Every art exhibition addresses process. The labels next to a work of art proudly display the media used to create each piece, providing insight into the artist’s method of production. For example, in regarding the label next to Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) at the Museum of Modern Art, the viewer would learn that the artist used oil paint on canvas. The wall text for this piece slightly expands this most basic view into artistic process, referencing the artist’s sources and preparatory studies. In spite of these mentions, however, such a description maintains a simple definition of process focused on materials. Unfolding Process: Conceptual Material and Practice on Paper aims to redefine the definition of artistic process in order to highlight not only the physical, but also the mental activity behind a work of art.
This exhibition proposes that the artist’s intentions are just as much a part of process as the act of physically employing a specific medium and applying it to a piece of paper. In Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Picasso’s ideas regarding flat space, the primitive, and his relations with women could all be considered part of the process. Thought, therefore, is an integral part of this piece. The essays in this catalogue discuss process from a variety of perspectives. The selection of essays demonstrates that process is not simply how marks are physically placed on a piece of paper, but also why those marks are made.
In highlighting process as the central element of the show, Unfolding Process aims not only to expand upon the concept of process, but to make the visitor cognizant that art history itself is a process. The Demoiselles can once again serve to illustrate this point. In the last century the perceptions of this artwork have changed enormously—the work was perceived as immoral, as an illustration of the artist’s difficult relationship with women, and as an attempt to turn the gaze back upon the viewer, among other interpretations. These various readings explain the artist’s intentions and material usage in different manners, and as such the process of art history directly affects the perception of artistic process. Therefore, process is at work in all aspects of art history, including exhibitions and catalogues. This exhibition leaves the viewer with a heightened sense of awareness with regards to the topic at hand, and ultimately demonstrates to the viewer that he or she will become part of the artistic process upon looking at or reading about a work of art. Unfolding Process is in this sense a demonstration of the curators’ involvement in the process of art history.
The gallery space has been organized according to the concept that art history is a process. The works are organized conceptually—each piece is surrounded by those which in some manner are ideologically, historically, or physically similar. The task of the viewer is therefore to try and determine these connections, and thus engage with the medium of art history.
This exhibition is funded in part by a grant from the Cornell Council for the Arts and a generous gift from Betsey and Alan Harris.
2008–2009 History of Art Majors’ Society