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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Regarding Painting’ at The Rose

Published: October 1, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

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Dabney Hailey stands before a Roxy Paine painting in the Foster wing of the Rose Art Museum, explaining Paine’s painting method to some visitors. iPod in hand, she scans a barcode from a piece of paper, and the smartphone instantly brings up information on the artist.

“Voila!” says Hailey, explaining that Paine uses a computer-controlled machine to apply layers of paint to his canvas, creating the work PMU No. 10.

“Wow,” says Ingrid Schorr, program administrator for the university’s Office of the Arts, “I always thought of this piece as a sort of marshmellow fluff, but now I see it as more of a graph, it is way more methodical than I had thought.”

Having visitors rethink painting is just one of the objectives of “Regarding Painting,” one of two exhibits opening at The Rose on Oct. 7. Hailey, who joined the Rose staff in July as the museum’s new director of academic programing, curated “Regarding Painting,” which is being installed into the museum’s Foster Gallery as she explains Paine’s piece. The exhibit, Hailey says is meant to make viewers “think about what painting is as an act and as a product.”

“It’s a basic idea, but one we don’t ask viewers to think about very often,” she said. “Some painters don’t want you to see their brush strokes, and that means something. For others, like de Kooning, he wants you to see these machismo brush strokes of his. They mean something too.”

The exhibit is loosely divided into four sections within the Foster wing, each focusing on different aspects of painting: The act of painting, the picture plane and the real, trauma as a subject and painting beyond paint.

In “trauma as a subject,” difficult subject-matter like the holocaust and the Spanish revolution is depicted.

“The idea of this portion of the exhibit is to show not just any subjectmatter, but the toughest subjectmatter and to explore the different ways of approaching the viewer with it,” Hailey said.

According to Hailey, a little over half of the paintings shown in “Regarding Painting” have been shown at The Rose in the past year. But some paintings have never been shown in the university’s collective memory.

“The Rose has an iconic collection, and you really can’t do a show here without including some of the really familiar pieces that are up all of the time,” Hailey explained. “The student body is changing every four years, so even though some of these paintings were up last year, you have the first-year class, 25 percent of the student body, that has probably never seen these famous pieces before.”

Many of the pieces shown in “Regarding Painting” were shown in last year’s exhibit, “The Rose at Brandeis: Work from the collection.”

But though there are some repeats, Hailey said visitors will obtain an entirely new understanding of the pieces because the new exhibit has a different focus.

“Last year’s show was a smashing and spectacular overview, or a chronological survey, of what we have at The Rose. This isn’t that,” she said. “Some of these pieces could be up for 10 years in different exhibits and you would get a new understanding of them with every exhibit and every new context, they are just so dynamic.”

Schorr, who has been at the university since 2006, pointed out that because some of the paintings have not been displayed in a long time, the exhibit will still have a fresh feel.

“Some of these, I’ve never seen in real life before,” Schorr said standing before a Fritz Glarner painting in the “picture plane and the real” section of the Foster Gallery.

Next door, in the Rose gallary, paintings for “Waterways,” also opening Oct. 7 and also an exhibit that draws largely from the permanent collection, are leaning against the walls waiting to be hung.

Originally, “Waterways,” curated by Director of Museum Operations Roy Dawes, was supposed to be hung in the Foster gallery, while an exhibit “Atmospheric Conditions” was to be hung in the main Rose gallary.

But, after the three artists involved in “Atmospheric Conditions” canceled the exhibits in protest of the university’s refusal to make a legal committment to not sell the museum’s art, “Waterways” was moved into the main gallery and “Regarding Painting” was created.

Currently the state of the artworks in the exhibits is unclear. The university board of trustees made international headlines in January 2009 when it announced plans to sell pieces from the museum’s collection to gain revenue for the university.

While the board announced in late May that it was looking into non-sale options like renting the art, a lawsuit brought against the university by three of the museum’s benefactors in order to legally prevent any sale of art, is set to go to trial in December.

The university announced Sept. 20 that it was searching for a new director of the museum, a post that has remained vacant since June 2009 when the university did not renew the contract of the museum’s then-director Michael Rush, who was particularly outspoken against the university’s plans for the museum.

But Hailey, who joined the museum this July because of its “brilliant collection” and despite its precarious future, said she is just looking forward.

Aside from some previously unseen paintings, “Regarding Painting” will also exhibit some new technology.

Ten to 20 of the paintings at the exhibit will be accompanied by bar-codes, which users with iPhones, iPod touches or Android phones can scan into a number of applications capable of reading 2-D barcodes, such as MobileTag, Neoreader, Barcode Scanner and Google Goggles.

Designed by graduate student Brandon White and Rose Art employees Brian Friedberg, Emily Leifer and Maarit Ostrow, these applications will bring visitors to a plethora of information about the painting they are viewing. Excerpts from interviews with the artist and pictures from the creative process are accesible via the smartphones.

The Rose also has iPod touches for museum-goers to rent out, and White wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot that The Rose is looking into creating “a single standalone application that is Rose-produced and Rose-curated.”

“It’s pretty groovy,” Hailey said.

Schorr said The Rose is one of the first museums to use smartphone technology in an exhibit, adding “if you saw these paintings anywhere else, you would not have the same understanding of them without this, so The Rose is still doing new things.”

Hailey agrees.

“The general tone around here pretty much falls with the Barry McGee piece in the corner over there,” Hailey says, pointing to a copper-colored painting that starts on one wall of the “painting beyond paint” portion of the exhibit and extends to another.

Across the copper, in white, dripping paint are the words “things are getting better.”