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Visual meets verbal: History of Art students explore marriage of art and text in new Johnson Museum exhibit

Artists take literary inspiration and run with it in "The Novel Picture: Interactions Between Text and Image," on display at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, now through June 11.

The History of Art Majors' Society, a group of 12 Cornell juniors and seniors, curated the exhibit and will lead a tour of the selections April 6 at noon.

The exhibit is designed to open up ways of deriving meaning from the relationships between visual art and text. The artists include William Blake, Albrecht Dürer, Anselm Kiefer and Henri Matisse; and the works span the years from 1487 to 2003, in media ranging from illuminated manuscripts to video.

"'The Novel Picture' is a pun itself," says Jessica Mizrachi '06, the society's president. "It gave us [a] kind of flexibility. We wanted a very diverse show."

The art is displayed in four categories: "Illustration," for works accompanied by a specific text; "Inspiration," where the related text is present only in spirit; "Indignation," works intended as propaganda or satire; and "Innovation," original creations including mixed media and video.

Leslie Dill's paper dress pattern bears the image of a human heart in blue ink and a poem by Emily Dickinson running along blue veins. Sandow Birk recasts Dante's "Inferno" in modern-day Los Angeles, Pablo Picasso illustrates "Lysistrata" and Betsy Bauer depicts Victorian journal pages complete with pressed leaves.

Work by Department of Art chair Buzz Spector is included, with a hardcover copy of Franz Kafka's published diary, "Tagebucher," its pages painstakingly torn in succession to render the visible text illegible; and "Memories," 12 pencils embossed with a line of verse each.

Art in-jokes abound in Mary Bauermeister's poster-sized "Art Investment Report"; in "The Exquisite Horse," a portfolio by various artists; and in photographer Carrie Mae Weems' "Not Manet's Type," a series of nude self-portraits with accompanying text. Four Francisco de Goya illustrations from "Disasters of War" are paired with contemporary takeoffs by Enrique Chagoya, who adds Mickey Mouse and other elements to Goya's scenarios.

African-American artist Faith Ringgold's art quilt and accompanying book printed on felt, "Seven Passages to a Flight," is an autobiographical treatise on race.

"It's written like a children's book, but it touches on concerns that are definitely not childlike," Mizrachi says.

The curators also considered fairy tales, with the classic 1920 silhouette illustrations of Arthur Rackham for "The Sleeping Beauty" alongside a die-cut book by his edgier modern-day counterpart Kara Walker; and Kiki Smith's "Born," a 2002 lithograph based on "Little Red Riding Hood."

A Cornell Cinema film series related to the exhibit includes animations by William Kentridge on April 11 and documentaries about artist Jim Dine on April 25. Other events include a lecture by participating artist Lorna Simpson on May 4 at 5:15 p.m. at the museum.

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