The Playwrights (In Three Acts)
Located in the Opatrny Gallery at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art
The Playwrights (In Three Acts) is part of the larger, multi-sited fashion exhibition Green Armor, and includes artworks that were displayed in the Opatrny Gallery at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art (Oct. 20–Nov. 1, 2020). This section of the exhibit explores how visual artists have used the color green to contribute to perceptions of embodied fashion and protection. The works are organized into three acts—covering, dressing, and exposing the body—whereby artists have used green in a meaningful way to produce different relationships between fashion and the body. The concept of “green armor” is not only conveyed through the physical adornment of fashion but also through the ways in which visual artists have represented such performances in their artworks.
Photos by David O. Brown, Johnson Museum of Art.
ACT I - Covering The Body
Covering the Body includes artworks that explore how fashion has been used to protect, obfuscate, or stand-in for the body.
American, born 1962
Untitled, from the series Beneath the Roses, 2005
Digital chromogenic print
64 1/4 x 94 1/4 inches
The Ames Family Collection of Contemporary Photography
The color green can represent feelings of envy, jealousy, and greed. These emotions are visibly rendered through the green cast that covers the bodies and permeates the spaces depicted in this large-format photographic print. This image is part of the series Beneath the Roses by Gregory Crewdson, an artist who unfolds the morose layers of life through his photographic practice. Beneath the Roses took three years to complete in collaboration with a full production team. In this particular print, a woman looks at her reflection in a vanity cluttered with beauty products. Both the vanity and her body are covered by these beauty products. Three angles of a seated woman appear in a phantasmagoric mirrored triptik that includes front, back, and side views of her body, all staring at one another as if in competition. A nude figure, which is seen only from the mirror and appears to be behind the seated woman, could be another angle of the original woman staring into the mirror or an illusion. Perhaps she envies the body of the figure that looms behind her, representing a beauty ideal she desires to achieve. The lampshade casts a green light, highlighting the vanity’s surface and the secrets a mirror can reveal.
Olaf M. Brauner
Portrait of Mrs. Margaret Carleton “Daisy” Farrand, 1929
Oil on jute
Approx. 60 x 40 inches
Transferred from University Collections
Adorned in green and captured in the moment of covering the body, this painting by artist Swedish-American artist Olaf Brauner (1869-1947) conveys the important role that fashion plays in protecting the body—both from the weather and from the gaze. In addition to his work as a painter, Brauner was the first professor of art ever hired by Cornell University, where he served as the head of the Department of Fine Arts from 1896 to 1939. Though he sometimes worked in the disciplines of drawing and sculpture, he was most well-known for his oil paintings, such as the one displayed here. The woman pictured in this portrait is Margaret Carleton “Daisy” Ferrand, wife of Livingston Ferrand, who was serving as president of Cornell University at the time this painting was created.
ACT II - Dressing the Body
Dressing the Body considers the role of fashion in conveying the identity of the sitter or wearer.
American, born 1935
Study for the Rings on Dorian Gray’s Hand, 1968
Etching in green ink on wove paper
15 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches
Gift of Aaron H. Esman, Class of 1945, MD 1947, and Rosa M. Esman
This artwork can be viewed here through the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art online collections.
This etching is one of the illustrations from Jim Dine’s book, The Picture of Dorian Gray: A working script for the stage from the novel, which includes a script, annotations, and a series of bound and unbound studies for sets and costumes which were created for a play that was never performed. The play was based on Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is about hedonism and the desire for ongoing, embodied youth and beauty. Dorian Gray is a muse to an artist, who paints him so beautifully that Gray declares he would sell his soul if only the painting would age and he would remain young and attractive. He gets his wish, and after nearly two decades of debauchery and indulgence, Gray stabs the painting out of guilt and his physical body dies of the same stabbing wounds on the floor. As soon as he perishes, his corpse ages and reveals all of the horrors of his past behaviors, while the painting returns to its former beauty. The corpse becomes so unrecognizable that only the rings on Gray’s fingers can be used to identify him. Dine’s rendering of Gray’s hand dressed in rings uses the negative connotations of the color green—envy, greed, and illness—for psychological impact.
Have Faith, 1991
Etching, aquatint, monotype, chine collé collage, and African fabric on paper
31 1/2 x 40 7/8 inches
Acquired through the Truman W. Eustis III, Class of 1951, Fund, and through the generosity of the Class of 1951
This artwork can be viewed here through the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art online collections.
Have Faith is an etching and collage produced by the African American artist Emma Amos. Her work explores the intersections of culture and politics. The human body is one of her main subjects, and her work typically includes twisting figures that can be either floating or falling. These figures lie in either the bottom or top of the canvas, as they do in Have Faith. The figure found in this work is adorned in green pants. As she flies through the air, they serve as her protection. She lands feet first and her legs stand strong and steady. It appears as if the act of gravity has no effect, and she is in a way connected to the world around her. The bright hue also contrasts with the African print fabric top she wears containing warm colors. Green is not just her armour, but a siren telling the viewer to watch her.
ACT III - Revealing the Body
Revealing the Body explores different ways of exposing, unveiling, or unclothing the body.
George T. Green
American, born 1943
Ink and colored pencil on Strathmore board
28 3/4 x 22 3/4 inches
Gift of Tom Armstrong, Class of 1954, and Bunty Armstrong
"Singing Star" by George T. Green depicts a singer belting into a microphone with the words “AS SHE POURED HER GUTS OUT/ WHEN SHE SANG, WE WERE ALL/ PRIVATELY HOPING SHE WOULD/ FIND HAPPINESS,” splashed across the top. Drawn with ink and colored pencil on Strathmore board, the body is revealed in unexpected ways: the woman is depicted without eyes or any other features on her face except for bold red lips, a green and red pattern dotted across her voluminous hair, a green dress speckled with blue flowers, and colorful shapes pouring out of her mouth as she sings. While parts of her body are omitted, other aspects of the body we don’t typically see--like the sounds the body makes-- are revealed. Green’s work uses geometric patterns, three-dimensional illusions, vivid colors, and complex compositions to create abstracted forms. While this piece nods to Abstract Expressionism through gestural mark-making, it also references surrealism through playful illusions in two-dimensional drawings.
Japanese, Edo period (1608–1867)
Courtesan Poling a Boat
Hanging scroll: ink and colors on silk
37 x 12 5/8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson Burke
From the title, we know that this painting depicts a courtesan wearing many layers of kimono, wrapped around the waist with a large green obi. In Japan during the Edo period, prostitution had multiple rankings based on women's training level and talents that they had. One ranking was the "Oiran" which was a more skilled woman in terms of artistic talents. With her higher ranking also came the ability to be more selective about the pool of clients. This was considered a liberal position for women to obtain in society. Wives, on the other hand, were not treated as liberally and had to serve their husbands and be more conservative in terms of dress.
American, born 1932
Oil crayon and collage on paper
20 3/4 x 27 3/8 inches
Acquired through the generosity of Helen Appel, Class of 1955, and Robert J. Appel, Class of 1953; and through the David M. Solinger, Class of 1926, Endowment; with additional support from the Beth Treadway, Class of 1970, and Stephen Treadway, Class of 1969, Endowment
An American artist, Joan Semmel is best known for her feminist artwork depicting realistic nude portraits, many times from the perspective of looking down on her own body. Semmel has always been iconoclast, using figurative art when minimalism was at its height, and adopting elements of pornography to resist objectification of women seen in the commercial, heterosexual porn industry (Beckenstein 2015). She has captured the different eras and times of feminism as she has experienced them. Semmel lived in Spain for part of the 1960s and returned to New York in 1970 to find the first wave of feminism art. Her paintings make the case for women as equal sexual partners. Semmel has insisted on leveling the sexual playing field. This drawing is a self-portrait and comes from the 70s when she returned to focusing on the female body after returning from Spain. Semmel says this “was prompted by a need to work from a more personal viewpoint”. The viewer sees the drawing from the artists’ eyes, and the skin body is rendered with green highlights.