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Incredible Shrinking Art World

This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

January 14, 1998. All rights reserved.

@INITIAL CAP+ = It has become a truism over recent decades that

communications and commerce have made the globe a much smaller place.

Yet

the arts, too, have played a singular role in shrinking our world.

Throughout this century’s hot wars, cold wars, and propaganda wars,

artists

have been continuously attracted to each other. With the fall of the

Iron

Curtain, this perennial art world internationalism has been allowed

to blossom. At Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts Galleries in

New Brunswick, two companion exhibitions open this Thursday, January

15, each focused on the seismic political and social changes in

Central

and Eastern Europe.

"3 Penny Exhibition: 3 Installations from Yugoslavia, Ukraine

and Russia" features works by Milica Tomic of Belgrade;

Savadov/Senchenko, a Kiev arts duo comprising Arsen Savadov and Yuri

Senchenko; and Group AES, a Moscow collaborative team comprising

Tatyana

Arzamassova, Lev Evzovitch, and Evgeny Suyatsky. The exhibit is

curated by

Konstantin Akinsha, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in Washington, D.C., who

is

considered a leading critic on contemporary Russian and Central

European

art. Akinsha is also a key figure in the research and distribution of

art

seized by the Nazis and Soviets during World War II.

"Not Only for Art’s Sake" is the companion show, the annual

fellowship exhibition of the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and

Paper. The show features leading artists from Latin America, Russia,

South Africa, the United States. These include Puerto Rican artists

Pepon Osorio and Carmen Inez Blondet; six Latin American women

artists;

two South Africans; and six New Jersey women artists.

The Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper (RCIPP) was founded

in 1986 by Judith K. Brodsky, a noted artist in her own right, and

professor of visual arts at Mason Gross School. Since its inception

more than 200 artists have been awarded residencies at the center,

with project-based fellowships that ranged from two weeks to two

months.

The center’s master printer is Eileen Foti, and its papermaker is

Gail Deery. RCIPP was originally known as the Center for Innovative

Printmaking but changed its name to reflect its interest in using

paper in creative ways rather than as just a support for the image.

The center now has a full handmade papermaking studio at Rutgers.

Under both names, and from the outset, internationalism

has been RCIPP’s focus. "Our longevity is quite an achievement

for a self-supporting art organization," says Brodsky. She modeled

the art center on the more familiar model of a science center that

works within a university. RCIPP raises $150,000 a year from grants

and sales to support its projects.

"Right from the start, we set up a program with the Union of

Artists

in what was then the Soviet Union," says Brodsky, "and after

the collapse of the USSR we expanded the program to include artists

from various East European countries." Since then the center has

built connections to artists of Latin America and Asia. Its most

recent

outreach has been to work with artists in South Africa.

Brodsky says the title of the RCIPP Fellowship show, "Not Only

for Art’s Sake!", is a specific reaction to the new focus of the

international art community.

"Unlike radical artists at the end of the 19th century who

responded

to outmoded forms and created the `Art for Art’s Sake’ movement,

today’s

artists are responding to the world with art that addresses the

emergence

of new national, racial, cultural, and personal identities" says

Brodsky. "Their art looks outward rather than inward, and draws

inspiration from real life, not only art itself."

"Art for Art’s Sake" have been watchwords of the Western art

world ever since the 19th century when artists from the

Post-Impressionists

in France to the Non-objective painters in Russia responded to the

crisis in traditional art by turning to the elements of art itself.

"Now the opposite is taking place," Brodsky explains.

"Artists

are reacting to `art for art’s sake’ modernism and saying — `It’s

not enough. We want to comment on the world. We want to do things

that will be interventions in the world as well as interventions in

art.’ This is an absolute contrast in fin-de-siecle attitudes of the

19th and 20th centuries.

"There’s no question that art is recognized internationally as

an important means of political expression," says Brodsky.

"Further,

it’s a way of expressing things that a person would possibly be

imprisoned

for. There’s a code of reading artworks in terms of comment on

political

and social issues.

"Artists of color in this country see art as a powerful tool also,

and we’ve made it our mission to work with artists contributing new

narratives to the cultural mainstream. There’s such tremendous energy,

and so many American artists of color focused on commenting on the

social and political structure of the country."

Six Latin American women artists who were in residence were Catalina

Parra, Annalee Davis, Anaida Hernandez, Yolanda Lopez, Amalia Mesa

Baines, and Magdalena Campos Pons. Parra of Chile literally sews

mouths

and eyes shut, or stitches the pieces of a landscape together to

create

a metaphor for repressive censorship and the damaged environment.

Also in residence were Russian artist Valery Orlov, and South African

artists Charles Nkosi and Nhlanhla Xaba.

Six New Jersey artists were 1997 fellows at RCIPP where they worked

in collaboration with Deery and Foti. They are Miriam Beerman,

Anuhadra

Das, Kate Dodd, Roberta Harley, Dot Paolo, and Debra Sachs.

In terms of internationalism, RCIPP’s exhibit reflects various global

disruptions that have brought many new groups of immigrants to New

Jersey in recent years; so much so that the state is now an

international

microcosm.

Anuhadra Das of Somerset has created a handmade-paper installation

about the lives and status of Indian women in her native country.

Her paper sculptures show angelic figures of Indian women whose

spirits

manage to rise above the repressive conditions in which they still

live.

Pepon Osorio, a New York artist of Puerto Rican

heritage,

whose work emanates from direct experience with community situations.

For his RCIPP residency, he worked with a family that is on welfare

in New Brunswick. "His print project is a lifesize print of a

baby’s crib, and onto it is projected a videotape of the live baby.

The mother of the baby is 15 years old. There was a moment, I think

it even startled the artist, when the baby started crying and she

climbed into the crib to comfort the baby," says Brodsky.

"Artists who were dealing with social and political issues were

not allowed to show their work in the USSR, and they became the

underground

or non-conformist artists," says Brodsky. It happens that Rutgers’

Zimmerli Museum has become home to the world’s largest repository

of such art, the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist

Art from the Soviet Union. This, she notes, was the result of pure

coincidence.

"There’s a famous story of one show in which tanks were sent in

to bulldoze an exhibition — to cover it with earth, literally.

Art was very much feared for what it could do in the Soviet

Union."

Moscow’s Group AES is tremendously influential in Europe right now,

Brodsky reports. Their exhibition installation is a commentary on

how ideologies demand enemies, and thus how countries have to hate

each other. "They suggest there’s a neo-Cold War going on now

between the Western and Moslem worlds, a propaganda war that’s being

promoted by both sides."

The AES installation consists of futuristic digitized images of cities

of the world into which have been inserted mosque domes and other

Moslem realities. One image represents a group of Moslems resident

in historic Red Square. Another shows the exterior of the Guggenheim

Museum embellished with Arabic lettering.

RCIPP is also in its third year of a unique

collaborative

development project in the cloud forest area of Ecuador. Here all

the adults from four village are employed in a papermill that makes

a variety of art papers and art paper products from locally grown

sisal fiber.

Sisal is a plant that yields a strong durable white fiber, once used

extensively for cordage and twine. Since the advent of plastics, the

market for sisal cord has all but vanished, endangering the livelihood

of these farmers.

"Gail Deere did all the research on sisal and how it could provide

a wonderful substitute for wood pulp," explains Brodsky with

pride.

"She also developed ways it could be processed without bleaches

and other pollutants. It’s an environmentally sound development

project

that is funded by CA.R.E. So often you hear of development agencies

supporting the arts, but this is a case of arts supporting

development."

Graduate students from Rutgers traveled to Ecuador to train the

residents

to make the papers. Brodsky says that although the center had been

prepared to purchase all the output from the papermill, there is a

big enough market in Quito for the paper products to support it. Now

the center buys art papers for its own needs, with the rest going

to market in Quito. Art remains the place where these far flung

cultures

can meet.

— Nicole Plett

International Art, Mason Gross School of the Arts,

Civic Square Building, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick,

732-932-7511.

"3 Penny Exhibition: 3 Installations from Yugoslavia, Ukraine and

Russia" and "Not Only for Art’s Sake!", the annual

fellowship

exhibition of the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper. Both

shows

open January 15 and continue to March 1. Gallery hours are Monday to

Friday,

10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; weekends 1 to 4 p.m.

Related events (free and open to the public):

Public programs for the exhibitions are Tuesday, January

27, with artists talks and receptions for both shows. At 2 p.m.,

New Jersey artists who were 1997 RCIPP fellows speak about their work

in the galleries. At 4:30 p.m., Russian-born art historian Boris Groys

gives a talk, "What is Total About Totalitarian Art?"

Russian-born art historian and critic Boris Groys gives a slide

talk on the late Soviet and recent Russian conceptualism featuring

the work of Ilya Kabakov on Wednesday, January 28, 6:30 p.m.

"3 Penny Panel: Visual Arts Today in Russia, Central and

Eastern Europe," features curator Konstantin Akinsha, with artists

Milica Tomic of Belgrade; Arsen Savadov and Yuri Senchenko of Kiev;

Tatyana Arzamassova, Lev Evzovitch, and Evgeny Suyatsky of Moscow’s

Group AES; critic Marek Bartelik; and photographer Viktoria Buivid,

Tuesday, February 17, 7 p.m.

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