From the Director - Spring 2016

The Allen Memorial Art Museum has long been a venue for new work by contemporary artists, and indeed has collected works by living artists since opening in 1917. In 1951 director Charles Parkhurst launched the Three Young Americans series of exhibitions, in his words, “to bring to Oberlin exemplary paintings in a contemporary idiom.” The AMAM was well-known for important exhibitions of contemporary artists during the 20th century, and my predecessor Stephanie Wiles oversaw several by living artists during 2005 – 08, prior to the museum’s 2009 – 2011 renovation.

Since becoming director in 2012 I have wanted the AMAM to focus a major exhibition again on the work of a living artist—and to do so periodically—presenting a comprehensive look at his or her body of work. While the museum has excelled in organizing thematic exhibitions over many years, there is much to be gained through sustained examination of the career of a single artist, and through the discovery of work that will present new—and possibly challenging—perspectives, and will likely highlight relationships with our collection. Thus it is very exciting to present the first United States retrospective of the career of Judit Reigl. Now in her nineties, she escaped communist Hungary in 1950 and has lived and worked in and near Paris ever since. Curated by Denise Birkhofer, this overview of Reigl’s works from 1950 to 2012 comprises many of her series, from Surrealism to figuration and abstraction, with a focus on music and corporeality.

I am grateful to Sietske and Herman (OC ’52) Turndorf, who brought Reigl’s work to my attention and offered their support in early 2013, and to Janos Gat, a friend of the Turndorfs and of Reigl, who worked with us to make this idea a reality. I hope you will join us February 4 for the opening event, which will include music, refreshments, and talks celebrating Judit Reigl and her powerful legacy.

Female artists have been of special importance in the AMAM’s exhibition and collecting priorities of late; Pat Steir’s Tall Waterfall, a promised gift, is on view throughout this academic year, and we are delighted that Steir will speak at the museum about her career on March 3. We have made a number of important acquisitions recently of works by women. Among these is a large group of promised gifts from Betty Beer Franklin (OC ’65), including works by Dorothy Dehner, Sonia Delaunay, and Marguerite Zorach; works by Jean Shin, Dayanita Singh, and Anna von Mertens from Driek (OC ’65) and Michael (OC ’64) Zirinsky; and a vibrant abstract painting that is a donation from Colombian artist Fanny Sanín. 

Jim Dine, too, very generously has recently donated many works to the collection. We thank him for them, and for spending several days at the AMAM in September, installing one of his large-scale assemblages on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his first solo museum show here.

In addition to the groundbreaking Judit Reigl exhibition, we are extremely proud to present A Picture of Health: Art and the Mechanisms of Healing. Curated by Christina Neilson of Oberlin College and Frances Gage of Buffalo State College, the exhibition introduces a unique topic: an examination across cultures and time periods of the ways visual art has been perceived to both effect and affect physical healing, whether through its materiality or its aesthetic properties.

A wide range of programs will accompany this and our other shows, and we hope to see you at them. The museum’s stellar collections and hard-working staff—including those who are behind-the-scenes—are here for you, our visitors and supporters, and my colleagues and I hope you will be as inspired as we are by art’s power to create positive change.

Andria Derstine
John G.W. Cowles Director

Read previous Director's Letters here.