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Modern Art Highlights Return to Lathrop Gallery

Hood Quarterly, summer 2004
Katherine Hart, Barbara C. and Harvey P. Hood 1918 Curator of Academic Programming

The Hood Museum of Art’s Lathrop Gallery is dedicated to showing modern and contemporary works from the collection in honor of Churchill P. Lathrop and his wife, Dorothy. Churchill Lathrop was an early member of the college’s art department and a longstanding advocate of modern and contemporary art during his years at Dartmouth. With his colleague Artemas Packard, Churchill Lathrop created the college’s artist-in-residence program in 1931 and soon after brought Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco to Dartmouth to teach and to demonstrate fresco technique. Orozco was also commissioned to design and paint a mural. The Epic of American Civilization, now considered one of the most important works by this artist in the United States, was completed in 1934 in the reserve reading room of Baker Library.

When the Hood Museum of Art was completed in 1985, Lathrop Gallery was dedicated in honor of this passionate art historian—without question one of the most influential advocates for the arts in the history of the college. This gallery, notable for its soaring height, natural light, and sculptural space, is also used on occasion to house special exhibitions, which it has done since September 2002. Starting June 12, visitors will be happy to see the reinstallation of some of the museum’s most well-loved and significant twentieth-century paintings: Mark Rothko’s Orange and Lilac over Ivory (1953) and Ed Ruscha’s Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas (1963).

In addition, for the first time the museum will exhibit an important sculpture by the Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama, Accumulation II (1962), which was last shown at the college in 1979. Kusama’s startling work takes the functional form of a couch, but the profusion of organic forms that cover its surface precludes the idea of sitting on it—at least for any length of time. It came into the collection in 1974, during a period in which many bold and insightful acquisitions were made by Jan van der Marck, former director of the Dartmouth College Museum. Japanese by birth, Kusama lived in New York City from 1958 through 1968, producing a remarkable body of work that included paintings, sculptures, collage, photo-collage, installations, performances, and film.

There is a strong surrealistic edge to much of Kusama’s work, and this is certainly evident in Accumulation II. Her personal history also contributes to her reputation as a unique and visionary artist. In 1973, out of money and suffering from depression, she returned to Japan, where she was hospitalized in the Tokyo Psychiatric Hospital for twenty years. Much of her work from the 1960s does not survive, so the museum is fortunate to have acquired a significant sculpture from this period. In the 1990s, the artist began to work again, and interest in her work from the 1960s revived. In 1998, a retrospective was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Accumulation II was included in that solo exhibition, as well as in one that followed in 2003. In a 1997 interview, Kusama responded to a question about what inspired her to create the soft sculptures from the same series as Accumulation II: “I had a phobia about sex because of the education I received as a young girl. I was taught that sex is dirty, something you have to hide. What I did was to bring sex into the open; I covered an entire sofa and everything else around me with penises. That soothed my [fear of sex] and I was able to come out of my phobia.” Accumulation II remains a powerful evocation of the artist’s state of mind at the time of its making.

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