Art lovers, artists, the Wellesley College community, and residents from Wellesley and nearby towns gathered at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College for its Fall 2018 opening celebration. Wait staff greeted visitors with wine and small bites, while chatter and excitement filled the air. Printmaker Christiane Baumgartner was on hand at the Collins Cinema to give an artist’s talk that covered her exhibit, Another Country, on display in the expansive basement level of the museum. Note that tickets are required for entry to this special exhibition. Admission to the rest of the museum is free.
The Legend of John Brown
There are four additional special exhibits, and Jacob Lawrence: The Legend of John Brown is not to be missed. The artist is known for his series of history paintings in gouache, and in this exhibit, his fifth series, he covers the life of abolitionist John Brown. No pacifist, Brown advocated for violent anti-slavery uprisings, gathering supporters where he could among like-minded fighters, both African-American and white. Abe Lincoln wasn’t impressed with his methods. Frederick Douglass was. Brown was hanged for his part in the 1859 raid at a federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. He was trying to ransack the treasury there to arm slaves and lead them to revolt. The representational paintings follow Brown’s life in a linear fashion. Start at painting number one and swing your way around the room to painting number 22. You can get a guide at the front desk.
Take the kids, already
If you’ve never taken the kids over to the Davis, I ask you, why not? You can give them so much art exposure without leaving town and it’s free, with the exception of the current special exhibit. And you can get a good eyeful of that by peering over the balcony.
What there is to see: an amazing silk Asante Kente cloth, a 5th century Roman mosaic floor, a portrait of George Washington by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller; paintings by impressionist powerhouses John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, and Paul Cezanne; paintings, sculptures, textiles, and terra cotta figurines from the Renaissance; 17th century Dutch paintings; a Lee Kasner and a Jackson Pollack painting adjacent to one another, a nod to the famous abstract artists’ eleven-year marriage. (Pollack died in a car crash in 1956.)
There’s a gravity-defying upside down ceramic floral arrangement by Tony Matelli (remember when his Sleepwalker sculpture terrorized/fascinated all of Wellesley?), a William de Kooning sculpture, and a Brillo box by Andy Warhol.
Every time I go back to the Davis after they’ve taken their summer break, I hold my breath as I walk through the galleries, searching for my favorites. Will they be on display or will they have been loaned out or worse, banished to storage? The museum owns thousands of objects, and obviously they can’t show them all.
I walked through. Phew, Alice Neel’s painting, Wellesley Girls is there, and they’re still wearing their Pappagallo shoes (or maybe Guccis). One girl minds her posture and sits prim and proper while the other takes a more bohemian and relaxed pose, not much caring that that her knees are splayed and we can see right up her skirt, which frankly was short to begin with. A 1960s rebel, that one. Both girls ooze steady, ongoing confidence and privilege.
What’s this? My second-favorite white girl painting at the Davis, the portrait of Miss Cornelia Lyman Warren, Trustee of Wellesley College, 1871, by Alexandre Cabanel, has been moved. Fretfully, I search for her, but I needn’t have worried about Miss Cornelia. She always finds a way to do just fine, and her new place in the gallery suits her far better, thank you very much. There she stands in the portrait, riding crop in hand, one of the privileged young ladies Wellesley College used to educate as efficiently as their fathers’ factories used to churn out textiles and steel and leather goods. In the background is a body of water. Miss Cornelia could be at the top of the stairway in the Hunnewell estate topiary garden, Lake Waban the still blue in the background.
In Miss Cornelia’s former place on the stairwell landing is an amazing new acquisition, Street Girl, by Columbus Knox. Somehow Knox shows us this young woman when she’s young and when she’s decades older, all in the same painting. Go see it for the brush strokes alone.
Oh good, our family’s favorite, Laughing Fool, attributed to Jacob Cornelisz van Ootsanen, circa 1500, is still there in the Renaissance room. He’s creepy and hysterical all at once. How long can he keep the laughs going, we always wonder. What if he falls out of favor with the king? He doesn’t look entirely healthy. We worry about him a bit.
It’s just good family fun to pick your favorites at the Davis and pop in to visit them every now and then. If that sculpture the kids especially love gets moved, the search is on. If the painting you all practically fall into every time you see it goes out on loan, oh well, there are others to discover. Also opportunities abound for you to look at a work of art and snort, “So that’s what passes for art these days,” or, “You kids could definitely do better than that.” And if those as-yet undiscovered art prodigy kids of yours get suddenly rambunctious, no big deal. You can just leave and go home, literally right down the street. So much better than sighing over the admission fee you just paid in Boston (the Davis is free) as you battle Route 9 traffic home.