Paper, plain


At first glance, a Pablo Picasso-signed letter inviting a donor to his statue’s dedication in Daley Plaza doesn’t seem to have much in common with a series of decollage coasters—but in the contemporary gallery of the Smart Museum, they hang side by side. In the exhibit On Paper, on display through August 15, the curators examine the properties of paper as a "medium, material, and subject."

The curators are also the artists, and they took inspiration from the Smart Museum's permanent collection, which they culled to create this exhibit, choosing works that fit their thematic idea. Seven rising second-year MFA candidates curated the show, displaying their own pieces next to the ones they chose from the Smart. The students' pieces, hanging side by side with the Picasso letter and works by Kerry James Marshall and Walker Evans, investigate the limits of paper, and also of politics, the circulation of ideas and materials, and how repositioning some objects can make them art when they may not have previously been considered so.

The Picasso letter, for example, was not considered an art object when it was donated to the museum, says collections curator Stephanie Smith, who assisted the students. However, set in a frame and hanging next to a print by 20th-century abstract expressionist Ad Reinhardt on letter paper detailing objections to the Vietnam War ("No Draft/ No Injustice/ No Evil"), and work by MFA candidate Vanessa Ruiz that incorporates four years of her own love letters, Picasso's invitation is seen as part of a tradition that makes correspondence into art.

The epistolary can be art—and in this exhibition, so can a simple brown-painted pedestal, placed in the center of the gallery and titled "Work on Paper." For the students, who also helped to install On Paper in July, physically arranging the art on the walls and producing it themselves allowed them to create a coherent exhibition where paper, and art, can be both made and seen differently.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photos (top to bottom): Work waiting to be installed for On Paper; MFA students put up their exhibit.

Photos courtesy Erik Wenzel.

August 4, 2008