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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Amid controversy, art speaks for itself

Published: February 6, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

NEW ROSE ART EXHIBITS: Students meander through the Hans Hofmann exhibition, viewing painting that are making their debut in the Rose Art Museum.<br /><br /><i>PHOTO BY Yuan Yao/The Hoot</i>

NEW ROSE ART EXHIBITS: Students meander through the Hans Hofmann exhibition, viewing painting that are making their debut in the Rose Art Museum.

PHOTO BY Yuan Yao/The Hoot

The shows currently at the Rose, spanning three generations of exceptional artists, highlight the incredible nature of the hotly contested jewel of our university. The Hans Hofmann exhibit focuses on a fascinating time in the artist’s life, deeply exploring the renowned painter and teacher of abstract expressionism. “Saints & Sinners” draws heavily from the stellar permanent collection, and includes some big-hitters like Rauschenberg, Warhol, and Alfred Jensen, a student of Hofmann. Finally, “Master of Reality” showcases some relatively new artists and their very personal cultural realities.

The year 1950 was fascinating for the famed abstract expressionist painter and teacher Hans Hofmann. Although the artist turned 70, he was incredibly productive, creating a mural for architect Joseph Sert’s project for the Peruvian city of Chimbote. In the Lois Foster Wing hangs nine of these vibrant works, some of which have never been shown before in the United States. Suspended between the ceiling and floor by metal wire, the canvases jut out at various angles, mimicking the sharp geometry found within the paintings. Other works by Hofmann hang around the room and compliment his studies for the mural, including works that explore Hofmann’s push/pull spatial theory. Energy springs forth from Hofmann’s bright colors and abstract shapes, while the heavy brushstrokes sculpt the paint into motion. The exhibition was curated by Rose Director Michael Rush and co-curated by Catherine Morris who hails from the New Museum in New York City.

“Saints and Sinners” showcases some of the gems from the permanent collection, including works by Rauschenberg, Warhol, and Kandinsky. Utilizing the unique layout of the Rose Building, the exhibition begins with the lofty “saints” upstairs, and winds down to the lair of the lower floor’s “sinners.” The difference between these two groups is how the artists embrace modernism; the saints explore lofty spiritual meanings, while the sinners are held back by their desires in the gritty physical world filled with lust, hunger, and violence. In the depths of the sinner’s area, Oldenberg’s splattered papier-mache “Tray Meal” is a congealed mess dripping to the point of repulsion, while Picasso’s twisting “Nude” lustfully offers herself to the viewer. Even Lichtenstein breaks his mechanical approach to painting, and shows his human touch by leaving bits of stray paint.

The saints offer a much different perspective. Cory Arcangel’s avant-garde video “Colors” uses cutting edge technology to respond to modernism, by taking color test bar patterns and creating shimmering lines of motion. Jim Lambie goes the opposite route, recycling used objects to create his colorful “Psychedelic Soul Stick,” which takes on mystical meanings. These artists have been released from their sinful human cravings and have the opportunity to explore the realm of the unknown.

The world becomes skewed at the Master of Reality show in the Lee Gallery. The show highlights five New York artists that tell their individual stories of invented cultural realities. The works, all very large, manipulate previous awareness of gender, space, time, physics, cinema, and stereotypes. Chie Fueki manipulates gender perception by contrasting the masculine and feminine themes of sports, flowers, and eroticism. Other artists play with our grasp on the known world; Mathew Day Johnson’s totemic stacked buildings in “Endless Column” borrows the familiar architectural images of the tower of Babel to create an unsteady and slightly unnerving structure. All of the works make the viewer slightly uncomfortable because of the highly personal nature of the show as well as the many unique shifting realities that are presented.

All shows will run until April 5th, 2009.