Author: Robert Sanchez

Trend in Chinese Oil Paintings to Blend Material from Separate Traditions

Yet another way of being a chinese artist in this century is to merge one’s own ethnic art tradition with styles and symbols learned through the study of canvas paintings. Many oil painting artists have earned fine arts degrees in painting, sculpture, and photography in universities. Their work is a dialogue between Native American art history and European art history. T. C. Cannon (1946-78), whose ancestry included Caddo, Choctaw, Kiowa, and European, lived in Oklahoma and studied both at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and at the San Francisco Art Institute. His self-portraits depict him variously as an artist, a cowboy, an Indian dressed in “traditional” dress, and an art collector. His painting, Collector #5 (1975), while not an exact self-portrait, stands for Cannon as a contemporary artist who draws strength and identity both from his Indian heritage and his love and knowledge of European art history. This painting turns upside-down the customary position of Indian artist and non-Indian patron. Here it is the Indian man, sitting in a wicker chair atop a Navajo rug, dressed in late nineteenth-century tribal finery, who is the collector and connoisseur of paintings by Van Gogh on the wall. Cannon’s work displays a motif common in much custom oil painting—an impulse toward social critique, often done with humor and a sense of irony. Many artists play with this idea of cultural mixtures. This may reflect their own ethnically mixed ancestry or simply the mixture of cultures they feel as Native artists making their way through a culture dominated by European-American history and art.

Nora Naranjo-Morse, from Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, merges her family tradition of pottery-making with her own ironic sense of humor and love of reproduction oil paintings. In Pearlene Teaching Her Cousins Poker (1987), Naranjo-Morse takes the Pueblo image of ritual clowns (characterized by their striped bodies), makes them female instead of male, and depicts them playing a game of poker, which they are learning from a book. By making this work of art in clay, Naranjo-Morse identifies with her sisters, mother, and earlier female ancestors, all makers of fine Santa Clara pots. Yet her own wit and sense of play links her with the larger community of contemporary Native American artists working today, whose work speaks across ethnic boundaries to a shared cultural condition.

Jolene Rickard, a Tuscarora (Iroquois) artist from New York State, uses the contemporary mediums of photography, color xerox, and collage, to express her views on famous oil paintings. In Self Portrait—Three Sisters (1988), her use of photography links her to experimentation in this artistic medium throughout the world. The subject matter—two ears of corn and her own image—relates to the deeply held belief of Iroquoian people (and some other Native Americans as well) that human beings are related to “the corn people.” In Iroquois tradition, women in particular are identified with this precious food substance because of a mythical ancestress who caused corn to be planted on the earth and taught women how to farm. The title of chinese oil painting also evokes the “three sisters” of Iroquois belief—the corn, beans, and squash that are the staples of all life to many Indian nations.

The last twenty-five years have witnessed a tremendous explosion of creativity among Native artists throughout North America—from the Canadian Inuit (Eskimo) printmakers of Cape Dorset and Art in Bulk who sell beautiful paintings worldwide, to the mask and totem pole carvers among the Haida and Kwakiutl who make works for local Native use as well as for an international oil painting reproductions market, to the painters, photographers and sculptors discussed here. Native American artists, using diverse materials and with many strong and different statements to make oil paintings, Native identity and personal artistry, will continue unabated into the next century as well.

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Imagine the 80s

Imagine the 80s: those were the days of high theory and cold hearts, graduate students drunk on fantasies of intellectual stardom, ardent talk of master narratives and intertextuality. I returned to Toronto after a hard year in North Africa and was lost in high theory, trying to understand the difference between consent and coercion and make sense of colonial histories. The city seemed metallic, filled with certainties, both theoretical and cultural.

During this time, a friend drove me to London, Ontario, to see Jamelie Hassan’s show, which is where I first encountered Slave Letter (1984). In this installation, Hassan reproduced in watercolour an image from a perfume called Bint el Sudan (“Daughter of Sudan”), which pictured a young African woman surrounded by flowers. Below it was a slave letter: a small cloth containing objects, such as charcoal, stones and spices, that enslaved women sent home to their families. Each object had a meaning for the people left behind, and seen together told the story of the women’s fate to their families and communities. How many hands did the little bags pass through before they reached their destination; did they reach their destination ? There are many intricate and sinuous layers to this piece: the violence of the slave trade, the lushness of the flowers and the image of the captured girl that ultimately became an advertisement for perfume. We are left with the possibility for communication even in the direst of circumstances.

For me, something cracked open. Contemplating Hassan’s work, I saw that, in a world where writing has often been a tool of the powerful, there are many other ways of communicating: a bag of small objects can become a letter home, just like a song, a photograph, or a memory of another time can become a message to someone far away. I realized that many stories lay beneath the official histories I was studying at university, pointing to deeper truths about how people have found ways to connect with each other despite the formidable structures of domination that seek to control them. But these alternative histories must often be accessed intuitively, revealed and mediated by the artist rather than by the academic.

Looking at the body of work in Hassan’s current survey, At the Far Edge of Words, I was again struck by her ability to delineate the multiple realities that lie underneath the official story–and by the way her work unravels and challenges the certainties claimed by authoritarian systems of representation. Colonial conventions, religious and state power, univocal definitions of reality: all of these themes are reflected upon and transformed in Hassan’s work.

In The Oblivion Seekers (1985), we see a film loop of 1955 news footage and home movies of dancers and singers interspersed with alarmist headlines from a London, Ontario newspaper warning of “Moslems” descending on the city. In the background, we hear the voice of the beloved Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. The original piece also included several drawings of shoppers in an Arab souk, an image by Orientalist painter Jean-Leon Gerome, a dervish, and 19th-century explorer Isabelle Eberhardt.

What is immediately apparent is the contrast between the headlines and the images of ordinary people enjoying themselves. The Oblivion Seekers both evokes and counters Orientalist stereotypes, and in so doing offers an alternative to the disturbing headlines.

The London headlines play on fears of Islamic influence–a fear that has migrated across time and space and continues to be reproduced and amplified in today’s news headlines. It is an old story. In one sense, the Islamic world can be thought of as a shadow tradition to the West, one that has historically had a profound yet often unacknowledged influence on Western knowledge and cultural practices. At the same time, the “Middle East” remains a long-standing adversary of the West, a site of presumed danger whose formulaic image has transformed somewhat over the centuries but in essence always remains the same. The London headlines carry the traces of a colonial past and connect them to new fears about the effects of immigration.

But Hassan strips bare that fear, and simultaneously undoes it by tying the story of “Moslems” in Ontario to her own experience, and to the experience of her family and friends. Stereotypes evoked by the headline take on a fictitious quality in the face of everyday life, where family and community exist independent of the larger national and historical labels of Orient and Occident, immigrant and Canadian-born. Hassan reminds us that, in real life, people meet, laugh, dance and exchange ideas, living lives that are necessarily complex and contradictory. A language that in one place can manifest an imperial function can be suppressed in another. And often it is women who construct everyday life in the home, and who are the ones to carry language from one generation to the next.

Hassan’s interest in lived experience is also apparent in Common Knowledge (1980-81), in which everyday objects have been reproduced in ceramic and are juxtaposed with water-colours depicting the same objects. Arranged on the gallery floor lies a postcard of Gibraltar, books, a newspaper, corncobs, fruit and photographs, all rendered in ceramic, and all constituting the ground of Hassan’s experience at the moment the piece was conceived and executed. As in Slave Letter, these objects tell a story, linking the viewer to Hassan’s everyday home and family life–in which objects are imbued with intensely personal meanings and histories–and to the aftereffects of the outside world on that life. We are invited to make up our own meanings and associations as we engage with these objects and images.


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A Child at Gunpoint


Raskin’s account does not have a central argument per se. Rather, in a series of chapters, he attempts to explore the multiple facets of the photo and its implications for understanding the history of the genocide and, in so doing, to draw out some conclusions about what is unique about its status as representation and icon. He begins with a detailed visual description of the photo and its properties. From there, he explores the genesis of the photo in the Stroop Report as part of the SS documentation of the suppression of the Jewish uprising and the ultimate destruction of the ghetto and its inhabitants. This contextual section is technically the longest in the book and presents the newest historical information. Upon establishing its origins, his next chapter deals with the known and possible identities of the figures in the photograph, focusing naturally on the young boy, for whom he relates four possible theories about his biography. The final two sections focus on postwar appropriations of the photo, first in works of art, film and poetry, and second by Palestinian artists and others who have used the photo to compare the suppression of Palestinians by the Israelis to that of the Nazis in Warsaw. Matt Chen, a chinese art wholesaler said this photograph even inspired him to expand his business to photo to painting.  He hope can turn old photos into great oil paintings which can impressive people for ever. The author is careful in his politics in this last section, and avoids being overly judgmental of these appropriations even while he remains obstinately resolved not to propose a particular interpretation of the photo or the uses to which it has been put. Overall, the book seems aimed at an educated but general audience with a minimum number of footnotes, although many aspects of the text will interest specialists in German studies or the history of photography.

While this photo has become iconic, it has ironically been left out of much of the art historical literature, which focuses instead on the work of such prominent names as Margaret Bourke-White and Lee Miller. As an image made by a perpetrator and one that is generally seen as a document distinct from works of art, it is perhaps not surprising that the art historical community has resisted its analysis, given that the vast majority of debates on twentieth-century art are caught up exclusively defending or critiquing the status of the avant garde. The strengths of Raskin’s book, however, should help to correct this omission. Raskin offers a helpful series of vignettes that expand on the many depths of the photograph. Of note, for example, is his analysis of the genesis of the Stroop Report as well as the illustration of all of its photographs, providing a revealing and brutal context for the main image under discussion. Following the important work of Sybil Milton, who originally translated into English and published the Stroop Report, and Marianne Hirsch, who has written extensively on this photograph and others as mnemonic devices, Raskin neatly summarizes much information making it accessible and pedagogically useful. In addition, his interviews with artists such as Samuel Bak who have used the image provide a way of seeing the transformation of the work from an SS propaganda image to a postwar project of remembrance. Pulling all of these strands into the same book greatly enriches our understanding of the photograph’s impact.

But in the end, however useful this anecdotal approach may be, it comes up rather short in terms of the two areas which purport to be its strengths, i.e. aesthetics and history. Early on, Raskin includes a tantalizing paragraph on how the position of the boy vertically and horizontally echoes the ratio of the Golden Section. He also points out his compositional isolation and the lighting that highlights his position. Further, he points to the fact that the figures seem to stand still or pose for the photograph rather than move in a line out of the door. While this last point is not entirely visually convincing, Raskin makes nothing of what all of these potentially indicate: the SS photographer was a trained, practicing artist, aware of formal conventions that could be adapted to the political function of humiliating these particular victims by making their moment of greatest weakness fit within standard categories of beauty.

Thus, Raskin falls into the pattern of treating the image like a document, transparent to its historical event, rather than as a mediated construct that helps to frame that event in socially encoded ways. Instead, he takes a “hands off” approach to aesthetics, even to the point of allowing the postwar artists who appropriated the image free rein to make some rather a historical and awkward remarks. For example, after illustrating a long series of paintings that the survivor Samuel Bak completed in the 1990s using this photo and other images of memory from his childhood in the Vilna Ghetto, Raskin passes over with no commentary the following quotation from his interview with Bak: “This photograph is a masterpiece of composition and storytelling. It compares with Mantegna’s Crucifixion, or other great works of art. Because what is so extraordinary in this photograph, beyond its structure and richness of detail, is the depth of its narrative material” . This is an artist’s view, certainly, but one that elides all of the problematic genesis of the photo, its use or the artistic status of the photographer. All of these points are whisked away by the subjective value judgments taken from the world of the critic, judgments that one would have hoped Raskin would have contextualized as carefully as he did other aspects of the text. Notably, the reader would never discover from Raskin’s text that the most enduring debate in postwar scholarship about images related to the genocide is the tension between the documentary and aestheticizing impulses in works ranging from Nathan Rapoport’s Warsaw Ghetto Memorial to classic modernist works by Barnett Newman to the revived reference to mythic narratives in Anselm Kiefer. The exclusive focus on the details of the iconographic trees has meant that Raskin avoids the historiographic or analytic forest.

More importantly to this reviewer’s mind, Raskin’s focus on the details of the photograph leads to a limited or general understanding of the Jewish and non-Jewish actors in the image as well as its significance to the SS. While his section on the development of the Stroop Report is quite good, his explanation of the historical actors and their environments is more problematic. We learn, for example, about the four possible biographies of the boy in the photograph, but we learn nothing of the Jewish community of which he might have been a part, the nature of the Warsaw Ghetto, or the postwar dynamics of survivor communities. These social issues are simply not addressed. Furthermore, Raskin leaves unquestioned his use of postwar testimony of perpetrators, as though these were somehow untainted documents in no need of contextualization as evidence. Finally, his reliance on outdated and limited scholarship is particularly evident when trying to explain how the Stroop Report and this photo fit within a particular SS mentality. For this, he relies on the postwar autobiography of the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoss, as well as the famous account by Hannah Arendt of the SS bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Jerusalem. These are both important sources, but one would have hoped that, if he wanted to talk about the perpetrators’ mentality, he might have engaged with one of the most heated debates of the last decade in the field focused particularly on the work of Christopher Browning (Ordinary Men) and Daniel Goldhagen (Hitler’s Willing Executioners). These debates were not stodgy academic affairs, but rather spilled over into major public forums in the U.S. and throughout Europe and Israel. Certainly, the same audience likely to pick up this volume will know something of their character, and Raskin’s avoidance of such topics limits the usefulness of his book beyond the introductory level and stresses the weakness of an abstracted or generalized history of the Jewish genocide.

But, stepping back, it is important to emphasize that Raskin’s volume is the first attempt to analyze comprehensively the variety of iconographic and historical aspects of the image as well as its influence on postwar trials, art and culture. His intent is admirable and there are many useful aspects of the research. Still, the volume remains unsatisfying in its lack of critical analysis and generalization of history. The result is that we certainly get a better understanding of the photograph but ultimately miss its functional relationship to a broader structural history of the Nazi state as well as a more complex art history of images related to the oppressive policies of the period. We learn much about the photograph, but how does the photograph help us to understand the art and political history of the period and the geography in which it was produced? Thus, although National Socialist cultural works like this photo were involved with some of the most cataclysmic events of our time, understanding art made by those involved in and responding to these events as an integral part of a twentieth-century history of art is a project that still remains to be done.

Paul B. Jaskot is Chair and Associate Professor of modern art and architectural history in the Department of Art and Art History at DePaul University. He is the author of The Architecture of Oppression: The SS, Forced Labor and the Nazi Monumental Building Economy (Routledge, 2000) as well as numerous essays on the relationship between the Nazi period and art history. Currently, he is working on the political reception of the Nazi past and postwar German art.

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Mark Wallinger

In New York City, I’m always struck by the extent to which art is about a particular brand of youthful glamour, a singular species of cool. There’s an obligation to hang out a lot, in particular clothes, with a particular combination of passion and dispassion. I had a great time in a local modern art gallery named Art by Wicks, i found many unique wall art for living room. I was told recently by a certain new-media art luminary that she spends twice as much money on similar style canvas art sets.

In London, I was overwhelmed by the way money saturated all corners of the art world. All of the canvas paintings I saw was, in one way or another, about wealth, commerce and conspicuous consumption (or the lack of these).

London is an art capital. There’s a vast podge of stuff to see, and it plays an important role in the life of the city. It’s not only in the galleries and museums, but also the newspapers–even the tabloids. It’s on TV! This is interesting to me, hailing as I do from art-pooh-poohing North America. As an artist, being there made me think about my vocation in different terms–though I’m not sure I like them.

The whole time I was in London this summer I felt obscurely guilty for not going to Venice, Kassel, Basel or Munster. Consequently, I looked at a lot of art in the city–including Damien Hirst’s obscene diamond-crusted skull–but the best work I saw was in the plain old Tate Britain.

There were two shows in particular that stood out. The first I’m not going to discuss in much detail, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it, because it was excellent, and was a tonic for my bruised identity as an artist with activist pretensions, 1807: Blake, Slavery and the Radical Mind was mounted to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. In the USA, where I live currently, we’ll be waiting another 58 years for that jubilee.

The second show, State Britain (2007) by Mark Wallinger, occupied the whole of the Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries (the central hall of the museum). It was a large wall art of anti-Gulf War protester Brian Haw’s makeshift camp on Parliament Square in London. Haw began protesting the economic sanctions against Iraq in June 2001 (June, like three months before September). He was on the square until May 23, 2006, when the cops raided the site and confiscated virtually everything, including a giant banner by the infamous (or perhaps at this point just famous) Banksy. The piece of legislation invoked to justify this undertaking was, perversely, the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act. Under the new rules, Haw was banished. His and all other “unauthorised” protests were deemed to be illegal within a mile of Parliament Square. Critical to State Britain was the fact that the museum falls partly within that radius. A black line on the floor marked the boundary.

The notes, placards and objects (all faithfully replicated and distressed) that made up the exhibition-cum-protest comprised a sort of chronology of Haw’s time on the square. The first banners one encountered opposed the pre-war sanctions against Iraq, and the last ones described the battle around Haw’s right to remain on the site. Throughout were notes and gifts given to Haw in support of his actions.

One of the things I found particularly interesting was the focus on the effects of depleted uranium on Iraqi children. As I walked through the canvas art of children born without faces, with their internal organs outside their bodies, with no eyes (and so on), I vaguely recalled having heard something about the effects of DU on American soldiers–Gulf War Syndrome stuff–but I didn’t remember having heard anything about its effects on Iraqis. Haw reads almost equally as hero and crackpot in this exhibit, so I decided to do some research of my own on modern wall art.

The statistics bear out Haw’s allegations. In Southern Iraq (where depleted uranium was deployed by the US and British militaries) there were n children born with defects per 100,000 births in 1989; in 200l it was 116 per 100,000. In 1988, 34 people died of cancer; in 1998, 450 died of cancer, and in 2001 there were 603 cancer deaths. There is also compelling evidence of the effects of DU on British and American soldiers who served in Southern Iraq, including increased rates of immune-system disorders and birth defects reported by military personnel who worked with or near the material. The link to DU is strengthened by reported similarities between the symptoms reported by those personnel and uranium metalworkers exposed to frequent occupational uranium inhalation risks.

Wallinger’s exhibition succeeds because it speaks in the language of contemporary art, following the trajectory set out by Dada and pursued by conceptualism and relational aesthetics, but it does so without sacrificing any of its political efficacies. It’s undeniably a tribute to Haw and his supporters, and it’s undeniably a protest against war and censorship. At the same time it is an extension of the discourse of the readymade, a new move in conceptualism and a critique of the cult of originality.

Most important, it’s incredibly moving and edifying. Clearly, Wallinger takes his social responsibility as an artist seriously. We expect this from nurses, soldiers and corporate executives. It’s refreshing to see work reflecting such self-scrutiny in the art world.

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Berlin Biennial

Perhaps the strongest features of this year’s fourth Berlin Biennial are the 12 venues lining the city’s Auguststrasse. The sombre exhibition, entitled Of Mice and Men, is constructed in a narrative arc that begins at one end of the street in a Romanesque church, continues through old stables, private apartments and a former Jewish girls’ school and ends in a graveyard.

The Biennial guides the viewer through a low-key, existentialist consideration of life and loss. The tone for this journey is set inside the St. Johannes-Evangelist church with Kris Martin’s Mandi III (2003). The all-black arrivals board–of the type found in airports or train stations–only occasionally clatters to life; devoid of letters and numbers, it evokes unseen comings and goings and the passage of time. At the other end of the Auguststrasse, the Biennial concludes in the Old Garrison graveyard with Susan Philipsz’s sound work, which teeters between the eerily sweet and the banal. Discreet, tree-mounted speakers intermittently emit the artist’s unaccompanied voice singing the Yardbirds’ “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.” Inside the graveyard’s lapidarium, Berlinde De Bruyckere’s faceless and abstracted taxidermied horse is vulnerably suspended–a strangely substantial ghost.

Consistent with the majority of the venues, the vast former Jewish girls’ school retains prominent traces of its past occupants. The school’s fixtures, wallpaper and posters and its students’ art exist untouched, often resulting in an uneasy conflict with the exhibited works and only occasionally producing a dynamic symbiosis. Bucking the biennial trend of presenting a cross-section of very recent art production, the curators included several projects originating in previous decades. Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan’s sober Evidence (1977)–photographs displayed in one of the school’s classrooms–offers a surprisingly evocative pairing of context and work. The artists compiled the black and white series documenting crime scenes, laboratories and scientific experiments from the archives of public and private agencies and corporations. The mysterious institutional activities depicted seem to exist in a sinister vacuum between documentary past and science fiction, ominously echoing the temporal limbo of the abandoned educational institution where the work is presented. As poignant counterpart to Mandel and Sultan’s project, Bruce O’Connor’s slow-paced and matter-of-fact film Crossroads (1976) presents a montage of the awe-inspiring nuclear bombings of the Bikini Atoll.

Although the charged exhibition sites occasionally threaten to overwhelm the work, the curators’ decision to integrate the show into an existing urban context is an effective antidote to the ubiquitous curatorial standardization of international biennials. With a consistent roster of art stars, many of these exhibitions function as a series of solo shows that are easily transferable from one venue to another. This year’s Berlin Biennial commissioned a number of the presented works, occasionally resulting in successful site-specificity. One example is Jeremy Deller’s new video Klezmer chidesch (2006). Projected inside the former post office stables, it features a group of elderly klezmer musicians. Originally from the former Soviet Union, the band’s members now live and work on Auguststrasse and are shown performing a celebratory and humorous theme song specifically composed for the Biennial.

In the lead-up to the Biennial, curators Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni and All Subotnick undertook numerous activities and projects to establish their presence in Berlin. From the temporary, tongue-in-cheek Gagosian Gallery, operating since fall 2005, to their contested publication Checkpoint Charley (featuring unauthorized reproductions of the work of more than 700 artists “auditioned” for the Biennial), the curators’ reach extends beyond the exhibition to engage with a wider community. Cattelan’s own prankster practice invited expectations of a light and fundamentally humorous Biennial–an expectation that was not met. The Biennial’s press material emphasizes the curators’ desire to present an exhibition that reflects on the “anthropologically universal,” a phrase presumably referring to universal human experiences such as birth and death–recurring themes in many of the Biennial’s contributions. However, since the exhibition largely presents artists born and based in the Western hemisphere, and of those, less than one third are female, any claim to universality seems somewhat disingenuous.

As though in response to these inherent conceptual inconsistencies in Of Mice and Men’s curatorial premise, Ulf Aminde’s video wall features a multicultural parade of Berlin buskers. The work’s most compelling feature is the combined sound of all the musicians, reminiscent of the transcendental drone of a Glenn Branca symphony. Tucked away in a cellar off Auguststrasse, Aminde’s work features the multiethnic face of Berlin, revealing a reality that hovers at the margins of this city’s art scene.

Marginality and loneliness are consistent themes throughout. Anti Sala’s 2003 video time after time is effective in this context. Like a premonition of De Bruyckere’s ghostly equestrian sculpture, an emaciated horse endures the terrifying roar of passing traffic at the side of a highway at night.

The uncanny also appears to animate Paul McCarthy’s 1992 Bang-Bang Room. This lumbering mechanical room, with claustrophobically retro wallpaper and multiple doorways, echoes the ambiance of the tired school gym where it is installed. Occasionally the BangBang Room comes to life, its four walls and doors awkwardly banging open and shut, a spectre of the human implicit in its violence.


Berlin Biennial

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Tired of Fighting: A new director is trying to turn around the embattled Barnes Foundation

MERION, PA-When Kimberly Camp was appointed director of the Barnes Foundation late last fall, the event capped one of the most volatile years in the institution’s 77-year history. First, Camp’s controversial predecessor, Richard H. Glanton, lost his post in a boardroom battle related to litigation the Philadelphia-area foundation was mired in. Then, Lincoln University, a historically black college that controls four out of five of the seats on the foundation’s board, ran into troubles of its own. After a Pennsylvania state audit revealed spending irregularities at the university, Lincoln president and Barnes trustee Niara Sudarkasa-who had been a principle force behind Glanton’s departure-handed in her own resignation. Now Camp is attempting to turn the embattled institution around.

The first task of the 42-year-old Camp, who was formerly director of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, has been to address the Barnes’s finances. The foundation, which houses one of the world’s finest and most valuable collections of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, is now facing charges from Glanton, who remains a trustee, that the interim administrator, Earle L. Bradford, Jr., spent down the endowment from $11 million to $7 million over the course of last year. While Camp disputes these claims, she does acknowledge the foundation’s fiscal problems. “The operations of the foundation have eaten away at the funds,” she says. “The endowment simply did not grow as it should have.”

Established in 1922 by Albert Barnes, a pharmaceuticals magnate, the foundation has more than 800 paintings now estimated to be worth as much as $2 billion. Among its works are 180 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, and 60 Matisses, as well as numerous Old Masters paintings. Yet the institution has long struggled to generate income under the strict conditions placed on it by its founder. Originally accessible by appointment only, beginning in 1946 the foundation began opening one day a week. In 1961, the state successfully sued to increase access to 2.5 days a week but the number of visitors remained strictly limited to 500 a week. Barnes also stipulated that works were to remain hung in the exact floor-to-ceiling arrangement he had chosen and were never to be deaccessioned or put on loan.

Under Glanton, the foundation attempted to loosen some of the rules of its charter but ran into continual controversy-often in court. A 1991 plan for deaccessing works was withdrawn after fierce criticism from both Barnes trustees and the general public. Then, in 1992, a court allowed the Barnes to finance an ambitious renovation by mounting an exhibition of highlights from its collection, which traveled to major museums worldwide from 1993 to 1995. Considered a success at the time, the show raised over $17 million. But when the renovated building drew more visitor traffic, Merion officials began issuing citations for zoning violations. The foundation countered by suing the township commissioners and individual neighbors, claiming their actions against the largely African American-run Barnes were racially motivated. The commissioners sued back, saying they had been defamed.

The long legal standoff, along with several other proceedings involving the foundation in the mid-1990s, ate up some $2 million of the institution’s endowment, according to press reports. Now, the foundation has initiated an audit of its financial records from 1992 to 1997. (The audit is being conducted by Deloitte & Touche; Debo Adegbile, a lawyer with Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison in New York, who represents the Barnes, confirmed that the audit was ongoing, but declined comment on its status.)

There are signs that some of the wrangling is coming to an end. Settlement has been reached with the township, and the zoning board has approved an increase in the foundation’s opening hours to three days a week. It has also expanded the number of visitors it can admit, to 1,200 a week. Moreover, the court overseeing the Barnes’s charter has ruled that the foundation may hold fund-raising events on its premises, something explicitly barred by Barnes. Camp sees the changes as steps toward financial stability and the beginning of a less-fraught phase in the institution’s history. “I think folks get tired of fighting each other,” she says.

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Particular Beauty

jul. 15, 2010 – aug. 15, 2010         Particular Beauty

Ilya Genin
Alice Grebanier
Simon Laufer
James Pryor
Maia Reim
Linda Sheehan


Some things are beautiful not because they conform to an ideal measure of perfection but precisely because they so freely depart from any such standard. These things distinguish themselves by the grace, and lack of self-awareness, with which they assert their own identity. Without setting out to do so, they flaunt our expectations and mesmerize us with their particular beauty.

Ilya Genin nominally photographs human expression. Sometimes it is a prolonged stare, others it is a fleeting smile. Closer examination suggests that the countenances he captures are a surrogate for a more profound subject: human engagement. Beauty, in Genin’s imagery, lies not so much in any particular face, but in the invisible forces that connect all of the multiple faces in his compositions.

Alice Grebanier finds aesthetic refuge in a cold subject. We know ice to be a hard, inhospitable solid, but her eye moves beyond the obvious to show us that material’s more malleable qualities. In her photographs we see that ice flows. We see this in sheet-like folds draped upon an underlying contour, and in rounded forms slowly launching themselves into space. In photographing ice, Grebanier does not photograph coldness … she photographs grace.

Simon Laufer finds beauty at moments when other photographers might rightly lament that they have been deprived of their vision. Laufer was not frustrated in trying to look through a rain-drenched windshield; he found beauty by looking at it. He noticed that water bends light. Laufer played with his camera’s focus to discover that the effects differ depending on whether he focused near or far. He often released his shutter at moments revealing least about the exterior space. He made interior photographs, and through these he opened a portal to an inner world. Laufer’s imagery is a Zen garden, delivering to us an invitation for inner contemplation.

James Pryor expertly traipses along a precarious path. He makes arresting photographs of animals – one might even call them portraits – that boldly engage the viewer in seemingly modest ways. We are hooked before we realize it. The contentment his photographs promise is rationally implausible, yet they do provide comfort. He provokes curiosity, strengthening interest in a vignette entirely of his making. And yet, because the sense of identity within his subjects remains intact, his subjects are not exploited and we do not feel cheated. We gladly plumb the depths created by this photographer’s quirky, manufactured authenticity.

Maia Reim haunts abandoned rooms, places where the lives of unnamed residents played out through domestic experience. The inhabitants have long since gone. Left behind are remnants of their choices. Reim mines these not so much to resurrect who those people were, nor why they chose this or that, nor the nature of their lives back then, but rather because she finds beauty in the state of their things now. Color matters as much as composition. Her imagery is thickened with an implied patina of experience. While we see these things and spaces in the present tense, they also carry a ghostly, muted suggestion of their owners’ final gestures.

Linda Sheehan is blessed with a vision that sees beyond function and context. The objects she photographs have little relationship to the subject of her imagery. Literal content is merely a vehicle for subjective expression. Yet her photographs are not pure abstraction. They retain enough information so that we recognize in them something familiar. Like those moments when we search for a word that is on the tip of our tongue but cannot quite find it, we intuitively know that we know the point from which Sheehan has leapt. Yet we have difficulty naming it. In relinquishing our need to capture what cannot be contained, we join Sheehan and unmoor our own appreciation of beauty.

Many paths lead to beauty. No one path is better than any other, although some are well worn and others remain untread. In forging their own way, these six photographers remind us that beauty is not a static destination. Beauty can take many forms. The most exotic of these may also be the most familiar. If we search among these, we may find yet more examples of particular beauty.

Ricardo Barros, Curator

On the Wave of My Memory

oct. 1, 2010 – oct. 31, 2010         On the Wave of My Memory

Valera Iskhakov

Dalet Gallery dedicates this exhibition to the 60th bithday of the artist.

Refractive Brain Therapy


jan. 15, 2011 – feb. 26, 2011         Refractive Brain Therapy

LiQin Tan

“Refractive Brain Therapy” is a conceptual animation-installation project that consists of a few large digital metal prints along with 3D animation and LCD monitors through large water-filled vats.

In this exhibit, LiQin Tan shows a decidedly unique understanding of refractivity. The project touches on the natural means, more important, a social phenomenon as well. In Chinese ideology, the phrase “refractivity” holds the dual meaning of 1) initiating an illusion; 2) leading towards social reality, with applications to psychological activities, including brain washing.

The Importance of Small Things

mar. 4, 2011 – mar. 26, 2011         The Importance of Small Things

Brigitte Rutenberg

Brigitte Rutenberg does very detailed ink drawings by the thousands on stamp-sized pieces of vellum paper and Mylar with which she assembles her PAPER QUILTS while her 3-D GLASS BOOKS with ink drawings consist of hinged glass panels reminiscent of the under-glass painting done in the 1800s. With these works she draws attention to “the importance of small things” for which women’s work is traditionally known.

Primeval Geographies

apr. 1, 2011 – apr. 30, 2011         Primeval Geographies

Irena Kononova

Dalet Gallery presents this solo exhibit of Irena Kononva as a part of a project called CONTEMPLATIVE REALMS. These pictorial excavations intend to peel layers of superimposed earth histories as well as layers of our mind and soul. The geological layers of soil that are often depicted in the paintings correspond to multiple layers of paint. Fluid element is omnipresent, as it would be in aquatic primordial nature, but it also hints at the fluidity of our imagination and thinking process. The vast landscapes are void of figures although human presence is manifested by subtle signs. The paintings are filled with biomorphic shapes that blur the boundaries between organic flesh and crystalline mass, merging life with dead matter, making viewers guess if what is depicted is a mountain or an animal. It is fitting that sand – a product of long interaction between stones and water – is one of the physical components of these works. These paintings map out utopian lands, but more than anything else they are maps of our unconscious.


apr. 1, 2011 – apr. 30, 2011         Sea of SAMSARA

Sky Kim

Dalet Gallery presents this solo exhibit of Sky Kim as a part of a project called CONTEMPLATIVE REALMS. “SAMSARA” is a Sanskrit word meaning the eternal cycle of life, or literally the “continuous flow” that captures the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Sky Kim’s 30 foot-long scroll series captures this continuous flow, the imprinted path of noble transmigration through microscopic scanning. This vitality and non-stop evolutionary movement are what is going on in the center of her work. The visual intensity is a result of meticulous hand drawn labor and the numerous patterns made with a certain logic and creative mind are intriguing to look at, but complicated to create. There is a constant tug of war embedded in the organic undulations in her work. The images are comforting, yet dizzying; fluid, yet stagnant; organic, yet abstract; delicate, yet obsessive. Symbols of water and blood represent what we once were in the womb, the beginning point of life, and of her personal memory of her stillborn twin sister. In her work, each circle, the most perfect form found in nature, and each line contain the energy which allows a being to consistently evolve into a complete form of nature.