Literary Review

Literary Review

Seeing in Black and White in the Schmucker Art Gallery

By: Anne Lacey

The first time that any student visits their college art gallery is a special moment. They usually become entranced into a world, different from their own, in which they can view things that have bigger meaning than the test they are studying for or the paper that is due in a day.  The Schmucker Art Gallery, located on the campus of Gettysburg College, holds different art exhibits each semester. This semester the gallery had two particular collections which were both very intriguing; the first being Leonard Baskin’s “Imaginary Artists” and the second “Recent Acquisitions 2007-2017.” The latter is a series that showcases and celebrates pieces that have been collected over the past ten years from Gettysburg’s Fine Arts Collections, and consists of over 500 exhibition-quality pieces. Some of the works within this specific collection include those of Andy Warhol, John Biggers, Kara Walker, Sally Gall and others. The exhibit has an overarching theme of race, class, and power which is seen throughout the wide variety of pieces.

The role that color plays in the “Recent Acquisitions” is extremely important while thinking of the broader theme of the exhibit. Each item has a significant role, especially while paying attention to whether they are black and white, or in color. What are these pieces trying to say without actually saying it? The pieces that stuck out the most where those in black and white. I paid more attention to these pieces because of the history that this school is a part of, and the relationship that we have with race relations. The first is a photograph by Andy Warhol: a vibrant silkscreen of a woman. The second are photos from his collection Polaroids & Portraits, which resonate with viewers the most: the Polaroid of the lobster and the Polaroid of Levi jeans. Amongst many historical pieces, these photos look out of place. By understanding them a little bit more closely, viewers will begin to understand why they were kept in the collection. Not only are they part of the famous Andy Warhol collection, but they are also two photos which discuss the idea of wealth and power. Power relations are an important part of the “Recent Acquisitions” exhibit and something not to be overlooked while walking through the gallery. The lobster Polaroid is a sign of wealth and prosperity because of its expensive cost. Back in the day, people that ate lobster were very wealthy. Lobster was extremely well known for being hard to acquire and therefore expensive to buy and eat. Another sign of the wealth that these pictures portray is the Levi jeans. Name brand products, during the time were anything thing that were hard to come by. People who were wealthy often bought Levi’s because of the name but also because of the quality of the product. They knew that they were going to get what they paid for. With that being said, I think it is important to consider overall themes that the exhibit might have and what these piece offers for that overall argument. This piece seemed to stick out like a sore thumb along with the other black and white pieces, but when considering overarching themes, it was a perfect match. Wealth and power coincide with race, which continues with theme of black and white that is carried out throughout the exhibit. Although one might think that this Andy Warhol piece might lack relevance, taking a closer look it is an utter match.

The next piece in “Recent Acqusitions” that fits into the themes of power and race relations is Michael Scoggins’s drawing titled Battle of Gettysburg. This piece was made possible through the donations of Michael J. Birkner ’72 and the Robin Wagner Art and Photography Acquisition Fund. It was donated to Gettysburg College in 2014 and part of an exhibit then entitled, Michael Scoggins: When Johnny Comes Marching Home. This exhibit showcases both “Battle of Gettysburg,” and Scoggins’s “The Gettysburg Address.” Scoggins is best known for his international recognition and gallery representation in many different parts of the world. Not only does he have a presence in the Schmucker Art Gallery but he can also be seen at the MoMA in New York City. This fact is especially important while thinking about his presence on campus. His international recognition adds value to the pieces displayed.

Scoggins’s painting, “The Battle of Gettysburg” stands out in the space, not only because of the size but also because of the use of color. The notebook page he draws on depicts a drawing of one the battles that happened in Gettysburg during the Civil War. Although signed at the bottom in what seems like child’s handwriting, the pictures that are drawn are very detailed. They show real accounts of what was happening during the battle and have many key components during the time: bloodshed, death, and soldiers. These drawings are also in pencil, and sketched on a notebook page. Its use of black and white seems very striking and effective to me because of the notions that the Civil War was a fight between the North and the South but also race during the time. The whole piece is in black and white, except for the notebook paper’s lines of red and blue. The mix of red, white, and blue, displays the country and even though it was a difficult time, we were still of one.

The use of black and white is not only jarring in this piece, but in every piece in the collection. The way that race is presented throughout the display shows how important it is to Gettysburg but also to our history in general. Our country has come a long way, which is shown throughout “Recent Acquisitions,” but we still have a long way to go.

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