Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Art of Performance -- Rochester Style

The Genesee River High Falls
You would never mistake the Rochester Fringe Festival for the Edinburgh Fringe. Among the many differences is participation in the Festival by some of the city's most established cultural organizations, including the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the Rochester City Ballet. But as long as I was going to visit, why not go when there were Fringe shows to be seen?

The Genesee River High Falls in downtown Rochester served as the site of our first Fringe experience. After donning ear phones, we walked to the center of the bridge directly opposite the Falls. The "performance" was a ten minute podcast about Sam Patch aka "The Yankee Leaper."

Patch's biggest claim to fame was living to tell the tale after he jumped off a raised platform adjacent to Niagara Falls. But he also jumped twice off a platform erected next to Rochester's own High Falls. To give you a sense of scale, the teeny tiny white dots to the left of the Falls are people. His first leap took place on a cold November day. It was a success, but Patch found the profits from his plunge less than impressive. And so he decided to do an encore performance on Friday, November 13, 1829. Patch stood on the platform in his signature white suit and stepped over the edge. When he failed to emerge from the icy water, the 8000+ spectators thought it  was just a show business prank. That speculation was put to rest when his frozen body emerged down river the following spring.

Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra was a first time participant in the Festival, and we were there. What made the concert wholly contemporary -- if not exactly"fringe-y" -- was the performance of four works by living composers. John Adams' Scheherezade 2 was the centerpiece of the evening. It was not to my taste. I did, however, enjoy Mothership by Mason Bates. The composition included both improvisation and electronic music. I could practically see a strange aircraft hover over the stage and left the concert hall feeling the urge to watch the movie "Arrival" again. To hear Bates talk about the piece and listen to a performance, click here.

Maggie and I with Susan B. 
While not a performance per se, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the cocktail gathering Maggie and I attended to thank supporters of the Susan B. Anthony House and public radio station WXXI. Susan B. herself was there, having toddled down from the nearby Mount Hope Cemetery. She carried a surprisingly pristine copy of her book "Failure is Impossible." (The title comes from her famous quote, "Wherever women gather together failure is impossible.")

While we didn't visit the Susan B. Anthony House this year, it's a tour worth taking if you're in the Rochester area. With the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the 19th Amendment nearly upon us, it's more timely than ever to remember how hard suffragists worked to obtain the right of women to vote. For more info about the Susan B. Anthony House, click here.

The most over-the-top performance we attended was a concert by Randy Rainbow of YouTube fame. The event was not part of the Fringe, although its timing happily coincided. Always on top of things, Maggie had ordered duplicates of Randy's trademark pink glasses for the evening.

The energy at the Kodak Center was high from the moment we walked into the venue. Photo opps abounded with what were effectively "get out the vote" vintage posters.  They set the mood for an evening of political satire that made me think of the expression "if you don't laugh, you'll cry."

The evening was more or less Randy singing some of his greatest hits with videos playing in the background. He kicked off with a rousing version of "You've Got Trouble Right Here in America" that had the crowd in peals of gleeful laughter.

Maggie and me with Randy Rainbow
The night went on from there with a series of faux interviews and songs that included "chats" with Kellyanne Conway that segued into "Microwaves (Are Watching You)" and Jeff Sessions that led into "Putin and the Ritz".  My favorite of the night, though, was  "Cheeto Christ Super Czar," a song that lampoons Trump's endowment upon himself of the dual titles of the King of Israel and the Chosen One. (You really couldn't make this stuff up.) Rainbow even worked in a reference to Trump's desire to buy Greenland. Click on the names of any of the songs to watch Randy in action. 

The evening was a blast. But there was a definite post-concert letdown. The cumulative effect of being smacked in the face over and over with the craziness of our current Administration was depressing.  And this was before Trump took it upon himself to trade U.S. assistance for political dirt on the Bidens. How has our country come to this place? 

Thanks once again to Maggie for putting together an action-packed itinerary for my visit to Rochester. The pressure is on to design an equally fun schedule for her trip to Sarasota in February. I'm confident my culture-rich city is up to the challenge.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Discovering Art -- Rochester Style

Three Fujins by Hung Liu (1995) -- Oil on canvas and
lacquered bird cages 
No trip to Rochester is complete without a visit to the Memorial Art Gallery. I was a bit disappointed with my timing, though. I was a couple of weeks early for an exhibit featuring the work of Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. And so I had to content myself with enjoying works from the Museum's collection. It was much more than a consolation prize.

I fell absolutely in love with Three Fujins by Hung Liu. The painting is incredibly striking, with its inscrutable subjects and actual bird cages hanging from the canvas. But the story behind the work is what really grabbed me.

Three Fujins is part of Liu's "Last Dynasty" series in which she recreated people from photographs documenting the Qing dynasty. The wall card explained that the women pictured here were concubines from the Qing court in the late 1800s. The birdcages represent the women's captivity and powerlessness. Which brings me back to those amazing faces. What is going on in their minds? To learn more about Liu and her extensive body of work, click here. And if you happen to be in New York, an exhibit entitled "Hung Liu: This Land..." will be on display at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery from Oct. 24 - Dec. 7.

Angela Ellsworth's Seer Bonnet XIV (Sarah Ann) is another work dealing with the oppression of women -- Mormon women, in this case. In her Seer Bonnets series, Ellsworth is creating a bonnet for each of Joseph Smith's 35+ sister wives. Her interest is not merely as an artist. An ex-Mormon herself, Ellsworth's great-great aunt was one of those wives.

When designing her bonnets, Ellsworth drew upon the long-held Mormon belief that Joseph Smith and other prophets used a seer rock to receive and translate messages from God. Ellsworth's bonnets are made from hundreds of steel pearl-tipped corsage pins that mimic the shape of a these mythical stones. According to her website, these pins "allow these resilient wives to see messages and translate them into visions." Is that any more preposterous than receiving messages from a rock? The pain the wearer would suffer from all those pins sticking into her head is intended to represent the suffering of the wife. All the better to open her to those transmissions.

Ellsworth is a multi-disciplinary artist whose other mediums include sculpture, performance art and videography.  Her Plural Wife Project--which hypothesizes that many sister wives were gay--is pretty interesting.  For more about Ellsworth and her work, click here. And to read a bit more about Smith's seer rock, click here.

The Gardener (Melissa with Bob Marley
Shirt) by John Ahearn and Rigoberto
Torres (1997/2007)
I always love a good hyper-realistic sculpture, so The Gardener (Melissa with Bob Marley Shirt) by John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres caught my eye. The sculpture is just one piece in a body of work dedicated to capturing their South Bronx community.

The artists' collaboration began back in the early '80s when the two met at Ahearn's exhibit "South Bronx Hall of Fame."  Torres soon found himself a model for one of Ahearn's "lifecast sculptures." The rest, as they say, is history.

The duo's art is the product of extended interaction with their sitters. The wall card for Melissa explained, "We were working with neighborhood friends to create free-standing figures that define aspects of community...Melissa was constantly in the studio...and she was an active gardener...Her favorite sweatshirt featured the image of Bob Marley with his words, 'We Africans must fight if necessary for we are confident in the victory of good over evil.'"

To read more about the artists and to see some of their unusual murals, click here.  And to see some great pictures from the original installation of Banana Kelly Double Dutch, click here. I particularly enjoyed seeing the photos of the girls who were the models for this installation.

The Council by Bill Stewart (1991)
While I saw some exciting art at Memorial Art Gallery, that was to be expected. What surprised me was the fabulous sculpture I came upon at the Rochester Airport when getting in some steps before my flight.

I circled round and round this sculpture, pausing to look at each of the intriguing animals. What kind of council were they a part of and what business were they discussing? The base contains two quotes that provided some clues. The first came from an Eskimo Hunting song:

"In the very earliest time
When both people and animals lived on earth
A person could become an animal if he wanted to
And an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
And sometimes animals
And there was no difference.
They spoke the same language."

The second, from early environmentalist Chief Seattle, reads:

"What are human being without animals?
If all the animals ceased to exist,
Human beings would die of a great loneliness of spirit
For whatever happens to the animals
Will happen soon also to human beings
...All things connect."

I overheard a passenger comment "That sculpture is really weird" to his companion as they passed by on the way to their gate. Sure, it doesn't reflect what we see in our everyday lives. But that's what makes it so interesting. I loved the textures and the creatures and envisioned a time when they ruled their own little part of the world. And in my fellow traveler's defense, at least he noticed the sculpture was there.

All in all, these art outings were a reminder to myself to get rid of expectations and be open to what ends up in my path. You never know what you'll discover.






Thursday, September 26, 2019

Enjoying the Great Outdoors -- Rochester Style

Even Rochesterians like Maggie can't resist taking a 
picture of this iconic view at Letchworth State Park. 
"Strive to speak kindly, without giving offense, always with coolness and deliberation, having due regard for the views of others." These words are one of William Pryor Letchworth's 11 personal Rules of Conduct. I happened upon the Rules during my recent visit with Maggie and Charlie to Letchworth State Park. They struck a chord in today's divisive world.  But back to our adventure....

The Park, which spans 14,000+ acres over 17 miles, got its start when Letchworth contributed his Glen Iris Estate to the State of New York in 1906. Better to give his gorgeous 1,000 acre property to the government to preserve for others than to allow it to go to the power companies.

Letchworth is also known as the Grand Canyon of the East
Letchworth was an interesting character. He was socially conscious and spent time studying and advocating for the rights of the mentally ill. He was dedicated to the preservation of history as well as land and reconstructed an original Seneca Council House on his estate. The Park's museum is chockful of information about his forward-thinking life (not to mention a huge mastodon skull and a recreation of three Native American dwellings made circa 1890). Really, though, we were there for the views.

It was glorious to be outside on a sunny 68-ish degree day looking at a landscape that left no doubt I was far away from home. It was a treat to stroll the paths while taking in multiple waterfalls and canyons. My only lament was that I was a couple of weeks early for the fall foliage. There's always next time. To learn about all Letchworth State Park offers, click here. And if you're interested in what other behaviors made it into Letchworth's Rules of Conduct, click here.

We couldn't resist this photo opp, enlisting a mother with a toddler,
a stroller and a child on her hip to take the shot. 
A less visually dramatic -- but super fun -- outing found Maggie and me at the Birdsong Fairy Trail in Mendon Ponds Park.  I'll admit that I was a wee bit skeptical when Maggie suggested checking out the fairy houses.  It sounded a little, well, juvenile for two such mature women. But our enthusiasm rivaled (and perhaps even exceeded) that of the small children we met along the way. And our attention span was way better. 

Fairy meeting place
Mendon Ponds Park has only been home to the fairy houses since July, when they were relocated from Tinker Nature Park. The move was required because the houses had so captivated people's imaginations that the crowds and gifts to the fairies were creating a risk to the habitat. (In case you're wondering, the gifts included money, glitter, birdseed and fairy-sized Goldfish snacks. Signs along the trail now warn that "glitter is litter" and "birdseed attracts critters, not fairies.")  While presents to the fairies are still an environmental concern, the significantly larger size of Mendon Ponds Park (2,500 acres compared to Tinker's 68) makes crowds much more manageable. 

Betsy and Chris Marshall are the creators of all the fairy homes in the Park. I love the story of how they got their start. Betsy was walking with her four kids on a nature trail one day when she saw a tree root with a small hole. Her imagination instantly envisioned an entrance to a tiny fairy home. (Her teenage children saw a mother who had gone slightly off the deep end.)  
Maggie checks out neighboring fairy houses

An artist, Betsy got to work creating a door for the tiny space as soon as she returned home. Soon she had entryways to fit into multiple knots in trees along the trail. Chris happens to be a woodworker, so he soon got into the act as well. Today the Birdsong Fairy Trail boasts 40+ freestanding fairy houses and doorways. I particularly liked the tree houses. To see a few more pictures, click here.

Exploring environments so wholly different from the Florida landscape was the perfect start to my vacation. And did you catch the 68-ish temps (compared to thermometers regularly topping 95 degrees here)? While it was tempting to spend my entire trip visiting different parks, there was bridge to play and art to see and Rochester Fringe Festival experiences to enjoy (or not, as the case might be). Stay tuned for more of my Rochester adventures.








Friday, September 20, 2019

Visiting USF's Graphicstudio

Raft by Mernet Larsen -- 13-run lithograph 
with collage elements -- 2018
 Edition: 50  -- $3,000
In a perfect world, all of the art in my home would be original. But here’s a news flash:  the world is not a perfect place. And so I have lithographs and other prints on my walls in addition to some originals. But there’s a difference between a fine art print and a print you can get from Home Goods, and it’s much more than the price tag.  

I recently had the opportunity to tour USF’s Graphicstudio in Tampa with my friends Deb and Libbie.  We thought we were in for a lesson on fine art printmaking. And while we did get a primer on the printmaking process, we learned a whole lot more. 

Graphicstudio was founded in 1968 and functions in tandem with USF's Museum of Contemporary Art, Public Art and Art in Medicine programs as the "Institute for Research in Art." Since its inception, Graphicstudio's staff has worked collaboratively with artists to solve their creative problems.  
Tampa Clay Piece by Robert Rauschenberg -- 1092

Robert Rauschenberg was one of the atelier’s first clients.  At the time, Rauschenberg was working on a series of sculptures made from -- or designed to look as if they were made from -- cardboard boxes. The USF team, which included representatives from the Art Department and Graphicstudio, worked with Rauschenberg to create the iconic Tampa Clay series. (Kristin Soderqvist, Director of Marketing and our tour guide, told us that during the production process, a janitor put some of the boxes out with the trash. They were retrieved -- very carefully.)  To read a great article about a Rauschenberg exhibit in Houston that included some of the Tampa Clay works, click here.   

Apparition by Teresita Fernandez -- 
Polished precision cut stainless steel  -- 2007
Graphicstudio continues to collaborate with artists today to bring their designs to life. Shown here is Apparition by Teresita Fernandez. The photo truly does not do this work justice.  Executive Director Margaret Miller shared that Fernandez came to the atelier with an idea that was more or less a doily on a toothpick. It took some serious creativity on the part of the Graphicstudio team to get from that vision to this striking work. Click here to see more of Fernandez' work published by Graphicstudio. And if you happen to be on campus, her Stacked Landscape can be found in the entrance rotunda at the College of Nursing.


From Love Bugs by Vik Muniz --
photogravure -- 2014 
Edition: 20  -- $2,000

Graphicstudio's print work is just as innovative and collaborative. Brazilian artist Vik Muniz spent time in Tampa during the most disgusting time of year -- love bug season. He found the area's strip clubs nearly as ubiquitous as the insects. Muniz dreamed up the idea of combining the two by freezing love bugs and then posing them in positions from the Kamasutra.  Graphicstudio worked with him on the project and eventually published a series of 12 photogravures of the love bugs in action, so to speak. Each photogravure sells for $2,000 or you can get the entire set for a cool $20K.  






Towers of Flowers by Kenny Scharf
Edition: 20 -- $3,000
Then, of course, there is Graphicstudio's more traditional fine art printmaking. There was so much information being fired at us that I wished I knew shorthand. We learned that lithographs are now printed from a copper steel plate rather than a stone.  With the change in production process, there is uniformity in the quality of the prints. Lithos created earlier in the run no longer have greater value than those printed first. Still, every litho that's printed doesn't find its way into the market. There can be imperfections in the paper -- a crimp here, a slight blemish there. Graphicstudio's rule of thumb for publishing an edition of 50 lithos is to run 70 and select the best ones. 

We had the opportunity to check out some of the "handle copies" of work used for education purposes. Here you see the iterations of Kenny Scharf's Towers of Flowers, a five run, five color intanglio (aquatint and line etching with spit-bite aquatint, engraving, roulette work). If you're like me, you don't quite understand what this combination of words means. It all adds up, however, to a lot of time and hard work to get to the published work of art. Click here to see the final version of Towers of Flowers.

Looking at a litho under the "light of justice"
I could go on and on about the things that we saw and learned while we were at Graphicstudio. Like the fact that Alex Katz is such a big fan of their work that he sends them pictures of recent images and tells them to pick one they'd like to make into a lithograph. (Click here to see the work they've done for Katz, including Kym, a litho of the artist's fishmonger.) Or that they offer week-long artist residencies, at the end of which an approved print has been created to go into production. Or that one print from every publication is sent to the National Gallery of Art for its archives.

But here is perhaps the most interesting news of all for art lovers in the Tampa area. We didn't get to tour Graphicstudio through any special connections or by paying an enormous fee. Graphicstudio's dynamic team is thrilled to give free tours of its facilities. For information, just visit their website by clicking here.  And while you're there, take the time to peruse the Artists section for images of works that they've published and loads of other info.  It's an amazing resource in and of itself.

Thanks to the Kristin and Margaret for an amazing morning -- and to Libbie for suggesting it!  I will never look at the art on my walls in the same way.  






  

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Museum of Broken Relationships


A couple of years back, my friend Andrea and I thought about going to Croatia.  I know it's beautiful and there's probably a great "Game of Thrones" tour, but I wanted to know what there was to actually do. Sorry, but gazing at natural beauty can only entertain me for so long. Then I read about the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb.  It sounded just odd enough to pique my interest.

Of course, we never ended up going to Croatia. And I forgot all about this intriguing museum until I went to Book Expo this year. There I ended up with not one, but two, books in which the museum is featured.

The first is a book of essays entitled Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison. I was taking a gander at the table of contents when I spied a chapter called "Museum of Broken Hearts." A bell went off in the back of my brain as I flipped to it.

The first paragraph pulled me right in:

"The Museum of Broken Relationships is a collection of ordinary objects hung on walls, tucked under glass, backlit on pedestals...A toilet paper dispenser. A positive pregnancy stick. A positive drug test. A weathered axe...All donated, each accompanied by a story: In the 14 days of her holiday, every day I axed one piece of her furniture."  

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Museum was founded by a couple who had broken up and couldn't figure out how to split up their belongings. Founder Olinka Vistica said, "The feeling of loss...represented the only thing left for us to share."

The first installation appeared in a shipping container outside an art festival in Zagreb. The no-longer-a-couple's proposal was accepted just two weeks before the festival opened, and the pair scrambled to get submissions to fill the space. It turns out it wasn't difficult. Lots of people had stories of heartbreak -- some recent, some distant -- that they wanted to share. From that installation, the Museum was launched.

In preparation of her visit to the Museum, Jamison asked her own friends what they would contribute to the collection. The answers ranged from a single human hair to the sheet music from Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #3.  It didn't take much thought on my part for me to select a possession of my own that I would contribute if the Museum--or Jamison--came knocking at my door.

It's hard to imagine a trip to the Museum wouldn't leave you feeling a bit melancholy, but that wasn't Jamison's experience. Instead, she says, "There was a democratic vibe to the place. Its premise implied that anyone's story was worth telling, and worth listening to. The people who donated objects weren't distinct, in any meaningful sense, from the ones who were observing them." Heartbreak is a human condition.

And then there's The Museum of Lost Love by Gary Barker. In the novel, Goran and Katia, a couple from the U.S., visit the Museum.  Goran fled Bosnia with his mother during the Serbian Bosnian War. He was just a kid at the time, and he fell a bit in love with Nikoleta, a girl he met at the transit camp. Imagine their surprise when Goran and Katia come upon a contribution by Nikoleta to the Museum that talks about that fleeting time with Goran in the camp.

The other storyline involves Tyler, a police officer who's an Afghanistan vet. Off-duty, he lives in an apartment complex that serves as a shelter for abused women. He is there to help if trouble rears its ugly head. And, like Goran, Tyler, is confronted with a surprise when his ex drops a four year old son he knew nothing about on his doorstep and takes off.

Their stories spool out from there and, truthfully, I didn't find them totally compelling. But that's okay, because writing is just a sideline for author Gary Barker.

Barker is an international human rights activist of the highest order. In 1997, he founded Promundo, a non-profit organization dedicated to "promoting gender justice and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls."  Promundo was first established in Brazil and today works with local NGOs in more than 40 countries. And it's not only small organizations operating in distant corners of the world. Promundo counts the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Health Organization among the entities that have joined in their initiatives. Click here to read more about Promundo and its programs.

With that background in mind, I understood more about Barker's male characters in The Museum of Lost Love. Both Goran and Tyler have lived through violence and continue to struggle with its impact on their lives.

And then there's the choice of the cover image for the book.The photograph is from Diana Bejarano's series entitled "My White Dress." The series was inspired by the Brides' March against Violence, an annual event that takes place in New York City for victims of domestic violence. And, yes, some of the participants wear wedding dresses as they march. To see more of Bejarano's powerful photos, click here. And to read about the Brides' March, click here.

Finally, click here to learn more about the Museum -- and its offshoots. There's a permanent affiliate in Los Angeles and shorter term exhibits around the world. I'll be sure to report back if I make my way to one of these heartbreaking venues. 



Sunday, September 8, 2019

Meet the Ringling Museum's Curators

Curators are (some of) the unsung heroes of museums. It's all too easy to enjoy an exhibit without thinking about the people who worked behind the scenes to make the show happen. This summer the Ringling Museum hosted a series of programs shining a light on some of those folks, from registrars to art handlers to educators. The latest session featured five of the Ringling's curators. Read on for  some of their thoughts.

Sarah Cartwright
Sarah Cartwright is the Ulla R. Searing Curator of Collections. She's the person in charge of the artwork donated by John and Mabel Ringling plus the rest of the European collection. Her daughter told her teacher her mom "keeps the paintings from falling off the walls." She's content with that description.

Sarah talked about the challenges arts educators face with today's focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The arts are no longer an integral part of school curricula. Not so long ago, the value of a liberal arts education wasn't questioned. Today parents and kids alike are more interested in classwork that leads students on a direct path into the job market. Sarah sees an important part of her job as establishing the Museum as a tool educators can use to supplement classroom learning.

Jennifer Lemer-Posey serves as the Tibbals Curator of Circus at the Ringling. The title alone brings a smile to my face. Jennifer's enthusiasm leaves no doubt that she's the right woman for the job.

Jennifer talked about the challenge -- and joy -- of considering new stories for the collection to tell  Thinking outside the box (or ring, as the case may be) is a big part of the job. It's made a little easier by the fact she has a living, breathing community of circus performers and families right here in Sarasota who are eager to share their history.

Christopher Jones is the Curator of Photography and New Media. Chris quickly disabused the audience of any idea they might have that being a curator is glamorous.  He opened by telling us, "Eighty percent of the job is emailing." Ah, the digital age. And the times in which we live pose both great opportunities and great challenges for museums. With people looking at multitudes of images online daily, curators are charged with creating exhibits that will inspire people to get out of their chairs and into museums to appreciate the true power of art.

Jones also talked about the challenge of making museums remain relevant. To him, it's a no brainer. Art promotes good citizenship by broadening our understanding of the world. But, again, you have to get people through the doors.

Marissa Hershon is the Curator of Ca' d'Zan and the Decorative Arts. Her responsibilities include the Museum's gorgeous glass collection showcased in the Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion. Marissa only joined the Museum in May, so she's still getting her feet under her. But that doesn't mean she didn't have any ideas.

Melissa enjoys discovering female artists, so we might just see a bit more women represented in her domain. And if you happen to have a big pile of money just hanging around, she'd love to restore the organ in the Ca' d'Zan and bring music back to the Ringlings' home.

Rhiannon Paget is the Curator of Asian Art. It's a particularly exciting position given the Museum's still sparkling new 25,000 square foot Chao Center for Asian Art.

Rhiannon envisions the role of the curator as making observations about the world. While the subject matter is different, the perspective is not dissimilar from the lens she used when she studied marine ecology.

Rhiannon embraces the opportunity to introduce museumgoers to different belief systems. What, she asked, is "normal"?  The conversations to be had around that question are endless.

It was a fun and thought-provoking morning. Thanks to Laura Steefel-Moore and the Education Department for continuing to bring interesting programming to the Ringling.







Monday, September 2, 2019

The Wood Art Gallery, Part 2


While the Woods' art collection favors contemporary Vietnamese artists, painters from other countries are represented as well. During a trip to Rwanda, the Woods paused on the street to get their bearings. A man carrying this geometric painting--completed so recently it was still wet--asked them if they needed help. It just so happened they were looking for the art collective where he worked. Talk about serendipity! The painting was clearly meant to go home with them -- and it did. (Again, apologies to the artists for not having their names.)

Their new friend's art collective was filled with art telling the story of the Rwandan people. This vibrant painting was created by an artist who told the Woods he worries he won't be able to provide for his wife and children.

His family is represented in the painting as they go about their daily lives. In the bottom left corner you see children sitting on uncomfortable stools with a teacher at the front of the class. Not an optimal situation for learning. Above the school teacher is a woman carrying a small child on her back in traditional African fashion.  The lower left corner holds men balancing jugs on their heads. Are they going to market?  And the woman on the left must surely be his wife, overseeing all the activity in a calm manner.  I love it.

By Collin Sckejugo 
Collin Sckejugo is another of the artists the Woods met during their trip. Sckejugo considers himself a Rwandan Ugandan artist due to his connection with both countries. His paintings--which often incorporate hands--have gained attention both in his home countries and abroad. But he's about much more than his own art.

Sckejudo's mission is to use art to change lives. To that end, he has founded several artist collectives across Africa. He is an activist as well, campaigning against ethnocentricity and for boda-boda safety. Boda-boda--or motorbikes--are a popular means of transportation in Africa. As in Florida, many riders do not wear protective helmets. Sckejugo combined his art with his activism by personalizing helmets and making them a fashion statement. In addition to increasing the riders' safety, his campaign created jobs.

By Collin Sckejugo
His work has brought Sckejugo to the United States on more than one occasion. He was selected for a month-long artist residency at Spread Art in Detroit and participated as a guest artist at the Lake Eden Arts Festival in Asheville. And, thanks to Chas and Mimi, Sckejugo has a work in the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in D.C. (Chas told us Sckejugo has a work at the Smithsonian. It was only upon reading an interview with Sckejugo that I learned the Woods were the donors. To read a copy of the interview, click here.)

By Yayoi Kusama
In the midst of this room filled with colorful African art, we spied a more quiet painting. Leaning closer, Deb said somewhat reverently, "This is a Kusama!"  Yes, the Wood Gallery contains one of Yayoi Kusama's spray paint paintings. We were so awestruck that we neglected to get the story as to how this work came into the Woods' collection.

The painting bears more of a resemblance to Kusama's infinity net painting dates than the infinity dots for which she is best known. (Click here to see some of her infinity nets.) She has described these works as "paintings without beginning, end, or center...The endless repetition caused a kind of dizzy, empty, hypnotic feeling."

Like all of Kusama's paintings, this work has an astonishing level of detail. It didn't come as a huge surprise to learn that Kusama suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder.  As a child, Kusama experienced trauma both within her family and as a result of the war. The treatment she received at the hands of the New York art community only exacerbated her anxiety. Kusama has attempted suicide -- twice -- and has felt at times like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Since the 1970s, she has lived in a psychiatric hospital with an art therapy program. It's a place where she feels safe and that allows her the peace of mind to continue to create at her nearby studio.

Kusama's remarkable story has been captured in a documentary entitled "Kusama: Infinty."  It can be seen on Hulu or Amazon Prime. To watch the trailer, click here.

A huge thanks to Chas and Mimi Wood for their generosity in sharing their collection. It was a truly exciting--and educational--art experience. And I made some new friends to boot! Now THAT's what I call a successful outing.









The Art of Performance -- Rochester Style

The Genesee River High Falls You would never mistake the Rochester Fringe Festival for the Edinburgh Fringe. Among the many differences ...