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Letter from the Director: Summer 2004

Hood Quarterly, summer 2004
Derrick R. Cartwright, Director

Paul Gauguin’s famous instruction "Soyez mysterieuse!" has prompted all kinds of creative work for over a century now. The French artist’s dedication to unconventional ways of being in the world stood in contrast to the routine habits of “modern life” as they were practiced in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the mysterious role that Gauguin advocated in both public and private spheres helped shape his legend as a brilliant, if thoroughly alienated, modern artist. Vanguard representations since Gauguin’s time have privileged visual mystery and deliberate detachment over mainstream pictorial practices. As students of visual culture, we are thus challenged to understand and reconsider the elusive structures of much contemporary art.

Luis Gispert’s color photograph Dinner Girls closely follows Gauguin’s imperative to “be mysterious.” Three young women sit in a tight pyramidal grouping and conduct what appears to be some form of séance. Their cheerleader’s uniforms and vivid body adornments recommend a purely pop-cultural interpretation of the image. At the same time, the tidy domesticity of their dining room setting is contradicted by otherworldly effects—for example, the hip-hop jewelry that floats about the women’s shoulders—pointing, perhaps, toward still other significations rooted in secretive or even occult practices. Dinner Girls is part unreal spectacle, part youth subcultural celebration, and part middle-class nightmare. It is a big, dazzling, fundamentally mysterious image.

Obviously, New Art Now, the Hood’s yearlong investigation of contemporary art, is not taking a summer vacation. The galleries are full of challenging works that suggest the vitality and complexity of our common culture. My colleagues and I are proud to present Luis Gispert/Loud Image, the first museum exhibition to survey this talented young artist’s work. Almost two dozen examples of Gispert’s large-scale photographs, booming sound sculptures, and startling videos await audiences in the museum. The exhibition realizes a fruitful collaboration between museum staff, Dartmouth faculty (Professor Donald Pease contributed an introduction to the catalogue), leading scholars at other institutions (University of California, San Diego, Visual Arts Professor Roberto Tejada, formerly the Cesar Chavez Dissertation Fellow at Dartmouth, curated the project for the Hood), and, of course, the artist himself. I seize this opportunity to thank all of these individuals for making the project, which stands at the center of our contemporary programming efforts, so thoroughly worthwhile.

As many Dartmouth students prepare to leave the campus, I am reminded of their singular contributions to the overall intellectual life of this place. A second summer exhibition, Looking Backward, Moving Forward, further reflects contemporary engagement with photographs on the part of two undergraduates, Megan Fontanella ’04 and Jennifer Schreck ’04, both of whom interned at the Hood and both of whom graduate this June. Working with motivated and talented young people is a decided strength of the staff of this institution as well as its own distinct reward. Finally, our permanent collection of post-war American art is back on display in the Lathrop Gallery after a long interval. As we recall the value and challenge of contemporary art in our daily lives, we should take satisfaction in the results that this mysterious enterprise suggests for us all.

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