Photographer/ Art Historian Carl Chiarenza

Makers and Mentors at Rochester Contemporary Art Center

By: - Jan 09, 2014

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Carl Chiarenza was the first to write a dissertation about a living photographer, Aaron Siskind. As a now retired professor from Boston University he guided graduate students through advanced degrees in the history of photography.

While at BU I monitored his survey of 19th century photography. That entailed attending lectures as well as a related weekly seminar for graduate students. It was my first formal introduction to the field and a truly remarkable experience that I have drawn from ever since.

For a time he was also chair of the department. With the artist Mel Wiseman, for whom I was a TA in his Introduction to Art course, they proved to be true mentors, Dutch uncles, and dear friends. Particularly given the Byzantine politics and intrigues of most graduate programs.

Most of all Carl was a role model for the notion that one could combine creative and scholarly pursuits. Then and now he is a committed studio artist. With teaching as both an outlet for intellectual and scholarly interests as well as the pragmatic means of earning a living.

Since retirement he has cut ties with the academy and no longer teaches, researches or publishes in the field. Such a pity. But he does regularly forward to friends and colleagues, without additional comments, links to articles and reviews which he feels should be brought to our attention. Now and then I have managed to tease an article out of him for Berkshire Fine Arts.

His approach to making art has been as austere, acerbic, abstract and minimalist as his understated, wry and whimsical persona. When I was out of line he had the ability to reprimand with a withering look or a terse remark.

That might be the open sesame approach to decoding the work and this latest body of abstract collages with cubist elements. There are titles that refer to giants of both jazz and classical music from Basie and Dizzy to Bach and Stravinsky.

There is a work titled Joplin but I am not sure whether it refers to Scott, the master of Ragtime, or Janis, the raw throated blues singer from Texas.

Given the titles one might look long and hard to unlock the connection other than a whimsical reference. It is better than "Untitled" but not really more helpful. Just what is it about Dizzy that makes it Dizzy-like? Just what is Dizziness in purely graphic and pictorial terms? One reflects on Kandinsky who gave musical terms to his abstract compositions and found equivalence between musical scales and their chromatic colors.

Once again the work is as daunting as approaching the enigma of the man itself. One can never really know but it is challenging to chip away at his daunting, generic block of marble. Like the neo Platonism of Michelangelo we strive to liberate the tormented figure embedded in the stone. Here, of course, I am thinking of the unfinished sculptures from the tomb of Julius II in the Accademia in Florence.

Or the Bound and Captive Slaves by Michelangelo in the Louvre.

They so remind me of Carl and tormented attempts to break out of the constraints and bounds of creativity. What I find and relate to in the work is an epic inner struggle. The images evoke a prison of the soul and psyche from which we are never truly liberated. But the effort forms the detritus of great art.

Makers & Mentors
New and recent collages, paintings and photographs by:

Carl Chiarenza (Rochester), Lisa Bradley (New York), Bruno Chalifour (Rochester), David W. Haas (Rochester)
February 6 – March 16, 2014
Opening Reception: 
Thursday February 6, 6-9pm    
Artists’ Talk: 
Saturday, February 8 @ 1pm

First Fridays: February 7 & March 7, 6-10pm

Rochester Contemporary Art Center is pleased to announce Makers & Mentors, a new exhibition celebrating the artwork and influence of one of the region’s most well-known and accomplished artists: Carl Chiarenza. In addition to his successful career as an exhibiting artist, Chiarenza taught Art History and has mentored many other artists. Joining Chiarenza in Makers & Mentors are three accomplished artists who have been influenced by Chiarenza in different ways: Lisa Bradley (New York), Bruno Chalifour (Rochester), David Haas (Allentown, PA). The exhibition will premier Chiarenza’s new series of one-of-a-kind collages. In a generous statement of support for RoCo, Chiarenza will offer his new works at reduced prices and all proceeds will benefit The Future Fund, The Art Center’s first-ever Capital Campaign. 

Carl Chiarenza is an internationally renowned abstract photographer. As the first person in the USA to receive a PhD in the History of Photography, Chiarenza has been an important figure in the Boston, New York and Rochester art communities for over fifty years. His influence on the field of art photography has been significant and Chiarenza’s photographs can be found in several monographs and many photographic history texts. Chiarenza’s idiosyncratic use of unlikely materials and his development of an unusual visual language have made his work uniquely recognizable. In a departure from his typical working methods, Makers & Mentors will feature a new, never-exhibited series of actual collages. 

Chiarenza’s work has been shown in many exhibitions around the world including solo exhibitions at the High Museum in Atlanta, Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts, George Eastman House, The Mead Museum of Art, The Tampa Museum of Art, International Center of Photography (New York, NY) and The Cleveland Museum of Art. His work is represented in the collections of over 50 museums includingThe Getty Museum, The Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington DC), Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art (NYC) The Art Institute of Chicago, The Bibliotheque Nationale (Paris), and The Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (Japan). Makers & Mentors will also feature a new video interview with Chiarenza about his artwork, influences and role as a mentor.

Lisa Bradley is an established and celebrated abstract painter who has been actively working and exhibiting in New York City for many years. Bradley studied the History of Photography with Chiarenza during her time at Boston University. Bradley’s artwork has been exhibited in group and solo exhibitions in the U.S. and internationally, including the Hollis Taggart Gallery and E.M. Donahue Gallery in New York, Kaj Forblom Gallery in Helskinki, Finland, as well as numerous museums across America including the New Orleans Museum of Art, Delaware Art Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Weisman Art Museum and Brenau University Galleries. She is prominently featured in the film Herb & Dorothy 50x50 about the storied art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel. Bradley is currently represented by the Hollis Taggart Gallery of New York. Makers & Mentors features a selection of her recent large-scale oil paintings and works on paper.

Bruno Chalifour is a photographer, writer, and educator. Born in France, Bruno received an MFA from The University of Buffalo and now lives in Rochester. A significant figure in the Rochester art community, Chalifour has held various teaching positions, and he is a tireless advocate for the thoughtful consideration of the photographic medium. Chalifour and Chiarenza have had a long-running, informal exchange about each other’s work and the field of photography. His work has been included in exhibitions at the George Eastman House, Center at High Falls and The Williams Gallery as well as many others. Makers & Mentors includes selected images, diptychs and triptychs from Chalifour’s major, ongoing project related to the landscape of Mendon Ponds park in Rochester, NY.

David W. Haas is a landscape and documentary photographer, educator and master photographic printer. Haas received an MFA from The University of Delaware. David’s work has been exhibited at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA and the National Building Museum in Washington DC. Photos by Haas are included in the collections of The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Library of Congress, and The Museum of Contemporary Photography, among others. His new work, exhibited here for the first time, explores abstraction in obvious and commonplace environments. 

In its 7th year, RoCo’s Makers & Mentors exhibition series furthers a dialog about the importance of art education in the Central / Western NY Region; and highlights an established and influential artist based in the area.

Rochester Contemporary Art Center (RoCo) is a venue for the exchange of ideas and a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) that was founded in 1977. As a center for thoughtful contemporary art, RoCo provides unique encounters for audiences and extraordinary opportunities for artists.