Director’s Message – February 29, 2024

Dear Friends,A favorite art story is Marcel Duchamp‘s transformation of the Mona Lisa.In 1919, he took an image of Leonardo’s beloved lady and embellished it, adding a delicate beard and moustache and a new title – the letters L.H.O.O.Q. – underneath.

While the gender-bending facial hair is clever, it’s the lettering that is the stroke of genius. L.H.O.O.Q is gramogram. Pronounced in his native French these letters form a sentence, Elle a chaud au cul, which translates roughly to She has a hot ass. While millions had gazed upon this iconic face, who, pray tell, had ever contemplated her backside? And what, exactly, had Duchamp done through this modest yet shocking intervention? Made his viewer giggle, or gasp, or realize that there was more to Mona than her beguiling smile. Maybe he went deeper and helped one think about the nature of idolatry, and preciousness, and why we even look at art of the past in the first place. He plucked a 416-year-old painting from its distant Renaissance day and gave it a new satirical life in his own post World War I era, a time of devastation, shock, and profound questioning. He took something old and gave it present-day relevance.A favorite work in Hill-Stead’s collection is Edgar Degas’s The Tub. A young contemporary artist named Meredith Maher recently asked if she could use it to create her own artwork, converting the imagery into puzzle pieces from which to build her own version of a bather.Intrigued by her vision, we granted permission and are now delighted to share the results. Watch her video below, entitled The Muse. It is less than 2 minutes long, and worth every second of your time.

Great art has the power to do this – to inspire us to do something. It could be making your own artwork, or so much more. Take, for instance, one of today’s artistic It Girls, Hokusai’s The Great Wave, which could inspire you to… take rowing lessons, read Daniel James Brown’s book The Boys in the Boat, watch the new television series Shōgun, paint your bedroom that marvelous blue, breathe deeply and carry on when the storm comes… the possibilities are endless. And the only requirements are that you get your fanny in front of an artwork and open your mind and heart to what the artist has created.

After that, you are free to run, or, better, leap with it.


Dr. Anna Swinbourne
Executive Director & CEO