Rachel Epp Buller, printmaker, art historian and Bethel College professor, says that workers – what today might be called “the 99 percent” – have long been a compelling subject for artists.
Epp Buller is the curator of a new temporary exhibit at the Wichita Art Museum through March 17, “Occupy Art: Protest and Empathy for the Worker.”
Though the parlance of “occupy” and “the 99 percent” might be recent (the “Occupy Movement” was born just over a year ago on New York City's Wall Street), the fact of artists commenting on workers' struggles and successes is not.
“Occupy Art” consists of about 70 paintings, prints and sculptures from the museum's permanent collection, spanning a range of about 150 years.
At a conference earlier this year, Epp Buller spoke on research she had done in Berlin under a Fulbright Fellowship on Alice Lex, an artist from post-World War I Germany whom the Nazis censored for her political views.
After hearing Epp Buller's talk, Stephen Gleissner, current curator at WAM, asked her if she would be interested in organizing an exhibit from the museum's collection.
It includes several prints by Käthe Kollwitz, a German printer, painter and sculptor from the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, best known for how she depicted the condition of those who suffered from the results of poverty, hunger and war.
“Stephen Gleissner told me about the museum's Kollwitz prints, so I started thinking about how to craft an exhibition that would include those,” Epp Buller says. She spent some time looking through the WAM collection, directly or through the museum's web database, including pieces in storage.
“Occupy Art” includes a number of works on paper that are often kept in storage and seldom seen by the public, Epp Buller says.
As she examined the collection, Epp Buller realized many of the works, including Kollwitz's, had themes and images related to workers and work.
“'Occupy' is not a contemporary idea,” Epp Buller says. “There's a whole historical lineage of artists being interested in the working class.”
While “Occupy Art” does not include any work from the current Occupy movement, Epp Buller will address that more in a curator's talk Jan. 24.
“I'll be showing images from the Occuprint portfolio, a gathering of prints and posters on Occupy themes put together as a fundraiser,” Epp Buller says. In addition, “someone from Occupy Wichita got in touch with me and said there's some artwork related to the Wichita movement, so I hope to show some of that.”
Epp Buller will be teaching a printmaking class in Bethel's January interterm and plans to take the class on a field trip to see the exhibit.
“We'll talk about some of the different printing techniques [that have] real-life examples,” Epp Buller says, “and about how printmakers, especially, have a history of being involved in social and political issues, since prints are relatively inexpensive to produce and easy to disseminate widely.”
The Wichita Art Museum, located at 1400 West Museum Blvd. in downtown Wichita, is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Admission is $7 adults; $5 seniors; and $3 students with ID and youth ages 5-17, except Saturdays, when there is no fee.
The Jan. 24 curator's talk (6 p.m. in the museum) is also free.
For more information, call 268-4921 or visit wichitaartmuseum.org.