New-York Historical Society Offers New Perspectives On Commemorative Traditions In Two Winter Exhibitions

In Profile: A Look at Silhouettes, Jan. 17 – April 5, 2020

Life Cut Short: Hamilton’s Hair and the Art of Mourning Jewelry, Dec. 20, 2019 – May 10, 2020

This winter, the New-York Historical Society presents an exhibition and a special installation that take a fresh look at traditions of remembrance. The exhibition In Profile: A Look at Silhouettes (January 17 – April 5, 2020) traces the development of the late 18th- and 19th-century art form and how artists are reinventing the silhouette today. The special installation Life Cut Short: Hamilton’s Hair and the Art of Mourning Jewelry (December 20, 2019 – May 10, 2020) displays jewelry featuring human hair that was used as tokens of affection or memorials to lost loved ones.

New-York Historical is taking a deep dive into our expansive collection to explore 19th-century traditions of portraiture and remembrance,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “The art of silhouettes has long been popular, and this exhibition traces both its history and how gifted, contemporary artists are currently revitalizing the art form. Mourning jewelry may have fallen out of fashion, but this installation showcases how it was once the height of elegance.

In Profile: A Look at Silhouettes

Thomas Bluget de Valdenuit (1763–1846) and Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770–1852), Unidentified woman, 1795 Black ink, gouache, graphite on paper laid on thin card. New-York Historical Society, Purchase, The Louis Durr Fund, 1945.344
William Bache (1771–1845), Alexander Hamilton (ca. 1755–1804), ca. 1800. Black ink with touches of white gouache on ivory paper. New-York Historical Society, Z.2459

The art of silhouettes—usually black cut-paper or painted profiles—emerged as a popular form of portraiture in 19th-century America when there were few trained portrait painters. Drawn mostly from New-York Historical’s significant collection by Curator of Drawings Dr. Roberta J.M. Olson, In Profile traces the development of this popular art form and explores its contemporary revival through over 150 silhouettes of both famous and everyday people—from a depiction of Alexander Hamilton to full-length silhouettes of the students in a Gramercy Park girls’ school.

Augustin Amant Constant Fidèle Édouart (1789–1861), Philip Milledoler Beekman (1845–1846), 1846. Black prepared paper cut-out with graphite, laid on yellow paper with lithographed background and gray and brown wash. New-York Historical Society, Gift of the Beekman Family Association, 1948.515

The exhibition showcases works by professional practitioners, such as master of the genre Augustin Édouart and Charles Willson Peale (who employed, among others, Moses Williams, an enslaved man who earned his freedom and produced silhouettes at the Peale Museum in Philadelphia). Édouart’s 1846 Philip Milledoler Beekman (1845–1846), which captures a domestic scene of a toddler playing with a jack-in-the-box in a grand drawing room, was created in memory of a child who died when he was just 14 months old.

Unidentified artist, Students and teachers, selections from Miss Haines’s School silhouette series, 1859. Black prepared paper cut-outs laid on beige paper. New-York Historical Society, Z.2611, Z.2613a, Z. 2614a, Z.2617a, Z.2628, Z.2622, Z.2616a, Z.2625b, Z.2637a

Also on display is work from self-trained artists like Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, a gifted paper-cutting artist. Famous for his fairy tales, he also created imaginative, whimsical compositions like Acrobats (ca. 1835–60). Martha Anne Honeywell, a woman born without arms and only three toes, cut profiles for 60 years in America and Europe and managed her successful career. On view are two of her intricate cut-outs of the Lord’s Prayer, one featuring delicate needlework (1845).

Kumi Yamashita (b. 1968), Origami, 2020. Paper, cast light, shadow. Courtesy of the artist. Photo credit: Mitch Ranger

Contemporary featured artists—who are expanding the size, subject matter, and media customarily associated with silhouettes—include Béatrice Coron, who captures the dynamic synergy of New York City; and Kara Walker, who harnesses the silhouette tradition to investigate the legacy of slavery. Coron’s Hi Five! Stories from the Five Boroughs (2019) are hand-cut, eight-foot-long panoramas that capture vignettes from the five boroughs. Walker’s maquette for The Katastwóf Karavan (2017), a public art project created in New Orleans, displays a calliope (steam organ) housed in a horse-drawn wagon, with laser-cut sides that recall cut-paper silhouettes and feature provocative imagery. Also on view is a wall piece by light sculptor Kumi Yamashita, who shapes colored origami papers to cast dramatic shadow portraits of specific individuals.

Kara Walker (b. 1969), Maquette for The “Katastwóf Karavan”, 2017. Painted laser-cut stainless steel. Private collection

Visitors also have the opportunity to “silhouette themselves” as 19th-century practice meets 21st-century technology by projecting their profile onto a screen to create a silhouette that can then be captured by a cell phone camera.

Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795), manufacturer; William Hackwood (ca. 1757–1839), designer. Antislavery medallion mounted as a pin: Am I Not a Man and a Brother?, 1787. Jasperware, metal. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Selma H. Rutenburg, MD, given in memory of Nina & Jack Gray, 2013.21
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Walker Art Center Presents: The Expressionist Figure: The Miriam And Erwin Kelen Collection Of Drawings

Zak Smith
Self-Portrait with a Bunch of Pictures Pinned to the Wall
2003
acrylic, metallic ink on plastic-coated paper
39 13/16 x 27 7/16 in.
Private collection
©Zak Smith

Celebrating the remarkable collection of drawings recently donated to the Walker Arts Center by longtime patrons Miriam and Erwin Kelen, The Expressionist Figure: The Miriam And Erwin Kelen Collection Of Drawings, explores the expressive potential of the human body. Richly varied in theme and style, the works on paper span more than a century of artistic experimentation. Featuring portraiture, social satire, erotica, and fantasy in mediums ranging from crayon, ink, and graphite to watercolor, pastel, and collage, the Kelens’ works are joined by a select group of related drawings and sculpture from the Walker’s current holdings. As a whole, The Expressionist Figure: The Miriam And Erwin Kelen Collection Of Drawings is not only a display of virtuoso artworks but also a testament to the pleasure of building a collection and the rewards of sharing it.

Joan Miró
Femme devant la lune (Woman in Front of the Moon)
1935
gouache, watercolor, India ink on paper
14 5/8 x 11 7/8 in.
Private collection
©Successió Miró/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris 2019

Among the artists in the exhibition are Max Beckmann, Louise Bourgeois, Chuck Close, Willem de Kooning, Edgar Degas, Jim Denomie, Otto Dix, Marlene Dumas, Arshile Gorky, George Grosz, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, William Kentridge, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, Gustav Klimt, René Magritte, Henri Matisse, Kerry James Marshall, Joan Miró, Claes Oldenburg, Pablo Picasso, Rowan Pope, Egon Schiele, Kara Walker and Andy Warhol.

Christian Rohlfs
Kniender Akt (Kneeling Nude)
ca. 1916–18
watercolor, gouache on paper
19 3/8 x 16 in.
Private collection

The Expressionist Figure: The Miriam and Erwin Kelen Collection of Drawings, Curated by Joan Rothfuss, guest curator, Visual Arts, is on view November 17, 2019 through April 19, 2020.

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This Just In!: David Breslin And Adrienne Edwards Will Curate The 2021 Whitney Biennial

The Whitney Museum of American Art announced today that its 2021 Biennial, the 80th edition, will be co-organized by two brilliant members of the Museum’s curatorial department, David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards. The 2021 Whitney Biennial exhibition will open in the spring of 2021 and is presented by Tiffany & Co., which has been the lead sponsor of the Biennial since the Museum’s move downtown.

Image credit: Adrienne Edwards and David Breslin. Photograph by Bryan Derballa

Alice Pratt Brown Director Adam D. Weinberg noted: “The central aim of the Biennial is to be a barometer of contemporary American art. Each Biennial is a reflection of the cultural and social moment as it intersects with the passions, perspectives, and tastes of the curators. David and Adrienne will be a great team. They are inquisitive, curious, and are acutely attuned to the art of the current moment. No doubt they will bring fresh outlooks to this historic exhibition and reinvent it for these complex and challenging times.”

With a long history of exhibiting the most promising and influential artists and provoking debate, the Whitney Biennial is the Museum’s signature survey of the state of contemporary art in the United States. The Biennial, an invitational show of work produced in the preceding two years, was introduced by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, and it is the longest continuous series of exhibitions in the country to survey recent developments in American art.

Initiated by founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, the Whitney Biennial is the longest-running survey of American art. More than 3,600 artists have participated, including Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, Alexander Calder, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Lynda Benglis, Frank Bowling, Joan Jonas, Barbara Kruger, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jenny Holzer, David Wojnarowicz, Glenn Ligon, Yvonne Rainer, Zoe Leonard, Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Mike Kelley, Lorna Simpson, Renée Green, Wade Guyton, Julie Mehretu, Cecilia Vicuña, Mark Bradford, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Ellen Gallagher, Rachel Harrison, Wu Tsang, Nick Mauss, Sarah Michelson, Laura Owens, Postcommodity, Pope.L, Jeffrey Gibson, and Tiona Nekkia McClodden.

The biennials were originally organized by medium, with painting alternating with sculpture and works on paper. Starting in 1937, the Museum shifted to yearly exhibitions called Annuals. The current format—a survey show of work in all media occurring every two years—has been in place since 1973. The 2019 Biennial (still on partial view on the Museum’s sixth floor until October 27) was organized by two Whitney curators, Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley. It featured seventy-five artists and collectives working in painting, sculpture, installation, film and video, photography, performance, and sound.

David Breslin was recently named the DeMartini Family Curator and Director of Curatorial Initiatives, a role he will assume this month. Since joining the Museum in 2016 as DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection, Breslin has spearheaded the Museum’s collection-related activities, curating a series of major collection exhibitions and overseeing acquisitions. Working closely with his curatorial colleagues, he has organized or co-organized four timely and thematized collection displays, including Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960, An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017, Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, and The Whitney’s Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965, which is currently on view on the Museum’s seventh floor. In 2018, he co-curated (with David Kiehl) the landmark retrospective David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night.

Breslin came to the Whitney from the Menil Drawing Institute, where he created an ambitious program of exhibitions and public and scholarly events and helped to shape the design of the Institute’s new facility. He also oversaw work on the catalogue raisonné of the drawings of Jasper Johns and grew the collection. Prior to the Menil, Breslin served as the associate director of the research and academic program and associate curator of contemporary projects at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA; he also oversaw the Clark’s residential fellowship program and taught in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art. Breslin co-edited Art History and Emergency: Crises in the Visual Arts and Humanities (Yale University Press, 2016), a volume that grew from a Clark Conference he organized with art historian Darby English.

In 2018, Adrienne Edwards was named Engell Speyer Family Curator and Curator of Performance at the Whitney. Previously, she served as curator of Performa since 2010 and as Curator at Large for the Walker Art Center since 2016.

At the Whitney, Edwards curated Jason Moran, the artist’s first museum show, now on view on the Museum’s eighth floor. She originated the exhibition at the Walker in 2018; it previously traveled to the ICA Boston and the Wexner Center for the Arts. The exhibition features a series of performances, Jazz on a High Floor in the Afternoon, curated by Edwards and Moran. She organized the event commencing the construction of David Hammons’s Day’s End, featuring a commission by composer Henry Threadgill and a “water” tango on the Hudson River by the Fire Department of the City of New York’s Marine Company 9. Earlier this year, Edwards organized Moved by the Motion: Sudden Rise, a series of performances based on a text co-written by Wu Tsang, boychild, and Fred Moten, which presented a collage of words, film, movements, and sounds.

For Performa, Edwards realized new boundary-defying commissions, as well as pathfinding conferences and film programs with a wide range of over forty international artists. While at the Walker, she co-led the institution-wide Mellon Foundation Interdisciplinary Initiative, an effort to expand ways of commissioning, studying, collecting, documenting, and conserving cross-disciplinary works. Edwards’s curatorial projects have included the critically acclaimed exhibition and catalogue Blackness in Abstraction, hosted by Pace Gallery in 2016. She also organized Frieze’s Artist Award and Live program in New York in 2018. Edwards taught art history and visual studies at New York University and The New School, and she is a contributor to the National Gallery of Art’s Center for the Advanced Study in Visual Art’s forthcoming publication Black Modernisms.

Scott Rothkopf, the Whitney’s Senior Deputy Director and Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator, said, “David and Adrienne truly represent the best spirit and ideals of the Whitney. Not only are they devoted to—and beloved by—living artists, but they bring to the art of our time a deep historical and scholarly awareness. The most recent editions of the Biennial have reaffirmed its vitality and relevance, and I look forward to discovering how another pair of Whitney curators will lend their voices to our signature exhibition.”