La Danse: ‘School of Paris’ exhibition opens SMHS Art Gallery

Gallery helps choreograph the dance between medicine and the arts at UND

UND President Joshua Wynne greets guests at the inaugural reception of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences Art Gallery. The reception featured the opening of “School of Paris: Selected Works on Paper, Published in Paris circa 1934-39.” Photo courtesy of Aspen Studio.

Five figures, their hands interlocked, swirl and sway without shame — despite their lack of clothing. Hazel-haired and burgundy-backed, the dancers writhe on a bed of green in apparent homage to Saint Vitus, the manic dance for whom came to be associated with Sydenham’s chorea, an infection resulting in the involuntary and uncoordinated movements of sufferers’ feet, hands and face.

This at least, may have been what French painter Henri Matisse had in mind when he created La Danse in 1939 for Verve magazine in Paris. The image is one of the many between-the-wars pieces developed by a series of Paris-based artists in the 1930s that were chosen to be included in the “School of Paris” collection of pieces on display at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences Art Gallery.

This 1939 lithograph, titled La Danse, by French artist Henri Matisse depicts Danse, one of Matisse’s best-known works. In La Danse, the painting appears to be sitting on an easel, likely in Matisse’s studio. Matisse created La Danse for Verve, a Paris-based art magazine. Photo courtesy of Aspen Studio.

“It’s hard to describe how excited and proud I and we are to be able to do this,” noted SMHS Dean and UND Interim President Joshua Wynne, of the inaugural art reception held at the School on Nov. 5. “The art reminds us and our students that we are not simply studying the disease process but are trying to help people who happen to have a disease. This is implicit in the pedagogical model we have used with our medical students for over 20 years, which is called patient-centered learning. By shifting the focus from the disease process to the patient, we try to emphasize the humanistic aspects of health care.”

Even before it opened in 2016, the designers of and administrators at the new SMHS building envisioned the building as a “satellite” gallery for UND Art Collections, whose official gallery is located in the Empire Arts Center in downtown Grand Forks.

Given the School’s academic emphasis on health care, Dr. Wynne said it is appropriate that each of the SMHS programs understand the waltz at the heart of providing evidence-based and often highly technical medical care to humans who come to providers every day with their own histories, aesthetic tastes, creative interests and stories.

“When I was growing up, names like Max Ernst, Matisse and Miró were dinner table discussions,” added Wynne. “To see [these pieces] now in the building that I use every day is incredibly gratifying.”

Sarah Heitkamp (left), manager and curator for UND Art Collections, stands with Eunice and Peter Kuhn, the donors who have established the UND Art Collections Endowment for Preservation and Education. The endowment will help UND Art Collections preserve, conserve, research and make educational use of the University’s 30,000 pieces of art. Photo courtesy of Aspen Studio.

Preservation and Education

Artwork displayed throughout the UND campus wouldn’t be possible without the support of many generous donors to, and supporters from within, the University, including two donors who attended the art reception in November.

“UND approached us about setting up an endowment,” said Peter Kuhn, who along with his wife Eunice, is responsible for establishing the UND Art Collections Endowment for Preservation and Education (ACEPE). “That’s one of the reasons we set this up. We spoke with Sarah [Heitkamp], who said there are hundreds boxes of this stuff. Sarah said they opened up the boxes and found these pieces and at first didn’t know what they were. But it needs to be brought out. That’s what it’s for — the public to enjoy.”

The ACEPE provides financial support to UND Art Collections for efforts related to the preservation and conservation, research, presentation, and educational utilization of the University’s art collections across campus. The UND Alumni Association & Foundation distributes allocations from the fund each year to support these efforts.

“The Kuhns have committed $25,000 over the next five years [to the endowment], and the University will be matching it,” added Sarah Heitkamp, manager and curator for UND Art Collections and instructor in the Department of Art & Design. “They had an opportunity to visit with me at the art repository and asked questions about how we operate at the University — and asked what we need to do to make it all better. We talked through that and made it happen. They’re such a great example of kindness and generosity.”

According to Heitkamp, immediate plans for the endowment include hiring a student to assist with the documentation of approximately 15,000 undocumented objects (of the 30,000 total art pieces UND maintains in its collection). Longer-term opportunities include the possibility of funding staff or internships, conference attendance, supplies and archival storage, technology upgrades, exhibition of works, and staff development in the areas of preservation and conservation.

“I like any art, even the abstract stuff,” added Eunice, who is a retired public school art instructor. “It’s nice to see this work finally being documented. We’re very honored to help start something like this — it’s very neat. The art that’s here is just amazing — these famous artists. To know that we have these in the collection is just amazing.”

At the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences Art Gallery’s inaugural reception on Nov. 5, guests viewed the opening of “School of Paris: Selected Works on Paper, Published in Paris circa 1934-39.” The exhibition displays lithographs, linocuts and pochoirs by Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Max Ernst and other prominent artists. Photo courtesy of Aspen Studio.

The Art of Medicine

School of Paris marks the official establishment of the School of Medicine & Health Science Art Gallery, located on the second floor of the School. But the Paris collection is actually the Gallery’s second major exhibit of world-renowned artists. When it opened in 2016, the SMHS housed a collection of abstract expressionist or “pop” art pieces from the UND collection. For more than three years, the gallery displayed paintings by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, among other pop artists of the mid-20th century.

In 1938, French artist André Masson created this lithograph, titled “Sun,” for Verve magazine. The lithograph is one of 13 works on display at the “School of Paris” exhibition at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences Art Gallery. Photo courtesy of Aspen Studio.

This specific gallery notwithstanding, the School maintains more than 100 pieces over the course of its four floors (325,000 square feet). More “permanent” installations include pieces by Honoré Daumier, Emily Lunde, Audrey Flack, Peter Kuper and Walter Piehl, among many others.

Many of these pieces revolve around medical or health-related themes, such as Zack Julen’s third-floor piece “Infected,” which resembles bacteria as they might look under a microscope. To help the viewing public better access such pieces, the School recently completed a self-guided art tour booklet for the building, available online and in the kiosk in the SMHS lobby.

Long term, the School hopes to employ students of all backgrounds as curatorial assistants. Through such a work-study role, students of multiple backgrounds could learn about the installation and upkeep of artwork, research and academic writing, and the processes involved with curating exhibitions.

One such student who has already done work for the School is Jocelyn Harrie, an undergraduate student in the UND Honors Program.

“Although these are all separate pieces made by separate artists, they come together to capture a moment in time—an era teetering on the brink of war,” said Harrie, who worked as a curatorial assistant in the SMHS in summer 2019. “Each piece represents a boundary being pushed, a new art style being invented.”

The same should be said of the state’s only medical school: by pushing itself beyond the typical academic and institutional boundaries, and making the art integral to the training of health providers, the SMHS is not only advancing medical education, but the liberal arts education students come to universities such as UND to experience.

“School of Paris: Selected Works on Paper, Published in Paris circa 1934-39” will be on exhibit in the School of Medicine & Health Sciences Art Gallery through April 17, 2020.

About the author:

Brian James Schill is the assistant director of the Office of Alumni and Community Relations at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences.