MEDIEVAL TO METAL - The Art & Evolution of The Guitar 

Saginaw Art Museum Showcases Expansive Exhibition Celebrating the Artistry & Design of the Guitar

    icon Aug 24, 2017
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“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”

― Victor Hugo

As the chill of Fall starts to ripen the textures of our physical landscape with a tapestry of color, The Saginaw Art Museum is cranking up the volume and turning up the heat with an ambitious exhibition showcasing and celebrating the evolution and artistic developing of the guitar.

“Medieval to Metal: The Art & Evolution of The Guitar” is a new touring exhibition that The Saginaw Art Museum will be hosting from September 29, 2017 to January 9, 2018 in their Special Exhibitions Wing.   Developed by The National GUITAR Museum (NGM), it will feature 40 instruments, ranging from the intricately inlaid Moorish oud and six-foot long Renaissance theorbo to the modern Italian design of the Eko all the way up to the transparent acrylic body of California's BC Rich guitars.

Spanning centuries of design and craftsmanship, the exhibition takes visitors through the history of an object that is one of the most recognizable items on the planet.  Art and music transcend cultural boundaries while the most recognized musical instrument – the guitar – has influenced culture beyond music. 

Through the years the guitar and its shape have been integral elements for artists such as Vermeer and Picasso, and today they are incorporated into the advertisement of everything from clothes to cars. “It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t been affected by the guitar, whether as players or just fans of all types of music,” according to HP Newquist, executive director of the National Guitar Museum.

As the guitar’s ancestors evolved over centuries from the earliest ouds and lutes, guitar makers experimented with shapes, materials, and accessories, seeking the perfect blend of beauty and sound. Luthiers continue to alter guitar design in their endless quest for a fresh aesthetic and sound that fuels creative synergy and musical innovation.

 “Over the past several years, interest in the guitar as an icon has grown significantly,” adds Newquist.  “The guitar has been a signature element of world culture for more than 500 years; and now visitors can explore the design history and artistry that has played a major role in the guitar’s evolution."

Consider the cultural significance of the guitar. Just as American guitar designers of the 1960s departed radically from the iconic hourglass shape, street-corner guitarists led the protest movement that challenged the status quo.  “It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t been affected by the guitar, whether as players or just fans of all types of music. And while this may be apocryphal,” Newquist notes, “it’s a widely held belief that the two most recognizable man-made shapes on the planet are those of the Coca-Cola bottle and the electric guitar.”

The National Guitar Museum is the first museum in the United States dedicated to the history, evolution and cultural impact of the guitar. Its touring exhibitions, launched in 2011, will be installed in over two dozen different cities before becoming the basis of The National Guitar Museum in a permanent home - the location of which will be announced in 2018. The organization was founded in 2009.

And while guitars hit the core note in this exhibition comprised of 40 iconic stringed instruments, the Medieval to Metal exhibition also strikes the chord with the visual legacy of the guitar by including life-size photorealistic illustrations of historically important guitar designs from noted artist Gerard Huerta, in addition to featuring 20 photographs of acclaimed musicians and their guitars from Neil Zlozower, one of the world’s premier concert photographers.

Some of the guitars and photos featured for this component of the exhibition will include those of guitar legends George Harrison, Chrissie Hynde, Ritchie Blackmore, Ace Frehley, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Johnny Winter, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Pat Metheny, Les Paul, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, and Slash, to name but a few.

Additionally, according to Sarah Trew, Associate Curator at the Saginaw Art Museum, Medieval to Metal, will open the prism even larger by also bringing sound to life as translated through the visuals arts with an ancillary exhibition entitled Album Art & Artistry that will be featured the Artisan Wing from October 6, 2017 until January 12, 2018.

Featuring a number of uniquely designed and original album covers drawn from the personal collection of local collectors, from their humble beginnings serving as protectors for fragile contents, the evolution of the album cover has proven that the music industry is about more than just the music.

“Conceived by Alex Steinweiss in 1938, album covers have found their place of importance in both music and art history, often defining how the consumer looks at and perceives an album,” explains Sarah.  “As technology offers us new types of media to convey sound, album art evolves to meet these modern vehicles. Since the gatefold covers of vinyl records, to jewel cases and even digital icons, album artwork assists recording artists in the telling of their stories and the conveyance of their messages.”

“Aiding in this progression from functionality to beacon of artistic expression, important stylistic aspects are often overlooked,” she continues. “This exhibition aims to highlight important moments in the progression of album covers through the dual lenses of art history and design. These markers are important in this evolution as they signify developments in the music industry while also reflecting societal change.”

Some of the album covers featured will include Cheap Thrills by Robert Crumb, The Rolling Stones’ Upon Their Satanic Majesties Request, which was a 3-d Lenticular transforming process created by British artist Michael Cooper, the original Jethro Tull ‘Thick as a Brick’ ‘Newspaper’ cover, which was created by Roy Eldridge, and the original Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover with inserts created for The Beatles by Peter Blake.

“We will be featuring a Member Exclusive Opening Reception on September 29th from 6-8 pm and then also featuring a Collector’s Corner on October 4th that will start at 6 pm,” she adds. “On October 11th we will feature a Lecture Series on Guitar with Brad Deroche from 6-8 pm that is based off the ‘Where We Live’ mural; and we will also be doing things with Major Chords for Minors and stage a few jam sessions here at the Museum that are being developed as we speak.”

“All of us at The Saginaw Art Museum are very excited to be featuring this exhibition,” concludes Sarah. “Not only is it very different from what we have in our permanent collection, but the guitar also features in many art historical pieces, so it ties in with that level while also being a very popular instrument. With everything that we have scheduled around this exhibition, I think it will be very popular and bring more people to visit us than normally might be the case.”

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