Mütter Museum to exhibit ‘La Maladie’ series of paintings and sculptures by Betsy Stirratt

Betsy Stirratt, director of the Grunwald Gallery, has been getting ready for two openings.

The Studio Art Faculty Show will open Jan. 15 at the gallery inside the Fine Arts building , which regularly displays work by Indiana University students in addition to local, national and international artists.

Painting of arm with lesions

“Elegance” is an oil and wax painting by Betsy Stirratt from “La Maladie,” her exhibition at the Mütter Museum.

What is extraordinary is that the other opening is in Philadelphia, at the Mütter Museum.

The medical history museum, part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, will hold an exhibition of Stirratt’s paintings and sculptures Jan. 15 to July 8.

“La Maladie” is an intriguing body of work that explores humanity, divinity, mortality and physical affliction.

“To me the most exciting thing in the world is to be able to show my work in a medical context. I’ve always wanted to do that,” she said.

Stirratt created this body of work in the 1990s, but many of its themes remain important to her art today. “Believe it or not, this work really does relate to what I’m doing now very closely, however, it looks very different,” she said.

The artwork is based on medical specimens, illustrations and photographs, painstakingly researched at the Lilly Library and other repositories, including the libraries at the Faculté de Médecine Paris Descartes and the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.

Art meets medicine

The Mütter Museum has a strong educational mission, yet understands that its medical displays can be a bit unsettling. Its website invites visitors to become “disturbingly informed.” After all, this is a museum with a collection that includes the tumor of a former U.S. president, vertebra from John Wilkes Booth and Albert Einstein’s brain.

Nourishment painting of breasts

In Stirratt’s painting “Nourishment,” the large field of gold elevates the medical imagery and alludes to traditions in religious art.

At the museum, Stirratt’s artwork will be shown paired with related materials from their collection, including objects, prints and books.

The new exhibition includes her naturalistic beeswax sculptures of a torso, ears and an arm, but most of Stirratt’s works are oil paintings. Detailed depictions of various medical conditions float in a dreamy, waxy backgrounds or brilliant fields of gold leaf. Simple titles like “Beauty,” “Youth,” “Innocence” and “Elegance” are spelled out in delicate script.

“Gold leaf, it is so attractive. You can’t help but love it,” she said. “What I like about it is that it creates a ground that is both endless and finite.”

The gold, which extends three feet in some of the paintings, is an allusion to religious art of the past. With its richness, Stirratt creates a tension between the grotesque and the beautiful, and also corporal and spiritual worlds.

Stirratt said some of her favorite paintings include faces. “I love the ones that show the humanity of the subjects. They show that these are human beings,” she said.

Three pieces from the “La Maladie” series were included in the “Visualizing Disease” show at IU’s Lilly Library in 2013. Domenico Bertoloni Meli, curator of the Lilly show and a professor in IU’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine in the College of Arts and Sciences, contributed an essay to the catalog for “La Maladie.”

Stirratt’s exhibition catalog was supported in part by the Grant-in-Aid program of the office of the Vice Provost for Research at Indiana University. She also received support for research travel through IU’s New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Program of the Office of the Vice President for Research.

A quest for art

Looking back, Stirratt recalled that before the explosion of the Internet and before collections were digitized, research was much more arduous.

Beauty painting of female organs

“Beauty” is another Stirratt painting that pairs a medical view of the body with a glowing field of gold.

“It was really exciting; It was like sleuth work in a way,” she said. “It made you feel almost like an explorer.”

The appeal of going out of her way to discover things is something that also relates to her interest in collecting and her work as a curator.

“As a collector, you have to search and find,” she said.

“As an artist and a curator you have very strong feelings about what you like,” she said.

And as a gallery director, she said it is crucial to recognize the value of work you do not always like. “You have to divorce yourself from your taste and think about what is important for people to see.”

Overall, Stirratt said she is lucky to be able to approach art in different ways.

“Being around art all the time is such a fantastic gift,” she said.

The Studio Art Faculty Show

Stirratt is one of about 40 faculty members who will participate in a new exhibition at the Grunwald Gallery from Jan. 15 to Feb. 12. The Studio Art Faculty Show marks the first time the faculties from the studio art department and the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design will exhibit together. In Fall 2016, the two departments at Indiana University will come together to form the School of Art and Design within the College of Arts and Sciences.

An opening reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 15. A gallery talk has been rescheduled for noon on Jan. 29, featuring Carissa Carman, Andy Rubin and Rachel Weaver.  The Grunwald Gallery is located in the Fine Arts Building. Regular hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Print by Tracy Templeton

“The Quiet of the Snow” is a chine-collé digital print by Tracy Templeton, an associate professor in printmaking. The Studio Art Faculty show continues through Feb. 12 at the Grunwald Gallery.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,