Three out of four dentists agree: Angus Trumble’s new book, “A Brief History of the Smile,” does not prevent gingivitis. It does, however, tacitly endorse good oral hygiene by showcasing famous smiles from Mona Lisa to the present.
For Trumble, curator of paintings and sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art, “A Brief History of the Smile” is a departure from the esoteric articles and exhibition catalogues that are the norm for his occupation. Rather than these catalogues, which he said “no one buys and no one ever reads,” Trumble has produced a book that has been praised for its accessibility and humor, as well as its intellectual merit.
“It’s not strictly an academic book,” said associate professor of art history Timothy Barringer, who has read select chapters. “It’s a work of great wit and eloquence. It demonstrates that Angus is a public intellectual.”
Trumble, who succeeded Malcolm Warner as curator of the British Art Center in May 2003, said the inspiration for this project — his first commercial book — was a lecture he delivered to a conference of dentists in Australia three years ago about evolving notions of beauty over time.
The book examines different kinds of smiling in a variety of historical contexts, transcending art and history to incorporate psychological, physiological and sociological concepts, he said.
“The concept was never to be a historical narrative,” Trumble said. “[The book] was based on the world of art, but wanted to stray outside [that].”
Published in hardcover in January 2004, a paperback version of “Brief History” will be available in February 2005. Trumble said his next commercial work, which will be released in late 2006 or early 2007, is going to be about fingers.
Whether he is writing about smiles or fingers, British Art Center Director Amy Meyers said Trumble’s curiosity about the world and his attention to humanity as portrayed by art comes through in all his work.
“He takes on broad questions about the nature of the human being in relation to art and culture,” she said.
Meyers said it was Trumble’s curiosity, combined with his work in the field of 19th century British art — an area the Center boasts a “strong hold” in — and his “deep knowledge” of the collections themselves, that convinced her to select him from a pool of applicants to assume the coveted curatorial posts.
Before Trumble arrived at Yale, he worked as a curator for international art at a public art gallery in Adelaide, Australia, where he said the gallery’s strong collection of British art made him an “accidental” British art specialist.
Barringer said he was so impressed by one of Trumble’s exhibitions — a collection of British Victorian paintings virtually unknown in the United Kingdom and the United States entitled “Love and Death” — that he urged Trumble to consider the post.
Shortly after arriving at Yale, Barringer said Trumble proved he was the right choice for the job when he put together a critically acclaimed exhibition of the work of little-known Romantic Era painter James Ward in less than one year.
“Ward is not a figure everyone has heard of,” Barringer said, “but [Trumble] persuaded everyone that Ward is an underestimated figure.”
Trumble worked with Andrea Wolk GRD ’08 on the exhibition, which he said was easy to put together because it was almost entirely drawn from the British Art Center’s collection. He said the exhibition was especially enjoyable for him because he relishes surprising visitors of the gallery with relatively unknown artists like Ward.
“My goal is to draw attention to ideas and artists that may be overlooked,” he said.
Trumble said his next exhibit, slated to be displayed in the spring of 2007, is a show on the Edwardians — artists who worked in England between 1901 and 1914.
Cassandra Albinson, a curator at the British Art Center who began working with Trumble about a month ago, said there are “two strands” of strength in Trumble’s exhibitions — history and aesthetics — that make him an important figure in the curatorial world.
But Trumble has added more than just paintings to the gallery. According to Barringer, Trumble has enlivened the British Art Center’s atmosphere.
“He has added a dimension of wit and sprezzatura,” Barringer said.