Alison W. Chang
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to a show unlike any other.
How can a circus be held in print? you may ask. Indeed, prepare to be astounded. Here you’ll find tumbling acrobats, unsettling sideshows, ferocious beasts, fantastical costumes, entrancing feats of grace and strength. It’s all contained within these pages, we assure you, but perhaps not in ways you would expect.
We have sought to explode the very nature of the circus, a word from the Latin meaning both the circle and the Roman amphitheater, that ancient site of chariot races, military reenactments, and the like. Today, of course, circus has different associations, associations that are—just as the advertisements promise—extraordinary. But this comes with a warning, for just as the striped circular tent offers up the remarkable, it can also present the complicated and cruel. There is always a dark side, isn’t there, ladies and gentlemen?
The invitation is this: step up and let the spectacle unfold before you. Gaze in astonishment on the present and the past. Encounter daring beauty and surprising oddity, things you have never seen before, and from these—the shocking, the marvelous, the exquisite—make you own associations. And so, without further ado, we present: Circus.
From the Files
Curatorial assistant A. Will Brown discusses color theory of Joseph Albers’s Homage to the Square series, revealing notations on the back of the canvases.
Curator Dominic Molon and cognitive scientist Karen Schloss illuminate the perceptual play of a Dan Flavin light sculpture; conservator Ingrid Neumann and curator Lawrence Berman unearth the matter and meaning of the ancient pigments in an Egyptian paintbox; art historian Margot Nishimura and paper preservation specialist Linda Catano look closely at the exquisite details and hues of a 15th-century manuscript illumination.
Curator Kate Irvin provides a tactile archaeology of the faded shades of indigo of a Japanese boro garment. Louis van Tilborgh and Oda van Maanen of the Van Gogh Museum examine the dominant blues and disappearing violets of van Gogh’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise.
A survey of blue from azure to zaffre.
Curator Elizabeth A. Williams illuminates the history of blue and white porcelain. Photographer Anna Strickland discusses Anna Atkins’s early cyanotypes.
Artists on Art
Artist Spencer Finch presents a tear-out color study. Author Maggie Nelson considers an Alice Neel’s portrait. Graphic designer Jessica Helfand mixes Facebook blue with the cyanotype process.
RISD Museum Director: John W. Smith
Manual Editor-in-Chief: Sarah Ganz Blythe with S. Hollis Mickey
Editor: Amy Pickworth
Art Director: Derek Schusterbauer
Photographer: Erik Gould (unless otherwise noted)
Circus Poster (detail), ca. 1850
Museum Works of Art Fund