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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Three Rose exhibits spotlight permanent collection

Published: October 28, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured

For those already well-acquainted with The Rose Art Museum’s wonderful permanent collection, Thursday’s reopening contained little in the way of surprises. It did, however, unveil three expertly curated exhibits that reveal the museum’s rich history and focus on modern art—all in time for its 50th anniversary.

The “Art at the Origin” exhibit focuses on artwork produced between 1961 and 1965, the first years of the museum’s existence. All but three of the pieces were acquired in the 1960s under the tutelage of The Rose’s first two directors, Sam Hunter and William Seitz. Both men were clearly well acquainted with the edgy New York art scene, as the exhibit contains artwork by some of the masters of pop art and abstract expressionism. These include some of The Rose’s most iconic works, like Roy Lichtenstein’s “Forget It! Forget Me!” (1962) and Andy Warhol’s “Saturday Disaster” (1964).

Considering the time period, it’s no surprise that many of the works exhibited show a clear interest in other media. Lichtenstein’s painting, for example, is a meticulous recreation of a comic panel, while Warhol’s “Saturday Disaster” presents the same photograph of a car accident twice on silkscreen. There’s also evidence of a similar interest in consumer items. The most notable example of this is Claes Oldenburg’s “Tray Meal” (1962), a sculpture of a TV dinner.

In general, there’s an inventiveness in how the pieces have been composed. Yayoi Kusama’s “Blue Coat” (1967) features stuffed cloth phalluses affixed to a blue cut-out, while Bruce Conner’s “Light Shower” (1963) intentionally incorporates detritus material so that it will change as it ages. Robert Rausenberg’s “Second Time Painting” (1961), meanwhile, is a neo-dadaist work whose sections of pink, beige and blue incorporate a torn t-shirt and a pair of pants.

Unsurprisingly, there are constant reminders of the period in which these works originated. This is especially true of another work by Warhol, “Race Riot” (1964), which depicts a confrontation between the Birmingham police and civil rights protesters. Dogs have just been unleashed upon the crowd.

If the first exhibit focuses on the revolutionary artwork acquired by the museum in its infancy, then the “Collecting Stories” exhibit serves as a neat summary of the diverse works The Rose has acquired in the last 50 years. The diversity of pieces is breathtaking, with cubist works hanging in close proximity to contemporary art.

Much like the Lichtenstein and the Warhols in the previous exhibit, some works stand out based on name recognition alone. For instance, there’s a sketch by Oskar Kokoschka and a 1934 reclining nude by Pablo Picasso.

Some of the best works, however, are by artists whose names you might not immediately recognize. For example, Nam June Paik’s “Charlotte Moorman II” (1995) is an eye-catching video sculpture consisting of nine antique TV cabinets, two cellos and 11 color TVs. There’s also Alan Bechdel’s “Santa Barbara Motel” (1977), a great example of photorealism, and Hyman Bloom’s morbid “Corpse of an Elderly Man” (1944).

Perhaps the piece that got the most people talking on Thursday night, however, was Yasumasa Morimura’s “Untitled (Futago)” (1988), a restaging of Eduardo Manet’s famous “Olympia” (1863). Manet’s painting features an audaciously nude prostitute whose direct gaze almost sparked a riot when it was first exhibited. In the 1988 restaging, the Japanese artist has put himself in place of the prostitute; for that matter, he’s also assumed the role of the African servant in the background. This humorous, cross-dressing melting pot is completed by the jarring presence of a Maneki Neko, the ubiquitous Japanese beckoning cat statuary.

What makes the second exhibit even more effective is the clear sense of continuity with the ’60s exhibition. To give one example, paintings by Robert Colescott and Mel Ramos directly reference the work of Willem de Kooning; one of de Kooning’s untitled paintings is among the first you encounter when you enter the “Art at the Origin” exhibit.

To close things out, The Rose acquired a video installation, Bruce Conner’s “EVE-RAY-FOREVER” (1965/2006), with a clear Brandeis connection. The film triptych originally appeared at The Rose in 1965; prior to his 2008 death, Conner painstakingly recreated the footage he used. The exhibit consists of three silent films playing simultaneously and unsynchronized. The footage consists of a variety of things: naked women, TV commercials, “Mickey Mouse” cartoons and cheetahs charging across the savannah. The combination of images constantly changes, sometimes resulting in chaos and sometimes creating fascinating juxtapositions. One of the most interesting ones occurred when the footage was joined by a rocket launching and a cartoon cannon exploding—Freud would have had a field day.

The Rose Art Museum has long been the hidden gem of Brandeis but it need not be hidden any longer. Here is a collection containing works by some of the greatest artists of the 20th and now 21st centuries, and it’s easily accessible from any place on campus. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting The Rose in your time at Brandeis, now is your chance to get a full sense of the scope of the museum’s mission.