September 30 - January 29, 2006
Spanning five centuries from the Renaissance to the present day, the exhibition Skeletons in the Crocker's Closet features paintings, drawings, prints, and ceramics depicting skulls, skeletons, and other images of the post-mortem human body. This exhibition will offer an introduction to the many contexts in which this imagery is used, including drawings that illustrate the importance some artists placed on the study of human anatomy through cadavers, mementos mori meant to remind viewers of their own mortality, and the Calaveras (skull or skeleton) associated with El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead).
Skeletal imagery has been used throughout art history. From the Renaissance on, many artists have limned skeletons as part of their artistic training. In Christian iconography skeletons are used frequently and include the skull at the base of Christ's cross on Golgotha, the skull frequently contemplated by St. Jerome, and depictions of hell, final mortification and the apocalyptic horseman. During the Golden Age of Dutch painting in the 17th century, many artists incorporated skulls and other symbols of transience into their still lifes to remind viewers that their time on earth was fleeting. Contemporary artists have also utilized skeletons in an infinite variety of ways; some look to historical precedent for inspiration and others choose the skeleton simply for its macabre appeal. Some contemporary artists, such as ceramicist Susie Ketchum, even find humor and solace in skeletons. Ketchum has described her skeletons as "cartoon characters," explaining that "they always have smiles because life is pretty tough; you've got to have a sense of humor to get through." For those who celebrate El Día de los Muertos, skeletons representing departed loved ones reunite with the living and are thus dressed and doing ordinary things in life-affirming representations.