My attraction to Shiva Ahmadi’s Tower (2017) was immediate, but it is a challenging work in both its content and execution. In discussing it, I find it helpful to speak in terms of dualities: seduction and repulsion, translucency and opacity, chaos and control, background and foreground. Ahmadi has done this herself in quotations like the one above.
A print room—a space to house a collection of drawings and prints, the curators who are responsible for it, and the scholars that come to study the collection—has been an essential feature at the Morgan since 1906 when J. Pierpont Morgan closely collaborated with Charles Follen McKim on the interiors of the library housing his collections.
Every summer since 2015, a paid undergraduate intern from the University of Pennsylvania’s RealArts@Penn program program has joined the Literary and Historical Manuscripts Department staff at the Morgan. Two summers ago, Delaney Keenan (who graduated this June with a B.A. in Art History from Penn) spent part of her internship working on a project to survey and study the department’s holdings of the letters of women artists.
Without knowing its underlying historical context, a viewer is likely to find this print from the Morgan’s collection bafflingly obscure. Once you learn it was published in London during the dark days of the Great Plague of 1665–1666, however, the meaning and significance of “Welcome Home Brother” begins to come into focus and strike an uncomfortably contemporary note.
In early 2018, I received the welcome news that UCLA Library Special Collections would consider lending drawings by Rick Barton to an exhibition at the Morgan. Moreover, more than 600 drawings that had not been located at the time of my visit were now available to view. My next opportunity to travel to Los Angeles would not arrive until October of that year. But in the interim, I made a number of crucial discoveries.
When looking at a medieval manuscript, it is often the illuminations that catch the eye—colorful figures rendered in miniature, gleaming gold backgrounds, ornate initials that twirl and bloom across the margins. But beyond the illuminations, and even beyond the text, the substrate itself merits closer inspection.
Pierpont Morgan’s librarian, Belle da Costa Greene (1883–1950), shepherded the banker’s collections beginning in 1905 and continued doing so for many years after his death in 1913, working alongside his son and eventually serving as the museum’s first director from 1928 until her retirement in 1949. After the Morgan opened its doors as a public institution, the drawings collection—established by Morgan in 1909—continued to grow through gifts from the Morgan family and from a small number of patrons, as well as through select purchases.
Rembrandt’s portrait prints of secular patrons—city officials, physicians and apothecaries, dealers, collectors, and fellow artists—generally depict individuals he knew well. While in most cases, the focus is chiefly on the sitters, in a handful of highly ambitious works, the artist places them in carefully described interior spaces.
The Morgan Book Project is an annual extended-learning program open and free to New York City public school teachers who work with grades 3–12.