Sunday, September 24, 2017

David J. Wagner, PhD., Museum Director and Curator

David J. Wagner visits The Memorial Art Gallery
September 21, 2017

I have the pleasure of introducing a series of guest speakers in conjunction with our exhibition currently on view of wildlife art by my father, Arthur Singer.  The title of our show: Arthur Singer, The Wildlife Art of An American Master is also the title of a new book published this summer by R.I.T. Press and it has a fine introduction written by David Wagner.  The genre of wildlife art doesn't have the cachet of impressionism or surrealism probably because it is illustrative - being a blend of science and art.  But wildlife art does have a following and there have been artists like John James Audubon who have set a high bar for the artists who have followed in the 20th century through today.

Francis Lee Jacques paints a diorama (1930's )

To help us get closer to understanding artists who portray birds and animals from a contemporary perspective I invited John Fitzpatrick and David Wagner to fill us in on the knowledge we need to better judge this form of art - which we can call naturalism.  My first speaker in September was John Fitzpatrick, and he is currently Director of the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  He started his talk, telling us about Francis Lee Jacques his next door neighbor in the upper midwest. John Fitzpatrick was very young, but Jacques impressed him with his knowledge of science and art.  Jacques had painted a series of great dioramas for The American Museum of Natural History on the west side of Manhattan, and also later at the Bell Museum in Minnesota.  My father, Arthur Singer grew up in New York City and was well acquainted with the paintings by Jacques and the two may have met while the dioramas were being installed.

John Fitzpatrick
Director, for the Laboratory of Ornithology, at Cornell University

John Fitzpatrick went on to speak about the aims of science and art saying that "science was organized curiosity" and that art could be an expression of that curiosity.  John Fitzpatrick gave credibility to the advancement of science through the application of art, building a bridge to the public with published guide books that people would use in the field.  This is citizen science.  A week later, David Wagner came to Rochester Institute of Technology to further flesh out the history of wildlife art in America.

Arthur Singer illustrated biography by Paul and Alan Singer from RIT Press

David Wagner was the Director of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wassau, Wisconsin when their show "Birds in Art" became a regular feature of their yearly calendar.  My brother Paul, and I asked David Wagner to write the introduction for our book which has just been published by RIT Press.  Our choice highlights the fact that as a museum director, David Wagner met my father, and had firsthand knowledge of his artwork which counts for a lot when we were putting together our book.

Brian O'Neill and David Wagner studio visit

On the morning of his talk at R.I.T., we went for a studio visit in the Hungerford Building to see the paintings of Brian O'Neill and speak to the artist.  His paintings run the gamut from abstraction to realism ( often seen together in the same work ) and I found in the studio a little painting of a hawk, so this idea ( of wildlife art ) seems to be in the air.  In his studio, Brian spoke about his role as a teacher, and indeed there were work stations set up so his students could improve their artwork under his watchful eye.  Larry Keefe was making a small study from a sculpture by Olivia Kim in the old fashioned way of indicating a structure of values reminding me of the days when students drew from plaster casts made from the great sculptures by artists of the past.

Sculpture by Olivia Kim, drawing by Larry Keefe

In the afternoon, David and I took a long walk through the collection at The Memorial Art Gallery and I spotted a few interesting Japanese prints on view in the Lockhart Gallery.  Upstairs we worked our way through the European paintings, and then Asian art, commenting upon the pieces from Syria, and the terrible destruction that occurred in Palmyra.

Kobayashi Kiyochika, The Asakusa Bridge and Fire, 1881

In the evening, everyone sat and listened to David Wagner in the University Gallery as he approached the history of wildlife art in America through some choice examples.  Carl Rungius was one of the memorable examples he offered that evening, and I thought that this is worth all the effort we put into the evening to have this speaker here to share his knowledge and expertise.  Thank you, David Wagner!

David Wagner introduces Carl Rungius
The University Gallery at R.I.T.