February 6, 2007

A Warm Welcome On A Cold WInter Night

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With food and drink aplenty, art lovers from all walks of life gathered in the lobby of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art for the Opening Reception for Winter Exhibitions this past Friday.

Anticipation built as hungry minds craved the start of the festivities. Then, with a subtle, yet strong explosion of sound from the Molly MacMillan Trio, the night was off and running. Some art aficionados remained in the main lobby, where large hair screens full of Chinese characters watched over the extravagant affair. Visitors munched on delicious snacks, ranging from quesadillas to cheese and crackers, and enjoyed a variety of beverages. Others meandered from room to room, drinking in the newest work to grace the museum walls. With six new exhibits being shown, and painter Jim Hardesty giving a brush painting presentation on the top floor there was enough art to satisfy even the most insatiable connoisseur.

At the bottom floor of the museum is Paper Trails: A Century of Women’s Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, which runs the gamut of artistic genres, styles, and themes. The collection includes landscapes, portraits and abstracts to still lifes. Some are real photos while others are animated drawings. Some are black and white while others demonstrate expressive colors. Each piece tells a story. Each person and object has a personality and purpose in the image.

After Paper Trails is Persian Visions: Contemporary Photography From Iran. The subjects of the majority of these photos are people. Each photograph reaches out to viewers on two levels. Not only are they visually pleasing, but each image captures such an expression on its subject’s face that viewers want to know the story behind the scene.

On the following floor is Wenda Gu: Forest of Stone Steles. The museum currently holds twelve of fifty steles that Wenda Gu has made. These stone tablets are engraved with poems from the Tang dynasty, a poetic golden age in Chinese history. The poems are engraved in Chinese with English translations running along the top and bottom. Each stele is displayed with a copy done in ink rubbing, hanging on the wall. The steles are unique as they present a medium through which art is expressed, and are also themselves pieces of art (that come with a poem).

The floor above the lobby houses A Changing Landscape: Prints and Drawings 1570-1670 from the Arthur and Arlene Elkind Collection. What makes this collection interesting is how all the drawings’ subjects are treated with equal respect. Commoners trading goods in Cornelis Dusart’s “Tobacco” are drawn with the same consideration and detail as the upper class subjects of Lucas van Leyden’s “Esther before Ahasuerus.”

On the second floor, art fans can find Frank Lloyd Wright Art Glass from the Martin House. This piece sets itself apart from other work at the museum because it is not a typical painting or sculpture. The glass windows, however, are a very creative art form: while perfectly symmetrical, the diagonal shapes, the spacing of the glass pieces and the color patterns allow the window to capture the viewer’s attention.

The highlight of the night was Jim Hardesty’s Chinese brush painting presentation. Hardesty put on a good show for an eager group of art enthusiasts. A skilled pro, he was able to focus completely on his work even as he talked and laughed with his audience. He painted everything from rocks and flowers, to roosters and cats. It was fascinating to see the intensity he put into every stroke. He showed that Chinese calligraphy is a form of art in which every angle and maneuver of the brush can create a different and significant effect.

Not all the newest exhibits are inside the museum. The current “Façade Projections” exhibit can only be viewed on the outside walls of the museum. Using a projector situated next to a window in Tjaden Hall, Serge Onnen’s movie, made up of over a thousand drawings, can be seen at night on the east side of the Johnson Museum.

As the night ended and the crowd dwindled, those refusing to say goodbye to the art remained around the museum’s front entrance.

When we look at art, we see its aesthetic beauty; we admire the skill that goes into even the smallest piece of work. What we often fail to acknowledge, though, is its social contribution. Art has the power to bring us together. A glance around the museum lobby found people of all ages, cultures, genders, and levels of artistic ability and expertise. Students in back packs stood side by side with men in suits, awestruck by the same work of art. Families, couples, and individual people were all there for the same purpose: To be in the presence of beauty; in the presence of greatness.