Once upon an afternoon dreary, while I wandered meek but cheery,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of artworks to explore…
I started to notice among the shapes, patterns, and colors that Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection was home to some rather peculiar paintings and sculptures.
With Halloween upon us this week, I decided to create a list of some of the artworks in the museum’s collection that I found particularly spooky, either because of their scene or their subject.
[Please note that these thoughts are my own (Erica Harmon, copywriter).]
Let’s start with an easy one. First off, I’m very creeped out by spiders. I can appreciate Bourgeois’s work without having to embrace it. Maman (1999) in the museum courtyard is no exception. I know many folks don’t agree with me, and with all due respect, Maman represents a motherly presence, a sense of welcoming and comfort as you enter Crystal Bridges. But since this is Halloween and spiders are associated with the season, I couldn’t leave her off the list.
Endeavor, WI (1928), which is currently on view in the focus exhibition A Walk in the Woods in the Early American Art Gallery, shows an empty deer stand in the middle of an empty, foggy, winter wood. The desolation of the photograph, mixed with the eerie forms of the naked tree branches and the morning fog, make this a spooky scene.
While the skill and cleverness of using an artboard as a canvas is appreciated in this series–Boy Eating Berries, Boy at the Dentist, and Boy Smoking–it doesn’t disregard the fact that the distorted mouths of the boys remain creepy.
Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife (1885) portrays the famous author and his wife in a dark room with burgundy-red walls. The pair are separated in the scene by a doorway leading to a dark and ominous hallway. The colors and imagery in this scene along are enough to be creepy, but are further exacerbated by its subject: the author of one of the creepiest stories of all time, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
I’m not exactly sure what Stuart Davis was going for here with his Self-Portrait (1912), but everything from the shadows looming on the left side of the painting, to Davis’s brooding stare over his shoulder toward a woman walking alone brings out a stalker vibe, in my opinion. The dark colors and overall feeling of the painting make this a spooky scene with no good intentions.
I find Marvin Dorwart Cone’s Night Adventure (1951) to be off-putting, and reminiscent of every ghost or slasher film that takes place in a house. Sometimes the shadows that separate light and darkness are the creepiest parts of the story. For me, that’s how it feels whenever I look at this painting. What’s lurking just up the stairs or down the hallway? The way Cone chooses to play with proportions in this scene is equally creepy. Notice how narrow the doorways are, adding another layer of eerieness.
Blackwell’s Island (1928) is a painting of bright colors and pleasant shapes. What makes this painting spooky is knowing the history of the island. Blackwell’s Island, or Roosevelt Island as it’s known today, was once the site of a prison, mental asylum, and hospital, among other facilities. Looking at this painting makes me think of the loneliness and isolation that comes with these facilities, and of great Stephen King film adaptations that take place in prisons, like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
Summer Night (1974-76) looks like a moment out of a ghost story. The gray and blue colors of this painting create creepy shadows and a sense of melancholy as we follow a woman (or a series of women?) up a flight of stairs and into an upstairs room. The scene makes me feel, similar to the Women in Black, that this woman is mourning or may have lost something.
Need I say more? Red and Blue December Waterfall (1994) looks like the grizzly, blood-spattered wall found at the beginning of a spooky detective story.
The Ouija board advertisement alone should have been your hint on this one. The Horror (2014) and circa 1953 (2014), both created by artist Tim Liddy, were hand-rendered on sheets of copper and meant to resemble vintage board game boxes. The tape makes them look worn like they’ve been played for many years. As the label next to them in the gallery states: “The inconspicuous box [The Horror] gives no hint as to what is inside, prompting a rather personal question: what horror is contained within? An answer that is different for each person.” Quite.
While Enassamishhinjijweian (2009) is one of my favorite paintings in the Crystal Bridges collection, there’s something ominous about it. I like to stand in front of it and create stories for the scene. Seeing all the birds flying away in the same direction makes me think of forest fires or chemical spills: something bad that is spreading through the forest causing all the animals to flee. Thinking about this mixed with the strange glow of the sky (in either dawn or dusk hours) and the swirling fog on the right side of the canvas make it possible for this painting to be spooky, in my opinion.
Do you agree with this list? Come spend your Halloween at Crystal Bridges and find artworks that send a chill up your spine!