Art Review: Rockford College’s ‘Hidden Treasures’ excite at Art Museum

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114124518316647.jpg’, ‘Photo by Susan Webb Tregay’, ‘Patrons gather at Rockford Art Museum’s opening of “Hidden Treasures" Feb. 3. The exhibition features work from Rockford College that has remained “hidden" for years.’);

The depth and breadth of “Hidden Treasures,” Rockford Art Museum’s current exhibition, is exciting and profound. Selected from Rockford College’s art collection, the exhibition brings to light work that has been hidden away at the college, sporadically shown and under-appreciated. We are fortunate the Rockford Art Museum has been able to, for the first time, pull together this vast show spanning the centuries, from antiquity to Andy Warhol.

While curator Louise L’Heureaux-Giliberti from the Art Institute organized the show geographically and through time periods, as an artist, I viewed it as inspiration for contemporary work—and my own work.

Picasso, of course, drew his final inspiration for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon from African masks. His genius was, in part, to recognize the genius of others. He was radical and bold, but the African artisans represented in this show came long before him. Their highly stylized abstractions were everyday parts of their lives, traditions and faiths. Is art part of your everyday life, too?

Interestingly, this collection’s Oceanic Art feels like a close cousin to the African works that changed our art world. The exhibition has no fewer than 40 carvings from these Pacific islands, majestically lined up on the back wall of the museum. This is a selection of long and narrow pieces. Carved from tree limbs, it causes you to marvel at the creativity devoted to working in the confined space. As an artist, ask yourself how you can limit your materials and yet work in a vast, ever more creative series.

How would Picasso have used the detailed and expressive imagery of the 15 Hopi Kachina dolls in the exhibition? Since he didn’t seem to know about these, how can we adopt and adapt the feelings created by these ritualistic dolls? They are fertile sources of imagery and emotions for future art and are extensively represented in “Hidden Treasures.”

For me, the Hopi and Zuni baskets brought home the interrelationships of form, function, materials and technique in creating works of art. The different patterns created with this old craft with its common materials are inspirational. But one basket tackles the American legacy: four American flags radiate out from a central eagle! Is this the Zuni basket weavers marketing to the tourists?

Japanese woodblocks both shocked and inspired the Impressionists. But as I studied the examples in this show, I began relating it to the influences that current Japanese art and their Magna cartoons are having on today’s painting. The color in these prints is either flat, like we are seeing more of today, or gently gradated. Dynamic designs, fine linear detail and judiciously placed floating panels give a narrative quality to these pieces. They have the unusual feeling of being both abstract and a literal.

Then, this show reveals a few idiosyncracies. Remember Christo and his saffron-colored gates in Central Park? You want to know his last name? Go see the show. You want to know why Mary Todd Lincoln was so sickly and crabby? Check out the waist size on her heavily ornate dress. Why did Marcel Duchamp move from painting to his “ready-mades”? Was he infatuated with everyday equipment, but came to feel that painting them was futile? The Rockford College collection has a marvelous painting of his, showing a stylized chocolate grinder with slightly Gauguin-credited perspective from 1913.

Finally, artists, don’t despair when your work is double- or triple-hung in your next exhibition. It happens to the best of them. Twenty-four Old Masters and Early Modern works are quadruple-hung on one wall. They include works by Leger, Miro, Chagall, Gauguin, Picasso and on and on. I left the exhibition trying to compute what that wall alone is worth.

You have until May 7 to absorb the nuances that “Hidden Treasures” has to offer. Don’t miss it. Visit it several times. Bring your sketchbook. You will come to see that realism is but a small fraction of the world’s art through the ages, and will go away open to a wider variety of artistic expressions.

The Rockford Art Museum is at 711 N. Main St. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Admission is $3, children are free and Tuesdays are free for everyone.

Susan Webb Tregay is a local artist, author and teacher. Her next workshop is in North Carolina the last week in March. Want to come? Visit her Web site,

From the March 1-7, 2006, issue

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