Art Complex Museum

The Collection

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The scope of The Art Complex Museum’s permanent collection is rooted in the personal interests of museum co-founders, Carl A. Weyerhaeuser (1901-1996) and his wife, Edith Greenleaf Weyerhaeuser (1912-2000). The collection numbers more than eight thousand objects. Its major strengths are: American paintings; Shaker furniture and crafts; Asian art, encompassing paintings, ceramics and bronzes dating from as early as the thirteenth century BCE; and works on paper, the majority of which are American and European prints.

Carl Weyerhaeuser continued to take an active role in developing this collection throughout his life. In addition, a major acquisition from collectors Leland and Paula Wyman enhanced the already diverse holdings with over eighteen hundred objects and transformed them into a global collection. Weyerhaeuser heightened the collection with contemporary ceramics from important kiln sites in Japan. Many have been shared and documented through exhibitions and catalogues. The collection continues to grow in depth and scope through regular acquisitions, including contemporary work from regional artists.

Recent Acqusitions: Women’s Work

After many attempts to be part of the mainstream marketplace, early twentieth century American women artists met with minor success. The gender separation became obvious with women artists resorting to creating alternative venues — art clubs and associations for women. Modernism resulted in a big step for women in the arts, but it did not offer all the cultural trappings men were allowed. The government’s Works Project Administration (WPA) whose mission was to employ all kinds of workers including artists, employed women at only 13.5 percent of the total for its highest enrollment year of 1938. The revolutionary 1960s did make a leap in art through feminism with a highly political, anti-war backdrop. Post-modernism, ideologically the most open for a level playing field, lingers still into the twenty-first century under the challenge of previously accepted standards pertaining to women artists.

When the majority of reasons for art in earlier times was dictated by the mass-mentality that revolved around religion, there was little question for its purpose. As time progressed, the focus turned to man rather than his god. Study of classical Greece and Rome were rediscovered in an era of humanism, which subsequently melded with the science and reason of the Renaissance.

In modern history, questions reign supreme about how art should be made — what is art anyway? Is it defined by the times, the viewers and critics — or the artist? Is it his-or-her story? Based on ever-changing viewpoints, individual passions and complicated contexts, the answer is not a fixed one.

Few artists of either gender set out to be prominent, but by weakening barriers, prominence was attained by women pioneers. In retrospect, the early 1970s and 1980s may well have been the widest window open to art by women, yielding a great diversity in media and method. The stage was somewhat set. In spite of their environment, or because of it, women continue to seek a means to express themselves through art or other creative ways because they know it really should be his-and-her story.

A selection of 2017 museum acquisitions may offer women some well-deserved inroads to the contemporary art world. The museum strives to support women in art by embracing their accomplishments when relevant to the permanent collection.

The collagraph, a printmaking technique wherein textural materials are added to the printing plate, was a mode in which Vivian Berman was highly innovative. Berman challenged its limitations, producing an unusual sense of space as well as intriguing textures.

In addition to developing her art techniques, Berman’s activities included Board Director and President of the Boston Printmakers, Instructor at the DeCordova Museum School, ardent women’s rights supporter and member of the National Organization of Women.

Examples of her work can be found in several other collections, including: The Library of Congress, Fogg Art Museum at Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge; Wiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library; DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Painter and printmaker, Prilla Smith Bracket, conjures up a contrast of imagery. In Subterranean Secrets, the artist responds to her experience of ancient, underground cities in central Turkey. Brackett explains her involvement in today’s art scene:

“I get a lot of pleasure and support from the monthly meetings of a women-artists’ reading group that I’ve been a member of since 1987. We read about art, artists, women artists, occasional fiction focused on art, see exhibits together from time to time, and share issues from life and work.” – from artist’s statement, 2017

Brackett and her husband have donated many of her artworks to The Art Connection, an organization that places original art in public and non-profit agencies in the Greater Boston area.

Her art can be found in the collections of several corporate, college and museum collections, including these Massachusetts institutions: Fogg Art Museum at Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge; DeCordova Museum & Sculpture Park, Lincoln and Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton.

Jennifer Maestre’s sculptures appear rigid, yet they have flexibility in their beaded construction. The pencil pieces have become the beads, strung into a fanciful, yet intense formation of vibrant color.

“Paradox and surprise are integral in my choice of materials. Quantities of industrially manufactured objects are used to create flexible forms reminiscent of the organic shapes of animals and nature. Pencils are common objects, here; these anonymous objects become the structure. There is a fragility to the sometimes brutal aspect of the sculptures, vulnerability that is belied by the fearsome texture.” – from artist’s statement for museum’s exhibition, Wood as Muse, 2017.

times brutal aspect of the sculptures, vulnerability that is belied by the fearsome texture.” – from artist’s statement for museum’s exhibition, Wood as Muse, 2017.

Maestre’s sculptures are also in other museum collections including DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, Massachusetts and New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut.

“(Nora) Valdez is best known as a stone carver. She uses sculpture and installations to create images that reflect on the nature of change, the life of the individual, and the forces that buffet our souls. For the past few years her work has focused on the nature of home and the immigrant experience, recreating in her art the hard road of those caught within alien systems seeking the rootedness of home. Valdez sculpts the human figure and related objects in symbolic narratives, often informed by her dreams. Her thematic concerns are also reflected in her involvement with the community.” – from artist’s statement, 2017

Among various sculpture projects, Valdez’s most recently installed work in Massachusetts can be found at the Reading Garden Entrance, Duxbury Free Library and the Boston Public Library, East Boston Branch.

These artists represent the twenty-six women out of thirty-one artists at the time of this writing, whose work entered the museum’s permanent collection in 2017. Combined with other women’s work, including prints by Kathé Kollwitz, Mary Cassatt and Marguerite Zorach, they will be exhibited at various intervals beginning February 4, continuing throughout the year. Beyond Post-modernism, pluralism and the post-internet world, we envision an era to stand equally for all.

Maureen Wengler, Collections Manager

Lotus Moon

As in many facets of life and culture, the art world shares a history of limiting women on the basis of their gender. For reasons that include deep cultural bias and persistent gender divide the problem is systemic and ongoing. Regrettably, even here in the United States, equality remains elusive. Women are undervalued by the major art market, disproportionately represented in major art galleries, and generally given unequal opportunities as well as judged against unequal standards.

The Art Complex Museum is an ardent supporter of equal opportunity regardless of gender. We recognize the importance of representing work by women artists, whose voices, on the whole, continuously slip past popular historical narrative. As a cultural institution, it is partly our duty to ensure these voices have a forum in which to be heard. Over the course of 2018, and into the future, the museum’s Collections Department commits to making accessible exemplary works of art by women, to tell their story and highlight their significant contributions. We are honored to present, from the permanent collection, works by women that both demand respect and inspire contemplation.

Among these women is Otagaki Rengetsu (1791– 1875), a Japanese artist who defied artistic and cultural hierarchies and whose achievements have had lasting impact. Before changing her name and establishing a reputation as one of Japan’s most celebrated women artists, Otagaki Rengetsu was known as Otagaki Nobu. In her youth, Nobu gained a familiarity with artistic tradition and formal dictates. Although she would not strictly conform to these prescriptions, they would ultimately inform her subsequent body of work. Nobu endured a young adulthood marked by tragedy which presented another influence on her work. By age forty-one she was alone, having lived to see the intermittent deaths of two husbands, five children, her adoptive parents and all of their sons. Upon becoming a Buddhist nun, she cut off her hair, vowed never to marry again, and changed her name to Rengetsu (Lotus Moon). With resilience and resourcefulness, Rengetsu was able to transcend tragedy and overcome adversity.

In feudal Japan, ceramic production was an unlikely profession for anyone who wasn’t a man within a potter family’s lineage. Regardless, making ceramics became Rengetsu’s livelihood, and her way of meditative prayer. Her wares were met with near-immediate success. They stood out against the highly polished pieces made by Kyoto’s professional potters and appealed to Kyoto’s commoner-class consumers.

Largely self-taught, Rengetsu’s clay forms can often be unassuming, even rudimentary. On close inspection, however, one cannot deny their intimacy and contemplativeness — indentations from the artist’s delicate fingertips imbue their shapes with vulnerability and a sense of immediacy. Similarly understated, while highly evocative, Rengetsu’s waka poetry would be inscribed onto her wares in her inimitable calligraphic style. In presenting and distributing her poetry, the simplicity of her wares certainly proved effective.

By the end of her life, Rengetsu was an acclaimed patron saint of the arts and a celebrity of Kyoto’s cultural life. It is said every household in the ancient capital had at least a few pieces of ‘Rengetsu-yaki’ (Rengetsu ware). Although she was undoubtedly prolific, some say she created upwards of fifty thousand works in her lifetime, relative to all Rengetsu-yaki, few were made entirely by the nun herself. In order to meet high demands, she sought help from assistants. During her lifetime to the present, her work has been deliberately imitated. Multiple authenticated pieces in the museum’s permanent collection bare her mark and distinctive style.

In large part, art speaks for itself. Still, women artists leave behind legacies that must be honored and retold if they are to continue inspiring appreciation and growth. Beginning in March of 2018 and over the course of the following year, artwork by Otagaki Rengetsu will be exhibited in Rotations Gallery. Please join us in admiring her work, and her perseverance.

Kyle Turner, Assistant Collections Manager

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The Art Complex Museum / 189 Alden Street / Box 2814 / Duxbury, MA 02331