Eugène Delacroix, French, 1798–1863
Méphistophélès dans les airs (Mephistopheles in the Air), from Faust, Tragédie de M. de Goethe, tr. en français par M. Albert Stapfer, 1828
10-3/4" x 9"
Vanderbilt Art Association Acquisition Fund Purchase
Difficult Art and the Liberal Arts Imagination
(September 27–December 5, 2013. Please note that the gallery will be closed October 10–13, 2013, for fall break, and November 23–December 1, 2013, for Thanksgiving.)
Difficult Art and the Liberal Arts Imaginationis presented to coincide with the fall 2013 Vanderbilt Commons Reading, College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew Delbanco. In his book, which will be read by all incoming Vanderbilt first-year students, Delbanco defends the role of the liberal arts as a critical element of the undergraduate experience, stressing the importance of allowing students to test and discover their values and ideas among other activities and goals. One way to align the concept of difficult art with the Delbanco text is to suggest that it is in keeping with a liberal arts education that gallery visitors are exposed to “difficult” works. Through the liberal arts education, viewers are given ways of apprehending art in its various manifestations and are enabled to experience challenging works more fully.
Drawn from the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery’s extensive permanent collection, Difficult Art and the Liberal Arts Imaginationseeks to highlight works that confront the viewer with questions about the status of art, its meaning, and its purpose. Inspired by George Steiner’s essay, “On Difficulty,” which explores the various ways works of art in their impenetrable opaqueness resist comprehension and immediacy, the exhibition is a selection of works that are “difficult” in that they defy comprehension. Often, these works of art do not fit into ready-made categories and test or expand assumptions about what constitutes art. Some of the featured works refer or react to other works that may not be immediately obvious or known to the viewer, arising out of some “other” tradition. One example is John Chamberlain’s Maz. Made from the bodies of old cars, this work is a highlight of the university’s permanent collection and was recently part of Chamberlain’s retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, provoking the questions “what is art?” and “why is this art?”
Artists represented in this exhibition whose works dislocate, confront, and goad our experience of their works include Salvador Dali, Eugène Delacroix, Donna Ferrato, Jean Hélion, Lee Krasner, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Rembrandt van Rijn, Auguste Rodin, Edward Steichen, and Kara Walker. Vanderbilt faculty and staff selected several of the works in the show, and some are presented with commentary explaining why the work was chosen to represent “difficult” art.
Difficult Art and the Liberal Arts Imaginationis organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Martin Rapisarda, associate dean of the College of Arts and Science.