Expanding the canvas: ‘Sum of its Parts’ at Smith College Museum of Art features a range of multi-panel works

Aprile Gallant, associate director of curatorial affaits at the Smith College Museum of Art, talks about a collage-style map by Maggie Puckett that’s part of “Sum of its Parts,” an exhibit of multi-panel work at the museum.

Aprile Gallant, associate director of curatorial affaits at the Smith College Museum of Art, talks about a collage-style map by Maggie Puckett that’s part of “Sum of its Parts,” an exhibit of multi-panel work at the museum. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Photographer Paola Ferrario, who previously taught at Smith College, speaks about some of her work on display at “Sum of its Parts,” an exhibit of multi-panel pieces at the school’s Museum of Art.

Photographer Paola Ferrario, who previously taught at Smith College, speaks about some of her work on display at “Sum of its Parts,” an exhibit of multi-panel pieces at the school’s Museum of Art. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Paola Ferrario speaks about her multi-panel photo work, “Grid 1,” at Smith College Museum of Art.

Paola Ferrario speaks about her multi-panel photo work, “Grid 1,” at Smith College Museum of Art. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Visitors to “Sum of its Parts,” an exhibit at the Smith College Museum of Art, check out the panels from “Details,” a work by photographer and multimedia artist Lorna Simpson at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton.

Visitors to “Sum of its Parts,” an exhibit at the Smith College Museum of Art, check out the panels from “Details,” a work by photographer and multimedia artist Lorna Simpson at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Visitors view Maggie Puckett’s multi-panel map collage “Future Under Climate Tyranny” at the Smith College Museum of Art.

Visitors view Maggie Puckett’s multi-panel map collage “Future Under Climate Tyranny” at the Smith College Museum of Art. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Portraits by Dawoud Bey of Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, at “Sum of its Parts” at the Smith College Museum of Art, revisit a horrific case of violence in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights movement.

Portraits by Dawoud Bey of Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, at “Sum of its Parts” at the Smith College Museum of Art, revisit a horrific case of violence in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights movement. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

“Details” by Lorna Simpson — 21 photos of hands, with small text displays — is part of “Sum of its Parts” at Smith College.

“Details” by Lorna Simpson — 21 photos of hands, with small text displays — is part of “Sum of its Parts” at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

“Sum of its Parts,” which runs until early January 2024, focuses on multi-panel photographs, prints, and collages from the Smith College Museum of Art collection.

“Sum of its Parts,” which runs until early January 2024, focuses on multi-panel photographs, prints, and collages from the Smith College Museum of Art collection. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

This 1862 wood block triptych by Japanese artist Utagawa Yoshitora, depicting an imaginary scene in Washington, D.C., has never been exhibited before at the Smith College of Museum of Art.

This 1862 wood block triptych by Japanese artist Utagawa Yoshitora, depicting an imaginary scene in Washington, D.C., has never been exhibited before at the Smith College of Museum of Art. Image courtesy Smith College Museum of Art

This 16th-17th century print is part of an eight-panel work by a number of Flemish artists that’s now on display in “Sum of its Parts” at the Smith College Museum of Art.

This 16th-17th century print is part of an eight-panel work by a number of Flemish artists that’s now on display in “Sum of its Parts” at the Smith College Museum of Art. Image courtesy Smith College Museum of Art

“Banshee Pearls,” a 1991 photo collection by Kiki Smith, includes multiple self-portraits of the artist alongside images of skulls, hair, teeth and muscles.

“Banshee Pearls,” a 1991 photo collection by Kiki Smith, includes multiple self-portraits of the artist alongside images of skulls, hair, teeth and muscles. STAFF PHOTO/STEVE PFARRER

“Future Under Climate Tyranny,” constructed of 12 panels of handmade paper, imagines our world ravaged by climate change, with dead seas, vast deserts, and disappearing ice caps. 

“Future Under Climate Tyranny,” constructed of 12 panels of handmade paper, imagines our world ravaged by climate change, with dead seas, vast deserts, and disappearing ice caps.  Image courtesy Smith College Museum of Art

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 10-20-2023 8:38 AM

Sometimes artists want to work on a big scale: to tell a particular narrative, to juxtapose images in a unique way, or to do something outside of their usual working parameters.

But the challenge to that can be finding enough exhibition space to display that work.

At the Smith College Museum of Art, some renovation work at the museum’s Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs has offered an opportunity to put some of that large-scale work, usually not seen in its entirety, on display.

“Sum of its Parts,” which is on view through Jan. 7, 2024, brings together a range of multi-panel photographs, prints, and collages from the SCMA collection, with some of the images dating back to the 16th/17th centuries.

From a 19th century Japanese wood block print that offers a speculative view of Washington, D.C., to a 12-part collage that envisions how our world may be altered by climate change, the exhibition presents a kaleidoscopic range of images — 95 all told, though from just 14 artists.

“We don’t usually have the opportunity to see these images like this,” exhibit curator Aprile Gallant said during a recent public talk at the show.

Gallant, SCMA’s associate director of curatorial affairs, noted that Smith students might see some of these items laid out on a table during a visit to the Cunningham Center.

“But it’s not the same as seeing them in a gallery, hung on a wall in the way they were meant to be exhibited,” she added.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Hadley’s Hampshire Mall faces foreclosure
Cost divides town into camps over new Jabish Brook school project
Home sales in state, Hampshire County spring to life in April
Run for, by its employees: Paragus IT completes 8-year transition to being 100% employee-owned
GOP silences McGovern over Trump remarks
Area property deed transfers, May 23

Case in point is “Future Under Climate Tyranny (F.U.C.T.)” by Maggie Puckett, an American paper artist and printmaker who, using 12 large pieces of handmade paper, has created a composite map of the world as it might look if global temperatures rise by 4 degrees Centigrade (about 7.2 degrees Farenheit).

Puckett, who has imbued her paper with tactile material such as dried fish and seaweed, has shaded and textured her collage to suggest vast areas of land turned to desert and semi-arid regions, as well as increasingly sterile oceans and a corresponding shrinking of ice caps around the world.

Her map is also inverted — the opposite of the standard Mercator projection — as a another way of “invit[ing] viewers to reconsider their view of the world as well as the role of perception in understanding climate change,” according to exhibit notes.

The overall dimensions of Puckett’s piece — it’s approximately 6.5 by 10 feet — also help give it scope, Gallant noted.

And, she added, “This is a time capsule,” since Puckett created the piece more than a decade ago. Today scientists warn that global temperatures are at risk of rising more than 4 degrees Centigrade, promising even more severe environmental effects.

Diptychs, triptychsand more

Another standout in the exhibit is a large dual portrait by American photographer Dawoud Bey, the creator of what’s known as “The Birmingham Project,” a 2012 series that revisited a horrific church bombing and other racial violence in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 during the civil rights movement.

To mark the bombing, which killed four young adolescent African American girls, Bey photographed Black teenage girls from modern Birmingham as well as women in their early 60s — the age the victims would have been in 2012 had they lived.

The SCMA exhibit presents a diptych portrait of an older woman, Betty Selvage, and a young teen, Faith Speights, whose glasses are slightly crooked, a bit like the glasses worn by one of the bombing victims, 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins.

“I absolutely love (Bey’s) images,” said Gallant. “His portraits have this timeless quality to them.”

Joining Gallant at the recent gallery talk was photographer Paolo Ferrario, who previously taught at Smith College. A native of Italy, Ferrario created “Grid 1” for the exhibit, a panel of 16 colorful, somewhat abstract photos she took in a number of places, including Italy, Greece and New York City.

“We talk about how the camera sees in a way that the eye does not, that it captures these different moments,” said Ferrario, who now lives in Holyoke. “‘Grid’ is my way of putting together all these different moments.”

It’s an eclectic bunch of images — a balloon stuck in the opening of a trash barrel, a single white sock draped over a metal stairway banister, a closeup of bare legs pointing in different directions, maybe at a beach — and Ferrario said she did not arrange them in any particular order.

“This is not a narrative.” she noted. “If you make a grid, you can look at it at any point and make your own connections from it.”

Gallant said some of the exhibit’s works have previously been shown at the museum. But one never seen here before is an 1862 wood block triptych by Utagawa Yoshitora, in which the artist played with a trend, popular in Japan at that time, of depicting western tourists in the port city of Yokohama.

In the SCMA work, Yoshitora created a speculative view of Japanese tourists in Washington, D.C., one that exhibit notes say “was probably inspired by various printed sources.”

Yoshitora likely created the three-panel work because the paper for reproducing his woodblock engravings was only available in one small size, Gallant noted.

“That’s another reason artists create larger works, to move beyond the limitations of existing paper size or printing plates,” she said. “You have more flexibility if you can construct an image from multiple panels.”

“The Sum of its Parts” is not just about size, though. “Details,” by Lorna Simpson, an American photographer and multimedia artist, consists of 21 small black-and-white images of hands, taken from the artist’s family photographs, combined with a word or phrase, such as “lived in the neighborhood.”

And “Constructed Narratives,” prints of small etchings by Canadian artist Emma Nishimura, depicts areas in British Columbia where her paternal grandparents lived and worked from 1942 to 1947 — including locales where her grandparents and other Japanese Canadians were interned or forced to work during World War II.

The recent gallery talk at “Sum of its Parts” took place on what has traditionally been a free evening of visitation at SCMA, in conjunction with Northampton’s monthly Arts Night Out. But Gallant noted that this was the first such night at SCMA since the pandemic arrived in March 2020, after which the museum was closed to the public for months.

Not only that: The museum says that thanks to gifts from Smith alumnae Jan Fullgraf Golann, 1971, and Jane Timken, 1964, SCMA has dropped all its admission fees.

“By ending paid admission, the museum advances access, accessibility and inclusion for our neighbors and surrounding communities,” the museum announced. “All activities will be accessible for free, including exhibitions, public programming and art making opportunities.”

“We’re very grateful,” said Gallant. “We’re hoping this can help us become more of a community resource than we’ve ever been before.”

For more information on SCMA and “Sum of its Parts,” visit scma.smith.edu.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.