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Life’s Damaged Goods: Exhibit looks at loss and redemption

Posted on 04 February 2009

About 10 years ago, Terrie Sultan, Director of the Parrish Art Museum, read a Critical Inquiry article by philosopher Thomas Dumm. The essay was entitled “Resignation” and in it, Dumm explored the notion of human disappointment, which he noted was followed by resignation — both figuratively and literally — and reconstruction of a new world view.

“It was 1998 and it resonated,” recalls Sultan. “Everywhere I turned, there were artists exploring this passage. It seemed like an interesting juncture between real life and art.”

Sultan, who came to the Parrish last spring from the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston, was so intrigued by the concept of disappointment, followed by resignation and defiant optimism that she began organizing an exhibition on the theme. 

“I was seeing this work and feeling it was speaking to me in this way. I had collected piles of material from works I had seen leading me in that direction,” says Sultan who had intended to create an exhibition based on the theme titled “Disappointment and Resignation.”

“But then after 9/11, I thought I don’t want to stay so deeply involved,” say Sultan. “Even though the end result is positive, it’s such a long haul from where we were that I put it away.” 

It was David Pagel, a professor of art at Claremont Graduate University and an adjunct curator at the Blaffer, who encouraged Sultan to revisit the material.

“He said, ‘I think you should bring ‘Disappointment and Resignation’ back, but I think we need to reframe the argument and get rid of the title and focus on who these artists are and what they do,’” recalls Sultan. “He said, ‘It seems to me they are a bunch of artists who are really romantics, but are just damaged.”

And with that, an exhibition was born. 

This Saturday, February 7, the Parrish opens “Damaged Romanticism: A Mirror of Modern Emotion” with a 6 p.m. talk by Sultan, cocurator of the exhibition. The show, which runs through April 12, features a range of representational art by 15 contemporary artists and it is running concurrently at the Grey Art Gallery in New York City (where it opened on January 13).

“Damaged Romanticism” comes to the Parrish and the Grey from the Blaffer Gallery where it was on view this fall. Work by all 15 artists will be on view in Southampton and New York, though the art will be different in each. Sultan hopes viewers will take the opportunity to visit both venues to see the full body of work in “Damaged Romanticism.”

Artists whose work is included in the exhibition are Richard Billingham, Berlinde De Bruyckere, Edward Burtynsky, Sophie Calle, Petah Coyne, Angelo Filomeno, Jesper Just, Mary McCleary, Florian Maier-Aichen, Wangechi Mutu, Julia Oschatz, Anneè Olofsson, David Schnell and Ryan Taber/Cheyenne Weaver. 

Sultan notes that despite their varied mediums, in their work, each of these artists expresses the idea of some sort of love and loss, followed by the rebuilding of a new reality. 

“Any kind of love lost is addressed,” says Sultan. “Burtynsky, Schnell, Aichen and Oschatz are looking at altered landscapes and post apocalyptic views. Jesper Just and Anneè Olofsson deal with interpersonal relationships. It covers pretty much all the areas where an emotional interaction has taken place, been processed and assimilated.”

“All these artists are influenced by classical romanticism,” she says. “I do think there’s a sense of a romantic ideal that has been altered.” 

While one would think that this notion of realignment after disappointment and loss is a universal theme, Sultan has found that there are artists from certain parts of the world who tend to visit it more often in their work.

“In a funny way, this attitude about disappointment and resignation is very Anglo-Saxon,” notes Sultan. “There’s some Japanese artists skirting the edges of this idea, but the artists are largely from northern Europe or Scandinavia.”

Despite the variety of themes and styles represented by the individual artists in this show, Sultan explains that there is a definitive connection between them. When the art is seen in the context of an entire exhibit, she finds that the depth of experience can be far richer than if the work of just one artist is considered.

“One thing about group exhibitions, it’s not just 15 artists, but artists whose work speaks to each other,” notes Sultan. “That’s part of the job of a curator. I had files and files of artists who spoke to me from the realm of damaged romantic. When you put them together you see how some artists form attachments.”

“The decision making is not just about individual artists but how the total group works together to inform and enhance each other.”

“Damaged Romanticism: A Mirror of Modern Emotion” is cocurated by Terrie Sultan, David Pagel, Assistant Professor of Art Theory and History at Claremont Graduate University, and Colin Gardner, professor of Critical Theory and Integrative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Parrish Art Museum is located at 25 Job’s Lane, Southampton. For more information, call 283-2118.

Above: Mary McCleary’s “9.81 Meters Per Second Per Second,” 2006, mixed media collage on paper, 45” x 71.5.” Private Collection, Houston




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