LEWISBURG - Even though the spring semester is over, Bucknell University's Samek Art Gallery will keep its doors open for the summer with a special exhibit that not only showcases a good chunk of the school's expansive art collection, but also artworks by some of the greatest artists who ever lived: Picasso, Rembrandt, Whistler, Dali, Goya and Miro.
Gallery Director Richard Rinehart said that the initial idea for the exhibition came from trying to make the gallery a part of the graduation ceremonies.
"When I took over the galleries at Bucknell two years ago, I found that they were normally closed for the summers," he said. "I thought that was a shame because that meant the galleries were not part of what is arguably the most important moment in the life of a campus: graduation. I wanted to have a show up so that we could be part of graduation and then I thought, 'If we're mounting an exhibition; there's no reason to close after graduation; we should simply be open for the summer.' "
“Summer Salon I” is on display at the Samek Art Gallery at Bucknell University until Sept. 1. The exhibit showcases 200 of the more than 5, 400 artworks the school has in its museum collection.
The next question was, "Wat to show?" At that point, Rinehart had not delved into the university's museum collection for a Samek exhibit, and he thought that this exhibition was a good opportunity to show off many of its treasures.
The idea of a "salon style" show evolved naturally out of the project.
"The 'salon style' in which this show is hung (basically just hanging artworks stacked atop each other, close together, almost floor to ceiling) is a style that was popular in the 19th century when our Museum Collection began, so I thought it was appropriate to show those early works as they might have originally been exhibited," Rinehart said. "From the start, salon style was also a way to try to show as many works as possible in a space. Since part of the goal for this exhibition was to show the breadth of this collection, salon style seemed a natural. Even hung this way, this show presents only 200 of our collection of 5,400 artworks."
In order to help art viewers appreciate the works in their proper context, the pieces are arranged by when they were added to the collection.
"This show is ... straightforward; since it highlights the history of building this collection, we present the works chronologically in order in which they were collected," Rinehart said. "So, some of the choice was left to history; what was collected first? What came next? And so on."
While digging for interesting art, Rinehart and his research team also came across some interesting stories. One in particular highlights one woman making waves in the '30s as she took a stand against sexism.
"There is one unassuming work, a small painting of waves crashing on a shore, that was gifted to the collection in the 1970s by a women who had been one of the first female professors at Bucknell in the 1930s," Rinehart said. "She met and married another Bucknell prof and they were surprised when the university asserted a then-held policy against faculty being married."
The seemingly unjust policy had been created, ironically, with equality in mind.
"This policy was in place because the board determined that, during the great depression, for any one family to hold two professorships was unfair," Rinehart said. "So, she was presented with the unfortunate marriage consequence of having to quit."
The professor, however, didn't back down.
"She held her ground and told the university that she had arrived years before her husband and if they were going to ask anyone to step down, it would have to be him," he said. "Figuring that she was a force to be reckoned with, the university granted the newlyweds an exemption to the policy. She was pleased enough that, decades later, she gifted the university with several works of art."
One of Rinehart's favorite pieces in the exhibit is by Thomas Hart Benton. It's a print of "a farmer mending a fence in a field."
"Benton was a friend of Grant Wood - who painted "American Gothic" - and together they created 'regionalist' art that valorized the American landscape and rural life," Rinehart said. "It is very interesting to me that Benton was the teacher and mentor of Jackson Pollock, progenitor of the drip-and-splatter style of abstract painting. The work by Benton is beautiful in its own right, but I also like how it encapsulates a bit of art history - American art history - that goes from a celebration of American rural life to the equally American action painting that shifted the center of the art-world from Paris to New York."
The exhibit will be on display until Sept. 1. Bucknell's Downtown Art Gallery also will be open for the summer, featuring the "Makeover" exhibit by Bill Domonkos and Elliot Anderson. For more information, visit www.bucknell.edu/Samek.xml.