Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Art of Giving: A History of Philanthropy

Prince Sergey S. Belosselsky-Belozersky and Florence Crane, ca. 1944

In mid-July, the University of Georgia announced that, for the fifth consecutive year, UGA donors set a record in fundraising, contributing a total of $242 million in new gifts and pledges to the Commit to Georgia Campaign. This was the second consecutive year that the total surpassed $200 million. The museum has a goal of raising $22.5 million by the conclusion of the campaign, which includes works of art. One of the most exciting gifts we have received during the campaign is the one that makes up the current exhibition “One Heart, One Way: The Journey of a Princely Art Collection” (on view through January 6). Organized by Parker Curator of Russian Art Asen Kirin, it introduces our audiences to the art collection of the Belossersky-Belozersky family, a collection that has not been seen for decades and that now belongs to the people of the state of Georgia.

A little over a year ago, Princess Marina Sergeevna Belosselsky-Belozersky Kasarda was looking for a museum that could house her family’s collection of paintings and decorative arts dating back to 1660. Her father, Sergei Sergeevich, had previously donated items from the family archive, manuscripts and works of art to Harvard and Columbia universities, Hillwood Museum and Gardens and the Walters Art Museum, and she hoped to follow in his tradition of philanthropy. Marina and her husband, Vladislav Kasarda, contacted experts affiliated with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Harriman Institute at Columbia University — two noted sources with considerable expertise on Russian culture and art — for advice on the matter, and both of them recommended the Georgia Museum of Art. The museum had worked with Hoover and Harriman previously on scholarly exhibitions of Russian art, and they knew we were well suited to manage, exhibit and study such a gift. “One Heart, One Way” is only the first step in our process of doing so, and we look forward to discovering more about each object from this collection as well as making connections between it and others, like the Parker Collection.

The Belosselsky-Belozersky family traces its roots back to Rurik of Jutland, the 9th-century Viking chieftan and founder of the medieval state of Kievan Rus’ (the predecessor of Russia). The Beloye (white) Lake in northern Russia gave the family its name and was famous for its sturgeons, two of which appear on the Belosserky-Belozersky crest. The family played an important role in the history of Eastern Europe. In the 18th century, starting in the reign of Peter the Great, its members took part in European political, diplomatic and intellectual life. Prince Alexander Mikhailovich corresponded with the philosophers Immanuel Kant and Voltaire. Portraits of these aristocratic intellectuals and objects they owned are part of the collection, including paintings by renowned portraitists Anton Graff, Pietro Benvenuti and Christina Robertson.

With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Belosselsky-Belozersky family emigrated to its estate in Finland; a chartered train carried the collection to safety there. At this point in the art historical record, experts considered several famed paintings in the collection as lost, but happily their assumptions were incorrect. From Finland, the family moved to London, England, where the collection survived World War II, and finally to Ipswich, Massachusetts, when Prince Sergei Sergeevich Belossselsky married Florence Crane, of the family that owned the Crane Company. The Russian program at the Georgia Museum of Art has grown steadily since its inception and is now widely respected. For Mrs. Kasarda to trust us with her family’s heirlooms that have been through so much is a profoundly moving expression of confidence in our abilities. The art of giving consists, in part, of being able to make just such a magnanimous gesture. We will do our very best to live up to our end of the bargain.

Heather Malcom
Director of Development

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Student Spotlight: Neil Hancock

Each semester, the Georgia Museum of Art has student interns from departments and units across campus. Penske McCormack is currently an intern for the department of communications and a student at the Lamar Dodd School of Art. In the essay below, they examine and interpret the work of another Lamar Dodd student, Neil Hancock.

"Large, But Not Biggest"
By his own insistence, Neil Hancock’s paintings are guarded by code. Meaning and narrative embroiled within a foreign alphabet, each visual element is a Gordian knot of misinterpretation, to the point that we, the viewers, are forced to release our compulsion to comprehend. It is only with such release that these paintings are able to be effectively experienced. Hancock’s self-portrait as a raccoon serves as an excellent example, using the question “why?” as a weapon against trespass. We are confronted by symbols and objects that, according to our own logic, must hold translatable meaning: a dead raccoon, surrounded by an aura of vibrating white; a rectangle layered over the animal and painted with wood grain; digital prints of oranges and a table full of beer and cigarettes; and road lines of exaggerated perspective, which disappear with blotched strokes that ground the painting as a painting, not an illusion. Why include these elements? What are their logic and their purpose, if we are not given tools to excavate their significance? This art historian would argue that it is to the end of redemption, even democratization, of autobiography that the artist performs such futile semiotics.

Although we are presented with symbolic elements very consciously chosen and executed on the part of the artist, and the painting therefore reeks of personal significance — the title, “Game Knows Game,” exemplifies such — the fact that the symbols are not explained means that we are free to experience the narrative as an object. Rather than being bound to the artist’s experiences and point of view, we are able to adjust our mental grip to our own comfort. Like the consumption of food versus the preparation of it, we are sensing the self-portrait rather than understanding it.

Hancock’s paintings also perform alchemy in the transformation of sensation and experience into an object. As can only be effectively seen in person, the canvases are thick, the sides painted to encase them fully in the artist’s will. “Camo Object” highlights this prioritization of a painting’s reality rather than its realism. “Ill Dome” performs the same transformation, with the added layer of a perfectly comprehensible and relatable phrase, “Shut Up Brain,” manifesting in reality along with the painting. The frustration of overthinking is made feasible, something we could grip in our hands, turn over and over, even throw against the wall. This potentiality creates a sense of wonder regarding a sensation that would otherwise be somewhat sinister, yet fully castrated by its mundaneness.

“Horrible People,” a collaboration with Athens artist Annemarie DiCamillo, takes this transfiguration and magnifies it through vehemence. The graphic flames amplify the phrase and raze the viewer’s perception in a straightforward sense, but scribbled paint strokes, tone-shifting emotive letters, and drips of paint both precise and messy communicate the sensation even more effectively. We do not know of whom the artist is speaking, or what situation brought about the frustration — for certainly it was a condensed moment, implied by the phrase’s hasty scrawl — but the necessity of such knowledge has been done away with. An explosive sensation is reinterpreted through intentionality and allows us to reconsider with it with impunity--the experience of aggravation without the cause or consequence.

“Large, But Not the Biggest” (above), includes all these factors. It is a painting of tenderness, and of an important story we can feel but not iterate. By withholding information, the narrative becomes almost universalized. Hancock’s painting is a practice in labor and ease, immediacy and distance, as is best described by the statement on the artist’s website:

“He uses abstraction as a means of generalization, reexamining and categorizing experience into painting surface and object. Experience becomes truth. Ambiguity is important. The code cannot be broken. Defend the castle.”

Penske McCormack
Intern, Department of Communications

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Out of the Darkness: Light in the Depths of the Sea of Cortez

Rebecca Rutstein, Progenitor I, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 66 x 108 inches.    
Starting November 1, visitors to the Georgia Museum of Art can experience the work of Rebecca Rutstein in a new exhibition titled “Out of the Darkness: Light in the Depths of the Sea of Cortez.” Comprised of two types of installations, sculptural and painting, Rutstein’s show is connected to her upcoming expedition at sea to Mexico’s Guaymas Basin Spreading Center to study thermal vents with Mandy Joye, a University of Georgia professor in the department of marine sciences. Rutstein has described her work as connecting her many interests, saying, “Working with sonar maps and other oceanic data in collaboration with scientists, much of my recent work and upcoming projects focus on shedding light on a world hidden from view. These visual experiences are meant to deepen one’s connection to these unseen places in the spirit of fostering understanding, empathy and conservancy of our oceans in the face of climate change.”

The sculptural installation, on view November 1, 2018 through October 27, 2019, spans 11 x 64 feet, and is comprised of 11 powder coated carbon steel elements and an LED interactive lighting program. The molecular forms within the sculpture are related to the structure of hydrocarbon, which Rutstein and others are studying in the Guaymas Basin. The LED interactive lighting component represents the two forms of bioluminescence present at Guaymas.

The second half of her exhibition, comprised of paintings, will include four tiled canvases, stretching to approximately 22 x 9 feet across the north wall in the main lobby of the museum. Each canvas is unique, but they are related to the other works through, among other things, line, color, layering and pattern. This portion of the exhibition will be on view November 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019.

Deputy director Annelies Mondi is the curator for this exhibition, and related programming for the show includes 90 Carlton: Winter on February 8, 2019. Additionally, Rutstein is serving as the upcoming Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding through the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts.

Taylor Lear
Department of Communications