Ninety-five artists are represented in "85 Years, 85 Artists," a vibrant new exhibit at Menlo College. The show is a celebration of the 85th anniversary of the college's founding. The college, however, is 87 years old.
Contradictions? Call it artistic license. The discrepancies are easily explainable, and the 10 extra artists only add to the richness of an exhibit that takes viewers on a compelling journey through most of the 20th century -- with its genocide and war, its sometimes explosive scientific advances, its moments of cultural change and political upheaval -- into the present.
"Sitting with Ama in the Courtyard," an acrylic, pen and ink work by Salma Arastu of Berkeley.
The idea for the unusual show was hatched by the college's Art Committee, which put out the call for artists interested in representing one year, randomly assigned, between 1927 -- the year the college opened -- and 2012.
Planning for the exhibit began in 2012, and the response by artists throughout the country and abroad was so great that the committee decided to add 10 additional artists, each assigned to represent an entire decade from 1920 to 2020, according to Yasmin Lambie-Simpson, the college's director of student affairs. Ms. Lambie-Simpson co-chairs the Art Committee with Linda Smith, associate dean of library services.
The artists are from 23 U.S. states, England, Italy, and the Netherlands. They were instructed to work in a 20-by-20-inch format, and frame their piece. Have we mentioned artistic license? The works, in fact, range in size, and in some three-dimensional cases, must be displayed on a table top.
The participants were also directed to "make a work (representing) something going on in that year -- it could be a personal or a world view," Mr. Lambie-Simpson explained. All the works are accompanied by text.
Russell Cook of Ranger, Georgia, takes a world view in his powerful, fantastical work. "Song of the South II" uses oil, wax, Chinese watercolor, walnut stain, and grass paper on a panel to depict an otherworldly red, waxen rabbit near a red chair.
Mr. Cook represents 1963, which he describes in his written statement as "turbulent and violent, a molten crucible of ideals that would cool to form our society today." He cites the death of four black children in a Birmingham, Alabama, African-American church, and the assassination of President John Kennedy, in addition to the cultural ferment arising from the publication of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
In his statement, Mr. Cook links his artwork's rabbit with the Uncle Remus character in the series of African-American folktales published in the 1880s, an era whose "tensions and violence manifested in private spaces as families and workplaces change" were echoed in 1963. "The character of Uncle Remus's ... rabbit is at the end of an era, filled with beauty and violence and uncertainty," he writes.
A more personal view of a year, 1956, is taken by Salma Arastu of Berkeley. "Sitting with Ama in the Courtyard," an acrylic, pen and ink work, recalls her childhood in India, where she and her nine siblings slept in a courtyard listening to stories. The graceful work depicts her mother "reading mythological stories" to her in the courtyard.
Mara Zoltners of Utica, New York, uses a thermal print on aluminum to produce the haunting "View From Morning Train" to represent the turbulence of 1938, when Hitler seized control of the German army, and more than 90 Jews were murdered in Germany and Austria in the Kristallnacht rampage. It was also the year Orson Welles terrified American listeners with his "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast.
Ms. Zoltners writes that her work -- which suggests movement through a stark yet beautiful landscape, with ghost-like trees seemingly enshrouded by gauze -- "attempts to capture this atmosphere of change by presenting an image that might be seen as both strangely familiar and unfamiliar all at the same time.
"It is an image where movement within stillness attempts to speak about the uncertainty of changes yet to come."
Ms. Lambie-Simpson said there's "an element of history, an element of teaching" in the work on display. The art "really talks about time -- they're not just pretty pictures."
An artist herself, Ms. Lambie-Simpson was assigned 1974 as her focus. Her work includes an image of a former Menlo College student: Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped in 1974 by a domestic terrorist group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army.
In a press release Art Committee co-chair Linda Smith said, "The artists have embraced the challenge of researching their years in both social and personal terms, and the results are wonderful and intriguing." The work is executed in an array of media, including painting, collage, book art, letterpress relief, photography, fiber art, and mosaic.
The exhibit, which lines the administration building hallway, will be up through July 11.
A reception officially opening "85 Years, 85 Artists" is set for Wednesday, March 26, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the administration building at Menlo College, 1000 El Camino Real in Atherton. The Art Committee, which is hosting the event, requests RSVPs at: firstname.lastname@example.org