the sky: Ezra Stoller’s Seagram Building, New York.
of the Letterpress
Jazz: The Late Work of H.N. Werkman, through Jan. 2
Stoller: Architectural Photography, through Dec. 19
College Museum of Art
A bittersweet poignancy permeates the highly unusual exhibition
of late work by Hendrick Nicolaas Werkman at the Williams
College Museum of Art, as this Dutch artist-craftsman was
killed at the very end of World War II by the Nazis, who then
destroyed most of his art as well (terming it “degenerate”).
there is also childlike joy throughout the show, titled Hot
Jazz: The Late Work of H.N. Werkman. The name derives
from Werkman’s passion for the early style of jazz that was
popular in the 1920s when he began using his letterpress as
a loose, innovative means of self-expression. The colorful,
mostly abstract images he created placed rhythm before meaning
and energy before function, providing an alternative to the
more mundane nature of his commercial printing business.
Many of the prints on view served as illustrations for pamphlets
of poetry, religious hymns and other inspirational texts,
but they are shown as isolated images; in a few cases, there
are expressive uses of typography reminiscent of the Russian
and Italian futurists, but most of the work is pure shape,
texture and color.
Werkman’s chief contribution seems to be the innovative use
of the letterpress as a creative tool: He broke all the rules
of printing (and printmaking) by purposely making color uneven
and each print unique, habits that now hold a permanent place
in contemporary printing shops that hew to the creative side.
In this he was a good 50 years ahead of his time.
Visually, Werkman’s style is naïve and simplistic, which is
not to say untrained. The artist that immediately comes to
mind when perusing these prints is his contemporary Henri
Matisse. Yet there is a dark side even to the lightest and
airiest of this work—it was produced during the war in occupied
territory, alongside clandestine politically motivated material
that Werkman was also printing for underground groups.
Ultimately, what comes across is the unique technique, with
a softness and subtlety not always seen in mid-century art,
and the graphic sophistication that this working professional
brought to his personal output.
Among several other shows also now up at the WCMA, Ezra
Stoller: Architectural Photography is getting the lion’s
share of the attention due to Stoller’s death in October.
This beautifully designed and installed collection of much
of his greatest work amply demonstrates the enormity of that
Featuring seven major projects he photographed over several
decades of architectural turbulence and triumph, the Stoller
show groups the 40-or-so black-and-white photographs by subject.
From Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater to Mies Van Der Rohe’s
Seagram Building to Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal, the buildings
are so famous as to nearly make one take the photographs for
But Stoller was the architectural photographer of his
era, and his breathtaking pictures are as much responsible
for these buildings’ fame as the designs themselves. His skill
was tremendous in capturing the building as sculptural presence—many
of the best pieces in the show have a monumentality to them
that could lead to disappointment when visiting the actual
place—but he also had a deft touch for intimate detail and
composition, especially when photographing interiors.
My favorite pictures here are not necessarily the real showstoppers
but some of the more transcendent images featuring light and
people as subjects in conjunction with the buildings.
This exhibition of very beautifully made recent prints will
enthrall anyone interested in modern architecture or fine
Another show worth a look is by a young Williams College art
professor named Liza Johnson. Her installation of five video
loops with sound and five color stills, titled if then
maybe, is a meditation on the role of women in Hollywood
movies. Though this well-worn theme can’t do much to move
me personally, Johnson has a light touch and excellent technique,
resulting in an experience that draws you in. Her installation
will be up through Feb. 27.
For more on the womanish theme, there’s In the Company
of Women, a selection from the museum’s large holdings
that runs through April 17. Featuring work old and new, including
pieces by both Maurice and Charles Prendergast, Philippe Halsman,
Andy Warhol, Kara Walker and Niki de Sainte-Phalle, this exhibition
holds together nicely while being rather diverse.
Among my personal picks are Isabel Bishop’s sweet, nuanced
1953 oil-and-tempera on panel called Girls in the Subway
Station; a Lorna Simpson photo diptych with text; and
a video of Louise Bourgeois talking about her large sculptural
work Eyes, which graces the area outside the museum
with its bizarre, surrealist warmth.
Finally, there are just a few days left to see another show
derived from the museum’s collection, this one titled Mostly
Photography: Art Since 1980. The selection ranges from
two delicate Robert Rauschenberg lithographs to a monumentally
huge Gilbert and George pastiche called Life without End.
Along with a few old favorites, there are a number of recent
acquisitions on view—it’s nice to see a few things get onto
the walls where the public can appreciate them before they
take their place in the drawers with the rest of the collection.
The show ends on Dec. 6.
Mystery: Who is the Master of the Embroidered
Art Institute, through Jan. 2
Cleverly and exhaustively
presented as a bit of academic art sleuthing,
this exhibition brings together four extremely
similar madonna-and-child paintings from late
15th-century Holland that otherwise reside halfway
around the world from each other (in Bruges, Lille,
Minneapolis and Williamstown).
Once thought to be by a single, unknown Dutch
master, the Clark’s researchers conclude that
they are in fact by different artists using the
same template. What’s really satisfying, and better
than any amount of written or reproduced information,
is being in the presence of all four paintings
at once and comparing them all directly by eye.
The many, many differences are no less fascinating
than the similarities; and each panel (one accompanied
by side panels as a triptych) is a fine piece
of Renaissance work well worth study in itself.
A related exhibition across the hall presents
a cycle of 20 woodcuts by German master Albrecht
Dürer titled Life of the Virgin, along
with other prints by Dürer and a highly skilled
Italian imitator. Fans of virtuosic printmaking
technique will be delighted.
It should be noted that admission to the Clark
is free through May 31, making this a great off-season
opportunity for those of us who live here year-round.
and Declarative: Ginger Ertz and Charles Steckler
Gallery, Emma Willard School, through Dec. 17
This couple from Schenectady make their art individually
but have been showing together in group or two-person
shows since Ertz moved over from southern Vermont
a couple of years ago. Their styles are completely
different yet nicely compatible—each deals in
three dimensions with an additive process, but
that’s about where the similarities end.
Steckler, a theatrical designer long in residence
at Union College, produces little shadowbox dioramas
á la Joseph Cornell. Ranging from the elegantly
simple to the almost unbearably complex, these
wall-mounted dramas demand your complete attention
and reward it with wit and wonder.
Ertz is a sculptor. Her medium, the common pipecleaner
(or chenille stem, to be technical), gives all
her creations a fuzzy, jaunty appearance. They
tend to be biomorphic forms, usually monochromatic
(I was particularly taken by the snow-white ones),
often grouped. They are sexy and very innovative.
These are two artists making a strong impression
on the local scene, and this is the best chance
yet to see their work in full—don’t miss it.