Art of the Month Club: Christina Yang
The Art of the Month Club is a regular feature of the WCMA blog. Each month we invite someone special to write about a work from our collection. Find your own favorite WCMA artwork by searching our collection database. You never know, we may invite you to be the next Art of the Month Club member. Today, please welcome Christina Yang, Director of Public Programs at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, as well as Williamstown resident and Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art, Class of 1989.
What first drew me to Edward Hopper’s Morning in a City was his deployment of the gaze. It is a simple enough scene of a young woman standing in a bedroom as her day begins. I admired how Hopper straddled history and modernism, positioning himself among other painters of nudes including Titian, Diego Velazquez, Edouard Manet, and Pablo Picasso. Although the woman’s public life lies outside the theatrical window of her aerie, the drama of the picture is an interior one, built around casual folds, dark surfaces and edges to suggest a shadowy narrative of being undressed and unmade. Why does the eye roam around this image and slip into secret places? Is there more than one viewer imagined? Does gender play a role? How could light be both an absence and presence?
Arriving at Williams as a graduate student in 1987, inquiries such as these around spectatorship and the art of looking would come to preoccupy me and shape my thinking as a young scholar. I was incredibly fortunate to be at Williams at a time when a cluster of spirited teachers were enacting a feminist approach to art history. Matthew Rohn, Linda Nochlin, Carol Ockman, Eunice Lipton, and Nancy Mowll Mathews came into my orbit and lit a path of critical thinking about the visual and material world. Their encouragement in those formative years bolstered what would become a language of my own toward a politics of vision. A regard for alternative points of view, a search for hidden truths and a validation of the under-recognized have stayed with me as abiding commitments nurtured by the Williams experience.
Studying at a museum-based program in art history, I benefited from real-world access to curatorial practice when such programs were few and far between. I am a secret and addictive consumer of wall labels. Since I am almost always looking at works of art far from their native place of making, labels serve as a kind of personal greeting between me and a work of art. The label for Morning in a City tells us that the painting was bequeathed to the museum by the enduring WCMA patron Lawrence Bloedel, who became an unexpected courier to many special paintings that I came to love. Beside the Hopper, works by Larry Rivers, Frank Stella, Thomas Eakins, Joan Brown and many more together convey a pluralistic collecting vision. Several women artists are represented in the Bloedel collection at WCMA, and many nudes populate the collection. Somehow, deep in New England, an artistic journey to the Bay Area of California (from which I had just moved) also emerged. Re-encountering Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, and Jack Zajac collapsed the distance between East and West coasts and made the WCMA galleries a second home.
After these nearly twenty-five years of visits to Morning in a City, this most recent visit brought me back to when I first saw it. I remember well those quiet afternoons of slipping into the WCMA galleries alone, reading in the Clark library over long weekends and the daily grooming of a text over several weeks. This treasured time allowed me to craft my intellect and channel a sense of ethics into my work. In seeing the work again, I realize my most meaningful encounters with a transcendent work of art like Morning in a City are when I still have questions to ask of it.
Above image: Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967), Morning in a City, 1944, oil on canvas. Bequest of Lawrence H. Bloedel ’23 in 1977. © Williams College Museum of Art.