Better in concept than execution

The “Lovingly, Rose Peebles” project at the Brand Library Art Galleries was inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Marianne Moore, whose amiable editing of a literary piece by fellow poet Elizabeth Bishop became the foundation for a collaborative creating project between 10 women, each with photography in their interdisciplinary skill set.

The artists were organized in a chain of pairing for the purpose of revising and influencing one another’s work. The exhibition is almost too complicated in its present format to communicate well to viewers/readers. The idea is obtuse, and the title of the exhibition requires too many analytical turns to connect it to what one sees in the gallery.

The show is not thematic, but is more of a chronicling of the process for exchanging input regarding one another’s work and the resultant exhibited pieces. The process of discovery involved e-mail interviews, telephone calls and personal visits. The artists exchanged photographs, ideas and other materials they felt were relevant to the development of their relationship, and their work. Coming to an understanding of one another’s intent through these communications imprinted the final pieces, so reading their exchanges is imperative to understanding the dynamics that led to the resulting exhibition.

The e-mails are recorded for the viewer/reader in the exhibition brochure, and reveal varying levels of enthusiasm by the participating artists. Some were not wholly engaged, while others were deliberately intellectually inaccessible, which makes the project feel a little bit like a university assignment. There were, however, a few artists who bonded and had profound communications with interesting results.

Marie Jager’s pairing to Farrah Karapetian, however, was strained or barely discernable because Karapetian was not readily available, according to their exchanges. Even so, Karapetian’s contribution to the exhibition would perhaps have received a gold star by Moore for its succinct delivery of a profound message, a quality for which Moore’s work is praised.

Karapetian appropriated the phrase “I am a man,” just four letters formed into four words, from a photo of African American sanitation workers holding signs with this message in a 1968 solidarity march. She made 100 cameraless contact prints, white lettering with black background, at about original scale to the signs in the photo. The artist pinned the uniform black-and-white posters to the Brand gallery wall, positioned to mimic the photo, resulting in photos of signs, without the human beings. It is both whole and individual parts, a succinct “attempt to reinforce a sense of personhood,” according to Karapetian.

The “Lovingly Rose Peebles” project is a complex idea, which could have communicated better to the viewer/reader. Rose Peebles, by the way, was a favorite teacher of Elizabeth Bishop’s at Vassar, whose name fascinated Marianne Moore. When she returned Bishop’s edited poem, folded in a tiny bundle and sealed with a gold star, she signed it “lovingly, Rose Peebles,” an intimate connection between the two poets, and a sentiment that was perhaps missing in the project named for her. Moore and Bishop were genuine friends. Perhaps forcing relationships that revolve around something as personal as creating art was too ambitious.

TERRI MARTIN is an artist, art historian and art critic.

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Infobox

What: "Lovingly, Rose Peebles" collaborative exhibition

When: Noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday until Jan. 7

Where: Brand Library Art Galleries, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale

Contact: (818) 548-2051 or www.BrandLibrary.org

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