Collector’s Items

I n 2012, the Yale University Art Gallery was honored with the largest donation of prints it’s ever received: more than 1,200, comprising high-quality etchings, lithographs and other kinds of prints by some of the most renowned printmakers of the last 400 years.

The donation came from the Arthur Ross Foundation, named for the investment banker and philanthropist. The title of the exhibition, Meant to Be Shared, is a nod to Ross’s efforts to keep his collection circulating and available to the public eye. In keeping with that spirit, following its run at the YUAG, the exhibit’s contents will head to other universities. First, later this year, a subset of the prints will be sent to the University of Texas at Austin for a show there. Then, in 2017, the whole exhibit will go to the University of Florida before heading to Syracuse.

sponsored by

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven - Historical Preservation

YUAG’s exhibit, curated by Suzanne Boorsch with help from Heather Nolin, displays about a sixth of the 1,200 objects in the source collection, and it does so roughly following the order in which Ross collected them. It’s a fine circuit to tread and there are many intriguing patterns to witness, including a series of contrasts—Francisco Goya’s gory treatments of bullfighting are positioned next to Pablo Picasso’s minimalist illustrations, for instance, while Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s embellished views of Greece are set against Filippo Morghen’s less dramatized ones.

Other, perhaps less intended, patterns emerge. With exceptions, walking forward through the exhibit tends to reveal increasingly wider viewpoints, beginning with the private depictions of humanity found in a single man’s mind and finishing with an entire city seen from above.

But this particular pattern is more satisfying in reverse, beginning at the end. Take the elevator to the fourth floor, hang a left and find your way to the back wall, where you’ll discover Rome—wall-sized, via “the Nolli Map.” Created by Giambattista Nolli, what the map lacks in human intimacy it makes up for in fastidious detail. First published in 1748, it stood as the most accurate representation of Rome for some 200 years after it was drafted.

Intricate as the Nolli is, from this height Rome’s contours look flat. But surrounding the map are more works by Piranesi, and they bring us down into the city. Collected as mementos by young men from affluent families on their customary “grand tours” of Europe, the artist’s vistas of Rome spread to parlors walls throughout Europe, no doubt in part because they were extra-idyllic. Piranesi would bump up the drama of certain scenes with poetic lighting and perspectives, in some cases even altering the fundamental layout of Rome. Nolin remarked during a tour that Piranesi’s fantastic fudgings were so enthralling, and his work so widespread, that when the German poet and Piranesi admirer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe first saw the city with his own eyes, he was disappointed.

Continuing through the exhibition in reverse means descending to the first floor, where more personal perspectives emerge. There, 19th-century French literary prints like Honoré Daumier’s caricatures of female authors, Édouard Manet’s illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and Eugène Delacroix’s depictions of Hamlet and Faust emphasize individual concerns via domestic comedy, poetic strife and murderous tragedy.

Speaking of which, arriving at the beginning of the exhibition, we find the fantastical, supernatural, often disturbing prints of Francisco Goya, working in the shadows of the Spanish Inquisition. Arguably, more than any others on display, these etchings break into the inner shell of human experience, moving past interpersonal interactions into the realm of private imagination—Goya’s, to be precise.

The series Los Disparates (“The Follies”) depicts Goya’s unnerving visions of men in sacks, bulls raining from the sky and grotesque giants palming castanets. Goya originally hid the plates used to make the prints—presumably for fear of the Inquisition, a nearby placard says—and they were published only posthumously. Taboo enough to endanger him, he made them anyway, which lends credence to the notion that these eccentric, ambiguous depictions of humanity are among the artist’s most private, intimate works.

This proximity/intimacy pattern doesn’t seem to have been intended either by collector or curator—and doubtless there are many other unintended ways to enjoy Meant to Be Shared. And if you don’t see proximity as a trend through the exhibit, that’s okay, because these works are meant to be shared, and what you do with your share is entirely up to you.

Meant to Be Shared: Selections from the Arthur Ross Collection of European Prints
at the Yale University Art Gallery
1111 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Fri 10am-5pm, Thurs 10am-8pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm
(203) 432-0600…

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik with the exception of images 1, 3 and 11, which were taken by Dan Mims.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

Leave a Reply