Sept. 23, 2002 – For 20 of the territory's creative souls, on a personal level at least, the most significant thing about Tuesday, Nov. 5, is not that the polls on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John will be open. It's that their collective art show — an unprecedented occurrence — in Old San Juan will be opening.
The artists plus three others from the territory who are no longer living will be represented in the group exhibition of Virgin Islands art that will open that evening at the prestigious and imposing Museo de las Americas in Puerto Rico's historic San Juan district.
The exhibition, nearly three years in the making, is being coordinated by the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute. It is titled "VIA Colectiva."
The artists selected to take part in the juried show are:
– Aquannette Chinnery, Denise Christopher-Smith, Susan Edwards, Edney Freeman, Mitch Gibbs, Mace McDowell and Erik Pedersen on St. Thomas.
– La Vaughn Belle, Danica David, Maria Henle, Jeri Hillis, Gerville Larsen, Roy Lawaetz, Marjorie Robbins and Catherine Roche on St. Croix.
– Kimberly Boulon, Janet Cook-Rutnik, M. Lisa Etre, Deborah St. Clair and Aimee Trayser on St. John.
Most of the artists will be represented by multiple works.
Pieces by the late Albert Daniel, Camille Pissarro and Eric Winter also will be included in the show, which is to hang through next Jan. 12.
"This is the first-ever group showing of V.I. artists at a major museum in Puerto Rico," Lisanne Turnbull, staff coordinator at the Cultural Heritage Institute said.
"It's going to be a very big show and an exciting event for the V.I.," says Cook-Rutnik. She's entitled to her enthusiasm, for it was she who planted the idea of a group exhibition of Virgin Islands art in the minds of Old San Juan art movers and shakers.
In mid-November of 1999, a couple of weeks after the opening of her own solo show at the Museo, Cook-Rutnik made a presentation to the museum's School of Visual Arts board of directors and art critics and historians on works by fellow Virgin Islands artists in the hope that the school would "want to have a group show of V.I. artists."
It didn't come about overnight, but it has come about.
The Cultural Heritage Institute put out a call last April for artists interested in being included in the show to submit slides of their work by June 1. To be eligible, artists had to have been born in the Virgin Islands or to have lived in the territory for at least 10 years.
About 300 slides were submitted, and nearly 60 pieces of work were chosen.
The show is being curated by José Antonio Peréz Ruiz, San Juan art and history professor and critic; Marimar Benítez, chancellor of the School of Visual Arts; and Andrés Marrero, appraiser, curator and director of Prinardi Gallery in Hato Rey.
The works selected cover a broad expanse of artistic ground, ranging from small pieces on paper and canvas to three-dimensional wall reliefs in clay, near-life-size assemblages, realistic large-scale architectural pieces, abstracts, and Lawaetz's unique "triangular modular" paintings inspired by Taino Zemi stones.
The youngest participating artists are in their 20s; the eldest are in their 60s. Some are academically trained, others are self-taught, and yet others fall somewhere in between. Belle, one of the younger exhibitors, recently returned to the territory from advanced studies in Cuba.
An undertaking of this magnitude involves considerable cost in terms of coordination, logistics and publication of an exhibition catalog — one person closely involved in the Museo project cited "a minimum of $20,000." Sponsors to date are Banco Popular Virgin Islands, Cape Air, Mr. and Mrs. Ricardo Charaf, FirstBank, Hovenas, MAPes MONDe, MSI Building Supplies, Mango Tango Galley, Planning and Natural Resources Department, Tourism Department, United Airlines, V.I. Council on the Arts, and VI-PR Friendship Committee. More are needed, the organizers say.
A 32-page, full-color catalog will include a history of Virgin Islands art and its cultural and artistic ties to Puerto Rico. Peréz Ruiz is writing the essay on the show.
The opening reception, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 5, will be a part of November's "Noche de las Galerias" (Galleries Night), an art community event held in Old San Juan on the first Tuesday of each month. This first public viewing of VIA Colectiva,, according to Cook-Rutnik, who has been there, done that, will be "attended by thousands."
For information about sponsorship, the opening reception or other aspects of the exhibition, call the Cultural Heritage Institute at 774-9537.
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