Even during the slowest hours at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, there's always a crowd at its newest exhibition.
"Curating Across the Disciplines: Drawing a Crowd," curated by Visiting Professor of Art Anna Hepler, examines the repetitive theme of crowds through various art media. Specifically designed to incorporate both long-standing and familiar museum pieces, as well as a variety of new additions, the exhibit questions both the uniformity and the individuality of figures in a crowd.
"I am interested in crowds because they both diminish and amplify the human experience—a visceral reminder that we are all both special and dispensable," Hepler said. "Drawing a crowd requires a decision from the artist—whether the rendering will follow a formulaic, repetitive structure; an approximation of the human form; or whether it will articulate individual personalities, as in a series of portraits. My Becker Gallery exhibit explores a variety of artistic strategies that have been used to portray throngs of people."
While professors can use the Becker Gallery to exhibit work in conjunction with a class, Hepler chose not to.
"It is related [to my classes] only insofar as I am interested in solving problems by drawing, and I encourage that same approach in the classroom. With this collection of images you can see a variety of solutions to the problem of drawing crowds," she said.
A well-known image usually located in the Center Gallery is "Human Brick VII" by Lu Shengzhong. Composed of hundreds of red frog-like cutouts on top of one another in addition to the block of paper from which the cutouts were taken, this piece is an abstract example of the message Hepler is trying to convey. Even with hundreds of identical pieces of paper, Sheng manages to individualize and differentiate between them. Using careful collage techniques and planned spacing, the overlapping cutouts at the bottom of the frame move naturally to the sparsely populated upper portion.
An intricate drawing by Pietro Martini titled "The Exhibition of the Royal Academy" includes a detailed depiction of patrons in a large gallery space covered floor to ceiling in equally as meticulous portraits. Using the idea of a crowd within a crowd, Martini is able to add humorous aspects to a complex drawing.
In a triptych by Japanese artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi, the artist uses a color woodblock print to convey a sense of action and movement over a large space and incorporates dozens of figures throughout the print. The use of color also creates uniformity to the characters of the woodblock and takes away all individuality, which helps portray the idea that the warriors are acting as one unit.
Another woodcut, and one that is a staple of the museum's collection, is K—the Kollwitz's "Memorial to Karl Leibknect." The rough composition adds to the somber subject matter. The woodcut depicts mourners viewing the body of Leibknect, the founder of the German Socialist Party, and presents a grim portrait of death. In cooperation with the theme of the exhibit, Kollwitz's work is an example of individuality in obscurity. Each figure in the crowd has a distinct pose or facial expression which distinguishes it from the others in the group.
In addition to both works in paper and woodcut, the exhibit also features works in pencil, charcoal, oil paints and photography. "Curating Across the Disciplines: Drawing a Crowd" will be on display in the Becker Gallery through March 1.