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  • OROZCO AT DARTMOUTHThe Epic of American Civilization


  • This brochure has been sponsored by Monroe Denton, Class of 1968

    2007 Trustees of Dartmouth College. All rights reserved.

    Edited by Nils Nadeau

    Designed by Joanna Bodenweber

    Printed by Villanti & Sons, Printers, Inc.

    All mural photography by Jeffrey Nintzel

    Mural images from Jos Clemente Orozcos The Epic of American Civilization,193234, fresco, reserve reading room, Baker Library, Dartmouth College.Commissioned by the Trustees of Dartmouth College

    Photographs of the mural in progress courtesy of Dartmouth College Library

    Continuous scan of mural used on front cover and center spreadsby Hany Farid

    Diagram on center spread by Barbara Krieger

    Back cover: The muralists tools; Orozco on scaffold with Man Released from the Mechanisticto the Creative Life, May 1932

  • Preface

    The Epic of American Civilization by Jos Cle-mente Orozco is one of Dartmouth Collegesgreatest treasures. Painted between 1932and 1934, the mural features provocativethemes and haunting imagery that continueto resonate with audiences today.

    The early 1930s was a burgeoning era forart on the Dartmouth campus, thanks to theambitions of art history professors Artemas S.Packard and Churchill P. Lathrop, who ap-proached Orozco with the support of PresidentErnest Hopkins. This landmark commissionwould be, they surmised, the first in a seriesof regular engagements with the most com-petent artists available. Orozco, Hopkins,Lathrop, and Packard could not have envis-aged how their advocacy for transformativeart at Dartmouth would eventually manifestitself. Seventy-five years later, The Epic ofAmerican Civilization remains one of very fewworks commissioned for Dartmouth, yet itsinfluence on countless artists and scholars,students and faculty, and visitors from all partsof the globe is nothing short of remarkable.

    Packard and Lathrop were equally con-cerned that students wishing to learn aboutan artists studio activities had no resource foracademic support, although Carpenter Hall,home of the Art History Department since1929, was outfitted with drawing, painting,sculpting, and printmaking studios, in additionto seven art exhibition galleries. They pro-posed to President Hopkins that an artist bebrought to Dartmouth to add academic rich-ness to students extracurricular interest inart making. Carlos Sanchez 23 thus becamethe first artist-in-residence at DartmouthCollege, followed the next year by Jos

    Clemente Orozco. Decades later, the artist-in-residence program, now administered by theStudio Art Department, has brought nearly150 artists to teach and work at Dartmouth,including Paul Sample, Robert Rauschenberg,Frank Stella, Donald Judd, and more recentlyWilliam Christenberry, Terry Adkins, AmySillman, Alison Saar, Jane Hammond, and SanaMusasama. All of these artists and their stu-dents have no doubt spent time, together andalone, contemplating the narrative, iconogra-phy, and sheer mastery of technique thatOrozco demonstrated in his great murals.

    In 1936, a couple of years after Orozco haddeparted the Hanover Plain for his nativeMexico, another artist traveled three hundredmiles to stand before his Dartmouth master-piece. According to the 1989 Pulitzer Prizewinning biography by Steven Naifeh andGregory White Smith, Jackson Pollockwitha group that included fellow artist PhilipGoldstein (later Philip Guston)drove fromNew York to see Orozcos mural. Pollock sub-sequently painted an untitled sketch nowknown as Bald Woman with Skeleton (right),which was recently acquired by the HoodMuseum of Art and is reminiscent of several ofOrozcos panels. Pollock, among many artiststhen, now, and still to come, was moved tocreate something new from his experiencewith this powerful work of modern art.

    Although not in direct response to The Epicof American Civilization, another avant-gardeartist shared his ideas of utopia with theDartmouth campus and community in thesummer and fall of 2007. Chinese artist WendaGu created a monumental sculpture for theMain Hall of Baker Library and Berry LibrarysMain Street, filling the entire space one floorabove Orozcos murals. Gus sculpture for

    Dartmouth, titled the green house, was madefrom the hair collected from over 42,000 hair-cuts of Dartmouth students, faculty, and staffand Upper Valley community members. Partof Gus thirteen-year conceptual united nationssculpture series, the green house arose fromhis dream that through art he might unitehumanity and encourage international under-standing. Gus sculpture at Dartmouth wasequally powerful in its statement about theliving, human dimension of globalization. Itpointed to the diversity represented by ourcommunity in dialogue with Orozcos The Epicof American Civilization.

    We can only hope that Professors Packardand Lathrop would be satisfied that theirvision for art at Dartmouth, although notexactly what they had planned, has sparkedthe imagination and creativity of generationsto follow and has made Dartmouth a vibrantcommunity for artists, scholars, and art lovers.

    We are most grateful to Monroe Denton,Class of 1968, whose generous sponsorshiphas made this brochure possible. He was influ-enced strongly during his student days bythe visual power of Orozcos murals. We feelconfident that you will be also.

    Brian KennedyDirector, Hood Museum of Art

    Jeffrey HorrellDean of Libraries and Librarian of the College


    Jackson Pollock, untitled (Bald Woman with Skeleton), about193841, oil on the smooth side of Masonite attached tothe stretcher. Purchased through the Miriam and SidneyStoneman Acquisitions Fund. 2007 The Pollock-KrasnerFoundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New YorkPhoto by Jeffrey Nintzel

    Gods of the Modern World

    Snakes and Spears

    Departure of Quetzalcoatl

  • In 1768 the founder of Dartmouth College,the Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, sent a smallspecimen of the produce and manufacture ofthe American wildernessa pipe, tobaccopouch, knife case, and several other articlesto the Colleges benefactor, the Second Earl ofDartmouth.1 From its very beginnings, Dart-mouths remote location in the New Englandwilderness fostered an active commitment toproviding examples of the natural and moralworld, as museum and library collectionswere thought of in the eighteenth century.One of the most notable manifestations of thisongoing commitment is The Epic of AmericanCivilization, the mural that, in the spring of1932, the Mexican artist Jos Clemente Orozcowas commissioned to paint in the lower-levelreserve reading room of Dartmouths BakerLibrary.

    The Epic of American Civilization proved tobe a pivotal work in the career of one of themost significant artists of the twentieth centu-ry. Many of the students who witnessed itscreation never forgot the experience, and itsimpact is still palpable seventy-five years later.To understand how this inflammatory work bya Mexican artist came to be created at Dart-mouth College during the depths of the GreatDepression is to understand something bothabout Dartmouth and about Wheelocks suc-cessors as stewards of student cultural life.

    Commissioning OrozcoThe idea of bringing Orozco to Dartmouth toexecute a mural seems to have occurred tomembers of the art faculty around the timetheir new building, Carpenter Hall, was com-pleted in 1929. The following year, thedepartments chairman, Artemas S. Packard,supported by a young member of the art fac-ulty, Churchill P. Lathrop, began a campaignto realize their vision of obtaining for theCollege the services of one of the two impor-tant Mexican muralists then working in theUnited States: Diego Rivera and Jos ClementeOrozco. According to Lathrop, Orozco wastheir preferred choice from the beginning.2

    But they were quite aware that the gregariousRivera had better name recognition, soPackard and Lathrop organized several exhibi-tions of Orozcos prints and drawings in thegalleries of Carpenter Hall in order to make hiswork better known in northern New England.

    The persistence of Orozcos New York deal-er, Alma Reed, was an important factor thatmay have helped offset a tendency to favorRivera among potential supporters of bringinga Mexican muralist to Dartmouth. Chiefamong these was the Rockefeller family, withtheir Mexican oil interests. Nelson Rockefeller,Dartmouth Class of 1930, had been a studentof Lathrops, and a tutorial fund for specialeducational initiatives set up by Nelsonsmother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, would ulti-mately make the commission possible.

    From 1930 to 1931, Orozco was workingon murals for the New School for Social

    Dartmouth College and The Epic of American Civilization


    Orozco on scaffold with Departure of Quetzalcoatl,June 1932 (detail)

  • 5Research in Manhattan. Alma Reed informedPackard that Orozco was eager to return to aclassical theme, like that of the Prometheusmural he recently had created for PomonaCollege. On February 20, 1931, Reed wrotePackard that what Orozco had in mind forDartmouth was something he calls the NewWorld epic paintingtaking great traditionalthemes, such as the Prometheus, and givingthem a meaning for today. On May 22,Packard reassured Reed that members of theArt Department had been thinking about thisproject and how it might be accomplished,and that some of us are predisposed in favorof Seor Orozco.

    Progress was slow, however, becausePackard was not making much headway withfundraising for an Art Department mural. In aletter to Mrs. Rockefeller of August 8, 1931, heused her suggestion of Rivera as a pretext forproposing an even more ambitious plan: I ammore than a little excited by your suggestionof Rivera, who, without any doubt, is a greaterall-round painter than Orozco. . . . Would