From an Extraordinary Gift came an Exhibition – Jim Dine: American Icon

The Snite Museum of Art and the University of Notre Dame were honored to announce the exhibition Jim Dine: American Icon, which was on view from August to December 2021 at the Museum. Made possible by the artist’s exceptional gift of a collection of two hundred and thirty-eight prints, covering nearly every aspect of Dine’s repertoire from 1969 to the present, the exhibition drew from the collection to highlight every significant facet of the artist’s renowned body of work. 

Artist Jim Dine among his prints. Photo credit: Snite Museum of Art

Among the most distinguished figures in Contemporary art, Dine has been at the forefront of the American avant-garde since the Pop Art movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Born in Cincinnati, Dine attended the Art Academy of Cincinnati before transferring to Ohio University. Immediately following graduation, he moved to New York, fell in with Claes Oldenburg and Alan Kaprow, and participated in numerous Happenings in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His work was a vital presence in most of the Pop movement’s defining exhibitions. In contrast to the cool remove of Oldenburg’s and Andy Warhol’s work, and Roy Lichtenstein’s link to popular imagery, Dine focused on a series of icons that often held personal significance: images of tools, the heart, the “Venus de Milo,” and Pinocchio, among others, played a critical role in his iconography. 

Venus and the Powdered Stone, 1993. Jim Dine (American, b. 1935). Etching and carborundum with hand coloring on Folio Antique with cut edges. Gift of Jim Dine. 2019.016.156. Photo credit: Snite Museum of Art.

Best known for his paintings and sculpture, Dine is also among the most prodigious and prolific printmakers of his time, often combining techniques to a highly inventive end. The earliest works in the Museum’s gift are lithographs and etchings from the late 1960s and notable woodcuts from the 1980s.

I think of things that I want to do and I dream at night about what I want to do. As I have said, so often, the conceptualization of making a print is no different for me than making a sculpture or a painting or a drawing. This isn’t a minor craft. It is just another way to express an image and to express myself and also to have the pleasure of doing it on copper, on stone or with wood.” – Jim Dine

Youth and the Maiden, 1988. Jim Dine (American, b. 1935). Triptych printed in woodcut, heliorelief woodcut, soft ground etching, soit bite etching and drypoint, with hand-painting in acrylic by artist on Arches cover white paper. Gift of Jim Dine. 2019.016.056. Photo credit: Snite Museum of Art.

Dating to 1875, the University of Notre Dame art collections are among the most acclaimed in the United States. Dine’s transformative gift is among the largest and most distinguished presented to the University by a single artist; it both increases the Museum’s holdings in Contemporary art and significantly contributes to its highly-regarded collection of works on paper. 

Jim Dine’s Pinnochios

I see the Pinocchio story in a much bigger way than just Collodi’s morality tale. Not so literal, certainly not right or wrong. I see it as a way to put the “personal” into the universal figure, a known mythological object-boy.” – Jim Dine

Pinocchio, 1998. Jim Dine (American, b.1935). Iris print, etching and handcoloring on Somerset Satin White, cut and deckle edges. Gift of Jim Dine. 2019.016.201. Photo credit: Snite Museum of Art.

Pinocchio does not appear in Dine’s repertoire until the 1980s, even though he had connected with the story forty years earlier through the Disney film. The dark side of the tale equally fascinated and terrified him. A seemingly charming and innocent subject, Pinocchio, for Dine, elicits complex and personal emotions. The tale contains a mischievous boy, the transformation of self, and even the father’s role as a sculptor of dreams. Dine identified with both Pinocchio, who represents himself as a boy, and also Geppetto, whose handiwork (like Dine’s) created the puppet and who represents Dine the maker, artist, and creator in his mature years. Unlike the static nature and frontality of the heart, Venus, or bathrobe, the puppet is animated and can assume various poses to explore. Since childhood, Dine has had a personal connection to the image. 

[ ] Various Martial Moves, 2009. Jim Dine (American, b. 1935). Composite five color lithographs on white Rives BFK. Gift of Jim Dine. 2019.016.157.002. Photo Credit: Snite Museum of Art.
[ ] Various Martial Moves, 2009. Jim Dine (American, b. 1935). Composite five color lithographs on white Rives BFK. Gift of Jim Dine. 2019.016.157.003. Photo Credit: Snite Museum of Art.

When I was six years old, my mother took me to see the Disney Pinocchio film. It has haunted my heart forever! This talking stick became a real human after an eternity of tests given to his then wooden semblance of a soul. Geppetto and the author, Carlo Collodi, gave the boy the chance to come to consciousness and therefore join us in this veil of tears. His poor burned feet, his misguided judgment, his constant lying, his temporary donkey ears . . . it all adds up to make the sum of him.” – Jim Dine

Jim Dine’s Hearts

I consider myself a Romantic artist. And my romance is often about the fact that I am an artist. I am romantic about the way I put down red, for example.” – Jim Dine

Rancho Woodcut Heart, 1982. Jim Dine (American, b. 1935). Woodcut. Gift of Jim Dine. 2019.016.109. Photo credit: Snite Museum of Art.

Dine’s heart imagery is perhaps his most well-known and, as seems appropriate, beloved. It appears first as part of a 1966 set design but has origins in commercial, dime-store imagery of the period. It quickly became a symbol of emotion and the Pop Art movement. Perhaps even more than Robert Indiana’s LOVE variations and Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe series, Dine’s hearts have become the icon for Pop Art with dimensions extending well beyond an art-historical phenomenon and its audiences. Extraordinarily, an image that arose from popular culture was transformed by Dine to again penetrate popular culture in terms that are vast.

[Guadalupe] from Nine Hearts from Nikolaistrasse, 2009. Jim Dine (American, b. 1935). Full color digital and copperplate drypoint. Gift of Jim Dine. 2019.016.154.003. Photo credit: Snite Museum of Art.

The renown of heart imagery brought the artist widespread international acclaim early on, its popularity traveling well beyond the art world’s boundaries into popular culture. The heart image even touched Dine’s family life, as evidenced when one of his young sons innocently proclaimed that his dad was in love because “he was always making hearts.” Although many artists can and have been overwhelmed by the success of a given image within their repertoire, Dine took control of it, respected its power and prominence, and successfully interwove it into the width and depth of his work at large.

Two Hands – Heart Eye [Left Panel, Heart], 1986. Jim Dine (American, b.1935). Etching with hand coloring. Gift of Jim Dine. 2019.016.226.a. Photo credit: Snite Museum of Art.

Engaging with the Work

I have a big ambition for the work. I have a big ambition for the work to live outside itself. I have no conceit that everything I make is a masterpiece. I don’t think in those terms, but I do want to speak in a big way about big metaphysical themes that are only speakable through making them.” – Jim Dine

A key motivation for Dine’s gift to the Museum was his intention that the Museum’s affiliation with the University of Notre Dame would offer meaningful opportunities for students and faculty to engage with and study his work. Over the course of the exhibition, classes frequently visited the show, and the show was even featured in a fall family event at the Snite. When the Snite moves into its new facility, the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame, pieces of Dine’s work will be on permanent display on a rotating basis to allow for maximum exposure of the collection while paying special attention to conservation measures required to preserve the prints, which are delicate in nature. More than a legacy for Dine, his gift is a resource to reach and inform a broad and diverse audience over time.

Photo credit: Snite Museum of Art.
Photo credit: Snite Museum of Art.
Photo Credit: Snite Museum of Art.
Photo credit: Snite Museum of Art.

January 6, 2022