The Allen Memorial Art Museum is open again, after a year-and-a-half long "decidedly unglamorous" renovation, in the words of Stephanie Wiles, until recently the John G.W. Cowles Director of the museum. The efforts improved the infrastructure, expanded storage, and shed new light—literally—on the museum’s rich collection.
To celebrate, Oberlin Alumni Magazine asked a number of folks to tell us their favorite work in the museum, with a short explanation of why.
My favorite is (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s) Self-Portrait as a Soldier. I kind of like the color and the people in the background. And I kind of like that he doesn’t have a hand. I think it’s kind of cool-looking in the painting.
Sophia Warren is a sixth grader at Langston Middle School.
Picking a favorite work from the Allen is tough because there are so many amazing pieces. I’m always struck by the raw force of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Self-Portrait as a Soldier, which calls to mind the carnage and inhumanity of World War I, and all subsequent wars. But I’m also particularly fond of Claude Monet’s Garden of the Princess, Louvre (Le Jarden de l’Infante), which he painted in Paris in 1867, relatively early in his career. In the use of light and the brushstrokes, one can see Monet’s style evolving toward Impressionism. But what really pulls me in is the lively scene. The garden’s green lawn and bustling paths contrast with the city buildings shimmering behind the screen of trees. The picture brings to mind my trips to Paris, as well as the beauty of Tappan Square on a lovely day in late spring.
Marvin Krislov is president of Oberlin College.
My favorite work of art from the museum is Modigliani’s Nude with Coral Necklace. I find it extremely contradictory: powerful yet peaceful, sensual yet distant, straightforward yet mysterious.
There’s something about her eyes, her breasts, and her voluptuous body that brings me a serene sense of pleasure.
I really enjoy the work.
Darren McDonough is director of the Oberlin Public Library.
One of my favorite works in the art museum is the Snow Storm by Anton Mauve—this is the one I would take home if I had the choice. Though it is not on display often enough for me, this relatively small but powerful painting is the perfect example of an Impressionistic scene of people going about their day in the midst of a snow storm. If you take the time, you are drawn into the scene by its simplistic content, and yet the emotional drama compels you to digest the entire picture.
This piece never fails to bring me back for one more look, one more chance to be part of something bigger than myself.
Frances Moorman is a museum security guard.
My favorite work of art in the museum is Dovedale by Moonlight, an oil on canvas painted by Joseph Wright of Derby. I’ve always been a big fan of landscapes, but Dovedale by Moonlight was the first in the museum’s collection to catch my attention, and it has remained my favorite. Although the dark colors may make a melancholy first impression, the painting for me feels alive and warm and reminds me of the valley in Italy where I spent many childhood days with my family. The trees, clouds, and soft light of the moon soften the rocky outcroppings around the river. The combination of these elements makes the painting feel serene.
Michala RollÉ, a junior majoring in religion, is a technology assistant in the museum.
I could choose Claus Oldenburg’s Giant Three-Way Plug. My sons loved to clamber all over it when they were little. I could choose Rubens’ The Finding of Erichthonius—my first- and second-grade students were mesmerized by the story of the snake-legged infant every time we visited the museum. I have a long list of paintings that are favorites, but I’ve decided to choose Henri Matisse’s Young Girl Seated, a painting filled with color and light. It’s an artwork that, in Matisse’s own words, has "a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair." It’s as if I’m transported to Nice whenever I look at the painting.
Sharon Blecher is a retired teacher from Eastwood Elementary School.
As an art history major, I had to write a formal analysis of a work in the museum and picked Matisse’s Young Girl Seated. I remember being amazed at how Matisse captured such a coyly seductive expression in the quickest, most abbreviated strokes. I haven’t seen that painting in over 25 years, but I think of her eyebrows every time I look at a Matisse figure and marvel at his economy of means.
Hilarie Sheets ’86 is an arts writer and contributing editor to Artnews.
I love Romare Bearden’s Conjur Woman and Alison Saar’s Lave Tête, but for me, the works that will always be closest to my heart are Jonathan and Jonathan with Hands by Rashid Johnson. I remember seeing them when they were first installed and being in awe. I could (and did) stare at those photos for hours.
Lauren Haynes ’04 is assistant curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City.