Have you recently ventured into the Contemporary Gallery at the NBMAA? Wondering what the futuristic sound-dome is all about? LIsten in as the artist-mastermind behind The Road Not Taken, Jason Huff, and Curatorial Intern, Emily Sesko, discuss  the work and muse about art and life.

Emily Sesko (ES): A few of your projects “zoom in” on an interaction between literature and algorithmic computer functions. How would you say your experiences with these projects, like “AutoSummarize” or “The Road Not Taken” have affected your perspective on literature, or have they not?

Jason Huff (JH): I think about literature differently now. I keep trying to imagine the 30 million or more books on Google Books, plus all of the other texts on sites like Project Gutenberg, and it’s overwhelming. When I created “AutoSummarize,” I was interested in Markov string generators and how computer algorithms could learn English-language grammars. I was curious to find the algorithms’ limits.

In “AutoSummarize,” I use Microsoft Word’s summary algorithm to create the summaries. It was absurd to me that software engineers had built a tool that would let users summarize any body of text to 1% of its original length. (Maybe it makes sense for business documents, but I’m still not convinced.) When I started using Word to summarize entire books, the results were unexpected. Suddenly, I was reminded of all the Cliffs Notes I read in high school, of classic books, only these summaries were even more succinct — ridiculously so. The summaries felt like parodies of the originals, but also true to the way reading and writing has changed over the years.

Microsoft added AutoSummarize to Word in 1997. Each new version includes some upgraded version of the function. There are some basic rules that apply to the summaries; word count, capitalization, etc. Outside of those rules, the algorithm is a bit of a mystery. Making the work was my way of trying to understand two things: one, how Word’s AutoSummarize function produces its summaries, and two, how an algorithm can tell stories.

To me, it is fascinating that algorithms are making content decisions. It’s not a big secret; everyone knows that algorithms power things like Google Search and grammar-correcting word-processing programs. What is interesting is how often people take these complicated equations for granted. If we start to think of them as authors of content — or co-authors — that collaborate with us to generate meaning and poetry, things start to get a lot more interesting. “The Road Not Taken” really points to this idea. It asks viewers to pause and think about the millions of other people and entities who co-create search suggestions, including the algorithm itself, their own personal search histories and current location notwithstanding. The scale of conditional factors is really tremendous, and the way the resulting prosaic language (in the case of Google search suggestions) is presented is meant to feel like a default choice. It’s designed to be seen and clicked, but not really thought about. It’s like Google saying, “Follow the easy paths. We know you like them.”

So I think there is a second author hiding in plain sight, and remixing not only our very interesting historic literature, but also the everyday junk language we use to search the Web. I think phenomena like Google search suggestions are just as influential to pop culture as a pop-novelist whose writing reflects a particular moment. Our own everyday story is being told back to us in these fractured web- and software interfaces all the time. It is its own kind of literature. Continue Reading »


Pulse of the Party

This post comes to us from Rena Tobey, Curatorial Intern.

Wedding Feast, 1953.  Frank di Gioia (1900-1981).  Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in. Gift of Mrs. Elisha Cooper, 1954.03.

Wedding Feast, 1953. Frank di Gioia (1900-1981). Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in. Gift of Mrs. Elisha Cooper, 1954.03.

Venture into our café and look for a painting that will take you to a whole new world of fun.  Wedding Feast by Frank di Gioia puts you right in the pulse of the party—the noise, the hilarity, the free-flowing wine.  Di Gioia painted what he knew, the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City where he grew up. Continue Reading »

Hopper’s Self Portrait (1925-30) is a typical example of Hopper’s self-representation, which was often moody, lonely, and somewhat unflattering.

This post comes to us from Emily Sesko, Curatorial Intern

I remember being nine years old, packed into the car for a trip to Boston to see an exhibit of Edward Hopper paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts. My dad was excited, always in search of an opportunity to see a few good Hoppers. We’ve been all over the place in search of Hoppers, sometimes on purpose, other times finding ourselves on an impromptu Hopper-hunt. The hunt brought us to NBMAA a few years ago, around Christmas time.  There was just one hanging upstairs in one of the galleries—Abbot’s House, from ca. 1926—and my dad was thrilled. A Hopper outpost, just twenty minutes away from home.

During his eighty-five-year lifetime, Hopper was not an especially prolific artist, producing fewer than 400 total works before his death. Nevertheless, he is one of America’s best-recognized painters, and was one of the bestselling artists at the height of his career between 1925 and 1945. What did it take to become one of America’s beloved realists? Continue Reading »

NBMAA Caption Contest


This August, we’re challenging our visitors and readers to submit a creative caption

for Lulu Delacre’s illustration for Senor Cat’s Romance. Fill out a caption card and drop it in the box hanging in the gallery or simply write in the comment section below. Don’t forget to leave us your contact information so we can send you a free 

year-long family membership if you are the winner. Take a look below to see who you’re up against!

Continue Reading »

The Blasted Tree

This post comes to us from Rena Tobey, Curatorial Intern.

The long summer days are here, and your thoughts may have turned to spending some time in nature, sketchbook in hand.  Another alternative is to visit the Henry & Sharon Martin Gallery at the Museum.  Here, you can immerse in nature as close by as New Haven and as far away as the California.

In the 1800s, the Hudson River School artists traveled to their favorite scenic spots in the Catskill, Adirondack Mountains and beyond, seeking out the same scenery we enjoy today.  Over the winter months in their studios, they transformed their sketches into luminous landscapes that had come to represent America and its abundant natural resources.

Thomas Cole, the founding father of the Hudson River School, imbues the land with even more power.  He inserted symbols and figures that represented philosophical ideas he hoped would sway his viewers’ beliefs and actions.

Cole came to the United States at 17 from industrialized England.  He knew first-hand how modernization and urbanization could devastate open space and pollute cities.  When he made his first trip up New York’s Hudson River in 1825, he was awed by the vast beauty of the land that was on the cusp of change.  He believed Americans were at a decision-point.  What would the future be like in this land?

What the artist actually saw and what he chose to paint present the different choices.  In 1807, the steamboat was invented, changing the navigation of rivers.  Now, timetables, not the wind and tides, dictated travel.  Maybe you’ve taken a daytrip during the weekend to break the routine of your life.  Two hundred years ago, people were no different.  They seized the opportunity to get out of New York City and into nature—for a picnic, a stroll in the woods—and still get back home the same day.

The Clove, Catskills, 1826.  Thomas Cole (1801-1848).  Oil on canvas, 25 ¼ x 35 1/8 in.  Charles F. Smith Fund, 1945.22.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848), The Clove, Catskills, 1826, Oil on canvas, 25 ¼ x 35 1/8 in. Charles F. Smith Fund, 1945.22.

Continue Reading »

This post comes to us from Carolyn Nims, Education Assistant. 

Insert image to line up with first paragraph:

Brown Gillespie (b. 1953), Milky Way, 2011, Wood, custom programmed LEDs, acrylic on canvas, 53 x 50 in. New Britain Museum of American Art, Gift of Mary Gillespie.

Brown Gillespie (b. 1953), Milky Way, 2011, Wood, custom programmed LEDs, acrylic on canvas, 53 x 50 in. New Britain Museum of American Art, Gift of Mary Gillespie.

Milky Way (2010) is part of Brown Gillespie’s ongoing project, Light Visions. This cutting edge contemporary artwork consists of an abstract acrylic painting on canvas recessed in a frame set with light emitting diode (LED) lights all along the inside. The LED lights are a continuous alternating series of red, green, and blue, which are programmed to fade in and out in varying patterns and combinations. The effects are visually and intellectually stimulating. As the lighting color combinations change, so do the colors of the acrylic painting. Usually, when viewing a painting under white light, the color of the paint is static. We assume that once a pigment is set, so is the color. We consider color as a constant within a work of art, while other aspects are more subjective. However, the LED lights play with color mixing principles to show how mutable color can be, in relation to light and other colors. The viewer may wonder, Why do these colors change? This artwork bids us to question the rules that govern color, making it worthwhile to be at least familiar with some color theory, in particular the color mixing principles that Gillespie plays with.

Continue Reading »

This post comes to us from Sarah Solberg, Curatorial Intern

“Everything vanishes, falls apart doesn’t it? Nature is always the same but nothing in her that appears to us lasts. Our art must render the thrill of her permanence, along with her elements, the appearance of all her changes. It must give us a taste of her eternity.”

– Paul Cézanne

Jane Bunker (b. 1945) Illumination, ca. 2012. Oil on canvas, 72 in. x 60 in. Collection of the artist

Jane Bunker (b. 1945)
Illumination, ca. 2012. Oil on canvas, 72 in. x 60 in.
Collection of the artist

When viewing Jane Bunker’s work, you are given the opportunity to share in the way that she and many others experience the world around them. Bunker was diagnosed as a child with myopia, or (plainly) extreme nearsightedness. Although her vision has been corrected, it still deeply influences her work and the way that she sees her surroundings. Having personal experience with myopia, I can attest that she has captured the distorted world where I find myself every time that I remove my glasses. Sharing in her experience, I immediately connected with her work. Continue Reading »