About a dozen UCLA students mill around the room, entranced by two black-and-white prints by Ruth Asawa.
The artist was incarcerated, as a teenager, in a Japanese-American detention camp and the works she created tell a tragic story. Each one represents a man, wrapped in a robe, with an amulet around his neck. In one, his eyes are empty and his expression is obscured by dark ink, suggesting a painful past. In the other, his eyes are piercing and his face luminescent, suggesting an open yet optimistic future.
Students move closer, examining these and other works by Asawa, which lie flat on a table, unframed or leaning against a wall. They take notes on a clipboard. He’s silent except for the scratching of the tips of his pencils, his concentration almost palpable.
“They are so different, this one is so dark,” says a young woman.
“I think one is her internal representation, the other is her exterior,” her friend replies. “The background, the things that radiate, that could be his trauma.”
This Asian American studies class is held not in a classroom or lecture hall, but in the university’s Grunwald Center for Graphic Arts at the Hammer Museum. Students are delving into the renowned collection of prints to start the discussion on “activist legacies of Japanese-American imprisonment and war-related atrocities,” as the course description states.
The Grunwald Collection includes more than 45,000 works on paper, mainly engravings, but also drawings, photographs and artists’ books, from the Renaissance to the present day. It is one of the largest collections of its kind on the West Coast, with strengths in European and American art, as well as Japanese prints. While it has areas of great depth, including more than 7,000 prints by the 19th-century French cartoonist Honoré Daumier and 950 Japanese woodblock prints from the Edo and Meiji Periods: The collection is noted primarily for its variety. It represents artists working in diverse styles, with a variety of printmaking techniques, and addressing countless topics more than 500 years. Therefore, it is especially suitable for study.
As part of Hammer’s $90 million reinvention of two decades, the final phase of which opens this week, the Grunwald Center now features a new, state-of-the-art study room and adjacent gallery for works on paper. The gallery opened in February 2022. and the Study Room, which includes a high-density storage facility so artwork can be kept virtually within arm’s reach, opening Fall 2022. One promotes the other: the study room is visible from the gallery, and vice versa, through an adjoining glass door.
It’s an amazing resource, if you know it’s there.
“That’s the challenge: A lot of people just don’t know it exists,” says Hammer’s deputy director of curatorial affairs, Cynthia Burlingham, who is also the longtime director of the Grunwald Center.
Since the new study hall opened, Hammer has made a greater effort to attract classes from the university, not just art history courses, but those that address health and wellness, social justice and psychiatry. Curatorial fellow Jennie Waldow reviews the university’s course catalog and reaches out to teachers, citing artists and works that might fit with their curriculum. During class visits, she often gives lectures and offers supplemental brochures.
Physicians doing their residencies in psychiatry visited the center in the fall. They viewed historical depictions of incarceration, such as one by 19th-century British cartoonist George Cruikshank and another by photographer Joel Snyder in the 1970s, as a way to better understand mental illness and how it relates to the prison system. A comparative literature class exploring the concepts of health and illness looked at representations of illness. in the 1800s alongside the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s with works by Francisco de Goya, Cruikshank and David Wojnarowicz, respectively. A labor studies class studying labor, social justice, and the arts examined a print by 20th-century social realist Ben Shahn alongside Dorothea Lange’s iconic 1936 “Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California” and Walker Evans’s photograph , from the same year, from an impoverished family. in alabama
Burlingham says he could see the Grunwald Center also serving as a resource for young art collectors looking to hone their tastes or for Hollywood set and costume designers.
The study room is also open to the public, who can schedule free appointments to spend an hour or two with art in an intimate setting. Museum staff will pull specific works out of storage for visitors who make advance arrangements: a 17th-century Rembrandt print? How about a 1970s artist book by Jasper Johns? Hammer staff will design them and discuss the works with guests or stay behind and allow visitors to privately connect with the art.
The Grunwald Center was established by German émigré Fred Grunwald in 1956 with a view to being a resource for students and research. Grunwald had lost his art collection, presumably to the Nazis, during Second World War. He fled from Wuppertal, Germany, for the Angels in 1939 and then used reparation money he had received to rebuild his art collection, eventually amassing around 3,500 prints, most of which he gave to Grunwald. After his death in 1964, his relatives continued to donate to the collection for decades. The Grunwald is also actively collecting work, with 10 acquisition funds.
The Hammer has housed, cared for, and exhibited the Grunwald Collection since UCLA took over the museum’s operations in 1994. — Both entities collect works on paper. Only a fraction of Grunwald’s extensive works can be exhibited at any given time, so the study room serves as a portal to the collection, a constantly evolving interactive exhibition space.
Many of the works in the collection were created with the intention of being reproduced in newspapers, books, and other periodicals, conveying the events of the day. Taken together, the Grunwald Collection reflects a kaleidoscopic prism of history, from different parts of the world, spanning five centuries.
“That’s what art does,” says Burlingham. “It can be documentation, or just an idea, or a fantasy. But it is still related to our history and our world as it was and as it is. The collection serves as a deep resource for information and ideas.”
Over the years, Burlingham says, museum curators have come to compare prints of the same print in their collections, since no two prints are exactly alike. Staff members from international institutions have come to examine the collection for loans for display. A local chapter of the National Society of Cartoonists came once, in 2011, study the early draftsmen and caricaturists.
“Sometimes we have relatives come to see a piece of work that their deceased relative had donated,” says Burlingham. “It’s very sweet. Because there are legacies that live here.”
But the visitor experience was very different until recently. The previous two study rooms were smaller and lacked adequate storage: they were off the beaten path, one in a busy administrative area of the museum and the second in a storage area. Grunwald’s works were dispersed in multiple sites around the building or in external storage. Therefore, putting out delicate works for visitors was more time consuming.
The study rooms themselves could accommodate fewer people and display work was more cumbersome. The heavy, framed works were displayed on the gallery walls, so that visitors could see them, but the walls had to be repaired and painted afterwards.
The new study room is not only bigger and better lit, but the temperature and humidity controlled storage area is on the other side of one wall. 90% of the Grunwald collection is now stored there, along with smaller prints and drawings from the Hammer Contemporary Collection. (The larger works in both collections are stored off-site.) And there is room in storage for 20% expansion.
One over 30 feet long The display wall, modeled after one in the print room at the Harvard Art Museums, has been a “game changer,” says Burlingham. Adds display flexibility. It has built-in slots so narrow shelves can be set up, at different heights, to display works of different sizes. They can be propped up unframed, and framed works can be hung from a rack with hooks. There is also a long table with seating for 18 people on which the works can be placed. — the room can accommodate about 25 people. felt strips in the ceiling help with sound absorption.
As light is the enemy of delicate works on paper, the study room has two sets of screens, one translucent so that guests can view the works in flattering natural light for short periods of time, and opaque screens, which remain drawn the rest of the time. .
The museum is now working on digitizing the Grunwald collection just like him Contemporary Hammer Collection — only a fraction of anyone is online – and, eventually, facilitate the opening hours of the study room, where visitors can simply enter.
Until now, the gallery of works on paper has exhibited only contemporary pieces from the Grunwald and Hammer collections – it currently shows a survey of drawings by British artist Bridget Riley – but there has yet to be an exhibition there that brightens up the historical depths of the Grunwald collection.
A collection based exhibition now it is in process focusing on intaglio prints from the Renaissance to the present, it is likely to open in December.
“I thought it would be a good time to show how far back the collection goes,” says Burlingham. “Where are you going through early 1500s, 1600s, 1700s, but also contemporary, and how artists have been continually using that medium.”
Meanwhile, Grunwald’s study room provides a gateway into the collection.
“Anything that’s small enough to be in this room,” says Burlingham, “can be displayed without having to have a display.”