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Faulconer Gallery

Art and Community

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


This fall, the Faulconer Gallery will be presenting an exhibition made with and about the community of Grinnell.  Entitled Culturing Community: Projects about Place, the show tries to get at aspects of our little town that are not apparent on the surface.  The artists involved use art and culture as a means to inspire participation by those who might not otherwise see themselves as a part of the constituency around the gallery.  The show includes projects that focus on a cemetery, on intermodal shipping containers (those huge steel boxes that ride on truck beds and train cars), on collections large and small in Grinnell, and on the work people do here every day. Out of such disparate material, artists are weaving installations and art objects for the exhibition. On at least an idealistic level, then, culture helps cultivate community itself. 

I’m currently up to my eyeballs in details about the show.  Though the opening is still two months away, we are facing a number of publication deadlines in the next few weeks.  Chief among the deadlines on my plate is the introductory essay for the show, which is my creation so it rests on me to make a cogent explanation of what the heck the show is about.

As a result, I have been thinking much about community and the role art plays in community. It is thus perhaps fortuitous, and certainly appropriate, that the Grinnell Arts Center and Gallery (GACG) officially opens its doors tonight for the first time.  Housed in the Stewart Library building, vacated when the library moved to its grand new quarters, the GACG is the home of the Grinnell Area Arts Council and all that they oversee.  I’ve been involved with the Arts Council for many of my 11 years in Grinnell and have witnessed the organization’s transformation from a small board that met in various basement meeting rooms to dole out modest sums of cash into an institution with a building (the GACG), an executive director, and a rich area of arts programs.

Today the Arts Council oversees after school programs in visual arts, foreign language, and creative writing, courses in arts and languages for adults, a bagpipe band, a community theatre, a summer artist residency program, an art gallery, a summer music series, and a minigrant program. Each program has responded to a community need and has been nursed along by the passion of a few individuals. In Grinnell, we are fortunate that the vision one person has can take wing and become a part of the cultural life of everyone.

The opening of the Arts Center in downtown is a symbolic statement that arts are at the heart of our community. We have literally brought the arts council in from the fringes of town, where they have thrived for years on the Lacina farm, but where they remained somewhat inaccessible to all. Now they will have a home next to the post office, behind the City offices, and across the street from the coffee house and the chamber of commerce. They are available to everyone and are working hard to attract a wider constituency with everything they do.  For more visit www.grinnellarts.org

I am very proud of the Arts Council for seeing through a major transformation. It takes a leap of faith to move from a group of arts enthusiasts to managing a facility and staff. But it speaks volumes about the willingness of Grinnellians to embrace new ideas and to experience them first hand. We salute the culturing that goes on in our community and wish the GACG the very best.

Exploring the Unknown

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


Tomorrow we board a plane for a 15 hour flight to the other side of the world. I won't be able to read the language, unless it's been translated into pinyin, and I won't understand a word.  This is both deliciously tantalizing and terrifying. 10 years ago, the Faulconer Gallery did an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art based on Chinese characters.  Some of it was actual Chinese language. Some of it was by Chinese artists playing with the language. While I understood those concepts, I would not have been able to make the distinction visually. Now I am headed to the source of that language itself. I realize how much I depend on language to navigate. As a friend says, I'll just have to learn to ask for help and not try to do everything myself! 

I'm looking forward to experiencing the dynamism of China, the clash of old and new. I revel in places where ancient and modern collide, where a city really lives and isn't preserved as an artifact. I look forward to making new friends. I'm nervous about finding restaurants and foods every day. I know how hard that can be and how cranky I get if I don't find food.  At first, my body won't even know when I should eat, since our schedules will be upside down. We have notes from colleagues who have been to Nanjing, and I trust we will have helpful guidance along the way.

I am hopeful that I can be open to the experiences and take things as they come. I really hope my class is interesting and useful to students at Nanjing University.  We are ready for an amazing 5 weeks.  Next stop, Hong Kong.

A word about blogs

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)

For all of you out there faithfully following my blog, you may have noticed that some older posts have just reappeared as new posts.  I am working with wonderful advisors back at Grinnell on sorting out some issues with the blog, and as either of us goes back in to an old post and makes edits or adjustments, that post then becomes a "new" post.  I apologize for the confusion! 

We are working on trying to get a slide show of images I created of scenes around Nanjing to appear in the blog.  Our communications are a bit hampered by the 13 hour time difference. Stay tuned for further developments!

Hong Kong Adventures

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


For the last two days, we have been hosted royally in Hong Kong by friends and colleagues. They have given us glimpses of Hong Kong we would likely never have found on our own.  And they have shared their friendship which is always welcome when traveling.

On Friday, Shing-wai Chan, chief curator for conservation of the Leisure and Cultural Services department of Hong Kong, took us on a tour of three major museums. In the process, we had a chance to see some of the neighborhoods on the Kowloon side and get a sense of the city beyond the harbor. We first toured the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, including the conservation labs in the basement, labs overseen by Mr. Chan. The museum is an impressive structure designed by Barry Lord, though Mr. Chan was the first to acknowledge that there were several unwieldy architectural features including a massive and slippery processional staircase which is now rarely used, and a vast interior courtyard that emulates a traditional Chinese structure but which in fact is usually too hot for anyone to venture into.  The museum houses the design collections, some of the history and antiquity collections, and a recent gift from T.T. Tsui, a remarkable collector who recently passed away. It also has an extensive toy collection which anchors the children's area. Alas, this museum, perhaps because of its location, seems to be under utilized. 

Mr. Chan then paid us the extraordinary compliment of taking us to lunch at the Jocky Club at the Sha Tin Racecourse in the New Territories. One of the world's most modern horse racing tracks, the course has grass, clay and dirt tracks surrounding a public park in the center. Lunch was a deliciious dim sum feast--dim sum being a Cantonese invention. We enjoyed various dumplings, a lovely soup, and wonderful tea in an elegant dining room overlooking the track.

Then we whisked back into Tsim Sha Tsui--the neighborhood where we are staying--to visit the Hong Kong Cultural Center and in particular the HK History Museum and the HK Museum of Art. The history museum focuses on the story of Hong Kong and is well worth the time. It is engagingly organized and recreates the ambience of a number of periods in Hong Kong history while providing good information. It was a real model of what can be done with relatively few artifacts but excellent teamwork between curators, designers and educators. There were loads of school children but even they seemed to be much more engaged than the kids we saw at the Heritage Museum.

At the Art Museum, we were introduced to one of the curators and toured a special exhibition of art by Wu Guanzhong, an influential 90 year old artist who has donated 50 of his pieces to the museum. Trained in Paris in the 40s, Wu has a wide ranging body of work that blends Chinese and Western art traditions. He has taught art for decades at Beijing University. How he managed to hang on and continue his work through the Cultural Revolution is truly a feat.

Yesterday my niece took us in hand and showed us Hong Kong island proper. We took the venerable Star Ferry across the harbor, dodging all manner of water craft. Victoria harbor is bustling with everything from cruise ships to fishing boats.  Three tunnels run underneath for auto traffic but they are apparently often backed up and quite unpleasant. Gwen met us on the elevated walkways that snake all throughout "Central" as the main commercial heart of Hong Kong is called. We wandered them deeper into the city, admiring the gleaming office towers driving the commercial engine of Hong Kong and peering down into streets crowded with stalls. Gwen told us that Hong Kong is a city where you can get anything though you need the inside information to know where you can get quality goods you can trust, or even to find the really fine restaurants. It's a city that keeps its secrets.

We strolled along Hollywood Road, lined with boutiques and galleries, though they weren't set to open till noon on Saturday, alas. We visited the oldest temple in Hong Kong, with dozens of huge coils of incense burning overhead, and a number of people making offerings of incense, candles and fruit to the deities. For luck they would make a donation, bang the drum and ring the bell. I hope all their wishes are fulfilled.

Gwen treated us to a lovely foot massage, one of the "things to do" in Hong Kong. We then took our happy feet off to find the bus and traveled across Hong Kong island to the southside and Gwen's home in Stanley.  We had lunch with her family. Rod runs a hedge fund, which is what brought them to Hong Kong. Their kids, Jack (10), Zoe (7) and Ethan (3) are thriving in a land of high rise living, a far different world from their former life in Santa Monica, where we last saw them.

Some of our lasting impressions of Hong Kong will be:  outrageously expensive watches sold by the dozens, mall after mall filled with luxury goods (purchased primarily by mainland Chinese), happy crowds, and a penchant for brand names and status. Gwen mused that there doesn't seem to be much of a heart to Hong Kong. We'd have to stay a lot longer to test that hypothesis. Soon we head for the airport and our Nanjing adventure begins. As soon as I have secured internet connectivity in Nanjing, I'll post again.

Art Looking Life in the Eye

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


Posted by: 

 Lesley Wright

Art Looking Life in the Eye

South African artist Diane Victor has traveled to the frozen fields of Iowa to complete drawings for her exhibition Of Fables and Folly, which opens here at the Faulconer on Friday, January 28. She is currently working on oversize drawings, made of smoke from candles, of South African prisoners—people whose lives are as ephemeral in the grand scheme of social power as the smoke that depicts them. These portraits are haunting, but bearable. Her prints on view in the upcoming show are much tougher to take. Victor takes an unflinching look at the injustices, violence, and travesties that lace post-apartheid South Africa.  Blacks, whites, men, women and children circulate through her images as perpetrators and victims, underscoring that social dysfunction affects everyone.  To understand Victor’s work is to confront realities we might prefer not to know about.

In presenting art to the public, we who curate are at an interesting intersection. If a subject has sexual, or violent, or religious content—or a combination of any of these—we consider more than carefully if we should show it, fretting about who may be upset or angered by the discomfort created. Granted, there are artists who use shock value to drive interest in work that probably isn’t worth a look. But there are also gifted creators with impeccable principles who know that a work of art can encapsulate a social truth better than words, or photographs. By passing reality through the creative process, a distillation occurs and we get at the kernel of the problem, undistracted by the issues of specificity over which we might argue. Think of the great novels, undergirded by historical realities but invented by their authors. Through them we encounter worlds we might never choose to see. Victor does the same.

So why do we shy away? Anyone who has passed through the grand galleries of the great art museums of the (particularly) western world has studied, admired, considered paintings with titles such as “The Rape of the Sabine Women,” “Death of Sardanapalus,” “Massacre of the Innocents,” in other words paintings about rape, death, and disaster.  Religious art abounds with gruesome martyrdoms, images of sacrifice, and death at the hands of oppressors.  A tour through Italy is punctuated with seemingly hundreds of Saint Sebastians pierced again and again by quivers full of arrows. We accept these horrific images without pause. Violence, sex and death are part of our common visual language.

But bring it into the present, in the hands of a master draftswoman like Diane Victor, and we grow queasy. It is a case of NIMBY in art—don’t go looking in my back yard for the senseless, the abusive, and the shocking. Don’t tell me that these things are happening in South Africa; apartheid is over and life should be better, right? Like Hogarth in the 18th century, Goya in the 19th, or Kathe Kollwitz in the 20th, Victor challenges us to face up to what’s rotten in the heart of civilization, and in doing so, to strengthen our resolve to do better. To do so, she reaches back into our past and calls on Greek mythology, and earlier masters (you can’t avoid Goya in her prints) to fortify her images. Her subjects come racing out of the past but their power comes from the present. Her technical abilities in printmaking and drawing are astonishing, and certainly worth a look purely for technique, but it’s tough to get past her subjects--which is as it should be.

I hope you’ll visit Victor’s exhibition, on view until April 17, 2011. She brings bravery to art, and calls to us to be as courageous.


Squirrel Shaped Fish

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


On days when we aren't teaching, we set off to explore an area of the city. Sometimes we walk along wide boulevards lined with sycamore trees. The businesses on these avenues are upscale, glitzy and very polished.  They might be selling Italian design, Bentleys, or high end cosmetics.  We can usually read the shop signs and brand names, though there are sometimes just enough difference from what we are used to that we suspect that the goods aren't quite the real thing (Polo Villae would be an example).  The Hunan Lu area north of us is a cross-roads of luxury goods, malls, and a pedestrian mall lined with restaurants fancy and ordinary.  South of us, at the heart of the city in Xinjiekou, there are 14 malls all in one place, with most selling the same things (Gucci, Prada, and the like are quite popular).

Side streets and smaller avenues are lined with small businesses.  Some have glass windows and a door, others have a roll-up front and are open to the street. On Guongzhou Lu, just outside the university gates, we pass an ice cream shop, tiny dress shop, McDonalds, stall selling buns, another dress shop, a place selling hand bags, a bakery, another bakery, more ice cream, a fast food Chinese restaurant, and so on.  Deeper into the neighborhoods, there would be more tiny restaurants and food stalls. Much of daily life goes on in front of the shops on the street.  People sit out front and chat with one another, toddlers play among the passing throng, a few bits of laundry may be drying on a rack or hung from the trees. The border here between commerce and life is porous and fluid. 

The smaller shops rarely bother to have a name or "brand" on them, but any shop with any pretension to selling desirable goods comes up with a name for itself.  McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken--a trio taking China by storm--are ubiquitous.  The China Daily recently reported that about half of all Chinese youth under 12 now believe that McDonald's is a Chinese invention!  Aside from the high end luxury goods, we recognize few of the shop names.  They are attempts to legitimize the blizzard of knock off goods produced in the factories of the south.  Sometimes we figure out who they are trying to imitate, and the best, so far, is the brand "Squirrel Shaped Fish" -- an ingenious description of an alligator for a shop selling Izod knock offs.  I doubt I'll ever look at a squirrel or an alligator in quite the same way again!

798 Art District in Beijing

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Anyone who saw the Olympics may have gotten a sense of the sophistication of Beijing. Whatever TV can show, it’s nothing compared to the lived experience in China’s capitol city. From its wide boulevards, to trendy shopping areas seemingly without end, to skyscrapers that appear to spring up overnight, Beijing is a city relentlessly on the move. Compared to Nanjing, everything is bigger, wider, fancier, though Nanjing has the edge in pedestrian, bike and motor scooter traffic. Beijing is a car, bus and metro culture.

From its beginnings almost a 1000 years ago in the Yuan dynasty (the line of emperors starting with Ghengis Khan), Beijing has been a planned city. The temples and palace are on a clear north/south axis and everything radiates from the palace (aka Forbidden City), Tian An Men and the vast square that spreads south from that gate. As such, Beijing is easy to navigate and lends itself to modern transportation systems. A series of ring roads carry traffic around the city. The second and third rings are the oldest and most congested. Now the 4th and 5th rings spread the city into the suburbs. Down below, the first two lines of the Metro system were joined, for the Olympics, by 5 more lines, linking the city with clean, efficient subways. When China wants to accomplish something, they are determined and successful. Now if they could just figure out how to get consistently clean drinking water across the country…

Beijing is also the leading city in China for contemporary art. Instead of building a gallery zone from scratch and tearing out what was already there, the art world instead took a page from the Soho/Chelsea model and went in search of existing raw space for a gallery zone. They found it near the 3rd ring road, in a decaying area of 50s era factories and warehouses. These spaces offer large uninterrupted rooms and high ceilings that can be cleaned up and used as is or modified into slick galleries. So on our first day in Beijing we set off to visit the 798 Art District. A second area, Caochangdi, a little further on, is the latest cutting edge art zone in Beijing, but we couldn’t do both in a day. Like everything else in Beijing, they are enormous.

Like Soho and Chelsea, 798 started with a few blocks and continues to expand. There is a wide mix of types of galleries, necessary to attract a diverse clientele with varying budgets for buying art. There are a few spaces called “museums,” and a few of them offer exhibitions that set the bar very high with curated shows and international artists. The best of these is the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art www.ucca.org.cn. The layout of 798 is on a grid, and the atmosphere is relaxed. Most of the streets are for pedestrians, with the occasional car or delivery van moving carefully through the throng. Gift boutiques and quirky craft stores hug the margins, there is a major street that features restaurants, mostly overpriced, and snack and drink vendors are scattered throughout. About halfway through our day, we finally found a map (would that they were ubiquitous), and discovered that some of the best spaces are down “streets” that are actually arcades or alleys located behind the main roads. The map helped focus our looking.

A visit to any gallery district or art fair provides a snapshot of the art world in a particular place, at a particular time. After a day of looking, here is what we took away from our day in June in the 798 Art District.

Paintings predominated, which bucks the recent trend towards photography and video. In fact we saw relatively little video overall. We also saw some intriguing sculpture (and a lot that was pretty derivative), and a few fine photography galleries. In the paintings, there were an awful lot of large eyed, big headed figures. I read somewhere that there had recently been a Japanese “anime” festival at 798 and these may have been the remnants. Still, we grew weary of being ogled by google-eyed bubble heads. Are people buying these? We also saw a good deal of distortion, fantasy and dream world creatures in painting and sculpture: super inflated bodies, attenuated forms, and hybrid animal-vegetable-mechanical creatures. Don proposed that we were witnessing a 21-century return to Surrealism and his observation provided fodder for much discussion as the day wore on. Finally, we noted a steady state undertone of Jeff Koons’ inspired kitschy mechanical reproduction. Sigh.

We started our day with an entertaining and eclectic show called Input/Output at Red Star Gallery. The quality was mixed, though some pieces were quite good. After passing through several areas, it finally dawned on us that we were seeing an MFA exhibition from the Beijing Institute of Fine Arts. Once it all made sense we could relax and enjoy the show. The industrial design, jewelry and architecture were top notch. We saw two excellent photography galleries. 798 Photo Gallery was installing their main space, but they had portfolios of work by their artists to peruse. MR Gallery had an excellent show, “Reversal,” by Chinese artist Cheng Yuyang. His black and white montages are done with large format contact prints from negatives (so the blacks and whites reverse into a ghostly presence, and the sky is always black). He photographs panoramic sites in Beijing, but they come across as mysterious and sinister when reversed.

We saw a show of consistently strong work by South Korean artists at Artside Gallery, a space specializing in work from Korea . Galeria Continua, a gallery based in Italy, had the best exhibition we saw. Entitled “Rem(a)inders,” it featured works by 8 artists and artist teams, all of whom made work out of or about the leavings of consumer society. There were pieces made of plastic bags, bits of bicycles, smashed crockery, carpenters’ leavings, and old shoes. One lovely set of paintings featured the remains of Chinese dinners, and a video piece eerily tailed a police car down darkened empty streets. The show opened with a piece by Michelangelo Pistoletto of a large Buddha sitting atop a mound of cast-off clothing and electronics. On what do we hope to base our enlightenment?

Though we are masters of speed viewing and will walk right back out of a gallery that doesn’t interest us, we still didn’t see it all. We’ll just have to visit again — and check out Caochangdi — the next time we are in Beijing.

Faulconer Gallery

The Faulconer Gallery in Bucksbaum presents exhibitions year-round, ranging from the annual Student Art Salon to traveling exhibitions from world-renowned artists. Students work with the gallery’s professional staff  as interns, gallery attendants, and arts outreach providers for the community. Classes often examine the College's art collection in the Print and Drawing Study Room in Burling Library, and may curate exhibitions drawn from the collection.

"1966 Yearbook Project" exhibition takes trip back in time via latest digital technology

Wednesday, Apr. 4, 2012 12:00 am

Grinnell, IA - In the days before personal computers, cell phones and email came the yearbook “Grinnell College – 1966,” deemed too controversial and banned from publication by the college until 1986. Photographed by Grinnell alumni Henry Wilhelm and the late John Phillips with contributions from fellow students John Wolf and Robert Hodierne, the yearbook was created as a photographic documentary of life in and out of the classroom at Grinnell during the mid-1960s, a time that soon led to major cultural and political turmoil on campuses and in society.

As part of a project to digitally re-master the 1966 yearbook for free worldwide online distribution, more than 100 high-quality, large-format photographs selected from the yearbook will be exhibited at Grinnell’s Faulconer Gallery, Apr. 13-June 3. The black-and-white images have been digitally printed from high-resolution scans of the photographers’ original 35mm negatives, preserved by Wilhelm for more than 45 years.

Wilhelm is an internationally recognized expert on photographic preservation and director of research at Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. in Grinnell. He has been a preservation consultant to numerous collecting institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Corbis documentary photography collections owned by Bill Gates. In 2007, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Photoimaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association for his work on the evaluation of the permanence of traditional and digital color prints. In 2011, he received an honorary doctor of science degree from Grinnell.

A series of free, public exhibition programs, sponsored by Grinnell College and Faulconer Gallery, will provide background on the yearbook project and insight into the technological transformations making it accessible to the public. All events will be held in Faulconer Gallery unless otherwise noted.

  • Apr. 13, 4:15 p.m.: A panel discussion by college trustee Harold Fuson, an authority on freedom of the press; Wolf, who co-authored the yearbook’s text; attorney Michael Horwatt; and Wilhelm will focus on the book’s innovations, controversies and eventual publication. The discussion, moderated by Grinnell President Emeritus George Drake who arranged to publish the yearbook in 1986, will include First Amendment rights and the exercise and restraint of those rights at colleges and universities. Fuson, former editor of the college newspaper, lawyer, and journalist, is the author of “Telling it All: A Legal Guide to the Exercise of Free Speech.” Horwatt represented Phillips and Wilhelm in 1966 in negotiations with the college about the banned yearbook. 
  • April 13, 6-7 p.m.: Opening reception. • Apr. 24, 4:15 p.m.: “The Forbidden Text” reading and panel discussion by Grinnell College students, faculty and staff who will read from censored or banned texts and explore issues of censorship and technology. 
  • May 3, 4:15 p.m.: Gallery talk by Wilhelm about the changing technologies of photography, printing and image storage since the 1960s.

Concurrent with the “1966 Yearbook Project” are three special exhibitions in campus galleries: civil rights photographs by John Phillips in Burling Gallery and John Chrystal Center, and a related Burling Gallery exhibit of activism photos and memorabilia organized by members of classes from 1967 to 1973. The Phillips’ prints, selected from two portfolios of work acquired by Faulconer Gallery, include photographs taken in 1965 of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic voting rights protests in Selma, Ala.

A set of prints of the 501 photographs in the yearbook will become part of the college’s permanent collection, and a high-resolution Adobe Acrobat PDF/A archival format digital edition of the book will also be created for online distribution. Supporters of these projects include Grinnell College, the late John Phillips, Henry, Carol, and Charlie Wilhelm, and the staff of Wilhelm Imaging Research, with assistance from Canon and ScanCafe.

Faulconer Gallery, located in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, 1108 Park St. on the Grinnell campus, is open Tuesday-Wednesday, noon to 5 p.m., Thursday-Friday, noon to 8 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; closed Monday. For more information about the photographers, exhibition and related programs, call 641-269-4660 or visit www.grinnell.edu/faulconergallery.