This semester at the Rose, you won’t necessarily find the type of exhibitions to which you’re accustomed. As Kristin Parker, interim director of the Rose remarked before faculty and press members at the museum’s semester opening, the spring 2017 exhibitions are not average museum displays, but are tying the Rose’s past exhibitions together with new collaborative and innovative displays.
Each exhibit in the Rose this semester is made specifically for its display location at the museum or features artists who have a history of working with the Rose in the past. While the majority of the gallery space utilizes traditional display methods, the Rose’s largest and most prominent space, the Lois Foster Gallery, reverses the standard experience of the museum-goer. It allows for experiential lessons that reveal the complicated processes museums undertake to present what emerges onto the gallery’s space.
“Collection at Work” in the Lois Foster Gallery enables visitors to experience the tasks that Rose workers complete on a daily basis. What is unique about this exhibit is that the Rose will alternate pieces every month so that museum-goers can see new art on each visit. The gallery is turned inside out, and represents a working space where visitors can understand how the museum prepares its works for viewing.
The exhibit revolves around four key categories: cataloguing, conservation, photography and storage. There are several tables and displays, each accompanied by a placard that visitors can read. The four categories are color coded on these placards, making it easy for anyone to understand. Upon entering the gallery, visitors first face “Frederiksted” (1958), a large, vibrant painting by Grace Hartigan, along with a description that explains the “Collection at Work” exhibit.
The “Reading Room” is also located at the front of the exhibit, comprising a space where people can select catalogues from previous Rose exhibitions, sit at the table and read. This warm and inviting space offers visitors even more exposure to the Rose’s vast collection. Museum-goers can then walk down a path in the middle of the room, glance at each placard and see who is working on what. The Rose is going to try to notify the public in advance about when certain tasks will be executed, so that people can come in at those times and witness the Rose in action.
While at first glance the exhibition appears cursory, as the viewer takes the time to experience and understand each workspace, the choice to display the largest gallery space in the museum reveals itself as a very intentional and provocative move. “We are really getting to the grit and bulk of what museum work is all about,” explained Parker. A new appreciation for the often overlooked behind-the-scenes work comes to light in this exhibit.
In the “Storage” section, we are reminded that each artwork takes a unique size and shape and requires custom boxes made for shipment or relocation. In “Conservation,” we are faced with the notion that each work should remain true to the artist’s intent and to its original form and display, despite time or the elements posing various challenges. Any successful conservator of art must have a deep knowledge of art history, studio art and chemistry.
The very first exhibit when one walks into the museum is titled “Black, White, Gray” by artist Fred Eversley, who has been in collaboration with the Rose since the 1960s. Eversley trained to become an aerospace engineer but became a sculptor after becoming enamored with the new wave of artists in Venice Beach, CA. Neighbor to John McCracken, renowned minimalist artist, the two influenced each other’s works and even lent each other a hand from time to time.
Although Eversley began working in color, he shifted to monochrome in the late 1960s based on influences by McCracken and his secretary. Once the artist nailed black sculptures, he stuck to this color and experimented with translucency. One day, however, his secretary asked, “Why don’t you make a white piece for us white people?” He tested out white pieces, which eventually grew on him. Eversley ultimately decided to create gray sculptures to solidify his monochromatic color scheme.
Given his background in aerospace engineering, it is no surprise that Eversley’s sculptures utilize powerful shape and form. Nearly every one of Eversley’s sculptures takes the shape of a parabola. “[The parabola] is the only shape to concentrate all forms of energy to a single point,” Eversley explained. “Energy is the basis of my sculpture and the parabola is the perfect concentration of energy.”
Much of his influence regarding the parabola also comes from his encounters with Venice Beach. The excitement, the surfing, the beachgoers and the tourists all speak strongly to Eversley. Everyone is perfectly content and goes about their day happily on the beach. He explains that Venice Beach is an “area that by nature is all about energy.”
Tommy Hartung’s Polaroids, sculptures and new video “King Solomon’s Mines” occupy the Lower Rose Gallery downstairs. With a large, rectangular-shaped room and a staircase in the center of it all, Hartung chose to display his polaroids on each wall. The exhibit is simple and straightforward, showing Polaroid photographs of his numerous works. Hartung’s transition from typically working out of his apartment, a “claustrophobic space,” to moving into an open gallery requires what he calls “blind thinking.” He arranged his multiple sculptures closely together because he cannot always see each piece perfectly when he works in his apartment. Hartung calls this the “concentrated energy of objects.” Visitors will observe sculptures depicting humans as they descend the stairs. Although one might think Hartung purposely positioned the figures to be staring at museumgoers, Hartung actually thinks the sculptures take on a contemplative gaze. There is a sense of loss with these contemplative gazes.
Hartung often plays with ideas of Western colonialism and its pursuits. The artist explains how religious ideology inspired or motivated imperialism and how the Bible deals with religion, violence and war, all of which feature in his work. Hartung perceives tourism as a soft form of invasion. He therefore took a satirical approach to “King’s Solomon’s Mines”: Resources are taken, but the land itself is hard to hold in Africa, especially in the Sahara due to the quality of the landscape. While scrolling through tourist videos, Hartung found the Tibesti Mountains, a labyrinth that is great for exploration and even getting lost. These mountains are incredibly old, have an intriguing natural landscape and showcase dead volcanoes, all of which attracts an abundance of tourists to this site.
Hartung’s video specifically refers to a book from the Victorian era and touches upon how the media inspires people to go do things in reality. He employed footage from YouTube to create something sci-fi and fictionalized. Hartung’s video was chaotic and disorienting, but in a good way. The entire visual and sensory experience was absolutely mesmerizing. It was hard to look away from all of the masks, faces, desert landscape, vivid colors, rhythmic music, dialogue and spectrum of social and economic classes depicted in the video. Hartung does a fantastic job at forcing viewers to look at his art and then reflect upon the underlying message.
Finally, the Rose amazes its visitors with an underemphasized yet remarkable exhibit in the Video Gallery. On the screen is Ana Mendieta’s “Sweating Blood,” a short film from 1973 that brings the young artist’s work to life before the screen. A groundbreaking Cuban female artist, Mendieta’s work revolutionizes the female body in ways far ahead of her time. Her art often relies upon ephemeral settings and landscapes in remote regions, leaving her oeuvre largely unattainable today. “Sweating Blood,” however, brings Mendieta back to life in an intimate representation before a modern audience. Complementing the video display are three united works titled “Body Tracks,” the remaining patterns of her body motions recorded in a performance piece from 1982. Phenomenal, bloody and visceral, the display honoring Mendieta’s work epitomizes the distinguished collections that the Rose has to offer.
Again toying with the old and the new, the Rose collaborated with the Brandeis MakerLab to bring back never-before-seen archives from 1967. Viewers sit at an unadorned white desk and place a virtual reality headset over their eyes. By navigating using two keys on a keyboard, the viewer can walk through the Rose of old, viewing sculptor Louise Nevelson’s first retrospective. Daniela Dimitrova ’16 from the Brandeis MakerLab worked long and hard on the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. This modern technology allows visitors to take a step back in time and experience former collections in a new light.
The overarching theme of this spring 2017 exhibition is sure to both answer and raise questions about museum work, museum history and the invisible efforts that culminate into seemingly effortless exhibitions. The Rose is on view not only through its typical gallery spaces but by inverting its role and bringing its unnoticed into plain view. While experiential and didactic in intent, the exhibits’ noteworthy masterpieces represent the Rose’s usual level of excellence.
These exhibitions will be on display until June 11. All members of the community are encouraged to visit the Rose, to ask questions and to explore what the Rose has to offer.