What Makes Us?
Brodsky Center Prints by Zeina Barakeh, Chitra Ganesh, Ben Patterson, and Duke Riley.
On view at Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, from February 16 to March 15.
Created by invited artists in residence at Brodsky Center, Rutgers’ printmaking and papermaking studios, the prints in this exhibition feature allegorical narratives and meditations on history and identity. They encompass ancient myths and current events, universal narratives and random constellations of everyday details, political realities and personal aspirations. Artists Zeina Barakeh, Chitra Ganesh, Ben Patterson, and Duke Riley ask themselves, “What makes us who we are?” Their responses, while individually rooted in each artist’s unique background, unveil a shared layer of psychological commotion and intellectual sifting that such interrogation provokes. As viewers, we learn as much from their discoveries as from the unswerving courage, wit, and curiosity that drove them to delve into difficult, often uncharted territory.
Above, detail from Benjamin Patterson (born 1934, Pittsburgh, PA; died 2016, Wiesbaden, Germany), My Thirteen Presidents, 2009, portfolio of 7 digital prints, including colophon, 13 7/8 x 34 ¾ inches each, edition of 20. Collaborating printer: Randy Hemminghaus.
American Fluxus composer and artist Ben Patterson took part in seminal Fluxus events held in New Brunswick in 1963–65 (detailed in at/around/beyond: Fluxus at Rutgers in the museum’s American Art Gallery), but spent most of his life in Germany. In typical Fluxus fashion, My Thirteen Presidents embraces the chance convergence of circumstances as it describes individual decisions by American presidents since 1933. In his objective to relate historical narrative to ordinary life, and inscrutable centers of power to active citizenship, Patterson draws the foundation of a president’s character from spheres extending to the cosmos and nature, through popular astrology. As echoed in the title’s possessive pronoun, the artist renders the immense influence American presidents exert on ordinary people. He imagines the presidents who intersected his life floating in an undifferentiated universe, taking on the semblance of mythological figures surrounded by fragments of familiar paintings. The composite of Western and Eastern astrological traditions invokes America’s place as a global superpower. It also expands viewer’s participation from diverse points of entry into the artist’s syncretic imagery.