine. The earliest basket in the Hood’s collection was made about 1799, during the colonial period, and its most recent baskets were made in 2008. They are superb examples of a contemporary art that is founded on very old traditions. The exhibition included works by relatives of George Neptune, a member of the Dartmouth Class of 2010 and a basket maker himself.
Focus on Photography: Works from 1950 to Today offered a survey of some of the themes to be explored in the museum’s photography collections: portraiture, landscape, and documentation. It included works by photographers who have been artists-in-residence at Dartmouth College, including Walker Evans, William Christenberry, Andrew Moore, and Subhanker Banerjee, as well as Dartmouth graduates such as Ralph Steiner, Class of 1921, James Nachtwey, Class of 1970, Dick Durrance, Class of 1965, and Joel Sternfeld, Class of 1965 (also an artist-in-residence). Contemporary photography is a fast-developing field, especially now that the digital camera offers such potential for image manipulation. For example, a distinctive recent work acquired from the German photographer Loretta Lux, The Drummer (2004), involved the use of computer programs to help create it.
European Art at Dartmouth continued throughout the winter, offering highlights from the Hood’s collections of paintings, sculpture, drawings, and prints. The images in the show made clear that the origins of many of the principles underpinning our visual literacy today, whether perspective in optics or portrayals of people and places, arose centuries ago. We bring our past with us, and that is what makes the contemporary so exciting.
The term “visual literacy” was coined by John Debes in 1968, when the International Association for Visual Literacy was established; it has held an annual conference ever since, indicating the potency of the concept. While visual literacy has been variously defined—it has after all been enrolled as a basic premise within a range of disciplines, including visual studies, visual culture, visual communications, and visual graphics—in essence it concerns itself with constructing meaning from images. The Hood Museum of Art’s well-established methods for teaching with objects include training in how to look at, see, describe, analyze, and interpret them. We believe that if time and concentration are given to the study of objects and images, their meanings will be more fully understood. Time is in short supply for college students these days, as it is for everyone else. Yet though our world is already image saturated, and time is quite precious indeed, we must not be seduced into thinking that just because we have looked at something, we have actually understood it.
The current generation of college entrants is the first to have had a lifetime’s exposure to the Internet. These “digital natives” have been living a revolution since 1991, in a manner perhaps akin to those first exposed to the Gutenberg printing press in the fifteenth century, or even to the invention of cuneiform writing 3,500 years before that. It truly is an exciting time to be alive, and especially to work and study in an educational institution.
The Hood’s spring/summer 2009 exhibitions, Félix de la Concha: Public Portraits/Private Conversations and Wearing Wealth and Styling Identity: Tapis from Lampung, South Sumatra, Indonesia, continued the excellent standards of display achieved by our staff, and the ongoing effort to provide access to global culture for the Dartmouth community and visitors from the Upper Valley and beyond.
In recent years, the Hood Museum of Art has commissioned major projects on campus that responded to College President James Wright’s invitation to display works of art in public places, and to Provost Barry Scherr’s encouragement to provide transformative experiences through engagement with works of art. This has been achieved by the permanent placement of sculptures near the Admissions Office and the Native American House, and by Wenda Gu’s extraordinary united nations project, made from human hair donated by our community, which temporarily transformed the Baker-Berry Library and the Hood Museum of Art in 2007. Another exhibition of this kind took place in spring/summer 2009, also in Baker-Berry Library and at the museum. We invited the Spanish artist Félix de la Concha to paint portraits of fifty people, each session lasting two hours, during which time he also audio- and video-recorded conversations with his sitters. The portraits in canvas, audio, and video were exhibited from April through September 2009. The project was a response to the campus-wide programming theme for 2008–10, “Conflict and Reconciliation,” established by the Dartmouth Centers Forum, an amalgam of student and community-focused institutes and centers on campus. The sitters were selected because they had encountered conflict of one kind or another in their personal lives and have made—or are making—the journey toward reconciliation. This powerful project was a revelation, a remarkable sample of the wonderful people in our community, and we thank Félix de la Concha for his dedication and imagination in realizing it. We are deeply appreciative of the support of Constance and Walter Burke, Class of 1944, and Yoko Otani Homma and Shunichi Homma M.D., Class of 1977.
Wearing Wealth and Styling Identity: Tapis from Lampung, South Sumatra, Indonesia presented a magnificent array of handwoven and embellished textiles of great complexity. The works in this beautiful exhibition are from the Lister Family Collection, and most of them have been gifted to the Hood by board member Stephen Lister, Class of 1963. We are deeply grateful for both his collecting passion and his generosity of spirit. As with the warmly received 2006 exhibition Dreaming Their Way: Australian Aboriginal Women Painters, all the works in this show of Indonesian textiles were made by women. They were also worn by women while participating in the ceremonial life of Lampung. We express our gratitude to Dr. Mary-Louise Totton for her professional commitment in the presentation of these wonderful garments and the preparation of the scholarly book that accompanied the show.
On the evening of May 7, we honored President James and Mrs. Susan Wright for their support of the arts at Dartmouth College. We were accompanied by the Board members of the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts and by former and current students participants in the museum’s Space for Dialogue program, the fiftieth version of which was on display at the time. We owe President and Mrs. Wright our deepest gratitude for their strong and constant support of the Hood Museum of Art and of the arts at Dartmouth.
In fall 2009, we opened Modern and Contemporary Art at Dartmouth, underwritten by members of the Hood Board of Overseers and other donors. The catalogue produced for this exhibition, like its two predecessors, American Art at Dartmouth and European Art at Dartmouth, adds much to knowledge about Dartmouth’s fabulous art collections. Work has begun on the fourth book in the series, Native American Art at Dartmouth, and our consultant curators have spent considerable time with us during the year. Our acquisitions have mirrored this activity. It is very rewarding to work on developing Dartmouth’s Native American collections, which have not received such attention in a very long time.
Sonia Landy Sheridan’s engagement with technology since the 1960s, as the digital age has emerged, has been marked by outstanding creativity and imagination. She is the epitome of the passionate artist-teacher. In fall 2009, we were delighted to mount an exhibition of her work, drawn from the extensive archive she generously deposited at the museum in 2004. The show coincided with Modern and Contemporary Art at Dartmouth, which also sought to provide detailed access to the museum’s extensive permanent collections. We are indebted to those who have made gifts of works of modern and contemporary art over the years, or provided acquisition funds for them. The museum’s directors and staff members have long maintained a commitment to the contemporary, resulting in an extraordinary array of acquisitions in various media.
The year also included the opening of the presently ongoing exhibition Art That Lives? Exploring Figural Art from Africa in the Gutman Gallery, which considers the ways in which figural sculptures in Africa have been understood as an active force, even as living, animate beings. Questions about whether objects have the power to “come alive” may be open to wide interpretation, but in the hands of a great teacher and facilitator, they can certainly appear to do so.
Kathy Hart, the Hood’s exemplary Associate Director and the Barbara C. and Harvey P. Hood 1918 Curator of Academic Programming, was selected in 2009 as the inaugural recipient of Dartmouth’s Sheila Culbert Distinguished Employee Award. This award is testament to Kathy’s personal distinction, but also, as she is quick to say, to the talents and commitment of the entire museum staff. Each staff member is dedicated to encouraging visual literacy by creating opportunities for teaching and learning with objects. It is also noteworthy that Lesley Wellman, the museum’s Assistant Director and Curator of Education, is currently the Director of the Museum Division of the National Art Education Association, and will be the spokesperson for the division nationally.
The budget reductions at Dartmouth announced in January 2009 were severe and occurred across campus in order to maintain the financial health of the institution. For the first time, the museum was compelled to reduce its staffing complement as part of broad budgetary reduction throughout the College. This was traumatic for staff, especially our many longtime Hood professionals, and the rest of the year was spent regrouping, maintaining programs, and beginning a restructuring as we work toward our next strategic plan. The staff has remained highly motivated and professional as well as optimistic. The director sought to maintain program and morale while being transparent about the financial situation.
At the May 2009 meeting, the Hood’s Board discussed our program for the next three years, the recent budget reductions and their impact, the inauguration of new purpose-fitted offsite storage premises, our reaccreditation by the American Association of Museums, and the documentation generated for it. In late February, Chairman Jonathan Cohen and a number of Board members met in New York as a focus group to provide discussion points for the next few years of planning at the Hood Museum of Art. At the meeting on May 7 and 8, we discussed a number of questions, including the following: What will the Hood Museum of Art be known for? What are its special collections? What is its relationship with the College? What should typify the Hood Museum of Art as a leader in its field? What should typify Dartmouth College as a leader in the educational field? How will we achieve greater attention for visual literacy/research? How can we impact new President Jim Yong Kim’s discussion about the necessity of applied arts and sciences?
It was a thrill to everyone involved with the arts at Dartmouth College that the largest individual gift to the current Capital Campaign, and in fact the largest individual gift ever given to Dartmouth—fifty million dollars from an anonymous donor—went to support the new Visual Arts Center. I and all of the staff of the Hood Museum of Art have been most impressed by Dartmouth’s new President Jim Yong Kim’s interest in the museum and, within weeks of arrival, he attended a staff meeting at which he shared his views about the arts and their importance to the institution. It has been rewarding to be involved with the new president in hanging works of art for his office and thereby learning of his interests. We have been especially active in promoting the theme of visual literacy and hope that this key subject will gain widespread currency on campus in the coming years.
It has been challenging for the Hood Museum of Art staff throughout the year to negotiate with the construction projects happening in our vicinity. Over the last year or more, there has been heavy construction work connected with the New Hampshire dormitory building and the heating plant. Work on the heating plant is almost complete, but work has now begun on preparations for the Visual Arts Center on Lebanon Street. Brewster Hall has been demolished, and the loading dock to the Hood Museum of Art was out of commission for a considerable time due to necessary improvements to Dartmouth’s computer cabling. The coming years will likewise be difficult for staff. There are parking issues, first of all, especially regarding our visitors, but this matter and others are the subjects of ongoing discussion with the Provost’s Office. Already it is apparent that the façade of the Hood Museum of Art to Lebanon Street will be much more visible when the new scheme for the Visual Arts Center has been completed in 2012/13. At that time, Wilson Hall will be reallocated, because many of those who work there will be accommodated in the Visual Arts Center. Our External Review Directors advised the Provost in late 2008 that Wilson Hall provided an opportunity for the Hood Museum of Art to realize the potential, demonstrated in its first twenty-five years of activity on campus, to be a teaching museum for all Dartmouth students and the broader Upper Valley community.
Despite the economic downturn, the second half of 2009 brought a significant increase in donor funds to the museum. Budgets will remain tight, however, for the next year or two as we accommodate a serious fall in endowment income following the stock market collapse of late 2008.
Throughout 2009, we received comments from teachers and students about the Hood Museum of Art, and they are most rewarding. They are featured throughout this Annual Report. There is no doubt that the Hood is a valued part of our community. I thank the museum’s Board members for their commitment to the museum, our many donors, docents, and volunteers, and all the Dartmouth faculty, staff, and students who supported the Hood Museum of Art throughout the year.
I end by thanking Barry Scherr, whose eight years as Provost ended in 2009, for his extraordinary efforts for the arts at Dartmouth. He is an “enabler” whose leadership style is to allow others to shine: to support them to the best of his ability in all that they do. Much of the success of the Hood Museum of Art in recent years has been due to Provost Scherr’s guidance, and we are truly indebted to him.
We look forward to another exciting year at the Hood Museum of Art in 2010, our twenty-fifth anniversary year.
“Slow down and observe more.”—Dartmouth student after participating in a Learning to Look program at the Hood Museum of Art
Many of the Hood’s exhibitions, programs, and publications are greatly enhanced by collaborations with and contributions by Dartmouth faculty, staff, and students, and community businesses, organizations, and individuals. Dartmouth collaborations included the Office of the President; the Office of the Provost; the Hopkins Center for the Arts; the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Endowment; the Fannie and Alan Leslie Center for the Humanities; the Humanities Resource Center; Public Affairs; the Office of Pluralism and Leadership (OPAL); Institutional Diversity and Equity; the Office of Planning, Design, and Construction; Conferences and Special Events; the Dickey Center for International Understanding; the Institute of Arctic Studies; the Office of Residential Life/Greek Life; Facilities Operations Management (FO&M); Design, Printing, and Mailing Services; Classroom Technology Services; the University Press of New England; the Dartmouth College Library; the Rauner Special Collections Library; Jones Media Center; the Office of Admissions; Human Resources; Dartmouth Medical School; Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center; Dartmouth Development; Alumni Relations; the Classes of 1954, 1959, and 1984; Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth (SEAD); the Dartmouth Sustainability Initiative; the Tuck School of Business; the Human Resources After Hours Program; Alumni Continuing Education; the Hanover Inn; the Dodecaphonics; and the Departments of Art History, Religion, Anthropology, Studio Art, Geography, Computer Science, Environmental Studies, Education, French, Spanish, Native American Studies, English, Philosophy, Theater, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Classics.
Community partners included the Howe Library; Two Rivers Printmaking Studio; the Center for Cartoon Studies; the Haven; the Town of Hanover and its Board of Selectmen; Kendal; Strafford Creamery; Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site; CATV; the Hanover Downtown Marketing Alliance; the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce; the Upper Valley Music Center; the Lebanon High School Superlatives; actor Dan Falcone; Allen & Associates; Hanover Strings; many area garden clubs; Swing Machine with David Westphalen and Fred Haas; Zack’s Place; the Clara Martin Center; the Greens; and the Hanover After School Program.
Last Updated: 1/27/10