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Friday, February 8, 2008

Poughkeepsie Journal
Exhibit displays art of war

By Gabrielle Grilli
For the Poughkeepsie Journal

In a time when the American public can easily lose perspective on the Iraq war, Brian Wallace, curator of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art is bringing it into focus with "Intimacies of Distant War," an exhibit opening Saturday at the State University of New York at New Paltz campus.

The exhibition, which is intended to bring the war to the forefront of people's minds, includes work by New York- and Hudson Valley-based artists.

"This exhibition is an attempt - conditional, provisional, deliberately broad in political, aesthetic, historical and material terms - to put the current war on view and in context. ...The museum has the responsibility to reflect, or at least provide a forum, in which people can reflect upon current debates," said Wallace, who was inspired to do the show after seeing work by a New Paltz art student that addressed the war.

"I immediately started thinking of lots of other artists, contemporary and recent, who have dealt with war," Wallace said. "It's such a huge topic, I felt I had to figure out a way to make some kind of sensible show out of it. I'm not making a political statement, I'm making an art show."

One of the artists he thought of for the exhibit was Daniel Heyman, a Pennsylvania-based artist with whom Wallace had worked in the past. Heyman's work is a combination of etchings and watercolor paintings focusing on the torture victims of Abu Ghraib Prison.

Heyman sat in on testimonies given by prisoners. His works feature the faces of prisoners surrounded by a brief, written account of their own experiences or those they witnessed during their time in the Iraqi prison.

"I cannot accept that our country condones and participates in torture - actions which undermine our moral authority and the rule of law," Heyman said via e-mail. "The only patriotic response, therefore, has been to speak out against torture."

Lending a voice

Heyman said voicing problems and putting them on display is a step in the right direction for society.

"When people come together to fight violence, to create bridges of communication by listening and talking, that is a beautiful thing," he said. "Being a listener is an important part of a dialogue, and listening to people who have had terrible trauma, and giving them the respect that comes with listening, it is great for both sides."

Wallace said viewers who attend shows at the Dorsky Museum come from diverse backgrounds in art and he wanted to design a show that would draw everybody in, and also challenge them.

"My job was to make a coherent and provocative show in this space for the people who come to this museum," he said.

The show includes paintings, video installations, photographs, watercolor pieces and prints that focus on war and conflict from the 1960s until today.

Wallace said because the Vietnam War is such a "common reference point," the art made during that time is still relevant and can be used to draw parallels with the war in Iraq.

One of the pieces inspired by the Vietnam War is "Viet Flakes" by artist Carolee Schneemann, a New Paltz resident.

"It's a film, hand-painted montage collage with a sound collage soundtrack," Wallace said.

Other works in the exhibit include abstract paintings by the late Leon Golub, a series of watercolors called "Baghdad Journals" by Steve Mumford and a two-channel video titled "29 Palms" by Vietnamese-born An-My LÉ.

Mark Hogancamp's work, Marwencol," is a series of photographs depicting scale-model versions of war scenes in an intricate narrative. It is one episode of a longer story.

Lida Abdul, a Los Angeles resident and native of Kabul, Afghanistan, has submitted a video/audio installation depicting daily life in the war-torn area.

Pins designed by artist Yoko Ono, with the words "Imagine Peace" will be available for sale for $1 each at the exhibition.

Gabrielle Grilli is a Journal intern. Reach her at ggrilli@poughkeepsiejournal.com or 845-437-4548.