Review: Art At The Origin: The Early 1960s at The Rose Gallery.

December 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ellsworth Kelly "Blue White" (Gevirtz-Mnuchin Purchase Fund)

The founding and subsequent history of The Rose Art Museum in Waltham, Massachusetts is inarguably an assertion of the fundamental value of contemporary art. In 1961 the Rose family endowed Brandeis University with funds to establish a collection of ‘important art’ with strict limitations on the purchase value of individual pieces. The founding curator, Sam Hunter, was therefore charged with a difficult task. However, due to his acumen, a fortunate outcome resulted: Brandeis University reviewed, sourced, and purchased important examples of the most contemporary of 1960s works – Robert Rauschenberg’s “Second Time Painting,” Ellsworth Kelly’s “Blue White,” and Jasper John’s “Drawer,” to name a few.

The Rose’s current exhibition Art at the Origin: The Early 1960s is successful in reversing the unfortunate, and short-sighted attempt in 2009 by the former Brandeis University president to ‘balance the books’ (read: lack of education funding and global financial crisis) and sell the collection. (This is subtly referred to in the exhibition as ‘the crisis.’) The exhibit provides both a defence and a celebration of the gallery’s enduring presence on the campus.

However, it is the uniqueness of the works themselves that is truly noteworthy. “Saturday Disaster,” a rare piece from Andy Warhol’s disaster series, is a thought-provoking respite from the artist’s more familiar images of dazzling smiles and paparazzi-like portraits. We are forced to rethink Warhol’s mantra of commercial indifference in the context of this jolting and disturbing portrayal of dead bodies splayed over a crashed car.

Jim Dine’s, “Double Red Bathroom” is timeless in its comment on the banality of everyday life objects. The piece, which is an assemblage of bathroom materials painted red, is both inexplicably beautiful and captivating. However, the thick layering of red paint, which renders the toilet paper and toothbrush unusable, is unsettling and uncertain in its message.

The curatorial presentation of the Rose Gallery, whether intentional or not, creates an interesting time warp when you exit the Art at the Origin exhibit and enter the present ‘contemporary works’ exhibition space. Here are the far less venerated, though equally thrilling works that I would certainly argue will be the masterpieces of our generation. Yasumasa Morimura’s, “Futago” is a restaging of Édouard Manet’s “Olympia,” in which the artist stares both seductively and defiantly at the viewer. Completely subverting the expectations of traditional art history, this piece is telling of the progressive and experimental works in the Rose’s impressive collection. The ongoing role and necessity of galleries like the Rose is no doubt evident.

Art at the Origin: The Early 1960s runs at the Rose Gallery until May 20, 2012.

– Georgia Erger

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