Photo by Candace diCarlo
Mexican art. Bronze-age treasures from Uzbekistan never before seen in this country. French Impressionist paintings on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Those are some of the surprising things that the Arthur Ross Gallery, one of the quiet treasures of the University, has shown in cooperation with faculty, administrators, archivists, librarians and alumni.
Right now, the gallery is showing work that is anything but quiet a mouth-watering collection of 20th-century Mexican art with broad enough appeal to attract painters of houses as well as painters of canvases. Travels in the Labyrinth, art from the private collection of Harry Pollak (W42) and his late wife, Sharley, is midway through a tour that includes the Naples Museum of Art in Florida and the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art in Kansas.
The gallery sort of developed from a sparkle in former-former-former [University] President Martin Meyersons eye, said Director/Curator Dilys Winegrad (Gr70). She has been running the gallery since it was founded 20 years ago.
Located next to the Fine Arts Library in the former Furness Shakespeare Library space, a building that for years had no name, the gallery has made a name for itself off campus, attracting tourists from overseas with shows that often have an international flair.
Winegrad, whose first name is Welsh and whose accent is English, said the gallery fit a niche on campus between the University of Pennsylvania Museum, which shows artifacts, and the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), which shows cutting-edge contemporary art. We do not do contemporary art, she said.
And what they do show can take years from inception to realization. The Mexican show took three years, an average amount of time. But the Impressionists ultimately curated by students took 10 years. The Uzbekistan show, however, took six months, a hair-raising record with terrifying delays and glitches, Winegrad recounted.
Q. Tell me a little about the Mexican show, now on display?
A. The images are very moving, very grasping, very popular.
Q. How did the show come to you?
A. This came to us when Patrick Murphy [then-director of the ICA] was contacted by the collector. Patrick said, Call Dilys.
After Patrick brought it to my attention, the collector came up here with black-and-white photographs. This is at least three years ago. These things are in the planning a very long time.
Q. Who is the collector?
A. The collector is an alumnus, Harry Pollack [(W42)] and his [late] wife, Sharley.
Q. Who does the show include?
A. Those artists he really likes are represented more heavily renowned artists like Diego Rivera, [Jose Clemente] Orozco, [David Alfaro] Siqueiros. The three artists are called Los Tres Grandes. Orozco has the murals in Dartmouth College.
One of the artists in the show, Alfredo Zalce, the painter of Girl Selling Ducks and hes still alive I believe that was the first one they collected.
Why isnt there a Frida Kahlo? There arent so many and theyre not so easy to come by.
Q. What was your response to Mr. Pollacks photos?
A. I was very excited. Work that he possesses was shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art . ... The large majority of works in the collection have never been published. He offered his collection and he said hed like to have a record of the entire collection. He made it clear that a catalog was of the utmost importance. We produced a catalog with the Naples Museum and the Ulrich Museum. There are not that many books available on Mexican art. Its not a topic on which most people know more than a few names.
There was a great Mexican show at the Museum of Modern Art [in New York] in the 40s. That was the first. People became aware of it, but there were [leftist] politics [in the art that made Americans reluctant to show it].
Were bringing an area of art of very close neighbors, bringing a feeling of almost the people, of the land and of the women. There are several images that very well could be a virgin and child. They are Indian women, very much anchored to the ground.
People dont have to come to the show with a lot of knowledge.
Q. Whats the most important show youve had at the Arthur Ross
A. Uzbekistan. That show was not planned three years in advance.
The show opened in November  and I first heard of that maybe in May. We usually like to have two to three years preparation. This is too late.
That was our virtue as a gallery that we managed to fit it in.
The show was done with a colleague who I did not know at the time, Fredrik Hiebert. Fred got on the phone with his cackle, You wont believe this but the President of Uzbekistan wants to lend us these great artifacts from these five museums [in six months].
[Hiebert, the Robert H. Dyson Assistant Curator of the Near East Section of the University Museum,] collected work from five museums. It was a great show to have at the end of the millennium of work that went back to the bronze age 50 pots from that era just sitting there on the shelf.
He also brought bits of mosques, everything from prehistoric objects of archaeological interest and wonderful pots that were absolutely mint, and they were so beautiful as well as being of archaeological interest. He also brought marvelous 19th century clothing, silk-laden, gold-laden; wonderful cloaks, boots and hats and knives. We had everything from whatever thousand B.C. to 20th-century-knockoff Soviet art.
Q. Why did the Uzbeks suddenly want to release this work and in such
A. The government [of Uzbekistan] obviously wanted to present this new republic which was actually a very old republic.
And six weeks before the show was open and I was in Uzbekistan I was having trouble getting the museum directors to actually pack the pieces that were actually laid aside by Fred very early that summer because they hadnt even gotten permission I know the word: ukase they were waiting for a ukase, a government instruction to do this. From Samarkand they would have to get it to Tashkent. And from Tashkent they would have to ship it to New York. And it was done because the ambassador [from Uzbekistan] in Washington was getting his ear bent by Fred. And we didnt know what we were getting until the show was practically upon us.
It opened on time and the final coup de grace, Fred was up in New York sweet-talking his way through customs. Customs opens the shipment and the first thing, they find onions, carrots and rice, because the Uzbeks on the flight are making a huge feast for the opening. [Importing] this is against regulations; they could have impounded the whole thing.
Hanging the show was an around-the-clock charette. We had five days to put everything together.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art [in New York] would have liked to take part in it, but it was impossible to get an extension from the Uzbek government. Their bureaucracy didnt understand it would have been the real exposure.
It was an example of the responsiveness of the gallery to do things with our faculty that are part of research, that are unique and that are a bit more esoteric.
Above: Winegrad is next to Maternity (ca. 1976) by Juan Aviles.
On the cover: Behind Winegrad is is Flower Seller (ca. 1940) by Alfredo Ramos Martínez.
Originally published on September 27, 2001