Closer to Life: Drawings and Works on Paper from the Marieluise Hessel Collection at Bard | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Closer to Life: Drawings and Works on Paper from the Marieluise Hessel Collection at Bard 

Last Updated: 07/08/2021 12:06 pm
click to enlarge Takako Yamaguchi, Magnificat #6, 1984 - Oil, bronze leaf, and glitter on paper, - two parts, overall 74" × 107 1/2". - Deutsche Bank Collection. Photo by Liz Ligon
  • Takako Yamaguchi, Magnificat #6, 1984Oil, bronze leaf, and glitter on paper,two parts, overall 74" × 107 1/2".Deutsche Bank Collection. Photo by Liz Ligon

“Closer to Life: Drawings and Works on Paper in the Marieluise Hessel Collection,” manages to avoid the tedium so often associated with exhibitions built around collections. The exhibition, which marks the 30th anniversary of the Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS) at Bard College, will remain on view until October 17.

The Center for Curatorial Studies was the first graduate school for curators in North America, and exists because of a bequest by Marieluise Hessel in 1992. Her gift of 439 artworks has since expanded to 1,745 items. Raised poor in postwar Bavaria, Hessel impulsively entered a beauty contest at the age of 19, won, and went on to become Miss Germany. After a year of all-expenses-paid touring, she married the industrialist Egon Hessel and moved to Mexico City, where his bicycle factory was located. When her husband died in 1980, Hessel relocated to New York City, where she has lived ever since.

“Closer to Life” roughly follows the history of her life: one room for Mexican art, one for German work, one for New York artists. One gallery is based on the display of drawings in Hessel’s study.

There is a politics to art-buying. Hessel invested in women artists when they were considered second-rate, and in scruffy provocateurs like Raymond Pettibon, who began his art career drawing cartoons for punk rock posters. A collector can give a fledgling artist recognition—and rent money. In fact, there are many Cinderella stories in the art world. Today, at the age of 82, Hessel is acquiring works as avidly as ever. In recent years, she has focused on art from the African diaspora. The CCS encourages the museum directors of the future to take similar risks—to move beyond a “greatest hits” approach to exhibition design.

Lorna Simpson’s 7 Mouths is a simple experiment: seven photographs of the same mouth, arranged vertically, creating a palpable sevenfold silence. Kara Walker’s Look Away! Look Away! Look Away! is a parody of revisionist Southern art, celebrating antebellum plantation life as an innocent paradise. Nearly life-size silhouettes show gentle, playful teasing between masters and slaves. The title—a quote from “Dixie,” of course—reminds us of all the American suffering we turn away from.

The show is not entirely works on paper. There are several cloth pieces, including Felt Suit, a gray jacket and pants made of felt that simultaneously resembles a prison uniform and a shaman’s cloak. It’s by deadpan trickster Joseph Beuys. Nick Cave’s Hustle Coat is an ordinary trench coat on the outside, with a baroque full-length vest inlaid with watches and glittering costume jewelry‚ representing, perhaps, the inner riches we hide beneath our clothing? The whole piece hangs from a hook shaped like a hand. Franz Erhard Walther’s Untitled is a large book made of cloth, with no writing: a minimalist “novel” a toddler could love.

One role of a curator is to inform you, the gallery goer, of new or neglected artists. The second show at the Hessel, “With Pleasure,” does precisely this. It celebrates the Pattern and Decoration movement, an exuberant, festive art style that flourished in America during the 1970s and 1980s. Young artists and art audiences are drawn to the saturated colors and rhythms of this art, which sometimes quotes tribal artifacts. Originally mounted at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the exhibition includes 12 pieces from the Hessel collection. It will run until November 28.

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