Nightfall: Curator’s Introduction

Curator’s Introduction

The firelight, the darkness and the stars: no wonder if to some of us there comes the recollection of some poet’s lines . . . morning finds the artist re-invoking to himself its mood and trying with his pencil to recapture it. Yet the problem is not alone the re-creation of those natural elements of last night’s scene—night, mountains, stones, and stars—that has so moved him, but of the mood itself, how man reacted there that night to that environment.
–Rockwell Kent, How I Make a Woodcut (1934)

As the curator responsible for the Frank Raysor Collection of Works on Paper, a generous ongoing gift to VMFA, I am presented with the happy challenge of producing print exhibitions on a regular basis. The inaugural exhibition celebrating the announcement of the gift in 2011 was a survey of the entire history of the medium from its early beginnings to Post-Conceptual art. That show, called A Celebration of Print was quickly followed by a historical exhibition devoted to the printmakers of World War I and a comprehensive monographic exhibition devoted to the great French artist Félix Bracquemond.

Therefore, by mounting in sequence three of the most important and hence common types of exhibition from this collection – the survey; a study of a concise historical period; and a monograph (i.e. one devoted to the work of a single artist), I felt I could allow myself a certain latitude when deciding on my next project.

As I was thinking of what might be a good subject – that is, one that was interesting not only to me but also to as wide a public as possible–it happened that VMFA purchased a distinguished Rembrandt print set at night–The Annunciation to the Shepherds, one of Rembrandt’s most dramatic and distinguished nocturnes. At the same time, the Works on Paper Study Center team was (as it diligently has been for many years) engaged upon the cataloguing of Mr. Raysor’s collection. I therefore can credit an accident–the simultaneous presence on the worktable of the Rembrandt and some of British etcher Frank Short’s mezzotints (two of which are exhibition “stars”)–for the inspiration of a thematic show about this technically and philosophically challenging subject.

The exhibition opened quietly on October 17, 2015 and runs until February 22, 2016 in Works on Paper gallery (Level 2). The exhibition is meant to be contemplated quietly and felt as deeply as did the artists confronted with one of the most majestic and awe-inspiring creations of nature–Night itself.

We invite you to visit it also virtually through a web video set to “The Night Music” from Bèla Bartok’s Out of Doors. Please do also visit this page, which will be updated throughout the exhibition with other notes and notices as well as an excellent series of reflective and informative blog posts by Bailey Goldsborough (VCU Art History 2016 / Nightfall Exhibition Intern).

We also invite you to communicate your feedback to us through the following link, and even to consider contributing a guest blog related to the exhibition (subject to approval, editing for language, etc.) for publication here.

Above all, we thank you for your interest and hope that you enjoy the exhibition as much as we did assembling it.

Nightfall: Selective Perceptions

Nightfall presented unique challenges in interpreting the visual material for visitors. In most exhibitions, the curator works with a team from Education and other departments to consolidate a fairly complex package of information that is presented alongside the works in the form of labels. However, as we worked through the exhibition contents, we soon felt that complex labels giving the usual detailed biographical and technical information would not be appropriate given the extreme diversity of material created by artists from every period of printmaking. As well, the fact that some artists are little known to the general public today would have made summaries impossible and the labeling distracting, especially when compared to the utterly straightforward (though extremely sophisticated) and highly charged images, which we are asking the visitor to take at face value as visual records of clearly felt emotions. However, we do recognize that it is a rare visitor who will not want to know more. Therefore, we created this webpage and its contents with the aim of satisfying that interest.

Over the next months during the run of the exhibition we will also be posting a series of short informative and critical essays first on the blog and gathering them here – their titles are given below so that you may know what ground we will be covering. They were commissioned from Bailey Goldsborough, now a Senior Art History major at Virginia Commonwealth University, who spent the summer of 2015 as the Nightfall Exhibition Intern, observing the curatorial process from inception to implementation and researching the exhibition contents with the directive to take a strong critical perspective as well as to provide historical information in the eight essays he produced.

We hope you find them informative and stimulating.

Rockwell Kent’s Starry Night: What to Do at Night?

Frederick Landseer Griggs and the Ideal England of Old

Craig McPherson’s Yankee Stadium at Night