September 5, 2002

Seeing is Believing

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Maybe your new to campus, or perhaps you’ve managed to miss the large, concrete sewing machine of a building that adorns the north-east end of the Arts quad. For those of you who don’t know, this is the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of art, one of the best museums on any college campus in the nation. Designed by the renown architectural firm, I.M. Pei and Partners, the Johnson is home to an extensive collection as well as host to a wide variety of important and renown rotating exhibitions. That said, the Johnson provides Cornell students with a unique (and free) artistic experience.

Last January, the Johnson Museum hired the first curator of modern and contemporary art in the museum’s 34-year history, Andrea Inselmann. Her addition has expanded the museum’s scope while keeping the overall goals of the Johnson the same; to bring consistently engaging and relevant works of art to the Cornell Community as well as the community at large.

Frank Robinson, the Richard J. Schwartz Director of the Johnson recently commented on the museum’s fall installations saying, “The most important thing of all the centuries and countries and cultures that students should know — we should know everything of course — but the most important thing is to understand artistically is our own century.”

That is precisely where Inselmann and artists like Janet Biggs come in. Indeed, a work such as Resperidone is more similar to something one might encounter at the MOMA as opposed to the Whitney.

But bringing works like Resperidone has provided its own unique challenges to the Johnson. “It took a few weeks of talking about the installation,” says Inselmann, “and trying to figure out how this particular installation would fit into the space in terms of the size of the images and how to go about darkening the gallery.”

Inselmann had worked previously with Biggs, which made the process of constructing and displaying Resperidone significantly easier. “I knew that she was a really good person to work with,” says Inselmann, “Which is always helpful when working with a living artist.”

Biggs began her career as a mixed media artist before her interest shifted into the medium of video. With the one year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon just a few days away, the Johnson is preparing to feature yet another Biggs video. A collaboration with her husband who once had a view of the World Trade Center, the new piece will be projected onto the the Eastern exterior of the Johnson from next Monday through next Wednesday. The piece is a film of the empty blue sky that fills the void where the Twin Towers once stood.

“This piece will provide students and viewers an opportunity to remember in a different way,” says Robinson, “You’re aware of the forums and teach-ins, but [this] piece will give students the chance to look and reflect for 30 minutes or 30 seconds if they want to.”

Other current installations include: Gravely Gorgeous: Gargoyles, Grotesques, and the 19th Century Imagination, an exhibit featuring some of the most grotesque and fascinating architectural entities of the 19th century gothic revival; Visually Speaking, a collection of 20th century prints that incorporates words into the piece; XU Bing: Living Word 2, a piece by Chinese-born artist XU Bing that examines the relationship between the physical alphabet and the natural world; and Chinese Paintings from the Henricksen Collection, featuring works from the 17th through the 20th Centuries.

Visitors at tonight’s reception will have the opportunity to see all of the Johnson’s newest exhibitions while enjoying the performance art of Geoff Lupo and the jazz tunes of Hank Roberts. The event is free and open to the public and the Cornell community is encouraged to attend.

Archived article by Nate Brown