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What is Walworth Wednesday?

Ever since becoming a curator at the CMA, Dr. Catherine Walworth has been discovering and falling in love with pieces in the vault that, for a variety of reasons, haven't been on view for some time. Now that nothing is on view, she's sharing one of her treasures from the collection with you each week.

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May 13

Per Lütken

(Danish, 1916–1998) (designer)

Holmegaard, Danish

(Danish, founded 1825) (manufacturer)

“Aristokrat” Decanter and Canada Schnapps Glasses (set of 5)

c. 1955
Smoky gray crystal
Gift of Jessica Kross and museum purchase

In the spirit of togetherness, this week’s object spotlight is a grouping of 1950s Danish modern glassware designed by Per Lütken — a drink set that is glamorously domestic. The glasses were offered as a gift to the museum in 2018, and I searched for the perfect example of a decanter to be the bishop to their sweet little pawns. After shopping online, comparing air bubbles and swirl personalities, I found our mint condition vintage decanter. 

The balance of lightness and weight in these pieces is like a smoky gray poem. Lütken was a master glass designer and it’s hard to imagine, but these commercially sold wares were all mouth blown. When he designed pieces that proved challenging to his glass blowers, Lütken’s famous reply was, "Well, who said things were supposed to be easy?"

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May 6

Lorna Simpson

American, born 1960

Cure/Heal

1992
Part of "10: Artist As Catalyst; A Portfolio to Benefit the Alternative Museum" 
Screen print in colors 
Museum purchase with funds partially provided by Admiral and Mrs. Cato D. Glover

Lorna Simpson left the door onto this image open in 1992, and I think now is the perfect time for us to walk through it together. Her conceptual photographs are like kaleidoscopes — their fragments are meant to be tilted, reordered, and reinterpreted — because none of us are monolithic in our experiences. Instead, she drops loaded clues about racial and gender stereotypes for us to pick up and discuss.

Because it has no one fixed meaning, this unhappily seductive image may be the postcard for this pandemic experience. At first glance, it might signify a version of yourself that used to get dressed up for work — someone you barely remember right now as you sit there in your softest clothing, trying to remember what day it is. 

Those velvet heels also eerily feel like someone was just standing in them. This might be the absence of someone you lost or someone you miss seeing with all of their full molecular weight. The title Cure/Heal also proclaims the need to find a way out of this situation in a laboratory somewhere, by someone, soon. And finally, because Simpson’s work addresses the African American experience, the image acknowledges the imbalance in the way this illness has affected us as a blended family. 

Simpson donated this screen print to be compiled in a portfolio of ten artists’ prints that raised funds for the Alternative Museum in New York City. With some help, the CMA bought one at the time. Founded in 1975, the Alternative Museum was a grassroots, artist-led institution that aimed to be inclusive and address social issues through exhibitions, world music concerts, performances, and panel discussions. It closed its heavy doors in April 2000 and has lived as a virtual museum and archive ever since. As the CMA, and all museums around the world, reach out to meet you where you are, the Alternative Museum feels like a friend, branding itself as a "global electronic city…sharing our cultural treasures."
 

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April 29

John Koch

American, 1909 - 1978

Painter and Models

1972
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase

Whenever I pull the sliding rack in storage and this painting hits me in the eye, well, what can I do but giggle — but not for the reasons you might think. I mean, that female model is on the phone! And it’s one of those great rotary dial phones, too, because it’s the 1970s. Look at how absorbed these people are in what they’re doing. It feels creepy because these people have actual attention spans. 

I always wonder what to do with this because it’s so unlike the rest of our contemporary collection. This scene is about an artist at work in a traditional way, painting nudes with no irony. That woman at the left could be Titian’s Danaë, but rather than a shower of gold raining down, she is magically connected through AT&T. The male model is none other than the ancient Greek Doryphorous, the endlessly copied sculpture of ideal male proportions. Art historians love that shift in weight to one leg because it shows a moment of humanness and sets off a cavalcade of little asymmetrical reactions in the body. 

So with this painting, enjoy a moment to contemplate a complete lack of social distancing, but also the joy of slowing down and working with no pants on.

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April 22

Kiyoshi Saito 

Japanese, 1907-1997

Ancient City, Nara

1957
Color woodblock print
Museum purchase

I was looking for something else when this stunner of a print completely arrested me. It is both ancient and modern at the same time. This is also an example of when an artwork just feels right. It is completely balanced while keeping you slightly off balance examining all of its devices. Exhibit A — the way that wood grain creates both a cloud-streaked sky and the wheel-tracked road. 

Kiyoshi Saito was part of the Sosaku Hanga (“creative print”) movement that spawned a new wave of Japanese printmaking, away from the commercial 19th-century woodblock prints made en masse for the entertainment industry. The Sosaku Hanga artists’ hands were on every step of the creative process, and prints appeared in limited numbers. Global influences, particularly the European avant-garde, were creeping in, but it was just as much about the Western notion of "art for art’s sake."

The CMA scored a bullseye with this print because we had the foresight to purchase it in 1957, the year it was created. It also reminds me of how quiet and empty areas of our own city are right now, with animals feeling free to roam. And it doesn’t get any cooler, frankly, than that hep cat.

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April 15

Maria Monaci Gallenga (designer); Atelier Gallenga (manufacturer)              

Jacket

c. 1920s 
Velvet and silk
Gift of Mrs. Margaret H. Lloyd

To know me is to know that I giddily love 20th-century fashion. I used to think that was somehow embarrassingly decadent until I started studying fashion as part of the same social and economic envelope as fine art, and now I argue for its importance on a regular basis. When I saw that we have a few terrific pieces of flapper-era fashion in storage, I was over the moon. Maybe you’ve seen the beautiful Mariano Fortuny velvet jacket on view on in our gallery of light-sensitive materials. I’m the little elf responsible for choosing that piece.  

Now I get to introduce you to another designer, Maria Monaci Gallenga, working in Italy at the same time as Fortuny and in a similar way, but making her own contributions to the science and art of printed velvets. Like Fortuny’s, Gallenga’s designs evoke Gothic and medieval motifs and sometimes even styles, although our short jacket feels like a chic little 1920s piece with global influences. Gallenga is known for using up to nine different tones of gold and silver in a single garment. I recently saw some of the artist’s designs in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they (and I) glowed.

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April 8

Sir William Gush

(English, 1813–1888) 

Mrs. Fry and Son

c. 1847
Oil on canvas
Gift of Charles M. Hofman

I love portraits. Especially if there are some great fabrics involved, like silks and satins that allow oil paint to really bask in its own velvety, glossy goodness.

Before the museum shut its doors, I had been spending considerable time pulling racks of paintings in storage and thinking about what needed some love and attention. Exhibited at London’s Royal Academy of Art in 1847, this portrait of a mother and son kept haunting me. It has a satisfyingly warm, ruddy glow and intimacy, but there is also a coolness in the mother’s dignified expression that matches the temperature of her icy-colored silk gown. The crackle of warm and cool kept me coming back.

On the left, the Calla lily is hilariously horning its way into the picture so intentionally that it made me go read up on Victorian-era "floriography.’" This is the language of flowers used to speak secret messages when Victorians kept everything pretty well under wraps. Lilies in general call up the Virgin Mary’s purity, but I also found a discreet mention that for Victorian aesthetes, Calla lilies meant simply "precious loveliness." I’m going with that.