Object of the Month

Title: Plakart
Artist: Sidney Chafetz (b. 1922)
Nationality: American
Date: 1963
Medium: Woodcut and cloth relief
Credit: Gift of Sidney Chafetz, 1998.7.13

September's Collection Object of the Month is a sly wink at the world of academia from artist Sideny Chafetz, an emeritus professor at Ohio State University who began his teaching career in 1948.

Chafetz had aspirations of becoming an illustrator or cartoonist, but after World War II, when studying at the Rhode Island School of Design under the G.I. Bill, he was introduced to the woodcut process by abstract artist Adja Yunkers and became captivated. The woodcut process lent itself well to Chafetz’s desire for direct communication using large and commanding forms, and made it possible for him to print a number of images quickly and cheaply.

Chafetz’s work has two distinct strands: portraiture and satire. His satirical work often rebukes the modern university, in particular state universities, that he believes are driven by sports and entertainment rather than education. Plakart depicts Chafetz’s  fictional professor Harley Quinn—a play on the masked comedic Harlequin character—who wields paintbrushes instead of the typical wooden sword or magic wand. The text is by Chafetz’s colleague, art historian Sidney M. Kaplan, who coined the pun on the names of two 19th-century French academic painters, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and William-Adolphe Bouguereau. While Ingres was well respected throughout his career, Bouguereau was criticized for his formulaic paintings in which eroticism masqueraded as high art.

—Debora Wood, senior curator

You can make an appointment to view this and other works from the Block Museum's permanent collection in the Eloise W. Martin Study Center. Email printroom@northwestern.edu or see Visit the Study Center for more information.