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Letter from the Director: Winter 2009

Hood Quarterly, winter 2009
Brian Kennedy, Director

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 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 Germanborn theorist who spent much of his life in America, and whose work was celebrated at a recent 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, two of our museum exhibitions this winter admirably demonstrate the actual range of the contemporary.

Spirit of the Basket Tree explores 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 includes 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 offers a survey of some of the themes to be explored in the museum’s photography collections: portraiture, landscape, and documentation. It contains 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-inresidence). Contemporary photography is a fast-developing field, especially now that the digital camera offers such potential for image manipulation. The German photographer Loretta Lux, whose The Drummer (2004) is on the cover of this Quarterly, uses computer programs to help create her own distinctive works.

Meanwhile, European Art at Dartmouth continues throughout the winter, offering highlights from the Hood’s collections of paintings, sculpture, drawings, and prints. The images in the show make 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. Please enjoy the programs we are offering this season, invite a friend to become a museum member, and revel in the world of a teaching museum whose purpose is to create learning and teaching encounters through direct engagement with works of art, old and new.

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