The Big Draw

Participants in The Big Draw, an event scheduled this fall at Cornell’s Johnson Museum. 

As a complement to its year-round schedule of exhibits, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum at Cornell hosts numerous special events—particularly during the school year. Most of these are free and open to the general public, as is admission to the museum. (Unless otherwise mentioned, all events described below begin at 5:15 p.m.). 

The Johnson will be holding a public reception for its fall exhibits on Friday, Sept. 5. The event takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. with a preview of “Surrealism and Magic” (more on that below) taking place at 4:30 p.m. 

Co-taught by art history professor Kaja McGowan and museum educator Cathy Rosa Klimaszewski, the fall class “Working Hot: Exploring Art Beyond Representation” aims (according to a course listing) to investigate “the heat of the moment when artists engage with their materials.” 

The Johnson will be hosting two public lectures in connection with the course. Both feature prominent figures and promise to be of particular interest. 

A Cornell alumnus (B.A., ’77) and a childhood resident of Ithaca, James Elkins is a professor of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Elkins is the author of numerous—erudite and often delightful—books exploring diverse facets of art and visual culture. He will be speaking on Thursday, Sept. 25.

El Anatsui will give a presentation on his artwork on Thursday, Oct. 23. The veteran Ghanaian sculptor is known for his inventive use of materials and his creative merger of local tradition with international modernism. 

In addition to “Working Hot,” artist and biologist Brandon Ballengée will discuss his Love Motel for Insects on Thursday, Sept. 18. The piece, currently sited outside the museum, is a sculpture that doubles as an insect colony. 

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As usual, the Johnson will be hosting a range of programming in conjunction with its fall exhibits.

Already on display at the museum, “Jie (Boundaries): Contemporary Art From Taiwan” features thirty-three Taiwanese artists working in a range of approaches: from the more-or-less traditional to the aggressively contemporary. The show was curated by Cornell art historian An-yi Pan, a specialist in Chinese and East Asian art. 

An accompanying symposium will take place on Saturday, Sept. 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will feature an “international roster” of artists and scholars. 

Assembled by museum curator Andrew Weislogel, “Surrealism and Magic” (which opened Saturday, Aug. 30) takes as its point of departure the personal library of the Swiss surrealist artist Kurt Seligmann—owned by the Cornell Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections—and will feature surrealist work aside an eclectic selection of historical books and ephemera.

A specialist on surrealism and the occult, artist-scholar Celia Rabinovitch will lecture on “Surrealism through the Mirror of Magic: Alternative Paths to Knowledge” on Thursday, Oct. 16. Jonathan Eburne will speak the following Tuesday, Oct. 28 on “Poetic Wisdom: Surrealism, Magic, and the Human Sciences.”

Tying into the show, Cornell Cinema will screen the classic 1922 horror-documentary Häxan on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. in Sage Chapel. The silent film is regarded as Danish actor-director Benjamin Christensen’s magnum opus. It combines a historical approach to the subject of witchcraft—based on several years of research by the director—with salacious and violent content that got the film banned and censored around the world. The free event is part of the concurrent Ithaca International Fantastic Film Festival will feature a scored and improvised soundtrack by the NYC-based Transit New Music.

Also curated by Weislogel, “An Eye for Detail: Dutch Painting from the Leiden Collection” (opening Saturday, Sept. 20) features twelve Dutch Baroque paintings drawn from an important New York collection. Former museum director Franklin Robinson will lead a members-only gallery tour on Tuesday, Sept 30. On Thursday, Nov. 20, National Gallery curator Arthur Wheelock will give a lecture provocatively entitled “The Myth of the ‘Leiden School’: There Was No Such Thing.” The Leiden School posits that a language behaves like a population of organisms, reproducing, spreading, and evolving.

The exhibit is up for a whole year and further events will be planned for the spring. 

An annual October event with roots in the UK, “The Big Draw” is an international festival meant to engage the broader public with drawing—with do-it-yourself events in museums as well as other venues. This year’s theme is “It’s Our World,” according to their website “a celebration of our environment—of urban, rural and coastal landscapes.”

Local illustrator and comics artist Steve Ellis will give an “all ages” workshop on “Material, Media, and the Mind” on Saturday, Oct. 4 from 1 to 3 p.m. A concluding event will take place on Sunday, Oct. 26from 2 to 4 p.m. The event—aimed at children and their families, but open to all—will feature stations set up in the main lobby as well as throughout the museum. Stations will also be up throughout the month.

(The Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College will also be hosting TBD events throughout October—see for a final schedule, to be announced mid-September.) 

A curator and scholar as well as a practicing artist, Arnold Chang will visit Cornell in late October and will give two public presentations. On Wednesday, Oct. 29 (from noon to 2 p.m.) he will offer a hands-on demonstration of traditional Chinese painting techniques. For this year’s annual Stoikov Lecture—to be held on Thursday, Oct. 30—he will present a more historical perspective on the subject. 

Tying together the visual and performing arts has long been characteristic of the Johnson Museum’s project. Upcoming events include a mixed-media performance piece by Burmese artist Chaw Ei Thein on Saturday, Oct. 25 (2 to 4 p.m.) and a concert by composer-clarinetist Derek Bermel on Sunday, Nov. 16 (from 1 p.m.). The former incorporates video by Cornell students Emily Hong, Miasarah Lai, and Mariangela Mihai while the latter will include graduate student compositions. 

Looking further ahead, the museum will host another opening reception on Friday, Dec. 12 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.—this time, for its renovated and re-hung first floor galleries, which when completed will feature a long-term display of European and American art from 1800 to today. §

A complete and up-to-date fall schedule (including family events as well as student and member-only events) can be found at A fall newsletter can also be picked up at the museum and around town. 

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