Exhibition | Dare to Know

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on September 12, 2022

Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard, A Centurion Begging for Protection from Marc Antony during a Seditious Revolt, ca. 1800, black ink and black and gray wash, probably over graphite, framing lines in black ink, on off-white antique laid paper (laid down), 20 × 48 cm (Harvard Art Museums, 2018.210).

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Opening this week at Harvard:

Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment
Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, 16 September 2022 — 15 January 2023

Curated by Elizabeth Rudy and Kristel Smentek

See how the graphic arts inspired, shaped, and gave immediacy to new ideas in the Enlightenment era, encouraging individuals to follow their own reason when seeking to know more.

What role did drawings and prints play during the Enlightenment era, from roughly 1720 to 1800? Dare to Know explores many nuances of this complex time—when political and cultural revolutions swept across Europe and the Americas, spurring profound shifts in science, philosophy, the arts, social and cultural encounters, and our shared sense of history. Indeed, the Enlightenment itself has been described as a “revolution of the mind.” Novel concepts in every realm of intellectual inquiry were communicated not only through text and speech, but in prints and drawings that gave these ideas a visual, concrete form. They made new things visible—and familiar things visible in powerful new ways. They wielded the potential to visually articulate, reinforce, or contradict beliefs as well as biases, while also arguing for social action and imagining new realities.

In 1784, in response to a journal article asking “What Is Enlightenment?,” German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that the Enlightenment’s main impulse was to “dare to know!”: to pursue knowledge for oneself, without relying on others to interpret facts and experiences. But is this ever truly possible?

Bringing together 150 prints, drawings, books, and other related objects from Harvard as well as collections in the United States and abroad, this exhibition offers provocative insights into both the achievements and the failures of a period whose complicated legacies reverberate still today. Dare to Know asks new and sometimes uncomfortable questions of the so-called age of reason, inviting visitors to embrace the Enlightenment’s same spirit of inquiry—to investigate, to persuade, and to imagine.

Curated by Elizabeth M. Rudy, Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, Harvard Art Museums, and Kristel Smentek, Associate Professor of Art History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With special thanks to Heather Linton, Curatorial Assistant for Special Exhibitions and Publications, Division of European and American Art, and Christina Taylor, Associate Paper Conservator, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. Research contributions by Austėja Mackelaitė, Stanley H. Durwood Foundation Curatorial Fellow (2016–18), and by PhD candidates in Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture and former graduate interns in the Division of European and American Art: J. Cabelle Ahn, Thea Goldring, and Sarah Lund.

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Support for the exhibition is provided by the Melvin R. Seiden and Janine Luke Fund for Publications and Exhibitions, the Robert M. Light Print Department Fund, the Stanley H. Durwood Foundation Support Fund, the Catalogues and Exhibitions Fund for Pre-Twentieth-Century Art of the Fogg Museum, and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. The accompanying catalogue was made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Publication Funds, including the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund. Related programming is supported by the M. Victor Leventritt Lecture Series Endowment Fund.

The catalogue is distributed by Yale UP:

Edouard Kopp, Elizabeth Rudy, and Kristel Smentek, eds., Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment (Cambridge: Harvard Art Museums, 2022), 334 pages, ISBN: 978-0300266726, $50.

Are volcanoes punishment from God? What do a fly and a mulberry have in common? What utopias await in unexplored corners of the earth and beyond? During the Enlightenment, questions like these were brought to life through an astonishing array of prints and drawings, helping shape public opinion and stir political change. Dare to Know overturns common assumptions about the age, using the era’s proliferation of works on paper to tell a more nuanced story. Echoing the structure and sweep of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, the book contains 26 thematic essays, organized A to Z, providing an unprecedented perspective on more than 50 artists, including Henry Fuseli, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Francisco Goya, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, William Hogarth, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and Giambattista Tiepolo. With a multidisciplinary approach, the book probes developments in the natural sciences, technology, economics, and more—all through the lens of the graphic arts.

Edouard Kopp is the John R. Eckel, Jr., Foundation Chief Curator at the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston; Elizabeth M. Rudy is the Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints at the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; and Kristel Smentek is associate professor of art history in the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

With contributions by J. Cabelle Ahn, Elizabeth Saari Browne, Rachel Burke, Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Anne Driesse, Paul Friedland, Thea Goldring, Margaret Morgan Grasselli, Ashley Hannebrink, Joachim Homann, Kéla Jackson, Penley Knipe, Edouard Kopp, Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Heather Linton, Austėja Mackelaitė, Tamar Mayer, Elizabeth Mitchell, Elizabeth M. Rudy, Brandon O. Scott, Kristel Smentek, Phoebe Springstubb, Gabriella Szalay, and Christina Taylor.

R E L A T E D  E V E N T S

Dare to Know: An Introduction
15 September 2022, 5.30pm

Join us for a series of brief presentations and a discussion about the special exhibition Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment, with curators Elizabeth Rudy and Kristel Smentek, along with several contributors to the exhibition catalogue.

Exhibition Tours by Elizabeth Rudy
18 September, 2 and 23 October, 11 December, and 15 January, noon

Join exhibition co-curator Elizabeth Rudy for a tour of the exhibition. She will share insights about how works on paper played a critical role in the 18th century, wielding the power to visually articulate, reinforce, or contradict beliefs as well as biases.

Gallery Talk by Morgan Grasselli
22 September 2022, 12.30pm

Join Margaret Morgan Grasselli for a discussion about the 18th-century invention of the multicolor, multiplate printing technique that laid the foundation for today’s CMYK process.

Gallery Talk by Sam Nehila
30 September 30, 2022, 12.30pm

Join Sam Nehila, curatorial assistant in the Division of European and American Art, for a discussion of William Hogarth’s print series The Four Stages of Cruelty.

Printed by James Phillips, Description of a Slave Ship, 1789, engraving (Harvard University, Houghton Library, Gift of O. Peck, 1845, p EB75 A100, TL42422.5).

Gallery Talk by John Overholt
25 October 2022, 12.30pm

Join Houghton Library curator John Overholt for a discussion of one of the most important and consequential prints of the 18th century, Description of a Slave Ship.

Gallery Talk by Joachim Homann
27 October 2022, 12.30pm

Join curator Joachim Homann for a discussion about a rare, intact example of French inventor Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle’s multi-sheet drawings on translucent paper. The work was originally attached to rollers, lit from behind with candles, and unfurled for a captive audience.

Gallery Talk by Horace Ballard
3 November 2022, 12.30pm

Join curator Horace Ballard for an exploration of the observation and documentation of astronomical events in the 18th century as exemplified in a drawing by British artist Paul Sandby.

Gallery Talk by Ben Sibson
5 November 2022, 12.30pm

Join Ben Sibson, PhD candidate in Harvard’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, for a discussion about the depiction of the human body in selected works on view in the exhibition.

Gallery Talk by Paris A. Spies-Gans
6 November 2022, 12.30pm

Join art historian Paris A. Spies-Gans, of the Harvard Society of Fellows, for a discussion about works of art made by women in the exhibition. Spies-Gans will examine objects by a range of artists, with particular attention given to Marguerite Gérard and Marie-Gabrielle Capet.

Unidentified artist, American, Lottery Ticket: The Endless Knot, ca. 1785–95, woodcut (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Walter S. Poor, Class of 1905, M20297).

Gallery Talk by Casey Monahan
8 November 2022, 12.30pm

Join curatorial assistant Casey Monahan for a discussion of a dynamic display of ball invitations, advertisements, trade cards, and currency notes in the exhibition. Monahan will share insights about the acquisition of these small prints and the story behind their creative installation.

Gallery Talk by Joachim Homann
10 November 2022, 12.30pm

Join curator Joachim Homann for a discussion of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s drawing The Girls’ Dormitory.

Gallery Talk by Sarah Mallory
20 November 2022, 12.30pm

Join Sarah Mallory, PhD candidate in Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture, for a discussion of the emergence of the modern notion of ecology in the 18th century as articulated in selected works in the exhibition.

Gallery Talk by Yi Bin Liang
6 December 2022, 12.30pm

Join conservation technician Yi Bin Liang for an exploration of 18th-century methods and techniques of book binding in a close examination of works on view.

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