July 6, 2012
According to the theory of the six degrees of separation, she is connected to Albert Einstein, Cézanne, Eleanor Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Frida Kahlo and President Ulysses S. Grant.
But who is Peggy Bacon?
Bacon (1895-1997) was a New York artist and talented caricaturist of celebrities and artists, however, her name is by no means well known. The Archives of American Art specialists, who created the “Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon” exhibit, do not expect people to know who Peggy Bacon is—in fact, that’s the point.
While the original concept of the six degrees of separation dates back to Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who developed a radio telegraph system, the term became commonplace in 1990 when playwright John Guare debuted his production, “Six Degrees of Separation.” The play was based on the idea that no more than six acquaintances separate any two people.
Playing off the popular celebrity trivia game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in which players try to prove that any actor or actress can be linked to Kevin Bacon in fewer than six steps of film roles, the “Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon” exhibit creators hoped to show how a relatively unknown but well-connected artist was linked through archival documents to many of art and society’s most influential people.
“We wanted it to be surprising,” says Mary Savig, the exhibit’s curator and an archives specialist at Archives of American Art. “We chose Peggy Bacon because we knew nobody would know who she is.”
On display June 27, 2012, through November 4, 2012, in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, demonstrates how artists inform and inspire each other. “They don’t just work alone in their studios,” Savig said.
The exhibit is also intended to demonstrate the “shrinking world theory.”
The advent of radio technology, telecommunications and most recently, social media, has vastly increased the connectedness among the world’s inhabitants. In fact, Savig says, a study conducted last year by Facebook and the University of Milan demonstrated that social media has reduced the average degree of relatedness between each person on Earth to a mere 4.74 degrees.
“These documents show exactly how people are personally connected,” Savig says, pointing to a layout of correspondence and photographs connecting Bacon to artists like Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Janice Lowry, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Archival letters and materials provide paper trails to document each of the connections in Bacon’s web of six degrees.
The incredible ability to present such detailed documentation stems from the concerns of former Director of the Detroit Institute of Art E.P. Richardson and art collector Lawrence A. Fleischman. Richardson and Fleischman founded the Archives in 1954 in Detroit as an effort to address the lack of archival material documenting American art and artists. The Archives of American Art became a part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1970, and today holds more than 16 million items in the world’s largest collection of primary resources relating to the history of American art.
The Archives’ fastidious documentation and research of their collection is what allowed for the success of “Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon.”
In fact, on the exhibit’s opening day, a member of the public was shocked to find her former babysitter incorporated into Bacon’s web of relatedness.
“The woman pointed to the picture of Mary Chapin Carpenter and said, ‘She used to babysit me,’” Savig explains. Carpenter, a folk and country music singer, is bubbled into Bacon’s web as a sixth-degree connection.
Carpenter is included on the web for her connection to Joseph Cornell, who was the inspiration for her 1996 song “Ideas Are Like Stars.” Cornell is connected to Ad Reinhardt for their shared Christmas Eve birthdays and the fact that both artists’ works were displayed in art dealer Peggy Guggenheim’s 1943 Collages exhibit. Reinhardt described in a memoir how in 1938 he listened to loud jazz music carrying through the walls of the neighboring studio to his, occupied by Stuart Davis. Davis was represented by art dealer Edith Halpert who represented his work at The Downtown Gallery for close to four decades. Halpert opened her gallery in 1926 at which time she displayed the works of Japanese-born Yasuo Kuniyoshi. And Kuniyoshi developed a friendship with Peggy Bacon while the two attended classes together at the Art Students League.
The visitor’s relationship with Carpenter drives home the entire point of the exhibit, Savig says. “We all really can connect to Bacon.”
June 14, 2011
I started work as an intern at Smithsonian magazine last week. My first assignment was to write a blog post on ballooning. My second was to dress myself up in designer jewelry. I think, so far, that I like this job.
The only downside is that the jewelry was of the digital variety. A new Facebook application from Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City was created in honor of the museum’s exhibition, “Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels,” which explores 20th century jewelry design. It features about 350 breathtaking pieces of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, ranging from watches to tiaras. The app allows users to choose photos from their profiles and virtually add a little (or a lot) of sparkle.
The first order of business was to try the app out for myself. Now, I’m normally not a big jewelry person. I don’t like shiny. I prefer woven bracelets to diamonds and I would choose a wooden charm over one of those Tiffany & Co. hearts any day. But I’m not going to say no when someone offers to let me try on a tiara.
So I did. I (virtually) tried on the tiara (formerly of the Princess Grace of Monaco, now of Intern Julie of Smithsonian.com), a gold necklace, some diamond earrings, a ruby brooch. Let’s be honest—I tried on almost every one of the 28 pieces of jewelry offered in my digital jewelry box. (They paid me to do this!) I didn’t take an official picture wearing any of it because I suspected the app would then post it to my wall and I would have died of embarrassment.
I did, however, consider subjecting some of my friends to such ridicule, since the app allowed me to adorn their photos with some pretty ostentatious bling. I resisted, but just barely.
My second task (even though that first one was so exhausting) was to call up the Cooper-Hewitt and interview the people who came up with the idea for the app.
“There are a lot of people nationwide who have been blogging about this show. and reading the press about it, and wanting to know more, but have not been able to visit,” said Caroline Baumann, associate director of the museum. “So this is a wonderful opportunity for those people to experience the show and have a little bit of play as well.”
Jennifer Northrop, director of communications and marketing at Cooper-Hewitt, was actually the one who came up with the idea for the app. She said that as you walk through the exhibition, you immediately want to try on every piece, and she wanted to somehow find a way to allow people to do that.
“Of course there’s no way we’re going to let people try on a Van Cleef & Arpels tiara,” Northrop said. “So the next step was really, how can we do this virtually? How can we have this experience shared by tons of people?”
By the way, Northrop said the tiara was her favorite piece too, match only by her affection for a gold and ruby necklace that resembles a very glamorous and very expensive zipper.
So although my vanity is denying you what I’m sure would be a very amusing official photo of me decked out in Van Cleef & Arpels, I will leave you with an awkward screenshot, with my poor younger brother in it because I couldn’t crop him out. Do you think the tiara’s too big? I’m not worried. I’m sure I’ll grow into it.
The “Set in Style: the Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels” exhibition is currently open and will be at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum through July 4.
October 13, 2010
Feather Forensics—Featured right now on the Smithsonian Science homepage is a video about identifying dead birds who have mostly been struck by airplanes, such as the Canada geese that brought a US Airways plane down into the Hudson River. The video is an interview with forensic ornithologist Carla Dove (no, that’s not her stage name), who talks about how she and her team can determine bird species just by closely examining their feathers.
Anthem Newsflash—The American History Museum’s Star-Spangled Banner exhibit is home to the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that would become the lyrics to the national anthem. So the question is, did Key intend for his poem to be a song when he wrote it in 1814? “Oh Say Can You See” reports that the historians at American History believe Key’s intention was to write a composition to be set to a melody.
Pheon Now Online—A few weeks ago, I reported on the launch of Pheon, the new alternate reality game at American Art. While we were all off on our holiday weekend, the museum launched the online version of Pheon, which can be played from the comfort of your own computer. The game currently has 21 beginner missions, seven of which are directly related to artworks in the museum’s collections. Don’t get too comfortable behind that screen, though, because most missions send you out into the real world. Go straight to the game’s Facebook app to get started (you must have a Facebook account to play).
Make Your Own Sketchbook—Featured this week on Eye Level are a few tips for making your own sketchbook, as offered by Katherine Rand, who taught the Luce Center of American Art’s latest drawing workshop. The Luce Center offers an ongoing drawing program, called Draw and Discover, where anyone from the public can come and not only practice their drawing skills but also learn nifty tidbits about sketchbooks, like what to use to bind your own book and what kind of paper holds up best.
March 31, 2009
I had to update my Facebook profile picture today. My hair no longer falls past my nose and I’ve got a new vest from Target. Plus, the last one was taken over two weeks ago. So much has changed in my life since then. As I look at the previous photograph, I don’t recognize myself. I’ve lost a bit of the cockiness I had felt at that moment.
Why do Facebook users choose to represent themselves the way they do? On good days, we post pictures of ourselves smiling, arms around the shoulders of our best friends or partners. On bad days, that smile is updated to become a vacant look, a simple acknowledgment that the camera is capturing our image.
Click!, an innovative new Website by the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, might answer that question. Photographs are powerful objects for change. They change who we are, what we remember, what we see, where we go, what we want and what we do, oftentimes in subtle ways.
Our Facebook portraits are like three-dimensional mirrors. Our image doesn’t just stare back at us—we now have the power to manipulate it. How many times have you struck a pose intended for your Facebook page? The photograph that the social media user posts is essentially an act of reflection. It says, “This is who I see myself to be.”
As that picture becomes public, that self-definition then becomes a shared conversation. The images are given additional meanings as our friends (and frenemies) inquire, “Are you ok…?”, compliment, “You look beautiful ”, or criticize, “You are ridiculous!” Our photos become items of analysis, further shaping our online identities.
Click! invites the public to consider and share how photographs have changed their lives. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this experiment will prove it. To contribute to Click! submit an image, along with a short essay on how that photo changed you, influenced you, inspired you, or reflects a broader social-historical trend. Whether that image is a Facebook profile picture, on old birthday snapshot, a portrait from the 1800s, proof that you didn’t deserve that parking ticket, or a close-up on the stars or a snowflake, it has significance. Click! leaves it up to contributors to find it.
Now, this isn’t LOLcats. It’s a Web 2.0 project with slightly higher standards, but the Click! staff will help shape your entry, sending back suggestions, and the best will be published on the site. The current content is already insightful and interesting, and is a great way to start thinking of ideas. To guide contributers, Click! also features themed submissions, such as March’s focus on Women’s History Month and an upcoming Astronomy theme.
The site had me thinking metaphysically about how I’ve come to regard the question: “Who am I?” Once a difficult subject, I can now just send people a link to my Facebook profile. The picture and information may be ever-changing, but at least it’s accurate moment to moment. It’s not much different from the yearly school or family portrait of decades past. What’s changed with the Web and digital technology is the frequency we can create and share these representations.
Wow, all this critiquing has me worn out. Guess it’s time to change my profile picture. I’ll try to smile this time.