A number of artworks from the University’s Visual Arts Collection were created by renowned American artists, including Theodore A. Harris, Alex Katz, Frank Stella, Ellen Emmet Rand, George Gibbs, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Leonard Baskin, Roy Lichtenstein, Saul Steinberg, and the Walt Disney Studios.
Theodore A. Harris, The Long Dream, After Richard Wright, 1995, Paper collage on board
Theodore A. Harris (1966-) is a Philadelphia-based collagist, poet, and writer. Harris is the founder and director of The Institute for Advanced Study in Black Aesthetics and the co-founder of the Anti-Graffiti Network/Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. As a prominent visual artist and writer, Harris has co-authored many books including Our Flesh of Flames (2019), Malcolm X as Ideology (2008) with Amiri Baraka, TRIPTYCH with Amiri Baraka and Jack Hirschman (2011), and i ran from it and was still in it with Fred Moten (2007). Another recent publication, Thesentür: Conscientious Objector to Formalism (2017) includes a series of artworks and poetry that challenges mainstream art criticism and art history. His artworks are recognized internationally and can be found in private and public collections, such as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Center for Africana Studies, the W.E.B. Du Bois College House, the University of Pennsylvania, the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, and Lincoln University.
In The Long Dream, After Richard Wright, the collage combines two images; one of a boy from the movie Fresh (1994) and another of a wall taken from a newspaper article covering a missile strike on Palestine by Israel. The technique presents a trompe l’oeil effect, purposefully crafted to portray the boy as confined within the wall. Harris recounts this composition as a testimony towards the hurdles young Black boys face and must navigate in their lives.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, The Friendship Fountain, 1913, marble
The Friendship Fountain is one of the most recognisable artworks in the Collection, and a true landmark of McGill University’s downtown campus. Created by the famed sculptor, feminist, and philanthropist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942), the work consists of a ten-foot marble statue and fountain featuring three nude men holding an earthen bowl. It is located in the green space in front of the Arts Building and next to the Redpath Museum.
Sculpted in 1913, as a commission for the New Arlington Hotel in Washington D.C. which ended up never being built, the work was donated to the University in 1931 at the suggestion of Ellen Ballon (1898-1969), an accomplished pianist, alumni of the McGill Schulich School of Music, and friend of Whitney (a bust of Ballon by Sir Jacob Epstein is on display in the Strathcona Music Building). The donation was intended as a symbol of amity between Canada and the United States. Though the sculpture was donated in 1931, the installation of the fountain component was not completed until 1933.
Today, the Friendship Fountain is sometimes referred to as the Good Will Fountain, the Caryatid Fountain, the Whitney Fountain, the Three Graces, and most popularly, The Three Bares. Every September, the work stands as a backdrop to Orientation Week as hundreds of students gather in the area adjacent to the fountain to enjoy live music, food, and events put on by the student-run Open Air Pub.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, The Friendship Fountain, 1913, marble. Gift of the artist.
Roy Lichtenstein, Modern Tapestry, c. 1968, wool pile
One of the numerous tapestries in the Visual Arts Collection, Modern Tapestry (c. 1968), is located on the first floor of the Arts Building, in the corridor leading to Leacock Building. Produced by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), the New York-born artist known for popularising pop art through his comic book style and use of Ben-Day Dots, Modern Tapestry is reflective of both modern life and industrial processes in the second half of the twentieth century. The work, through the artist’s attention to line and his distortion of space, explores the two and three-dimensional qualities of the medium.
Initially created for Modern Master Tapestries, a New York gallery which produced rugs designed by famous contemporary “masters”, the work was donated to the university by Regina Slatkin, a McGill graduate who became an important art dealer and scholar of drawings.
Leonard Baskin, Condor Bird, unknown date, wool pile
Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) was an American sculptor, printmaker, graphic designer, and teacher. He studied at the New York University School of Architecture and Applied Arts and at Yale University. Internationally known, he spent most of his career in the United States, with a brief period in Britain. In 1942, Baskin founded one of the first fine art presses in the United States, Gehenna Press, which ran until his death and printed over one hundred books.
This artwork, commissioned by Modern Masters Tapestries, is a wool pile tapestry based on a graphite and ink on paper drawing by the artist, also in the Collection. Birds of prey, like the condor, were amongst Baskin’s preferred subjects.