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Spooky Scenes in the Galleries

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).]

 

Louise Bourgeois, Maman
Maman, by Louise Bourgeois'

Photo by Marc F. Henning
Louise Bourgeois’ “Maman” sculpture on Aug. 5, 2015, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

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.

 

Early American Art Galleries

Jason Vaughn, Endeavor, WI

Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967), Endeavor, WI, 1928, 34 1/2 x 59 1/2 in. (87.6 x 151.1 cm), Framed: 46 1/4 × 71 1/2 × 3 1/4 in., Oil on canvas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2013.27.

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.

 

Joseph Decker, Boy series

Joseph Decker (1853 – 1924), Boy Smoking, n.d., 13 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. (34.3 x 24.1 cm), Oil on panel, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2008.7.; Boy at the Dentist, n.d., 16 x 12 in. (40.6 x 30.5 cm), Oil on board, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2008.6; Boy Eating Berries, n.d., 16 x 12 in. (40.6 x 30.5 cm), Oil on board, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2008.5.

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.

 

John Singer Sargent, Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife

John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925), Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife, 1885, 20 1/4 x 24 1/4 in. (51.4 x 61.6 cm), Framed: 26 1/4 in. × 30 1/2 in. × 2 in., Oil on canvas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2005.3, u.l., in black paint : To R. L. Stevenson, his friend John S. Sargent 1885.

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.

 

The Women in Black

Gari Melchers (1860 – 1932), The Embroideress [Portrait of Mrs. Hitchcock], ca. 1889, 35 1/2 × 21 3/4 in. (90.2 × 55.2 cm), Framed: 45 × 32 × 4 in., Oil on canvas, Promised Gift to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, u.r.: Gari Melchers. Dennis Miller Bunker (1861 – 1890), Anne Page, 1887, 42 1/2 x 54 in. (108 x 137.2 cm), Framed: 55 x 68 x 3 in. (139.7 x 172.7 x 7.6 cm), Oil on canvas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2010.84, l.r., in black paint: Dennis M. Bunker / 1887. Ammi Phillips (1788 – 1865), Woman in Black Ruffled Dress, ca. 1835, 32 x 27 in. (81.3 x 68.6 cm), Framed: 38 1/2 × 33 1/2 × 3 1/2 in., Oil on canvas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2012.23.

As I was looking at the salon hang in the Early American Art Gallery, I noticed a pattern forming. There were portraits of three women dressed in black: The Embroideress by Gari Melchers, Anne Page by Dennis Miller Bunker, and Woman in Black Ruffled Dress by Ammi Phillips. You could also even add Jessica Penn in Black with White Plumes to this trio, but she gives off a different vibe to me. The grayness of the rooms these women inhabit conjure feelings of isolation, and even melancholy. Are they mourning lost ones, or are they looking for comfort? The story of “the woman in black,” which has been portrayed in films and stories, often positions the titular character as a villain or antagonist, one that is looking for someone or something she has lost. Perhaps the same could be said for these women?

 

Modern Art Gallery

Stuart Davis, Self-Portrait

Stuart Davis (1892 – 1964), Self-Portrait, 1912, 32 1/4 x 26 1/2 in. (81.9 x 67.3 cm), Framed: 40 7/8 in. × 33 1/2 in. × 4 in., Oil on canvas, Promised Gift to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, l.r.: Stuart Davis.

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.

 

Marvin Dorwart Cone, Night Adventure

Marvin Dorwart Cone (1891 – 1965), Night Adventure, 1951, 24 1/4 × 30 1/4 in. (61.6 × 76.8 cm), Framed: 28 1/4 in. × 34 1/4 in. × 2 in., Oil on canvas, Promised Gift to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

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.

 

Edward Hopper, Blackwell’s Island

Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967), Blackwell’s Island, 1928, 34 1/2 x 59 1/2 in. (87.6 x 151.1 cm), Oil on canvas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2013.27.

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.

 

Contemporary Art Gallery

Will Barnet, Summer Night

Will Barnet (1911 – 2012), Summer Night, 1974-1976, 37 3/4 x 36 3/4 in. (95.9 x 93.3 cm), Framed: 39 in. × 38 in. × 1 7/8 in., Oil on canvas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2006.22, l.c., in black paint: Will Barnet verso, on canvas, in black paint: © Will Barnett 1976.

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.

 

Pat Steir, Red and Blue December Waterfall

Pat Steir (born 1938), Red and Blue December Waterfall, 1994, 83 3/4 in. × 68 in. × 1 5/8 in. (212.7 × 172.7 × 4.1 cm), Oil on canvas, Promised Gift to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

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.

 

Tim Liddy, The Horror and circa 1953

Tim Liddy (born 1963), The Horror, 2014, 12 in. × 15 in. × 1 1/2 in. (30.5 × 38.1 × 3.8 cm), Enamel and oil on copper, Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

Tim Liddy (born 1963), circa 1953, 2014, 9 1/2 in. × 14 in. × 1 1/2 in. (24.1 × 35.6 × 3.8 cm), Enamel and oil on copper, Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

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.

 

Tom Uttech, Enassamishhinjijweian

Tom Uttech (born 1942), Enassamishhinjijweian, 2009, 103 x 112 in. (261.6 x 284.5 cm), Oil on linen, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2009.19.

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!

 

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