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Re-presenting Representation VI

April 11 - August 31, 2003


While blockbuster art shows like the Monet, Van Gogh, and Matisse/Picasso exhibitions have garnered headlines around the world, the largely-rural Southern Tier region of New York State has its own claim to a grand-scale art exhibit: Re-Presenting Representation. This year, as in 2001, the biennial show spans two museums: the Arnot Art Museum (Elmira, New York) and Rockwell Museum of Western Art (just 20 miles west in neighboring Corning). It will be open to the public in both locations through August 31, 2003.

Who would have predicted, ten years ago, that an exhibition devoted to contemporary representational art would become such a big artistic deal? In 1993, Arnot Art Museum Director John O'Hern sought out some of the world's best contemporary artists whose works reflected likeness to their subjects. It was a concept that complemented the museum's then-new decision to focus on representational art, providing fascinating points of comparison and contrast to the museum's original collection of 17th- 19th century European art.

The exhibition O'Hern curated was called "Re-presenting Representation" - a new look at what some in the contemporary art world branded as "old stuff." But O'Hern was able to show exhibition visitors just why representational art was still exciting and creative. The show was so successful that the museum decided to repeat the theme - and it got bigger and became a biennial exhibit. Along the way, news about the exhibit has been broadcast on CNN in 250 countries, and a version of the show displayed at the Corning Gallery at Steuben in New York City was featured in the New York Times. Two years ago, Re-Presenting Representation expanded to include a second museum: the Rockwell Museum of Western Art in nearby Corning.

As in 2001, this year's exhibition is a seamless whole, with all the works chosen by O'Hern and including some of the world's best contemporary representational artists. The larger portion of the show is in multiple galleries at the Arnot Art Museum, where the focus is on art from around the globe. The portion of the exhibit at the Rockwell Museum will focus on art from the American West, which will be displayed in the Special Exhibitions Gallery.

The Germ of an Idea

As with many big ideas, this show began from just a little germ of an idea. Ten years ago, John O'Hern saw "Bottleman," a painting by Steven Assael. "I was fascinated," said O'Hern. "Here was a contemporary artist using old, classical techniques to address contemporary issues. The piece got me going." He decided to curate an exhibition and set off to discover new artists whose work reflected great skill and artistry and was worthy of museum attention. "The artists were thrilled," he reports. The big museums were not paying much attention to contemporary representational art, and when they did, they tended to focus on a single artist. There was no significant survey of the representational art world. Now, the show's reputation has grown, artists are clamoring to get their work into Re-presenting Representation, and the curatorial process has become increasingly selective.

Initially, O'Hern started out searching for art that reflected classical academic training in which the artist worked from a model. The more he saw, however, the less he cared about how the artist achieved the effect. Hence the show includes an incredible range of technique as well as subject.

This year, O'Hern began with the intention of showing only works by artists who had participated in earlier Re-presenting Representation exhibitions. "I wanted to show how some of these artists had changed. But there were just too many wonderful new things to show, and so we've included some new artists along with the returning ones."

Facts About This Year's Exhibit

Re-presenting Representation VI exhibits 149 works by 84 artists or pairs of artistic collaborators. Of these, 128 works by 75 artists are shown at the Arnot Art Museum; 20 works by 13 artists appear at the Rockwell Museum of Western Art.

The majority of art comes from all across the United States, but there is a substantial amount of work from other countries, too. Canada, China, Columbia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, South Africa, and Spain are all represented. Three artists from the region have works in the show. David Higgins has one oil painting and Aleta Wynn Yarrow has two watercolors in the exhibit, courtesy of West End Gallery in Corning. Jean Stephens of Honeoye Falls also has two oil paintings in the exhibition.

Media included in the show are painting, drawing, photography, video, tapestry, sculpture, clay, and glass. This is the first year that video will be represented. The human figure is the subject of a great many works in the exhibition, but its treatments are many and widely varied.

This is the sixth Re-presenting Representation exhibit, and the second collaborative exhibition between the two museums.


About the Museums

Arnot Art Museum

Since opening its doors in 1913, the museum has been committed to Matthias Arnot's goal of providing "an inexhaustible source of satisfaction and pleasure." Throughout its nearly 100-year history, the museum has provided innovative educational programs and challenging exhibitions for the area public and a growing national audience.

In a new strategic plan adopted in January, 2002, the Board of Trustees recommitted serving the region while building the museum's international reputation for exhibiting and collecting contemporary representational art. The goal of its education program is "to offer an environment for the creation of representational art and opportunities for the public's engagement with artists." It will continue to build on its nationally-recognized collaborative programs with area schools and will establish an artist-in-residence program featuring artists of national stature. The exhibition program will continue to champion local and regional artists and will concentrate more specifically on its biennial exhibitions, Re-presenting Representation, and other exhibitions of contemporary work.

Rockwell Museum of Western Art

The Rockwell Museum of Western Art owns one of the largest and finest collections of Western American art in the United States and provides the public with a chance to see the Best of the West in the Eastern United States. All of the Rockwell Museum's exhibits and services -- galleries, events, art packs, Trading Post, and the adjacent Cantina -- immerse visitors in an authentic Western experience.

Visitors find that the Rockwell Museum puts equal emphasis on creating a stimulating and enjoyable experience and displaying art. Galleries and exhibits are designed to stimulate fresh ideas and encourage discussion. The old and the new are often placed side-by-side, inspiring comparison and curiosity.

The Rockwell Museum's programs are planned to make art and the multiple facets of American culture come alive for visitors. Gallery talks, Salsa y Musica evenings on the Terrace, clay workshops, and other events are, in themselves, memorable reasons to visit the Rockwell, and certainly add to adults' pleasure in the galleries and exhibitions. Families with children find that the Rockwell Museum provides captivating ways for them to discover the West through art packs, storytellings, Dia de los Muertos activities, hands-on art workshops, and more.


Biography: John O'Hern, Curator

"Only connect!" John O'Hern cites E. M. Forster's words in Howard's End: "Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted." Replace "prose" with "paint" and the same notion can be applied to O'Hern. For his passion is art, and he understands how deeply we need to be nourished by its life force.

O'Hern came to the Arnot Art Museum in 1989 as Director, added the responsibilities of Curator in 1994, and became Executive Director and Curator in 2003. Under his guidance, the museum has completed a $550,000 building campaign and completed work on the restoration of the original 1833 building and upgrades to the 1985 addition and 1890s carriage house. At the same time that he put the operations on a solid fiscal footing, he oversaw the process by which the museum earned accreditation from the American Association of Museums. Under his guidance and direction, the museum has won acclaim for innovative, multi-disciplinary education programs and outstanding exhibitions. The Re-presenting Representation exhibitions O'Hern has curated have been recognized as a model and featured in national and international media.

Prior to coming to the Arnot Art Museum, O'Hern was the first resident curator and manager of the Darwin D. Martin House, a Frank Lloyd Wright house, a national historic landmark owned by the State University of New York at Buffalo. He also held earlier posts at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo and Kenan Center in Lockwood, New York.

O'Hern completed the Master of Architecture program at SUNY Buffalo, earned a bachelor's degree in English from Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts, and completed additional programs in photography in Denmark and architectural history and design in Arizona.


Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Rockwell Museum in Resource Library Magazine.

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