By Chris Bahr
A wonderful collection of prints and drawings from the 1920s through the 1940s opened Jan. 26 at Binghamton University to a very appreciative and rather sizeable crowd. “Works on Paper Between the Wars” highlights nearly 100 of the approximately 400 works on paper donated to the University Art Museum last year by local collectors Gil and Deborah Williams.
More can be read about the exhibition at the museum website: binghamton.edu/art-museum. I will tell you the story from my perspective:
After traveling through a serpentine maze of college roads on a dark and stormy night, I finally found the holy grail — a parking spot — and headed to the opening celebration of the Williams’ generous and very cool donation. A labyrinthine and circuitous route took me through the bowels of the fine arts complex as I followed the signs leading to nirvana, aka the exhibition.
At last! I made it! From 0 to 60 mph. From the darkness and purgatory of the lower realms to the light, high ceilings, laughter, quiet talking, excitement and crowds! I was in. The foyer outside of the gallery was filled with seekers of art, hors d’oeuvres, libations and enlightenment.
The artworks were displayed by category such as land, sea, faces, objects. Quite well done. It really created a great way to see and examine the pieces. Without such a curation, it would have been hard to zero in on any one object.
The gallery guide detailing the art was also top-notch. Each piece in each category had a number that was in the guide. One could examine the art without having to read the caption next to each piece, which I find can be not only annoying but holds up traffic. This style of curating was great for the teaming masses that snaked through the gallery.
As I wandered through the display, many of our local luminaries were present. Theater people, antique frame dealers, gallerists, artists, art dealers, professors and students swarmed the event. It was a great public outpouring to share with Gil and Deborah their special night.
One wonderful feature of the evening was original music, composed and performed by students who were inspired by seven of the pieces on display. An image of each work was displayed on a screen behind the performers as they fleshed out their experiences from the visual to the musical arts. The last short musical piece was beautiful and extremely moving. It was written by Michele Li, I believe, and I think also performed by her.
All of the composers offered a unique perspective of the print or drawing they chose, from amusing to moving, from dark to light. This was an amazing collaboration and a great use of an e exhibition to encourage interdisciplinary art between departments.
“Works on Paper” was not the only exhibit associated with the Williamses. On the mezzanine level was a selection of costume and fashions correlating to the time period and inspired by the colors and moods of the Williams’ prints. Theater department faculty and students curated the display, which is beautifully laid out and thought out.
Finally, on the first floor, another gallery displayed pieces on loan from the Williams’ collection by two of my favorite illustrators, Rockwell Kent and Lynd Ward. I mean, wow! Talk about knocking one’s socks off! Included were a selection of prints and the books the prints were reproduced in as well as letterpress and broadside works. What a magnificent show!
Even better yet, as I approached the room where this lovely gem was displayed, I heard what I thought was a recording talking about the works. As Deborah Williams came into the room, she said, “Oh, there he is! I hear his voice.” I smiled, peeked around the corner and saw Gil with his granddaughter, sharing with her the history of the ceramics that were displayed. What a sweet and tender moment, and what a lucky kid to have such a knowledgeable grandfather. I wished I had taken a picture, but I have it in my mind.
Another nice moment: Just before the musicians started playing, the Williamses were standing next to me on the upper mezzanine. Gil tapped my shoulder lightly and whispered, “Now you know what I do with my Saturdays.” Having seen him comb through antique shops, church book sales, library sales, etc. for years., I already knew. I’m just glad that he has come full circle from collecting to sharing his special vision with us all.
IF YOU GO: “Works on Paper Between the Wars” from the Collection of Gil and Deborah Williams will be on display through March 16 at the Binghamton University Art Museum in the Fine Arts Building. A gallery talk is scheduled for noon Feb. 16. Gil will discuss the process of collecting with museum director Diane Butler and will share anecdotes about some of the works on view and the artists who made them. All events at the museum are free and open to the public.