BENNINGTON -- Bennington Museum curator of collections Jamie Franklin knows that resources can be scarce at many regional arts institutions. But so are groundbreaking exhibitions of American masters, such as painter Rockwell Kent (1882-1971).
As such, the Bennington Museum is winding down its major show of 2012, Rockwell Kent’s "Egypt: Shadow and Light in Vermont," and celebrating the publication and warm public reception of its accompanying 63-page glossy catalog.
Executive director Robert Wolterstorff said the museum was fortunate to have two contributors to the catalog that accompanied the exhibition - Franklin, and Jake Milgram Wien, an independent curator, historian and noted Kent authority. He said it was their knowledge and ongoing discoveries put into the written word that added a level of depth to the art experience.
"With the production of an accompanying catalog, a curator and other scholars have the opportunity to create a public record documenting the content and broader subject of the exhibition," Wolterstorff said. "It becomes a visual documentation of the pieces in the show, some which perhaps have never been on view before. Additionally, it allows for the sharing of knowledge by the writers, making both the word and images accessible for generations to come."
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Outside of the logistics of publication and printing, the artistic and scholarly development of a catalog most often parallels the inception, planning and execution of the exhibition it documents. Franklin, who is the catalog’s editor and principal author, said in the case of Rockwell Kent’s "Egypt" this period of time was considerable.
"It’s hard to separate the catalog timeline from the rest of the exhibition research," Franklin said. "I spent a full five years researching Kent’s time in Vermont and the work he produced here. Basically, that is the foundation upon which the catalog was built. We then worked diligently on the catalog for one year, and focused on its publication exclusively for about six months."
Wien joined the project as a nationally-recognized expert on Kent. He said the Bennington Museum show provided him with an opportunity to investigate the spiritual and intellectual sources informing Kent’s paintings from Vermont. Wien realized early on in the project that many of the works on display hadn’t been the subject of discussion or critical assessment for generations.
"Such important works as ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Autumn’ not only had not been seen publicly since the 1920s, but had never been interpreted by critics or art historians," Wien said from Los Angeles, where he is co-curating an exhibition on Thomas Hart Benton. "It’s interesting to note that Kent’s Vermont painting ‘The Trapper’ provided a foundation for the subjective, imaginative, and often surreal works conceived by American painters later in the 1920s."
From a scholarly perspective, Kent’s years in Vermont have not received as much attention as some of the other productive periods in his life. Thus, Franklin noted, this year’s exhibition has received considerable recognition, and the catalog critically praised.
"This was the first exhibition and catalog to explore his Vermont years, which were truly pivotal in his ascendancy," Franklin said. "As a result of this unexplored territory, the exhibition received national attention, garnering the cover image and a lengthy article in the Summer 2012 issue of ‘Antiques and Fine Art.’ I heard from more than a few visitors they had traveled to New England, sometimes from great distances, largely to see our exhibition."
Franklin concluded by saying the show and its catalog introduce an entire opus that was little known, both to the general public and the scholarly community, as many of the works pictured in the catalog haven’t been reproduced or exhibited publicly since the early 20th century.
"Kent’s intense exploration in this body of work of such dichotomies as life and death, joy and sorrow, as well as other transcendent/spiritual themes, in a truly poetic and beautiful vein, is something I hope the lay public can appreciate, and that will alter some scholars’ opinions about what Kent was up to during this period in his career."
Rockwell Kent’s "Egypt: Shadow and Light in Vermont" runs through Oct. 30 at the Bennington Museum. The exhibition’s accompanying catalog is available for sale at the museum for $24.95. Info: 802-447-1571 or visit www.benningtonmuseum.org.