MISSOULA – University of Montana students will present curated European and American prints ranging from the 17th to early 20th centuries with “Art Under Pressure: Function and Form in Prints from the MMAC.” The exhibition opens with a reception from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 27, in UM’s Global Leadership Initiative Lounge on the second floor of the University Center.
The exhibition features multiple types of prints from the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, from ephemeral visual culture – such as cartoons, playing cards and fashion plates – to fine arts prints from old masters and avant-garde artists.
The student curators were part of art Adjunct Assistant Professor Reilly Shwab’s Development of Prints and Graphic Design class. The 32 art history students researched and wrote wall labels for all the prints, including a portrait by Dutch baroque artist Rembrandt van Rijn, a newspaper cartoon by 19th century French artist Honoré Daumier and prints by French avant-garde artists Berthe Morisot and Edgar Degas.
Shwab said his course focuses on the different techniques used to create the prints, as well as their diverse historical functions.
“We are seeking to bridge the gap between popular visual culture and fine arts, and to better understand how prints, due to their unique nature and rapid spread as multiples, impacted how people live and think about the world,” Shwab said.
This was the first time most of the students have handled prints pulled from the MMAC’s Permanent Collection in class. There is little information about the artists or the prints themselves for many of these works because they were typically made in multiples or used in books rather than as stand-alone artworks. The students came up with their own research strategies based on carefully examining the prints.
Traci Bosshardt-Patino, a student and UM employee taking the class, helped research a French print featuring two women in a Middle Eastern courtyard. She hypothesized the image took place in colonial North Africa, and the text on the bottom read “Les Femmes d’Alger.”
She noted that some more text on the bottom – the name of the original publisher – had been cut off to fit into a frame. A Google search of the image, both in prints and paintings, confirmed that it was the work of famed 19th-century French artist Eugène Delacroix and that versions exist in museums in New York and Cleveland.
“It’s really amazing to make a find like that,” Bosshardt-Patino said.
Delacroix is best known for painting “Liberty Leading the People” (one of the first iterations of what would later become Lady Liberty). It is possible he used the model in the print for his famous painting. An Orientalist image, the print also offers a glimpse into how a European artist early in the 19th century perceived people from North Africa and the Middle East.
“I like finding that confluence of politics and war and philosophy and art and what informs the other,” Bosshardt-Patino said. “I’m a very firm believer that we would not know much about our world if we didn’t have these visual signifiers.”
“For a student, there is nothing like experiencing a work of art directly,” MMAC director Rafael Chacon said. “I am pleased to see UM students and faculty learning from and interpreting our collections and making connections. From the transcendent to the banal, this collection contains an array of works of art that articulate compelling ideas – both big and small ideas that have occupied the human imagination for time immemorial.”
The community can enjoy the curated prints from the class in the “Art Under Pressure” exhibition from March 27 to May 16.