Three exhibitions

… at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford: back on January 26th, a viewing of Dutch masters of the 17th century; then this Thursday, two small exhibitions, Warhol works in connection with a Stanford course and a student-curated display of East Asian artworks featuring the lingzhi mushroom.

Dutch masters. “The Wonder of Everyday Life: Dutch Golden Age Prints” at the Cantor 11/16/16 – 3/20/17. The museum’s description:

While the Dutch Republic experienced unprecedented economic prosperity in the 17th century, printmakers were exceptionally sensitive — and sometimes obsessive — when rendering the details of everyday life. A hallmark of Dutch prints created during this Golden Age is their depiction of the grit, dark corners, and textures present in the mundane objects featured in domestic scenes, landscapes, portraits, and even compositions interpreting literature or religious texts. The prints [etchings and mezzotints] in this installation explore how Rembrandt van Rijn and his peers depicted the sensual experience of the material world, contemplated life’s fleeting and constantly changing nature, and navigated spirituality’s role in modern life.


Jan de Baen, The Burning of the Town Hall in Amsterdam etching, 1652

Note 1. Represented in the exhibition: Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan de Baen, Adriaen van Ostade, Anthonie Waterloo, Reinier Nooms, Cornelis Bega, Ferdinand Bol, Johannes Teyler, Wallerant Vaillant, Jan de Visscher, Claes Janszoon Visscher.

Note 2. On the artist in #1, from Wikipedia:

Jan de Baen (20 February 1633 – 1702) was a Dutch portrait painter who lived during the Dutch Golden Age. He was a pupil of the painter Jacob Adriaensz Backer in Amsterdam from 1645 to 1648. He worked for Charles II of England in his Dutch exile, and from 1660 until his death he lived and worked in The Hague. His portraits were popular in his day, and he painted the most distinguished people of his time.

Note 3. On the size of images. Most of the images of artworks I post here are smaller than the works themselves, often very much smaller (a fact I regularly apologize for). But the Dutch Golden Age prints are tiny, though we’re accustomed to seeing them reproduced as enlargements. At the Stanford exhibition, large magnifying glasses are provided every few feet, so that visitors can appreciate the details of the works.

The Jan de Baen in #1 is unusually large for such a print: 10.6 x 13.2 inches.

Note 4. One preoccupation of Rembrandt and some of the other artists in this group was the play of light and dark, shadow and bursts of light. In the case of #1, the play of flames in the dark of the night. (Flames are something of a challenge to capture in an etching.)

Note 5. The printmaking technologies (for etchings and mezzotints) were recent in the Dutch Golden Age, so that what we see in the exhibition is the great creative outpouring and experimentation that comes with new artistic technologies (as happened in the early years of photography and then of film).

The techniques. First, the old technique, engraving:

Engraving is the practice of incising a design onto a hard, usually flat surface by cutting grooves into it. The result may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold, steel, or glass are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing images on paper as prints or illustrations; these images are also called engravings.

… Engraving was a historically important method of producing images on paper in artistic printmaking, in mapmaking, and also for commercial reproductions and illustrations for books and magazines. It has long been replaced by various photographic processes in its commercial applications and, partly because of the difficulty of learning the technique, is much less common in printmaking, where it has been largely replaced by etching and other techniques. (Wikipedia link)

Then etching:

Etching is traditionally the process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio (incised) in the metal… As a method of printmaking, it is, along with engraving, the most important technique for old master prints, and remains in wide use today.

… The process as applied to printmaking is believed to have been invented by Daniel Hopfer (circa 1470–1536) of Augsburg, Germany. Hopfer was a craftsman who decorated armour in this way, and applied the method to printmaking, using iron plates (many of which still exist)

… The switch to copper plates was probably made in Italy, and thereafter etching soon came to challenge engraving as the most popular medium for artists in printmaking. Its great advantage was that, unlike engraving where the difficult technique for using the burin requires special skill in metalworking, the basic technique for creating the image on the plate in etching is relatively easy to learn for an artist trained in drawing. On the other hand, the handling of the ground and acid need skill and experience, and are not without health and safety risks, as well as the risk of a ruined plate.  (Wikipedia link)

And mezzotint:

Mezzotint is a printmaking process of the intaglio family, technically a drypoint method. It was the first tonal method to be used, enabling half-tones to be produced without using line- or dot-based techniques like hatching, cross-hatching or stipple. Mezzotint achieves tonality by roughening the plate with thousands of little dots made by a metal tool with small teeth, called a “rocker.” In printing, the tiny pits in the plate hold the ink when the face of the plate is wiped clean. A high level of quality and richness in the print can be achieved.

The mezzotint printmaking method was invented by the German amateur artist Ludwig von Siegen (1609–c1680). His earliest mezzotint print dates to 1642 (Wikipedia link)

(Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky points me to the homepage of artist Belinda DelPesco, who supplies an ever-growing set of video tutorials on techniques for printmaking.)

Warhol. “Warhol Unframed”, 1/18/17 – 5/1/17. The museum’s description:

The Cantor’s curricular exhibition series continues this winter with an installation of Warhol works selected from the Cantor’s collection. Organized in close collaboration with faculty members Richard Meyer, Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor of Art History, and Peggy Phelan, the Denning Family Chair and Director, Stanford Arts institute and Professor of Theater & Performance Studies and English, the exhibition complements their winter quarter class, Warhol: Painting, Photography, Performance, and will serve as a resource to their students throughout the quarter. On view in the Patricia S. Rebele Gallery [one of several very small galleries that look like they started life as storage closets]


Andy Warhol (US, 1928-1987), detail from contact sheet [photo from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver’s wedding, with a Kennedy and Grace Jones], 1986

The exhibition has Warhol works in a variety of media, including photos, silkscreen prints, and mixed media, With examples from several of his famous series (Elizabeth Taylor, Mao, Mammy).

Bonus: a Warhol photo of Sylvia Williams posing as Warhol’s Mammy character (from Warhol’s Myths portfolio): a big black maternal figure from pop culture:


On Williams, from Wikipedia:

Sylvia Williams née Sylvia Louise Hill (February 10, 1936 in Lincoln, Pennsylvania – February 28, 1996 in Washington DC) was a museum director, curator, art historian and scholar of African art. She helped make the study and appreciation of African art a significant aesthetic and intellectual pursuit in the United States.

Warhol’s Mammy 262, a 1981 screenprint in the exhibition:


On screenprints, from Wikipedia:

Screen printing is a stencil method of print making in which a design is imposed on a screen of polyester or other fine mesh, with blank areas coated with an impermeable substance. Ink is forced into the mesh openings by the fill blade or squeegee and by wetting the substrate, transferred onto the printing surface during the squeegee stroke. As the screen rebounds away from the substrate the ink remains on the substrate. It is also known as silk-screen, screen, serigraphy, and serigraph printing. One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multicoloured image or design.

… Traditionally the process was called screen printing or silkscreen printing because silk was used in the process prior to the invention of polyester mesh. Currently, synthetic threads are commonly used in the screen printing process. The most popular mesh in general use is made of polyester.

… Screen printing is a form of stencilling that first appeared in a recognizable form in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD). It was then adapted by other Asian countries like Japan, and was furthered by creating newer methods.

Screen printing was largely introduced to Western Europe from Asia sometime in the late 18th century, but did not gain large acceptance or use in Europe until silk mesh was more available for trade from the east and a profitable outlet for the medium discovered.

Mushrooms. “A Mushroom Perspective on Sacred Geography”, 2/8/17 – 5/15/17. From the museum’s description:

In East Asian cultures, the lingzhi mushroom was believed to be a spiritual organism that thrived only at sacred sites. Drawing from the Cantor’s rich collection of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean art, A Mushroom Perspective on Sacred Geography brings together a wide variety of objects (painting, ceramic, jade, lacquer, and works on paper) to examine the dynamic interconnections between humans, natural organisms, and sacred landscapes. The exhibition, curated by Phoenix Yu-chuan Chen, a PhD candidate in the Department of Art & Art History, ultimately urges us to consider our own longstanding and ongoing relationship with nature. On view in the Lynn Krywick Gibbons Gallery [another of those small galleries]


Yamada Masanao (Japan, b. 1890), wood netsuke of mushrooms, 20th century

The exhibition includes a 20-foot-long scroll attributed to Qiu Ying (China, c. 1494–c. 1552), “Gathering of Immortals at the Peach Festival”, ink and color on silk (blue-green style), which has three images of lingzhi gathering on it. Only the beginning of the scroll can be seen in the exhibition case, but the full scroll can be studied in computer images that can be expanded for close view and moved through the entire work from beginning (on the right) to end. Similar technology allows you to examine computer versions of the Dutch Golden Age prints in great detail.

Now, on the mushrooms, from Wikipedia:


The lingzhi mushroom or reishi mushroom (… literally: “soul/spirit mushroom”) is a species complex that encompasses several fungal species of the genus Ganoderma, most commonly the closely related species Ganoderma lucidum, Ganoderma tsugae, and Ganoderma lingzhi. G. lingzhi [shown in #6)] enjoys special veneration in East Asia, where it has been used as a medicinal mushroom in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years, making it one of the oldest mushrooms known to have been used medicinally.

(and it is still available in several forms from a number of suppliers).

Finally, on netsuke (as in #5), again from Wikipedia:

Netsuke … are miniature sculptures that were invented in 17th-century Japan to serve a practical function (the two Japanese characters ne+tsuke mean “root” and “to attach”). Traditional Japanese garments — robes called kosode and kimono — had no pockets; however, men who wore them needed a place to store their personal belongings, such as pipes, tobacco, money, seals, or medicines.

… Their solution was to place such objects in containers (called sagemono) hung by cords from the robes’ sashes (obi). The containers may have been pouches or small woven baskets, but the most popular were beautifully crafted boxes (inrō), which were held shut by ojime, which were sliding beads on cords. Whatever the form of the container, the fastener that secured the cord at the top of the sash was a carved, button-like toggle called a netsuke.

Netsuke are often wonderfully crafted miniatures.

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