At first glance, the James McNeill Whistler exhibit at the Museum of Art might seem pretty average compared to the large oil paintings and polished stone carvings normally displayed. However, after a little time in the exhibit it becomes clear the images are anything but ordinary.
The room is filled with what seem to be simple black and white sketches spanning the walls, but these pieces are much more than mere drawings. Instead, Whistler’s works are the result of primitive forms of printmaking. The exhibit displays prints created from the techniques etching, drypoint and lithography. Don’t know what these terms mean? No worries. The museum has plaques explaining the complicated forms Whistler and other artists used to reproduce their works.
Whistler, who is famous for pieces like “Whistler’s Mother,” will be featured at the museum in the exhibit titled “Fleeting Impressions: Prints by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903),” organized by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. While the museum in Montgomery, Ala., named the set, exhibition curator Diana Turnbow shared what the MOA’s interpretation of the title is.
“One of the things that is really wonderful about the prints is they have this sense of spontaneity; he’s capturing moments that you might see as a pedestrian walking on the street, which really speaks for him as an artist since print making is actually a really labored medium,” Turnbow said. “His ability as an artist still preserves this idea of … being in the moment.”
Turnbow said she also thought the cross-cultural theme of the images would attract the BYU crowd since many students have taken trips abroad. A wanderer most of his life, Whistler’s images provide views all around Europe, from gondolas of Venice to boats on the River Thames; the upper class of St. James Street to the common workers of Chelsea.
Ethan Graham, a security guard at the MOA, has spent quite a bit of time looking at the exhibit.
“It’s a simpler exhibit, but it’s moving, especially in light of his life,” Graham said.
He explained he chose the word “moving” because some of the pieces were created during the cancer diagnosis and death of Whistler’s wife, Beatrice. He said the most intriguing part of the exhibit is discovering how the prints were made.
“It’s amazing these weren’t painted or drawn by hand,” he said. “It’s a fascinating way to create art.”
Scott Baxter, a senior from La Grande, Ore., hadn’t been exposed to much of Whistler’s art.
“I couldn’t put the art to the name, except for ‘Whistler’s Mother,’ ” he said.
However, Baxter shared some of what he learned at the exhibit.
“I didn’t know he did so many etchings and that style of art,” he said. “I was really impressed with the lengths they would go to make prints.”
The exhibit will be available until April 7. For more information visit moa.byu.edu.