Story and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
For a good half-an-hour before the beginning of the opening reception talk, people steadily streamed into the Tang Mauseum’s Payne Room at Skidmore College, filling all the seats and lining the walls to eventually block the entrance.
The overflow delayed the scheduled start-time of the Dunkerley Dialogue between the Francis Young Tang Teaching Museum’s featured exhibition artist Nancy Grossman and gravity-defying choreographer Elizabeth Streb. But the delay wasn’t all bad. It had been a while since the Tang hosted an opening, and the museum’s head-honcho, John Weber, was visibly pleased by the overwhelmingly large turnout.
On a raised platform facing the audience, the two women took their seats behind a café-styled table as the exhibit’s curator Ian Berry got the ball rolling with an informative introduction. The informal discussion was peppered with interesting questions from Streb to Grossman that covered the artist’s history, use of materials, education, studio, artistic peers, dance & movement and many other related topics. Grossman responded, sometimes playfully with a laugh, but always honestly and openly.
What was refreshing about Grossman’s comments, opinions and stories was the absence of typical over-intellectualized “art speak” which dominates so much of today’s art world. Often, in attending these type of lectures, you get the feeling listening to the artist that the intellectualized concepts describing the work is just as important – if not more so – than the work itself. But in Grossman’s case, the work speaks for itself, and she fielded Steb’s questions by grounding them immediately with accessible answers that the all-age audience could understand clearly and with out specialized knowledge of today’s contemporary art world or a fluency in “art speak.”
One example of Grossman’s style was a response to being asked her age. With a dead-pan face and a wide-eyed stare, she paused, scanned the room, and answered, “39!” It was a comedic page right out of the Jack Benny sketch book, which some people got.
The second half of the presentation was a Q&A with the audience, and the 71-year-old Grossman’s clarity of thought and experiences kept the audience glued to their seats. In fact, few if any people walked out of the event. If it wasn’t for the scheduled, catered opening reception in the main portion of the museum, the dialogue could have gone on for at least another hour.
It is important to note that Nancy Grossman’s time of recognition has finally come. The retrospective of her work in the Tang’s “Tough Life Diary” spans decades. Curator Ian Berry’s brilliant presentation spotlights a wide variety of her work, including figure drawings, hand-dyed and sewn paper collages, assemblages with leather, metal, zippers and rubber, sculpture and more.
Grossman’s unique exploration of gender, violence, power and femininity needs to be seen and experienced. “Tough Life Diary” will be on exhibit through Sunday, May 20.
In addition to Grossman’s work, the reception also served as the opening for several other exhibitions at the museum, including Donald Moffett’s “The Extravagant Vein” (through Sunday, June 3), Pam Lins’ “Denver Gold” (through Sunday, April 22), Sharon Hayes’ “I March In The Parade Of Liberty, But As Long As I Love You I’m Not Free” (through Sunday, June 3) and “Extensions of the Eye” featuring the photographic works of Barbara Morgan, Naomi Savage and Kunie Sugiura (through Sunday, April 15).