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May 13, 2004

By Michelle Dombeck

Rembrandt. Picasso. Goya. Dali. These names are recognizable not only to those in the art world, but those who do not consider themselves art aficionados. And works by all of these great artists are part of the Samek Art Gallery's permanent collection.

But a famous name is not the only thing that makes a piece of art great, as Dan Mills, the gallery's director, points out. Lesser-known artists, both classical and modern, make equally important contributions to the art world.

Bucknell's own Xiaoze Xie, an assistant professor of art, is an important modern contributor. Xie paints stacks of newspapers, capturing moments of history in print. Some of Xie's work was featured recently in Samek's Contemporary Chinese Art exhibit and in a New York City gallery; in connection with the New York exhibit, Xie's work received a glowing review in The New York Times (March 21, 2004).

Xie's work was on display in the Samek gallery for only a short time. But the gallery's permanent collection boasts a collection of 9,000 eclectic works. Recently, Mills was asked to identify some of the gallery's most unusual and interesting pieces in the permanent collection, a task he called difficult.

"There are many different focuses in the collection, so these are just my favorites at this day and time. My favorites may change from day to day, month to month," Mills said.

Some of Mills' favorites include:

  • "The Flagellation of Christ," a woodcut by one of Germany's most famous Renaissance artists, Albrecht Durer. The woodcut was carved in 1497 and printed shortly thereafter. "It's a compelling image by an historic printmaker and artist," Mills says.

  • "Timepieces," by Max Neuhaus, a 1983 print that captures the way humans receive and understand sound. The print shows the side of a person's head and ear, and illustrates a poem about how sound builds and then dissipates — to show how we can only appreciate and understand the sound after it is gone. The music faculty have requested that it be installed in the Weis Music Building.

  • The gallery's collection of intricately carved ivory or wood Japanese toggles, or netsuke. These netsuke, part of adornments for Japanese dress, date between the early 17th to late 19th century. The traditional Japanese dress was kimonos, which lacked pockets. The Japanese wore inroes (lacquered boxes) around their necks with strings, and the netsuke were the toggle to the box. The gallery has a collection of more than 200 netsuke. Mills particularly enjoys a carving of four people walking in unison, carved out of one piece of ivory, which is no longer than 2.5 inches.

  • An untitled, contemporary print by a Louise Bourgeois, a sculptor whose peers were abstract expressionists and surrealists. The work was recently installed in the president's dining room in the Elaine Langone Center at Bucknell. This print was originally commissioned for the cover of the Paris Review in 1994.

  • "St. Anthony of Padua," by Marco Basaiti, a painting that has captured the imagination of visitors to the art gallery for quite some time. Many are intrigued by the painting's history. When this oil-on-wood-panel painting was examined prior to conservation treatment, including being studied with ultra-violet light and X-rays, it was discovered that a portion of the painting was not original. When the old restoration was taken off, a large gouge, caused by a gunshot, was found in the physical board of the painting. After considerable research, the board was rebuilt and the image was inpainted.

"It's fun to fantasize about the origins of the damage," Mills says. "We do not know the history of the painting prior to being owned by [Samuel H.] Kress. Perhaps it was on display in a castle or great house that was commandeered by the military during a war, and was shot by soldiers who had no regard for art. We may never know for certain."

The Basaiti work is on display in the Samek gallery's Samuel H. Kress Study Collection.

Managing and providing stewardship to so many works of art is a significant challenge, says Mills. The gallery currently uses index cards and file folders to catalog its art. But starting this fall, the gallery is taking steps to develop a text/image database that will be accessible over the Web.

Within the next two years, the gallery's holdings will be available on the database — an accessible and useful resource, says Mills. The works judged most interesting and significant will go online first.

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Michelle Dombeck is a junior at Bucknell University and chief copy editor at The Bucknellian, the university's student newspaper.

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