BACK TO THE FUTURE: ANDREW TALLON’S VISION

Eyes that see, persons with knowledge, they must be allowed to construct the new world. — Le Corbusier, When the Cathedrals Were White.1

This exhibition celebrates a series of color photographs of the Vassar College Art Library, arguably the first modern interior in the United States on an academic campus, restored in 2007- 2008 by a New York based firm known for its conscientious restoration of important historic landmarks, Platt, Byard, Dovell, White. Andrew Tallon, who taught the History of Art at Vassar College from 2007 until his untimely death in 2018, took the photographs in the summer of 2016 to illustrate a monograph on John McAndrew, the scholar-architect responsible for the library’s original 1937 design. This monograph took shape around a scholarly study of McAndrew’s modernism written by the architectural historian Mardges Bacon.2

Preservation and its historical objective is a project of the future as well as the past. The restorers of John McAndrew’s Art Library understood this implicitly. One of the two architects on the project, the late Paul Spencer Byard, stated this principle as follows:

There is in a sense no such thing as “preservation”…. Every act of preservation is inescapably an act of renewal by the light of a later time. 3

Even what we know as the modern demands this historical treatment. It cannot not be envisioned without it. Every new work involves temporal exchange, because, as Byard points out:

Each new work of art is supported and enriched by its sources and its cultural and physical contexts. . . . In each creative act the old and the new are inextricably entwined and inescapably beholden to each other. 4

In a word, the new depends on the old for its existence, even as the old requires the new for its apprehension. Acts of historical enquiry and historic preservation are therefore not mere acts of nostalgia; they derive their energy from our urgency to creatively envision solutions to the confrontations of the present and future in juxtaposition to what has gone before. The instrument of the photograph, so relentless in showing us a present that slips into the past as soon as the shutter is snapped, thus shows us in the same moment the past as it enters and builds itself into the present.

Andrew Tallon’s deep familiarity with Gothic architecture made him cognizant of the dialect of old and new even in the practices of medieval builders. During his initial visit to Vassar he lectured on successive medieval renovations to particular buttresses of Notre Dame of Paris, each buttress building on observations about the strengths and weaknesses of the earlier designs.

Superb historian and photographer that he was, it comes as nosurprise to us that Andrew Tallon’s photography of a quintessentially modernist architectural space envisions this space as both an artifact of a bygone era of design (“modernism”) and a creative field that holds the promise of a future with endless potential. No less “historic” than the Gothic structures Tallon was so skilled at documenting, these photographs of John McAndrew’s own vision of the space of the future, a space whose restoration was based on both photographic records and scientific research, illuminate the pure form within which the future of art and architectural history at Vassar unfolds. For McAndrew, the modernist revolution was in color. An essential design element that Tallon’s photographs hone in on are the color schemes, which McAndrew modeled on Le Corbusier’s purist color palette and his own insight that color could be deployed in the design of a study space in order to offset illustrative materials as well as maximize illumination. The colors were thus meant to subdivide these materials and give the eye one wall at a time to consume so that, in the words of a contemporary member of the art department, the color effect would thus reduce “the inevitable fatigue of the very powers of attention we try to evoke.” 5

While preservation is not a matter of fixing past forms in amber, a certain attentive regard for these forms which comes through study and understanding will lead to a willingness to spend time with and engage them. Imagination cannot exist without memory any more than memory can exist without imagination. So it is no coincidence that so many of the individuals who have created and recreated the beautiful and functional learning space documented in Andrew’s photographs should be known for their work in historic preservation. This includes John McAndrew himself, who late in his career helped to found the Save Venice organization after the 1966 flood. Paul S. Byard and Charles A. Platt have worked as architects on projects to preserve major New York monuments including Carnegie Hall, the Cooper Union Foundation Building, the New York Historical Society, and the Park Avenue Armory. They have also directed or served on the boards of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Municipal Art Society, and Paul Byard’s legal background was instrumental in the Supreme Court case that saved Grand Central Terminal. As educators, both men helped to formulate, and taught in, the the historic preservation studio architecture program at Columbia University. Andrew Tallon was a founder of the Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris, an organization established to collect funds for the maintenance and restoration of the great cathedral that was a chief object of his research. In recent months that research has become an international media story as it becomes apparent that it will be critical to the effort to restore the cathedral after the catastrophic fire of April 15.

 

Architectural historians in Vassar’s Art Department have been scholars rooted in medieval and Renaissance studies who taught and wrote about contemporary design. In addition to his work as an architect, McAndrew, an expert in Venetian architecture, made an immense contribution in a series of exhibitions he organized as curator of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art. These exhibitions shaped public opinion during the critical period when European modernism was being introduced to North America. His successors over the following 80 years at Vassar College, Richard Krautheimer, John Coolidge, Wolfgang Lotz, Richard Pommer, and Nicholas Adams, were historical specialists as well as participants, through teaching and scholarship, in the architecture of their own times: past and present infused one another in their work.

Le Corbusier’s “persons with knowledge” who have “eyes that see,” to whom the future should be entrusted, are endowed with the ability to construct a new world out of the old. Like John McAndrew, an educator who used his architectural talent to create a new kind of learning space for students, Andrew Tallon was known at Vassar from the day he arrived as an innovator in methodologies for visualizing and communicating architectural forms and ideas, particularly with digital media. Arriving in the Art Department just as digital images were taking the place of 35mm slides, Tallon was instrumental in the Department’s acquisition of state-of-the-art digital projection equipment for its classrooms that made the use of digital images for teaching truly viable, and he led a fundamental change in the way visual information is communicated in teaching. His groundbreaking exhibition at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in 2012, Space, Time, and Narrative: Mapping Gothic France, presented the museum-going public with a demonstration of the potential of new media to alter space, and succeeded at something all architectural exhibits strive for but rarely achieve, a sensory experience in a museum setting of the physical spaces these exhibits purport to represent. Employing phased, overlapping digital images and high-resolution projectors, the exhibition truly transformed the space of the museum into something other than what we knew it as, and evoked in a stunning way a visual and visceral sense of the dramatic light-and-color-filled Gothic interiors with which Andrew was so familiar. Andrew’s Tallon’s vision was informed by deep historical understanding, drew on his creative talents as an experimenter with new media, and was employed self-reflexively to create new spaces for teaching and learning. In these photographs he draws our attention to table tops, natural light, color, and stairways that form the passages of the process of study. The photographs appear as material emblems of this process, of the virtuous circle of recollection and experiment, of the conversation that takes place between the document and the work of art, that is recreated by the seeing eyes of all the scholars and artists, past and future, who pass through our portals who are our, and his, enduring legacy.

—Thomas Hill, April 2019

 

Notes:

1. (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947), 5.

2. John McAndrew’s Modernist Vision: From the Vassar College Art Library to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, ed. by Mardges Bacon (Princeton Architectural Press, 2018).

3. Byard, Paul Spencer, The Architecture of Additions (New York:
Norton, 1998), 182.

4. Byard, 17.

5. Agnes Claflin, “The Art Department in New Quarters,” Vassar Alumnae Magazine, Vol. 23, no. 6 (July 1, 1938) reproduced in Bacon, 10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections: VASAM Reading Collection

The members of the Vassar Asian American Working Group (VASAM) have compiled a collection to mark 40 years since the start of the movement for Asian American Studies at Vassar. These books range from nonfiction biographies and memoirs, educational texts written by prominent Asian American professors and important works in our history to the favorite novels of Asian American students and faculty here at Vassar. From Yuri Kochiyama’s biography to the short stories of Jenny Zhang, these works inspire and reflect our own personal histories and identities while connecting us through human themes and emotions.

Through this bibliography, VASAM  hopes to highlight the breadth of Asian American experiences, the knowledge we can gain from learning about them and uplifting Asian American voices, and the deficit Vassar continues to have as long as it neglects quality Asian American representation in its curriculum.

This collection is brought to you in collaboration with the Vassar College Libraries EPI Project – creating a place of belonging for all students by providing space and support for student art, performance, and expression in the libraries.

The Library EPI Project is interested in hearing from individuals or groups who want to exhibit or perform their work in the Spring or Fall or curate their own reading collection for inclusion in the library. If you or your organization are interested, or have an idea to pitch, please reach out to Deb Bucher at debucher@vassar.edu.

 VASSAR ASIAN AMERICAN WORKING GROUP (VASAM) BIBLIOGRAPHY

Now on display in the Thompson Memorial Library Lobby through Mid-April.

The Sympathizer by Viet Than Nguyen

A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. In dialogue with but diametrically opposed to the narratives of the Vietnam War that have preceded it, this novel offers an important and unfamiliar new perspective on the war: that of a conflicted communist sympathizer.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko is the second novel by Korean-American author Min Jin Lee. Published in 2017, Pachinko is an epic historical novel following a Korean family who eventually migrate to Japan, it is the first novel written for an adult, English-speaking audience about Japanese–Korean culture.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.

Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother’s “talk stories.” The fierce and wily women warriors of her mother’s tales clash jarringly with the harsh reality of female oppression out of which they come. Kingston’s sense of self emerges in the mystifying gaps in these stories, which she learns to fill with stories of her own. A warrior of words, she forges fractured myths and memories into an incandescent whole, achieving a new understanding of her family’s past and her own present. Includes a fun version of the legend of Mulan!

Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book by Maxine Hong Kingston

One of Vassar English Professor Hua Hsu’s favorites: “Set in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1960s, Wittman Ah Sing is conflicted over his Chinese ancestry. … His thoughts become more fixated on the similarities between himself, and the character of a monkey king, Sun Wukong from the Chinese epic novel Journey to the West, giving the novel its name.”

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon

The experience of South American asians is an important perspective and one not often often heard about. Snow Hunters traces the extraordinary journey of Yohan, a twenty-five-year-old North Korean POW refugee who defects from his country at the end of the Korean War, leaving his friends and family behind to seek a new life in a port town on the coast of Brazil.

Sour Heart: Stories by Jenny Zhang

A favorite of one of VASAM’s members: Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart, tells about the lives of several Chinese American immigrant parents and their daughters in New York through overlapping short stories. Her stories break the model minority stereotype and honestly conveys the struggles of family, parenthood, and the role of children of immigrants.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, caught in the tragic sweep of history, The Kite Runner transports readers to Afghanistan at a tense and crucial moment of change and destruction. A powerful story of friendship, it is also about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam

A vibrant debut novel, set in Brooklyn and Bangladesh, follows three young women and one family struggling to make peace with secrets and their past. “The miracles in Bright Lines are the understated moments of family telepathy. . . . An understated queer coming-of-age, a study of how much work it is to be a family, and a snapshot of a disappearing Brooklyn, set against the ghosts of the past, and a search for home.” NPR.org

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

In The Namesake, the Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri brilliantly illuminates the immigrant experience and the tangled ties between generations. Meet the Ganguli family, new arrivals from Calcutta, trying their best to become Americans even as they pine for home. The name they bestow on their firstborn, Gogol, betrays all the conflicts of honoring tradition in a new world—conflicts that will haunt Gogol on his own winding path through divided loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman 

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia’s parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Yang’s American Born Chinese tells a story of the struggle of accepting the duality nature of Asian Americans. The graphic novel tells the story of three seemingly unrelated stories of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King in Chinese legends, Jin Wang, an Asian American boy, and Danny, a white American boy with a Chinese cousin. It’s an easy read meant for young adults that is filled with humor. But, it still manages to express the struggle of being Asian American in a serious light. Yang has managed to create something fun and relatable while getting his target audience to likely think about their identity for the first time.

Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar

Written by Vassar’s English Professor Kumar: Carrying a single suitcase, Kailash arrives in post-Reagan America from India to attend graduate school. As he begins to settle into American existence, Kailash comes under the indelible influence of a charismatic professor, and also finds his life reshaped by a series of very different women with whom he recklessly falls in and out of love. Looking back on the formative period of his youth, Kailash’s wry, vivid perception of the world he is in, but never quite of, unfurls in a brilliant melding of anecdote and annotation, picture and text. Building a case for himself, both as a good man in spite of his flaws and as an American in defiance of his place of birth, Kailash weaves a story that is at its core an incandescent investigation of love—despite, beyond, and across dividing lines.

No-No Boy by John Okada

No-No Boy has the honor of being among the first of what has become an entire literary canon of Asian American literature,” writes novelist Ruth Ozeki in her new foreword…No-No Boy tells the story of Ichiro Yamada, a fictional version of the real-life “no-no boys.” Yamada answered “no” twice in a compulsory government questionnaire as to whether he would serve in the armed forces and swear loyalty to the United States. Unwilling to pledge himself to the country that interned him and his family, Ichiro earns two years in prison and the hostility of his family and community when he returns home to Seattle. As Ozeki writes, Ichiro’s “obsessive, tormented” voice subverts Japanese postwar “model-minority” stereotypes, showing a fractured community and one man’s “threnody of guilt, rage, and blame as he tries to negotiate his reentry into a shattered world.”

Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality in Gaysian America by Winter Han

“Geisha of a Different Kind” bravely engages with the struggles and triumphs of Asian American gay men as they inhabit American society and its gay mainstream.A lucid study with an unflinching focus on the daily contingencies of these men’s lives, this book is an important contribution to the scholarly understanding of contemporary U.S. sex/gender systems and their fraught links to racial formations.”—Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora.

Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina by Denise Cruz

In this groundbreaking study, Denise Cruz investigates the importance of the figure she terms the “transpacific Filipina” to Philippine nationalism, women’s suffrage, and constructions of modernity. Through a careful study of multiple texts produced by Filipina and Filipino writers in the Philippines and the United States—including novels and short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, conduct manuals, and editorial cartoons—Cruz provides a new archive and fresh perspectives for understanding Philippine literature and culture. Cruz shows how the complex interplay of feminism, nationalism, empire, and modernity helped to shape, and were shaped by, conceptions of the transpacific Filipina.

The Intimacies of Four Continents by Lisa Lowe

One of Professor Gary Okihiro’s favorites: In this uniquely interdisciplinary work, Lisa Lowe examines the relationships between Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth- centuries, exploring the links between colonialism, slavery, imperial trades and Western liberalism. Analyzing the archive of liberalism alongside the colonial state archives from which it has been separated, Lowe offers new methods for interpreting the past, examining events well documented in archives, and those matters absent, whether actively suppressed or merely deemed insignificant.

American History: Unbound by Gary Okihiro

Written by Professor Gary Okihiro of Asian American studies at Yale, American History Unbound reveals our past through the lens of Asian American and Pacific Islander history. Gary Y. Okihiro positions Asians and Pacific Islanders within a larger history of people of color in the United States and places the United States in the context of world history and oceanic worlds.

Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama Diane C. Fujino by Diane C. Fujino

Heartbeat of Struggle is the first biography of Yuri Kochiyama, the most prominent Asian American activist to emerge during the 1960s. Based on extensive archival research and interviews with Kochiyama’s family, friends, and the subject herself, Diane C. Fujino traces Kochiyama’s life from an “all-American” childhood to her accomplishments as a tireless defender of—and fighter for—human rights.

America is in the Heart: A Personal History by Carlos Bulosan

First published in 1943, this classic memoir by well-known Filipino poet Carlos Bulosan describes his boyhood in the Philippines, his voyage to America, and his years of hardship and despair as an itinerant laborer following the harvest trail in the rural West. America is in the Heart is one of the first novels written from an Asian American and working class perspective to be published.

Without You There is No Us by Suki Kim

A haunting memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il’s reign. Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world’s most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls “soldiers and slaves.”

Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

One of Professor Hua Hsu’s favorites: Dictée is the best-known work of the versatile and important Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. A classic work of autobiography that transcends the self, Dictée is the story of several women: the Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Joan of Arc, Demeter and Persephone, Cha’s mother Hyung Soon Huo (a Korean born in Manchuria to first-generation Korean exiles), and Cha herself. The elements that unite these women are suffering and the transcendence of suffering. The book is divided into nine parts structured around the Greek Muses. Cha deploys a variety of texts, documents, images, and forms of address and inquiry to explore issues of dislocation and the fragmentation of memory. The result is a work of power, complexity, and enduring beauty.

The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee

The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day. An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II. Over the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States.

 

Valentine’s Day and the Ancient Greek novel

Deb Bucher, Head of Collection Development and Research Services

On Valentine’s Day our thoughts turn to romance. And if you love books, you might start thinking about the great romance novels you’ve read, or are embarrassed to admit you’ve read. Think what you will about that genre, it’s been around for almost two thousand years! Around the 2nd century CE several Greek long-form stories appeared that had similar themes: boy meets girl, they fall in love, they get separated by events and bad people, they have unpleasant experiences, fate brings them back together, and they live happily ever after. Translators, artists, composers, play-writes, and illustrators have all contributed to the longevity of not just this literary form, but the ancient Greek stories themselves.

One example is the story of Daphnis and Chloe, attributed to someone named Longus, who may have lived around the year 200 CE (the jury’s still out whether or not there was someone named Longus or whether that name is just a bad reading of a manuscript!). In brief, Daphnis and Chloe grow up together on Lesbos, both adopted by shepherds. As children they don’t realize what they feel for each other is love; but as youth, they become separated, and then finally find each other again and live happily ever after. The loss of childhood innocence, the influence of nature and the merits of country living are themes that appear in the story. While the manuscript evidence for Daphnis and Chloe is slim (only two complete manuscripts survive!), scholars believe that the long-form genre was immensely popular in antiquity because so many different examples have survived, sometime only in papyrus fragments. But their last influence is also attested by a copious amount of translations from the Renaissance onward, and recent scholarship on the genre. Daphnis and Chloe was first translated into French in the sixteenth century by Jacques Amyot. His translation became a classic in its own right. You can see a beautiful 1780 edition of it at HathiTrust. The Archives and Special Collections here at Vassar also holds a copy of this edition.

A later 1890 edition of Amyot’s translation, amended by Paul Louis Courier from a more complete manuscript he discovered in 1801 at the Laurentian Library in Florence, is this beautiful edition housed at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France. It has artwork by Louis-Joseph-Raphaël Collin, a French painter who lived from 1850 – 1916. He was influenced by Japanese painting, which you can see in this edition. Vassar’s copy is actually an unattributed English translation published ca. 1896 also in Paris by the Société des Beaux Arts. In addition to the detailed color plates, the English edition also has historiated initials at the beginning of each chapter. The book is a wonderful example of a French livre de luxe; such books, made for collectors, were popular at this time. Mixed reviews followed it’s publication. A review in the Academy (January 16, 1897, p.73) suggests that the book “will be found alluring by a certain class of people” and that the English translation is “without charm.” In contrast, the review in the Publishers’ Circular (January 23, 1897, p.111) commends the edition as “princely.”

Our copy has special significance for us because it was a gift from Rebecca Lawrence Lowrie, class of 1913. She had no.4 of the “Edition artistique,” which was limited to seventy-five copies for England and America. It came to Vassar as part of a gift of over 3,000 items, most of which are now housed in Special Collections.