By Caleb Bissinger
A few months back, Natalie Marsh, director of the Gund Gallery, was reading a magazine. It might have been something like Vanity Fair, she said. Whatever glossy it was, something caught her eye: a work by Israeli photographer Ori Gersht. It just stuck with me, Marsh said. You know those images that are sort of seared? I started to dabble with the idea, as crazy as it was, to do a show of his work and organize it in a very short time.
She had three months to win over board members, convince donors, secure pieces from galleries and have them shipped to Gambier. The exhibit opens Friday.
In 2011, the Gund Gallery and the Kenyon Review began to firm up a collaboration: Art and Identity: The Holocaust and Cultural Ownership in the 21st Century,w a yearlong interdisciplinary symposium focusing on the creative and cultural identity tied up with the Holocaust. It features exhibitions, lectures and films. In much of his work,including the pieces that will be in the Gallerys exhibition, Gersht uses the Holocaust as an artistic referent. So many pieces from the show relate to these tragic sites in which people were fleeing from the Germans, he said.
Evaders, a film by Gersht thats featured in the exhibition, imagines Jewish-German critic Walter Benjamins attempt to flee the Nazis at the border between France and Spain.
So the concept worked, but could they get the art?
First hitch: the Hudson River. On Oct. 29, as Hurricane Sandy tackled New York City, river water flooded CRG Gallery on West 22nd St. The damage was extensive.
The power was out and the interior soaked. The property manager estimated repair costs could total $200,000, according to the New York Times. And pieces by Gersht in storage there were destroyed.
The show Marsh was mulling was under three months away. She kept faith.
Pulling a show together, sometimes it can be a very magical process, where people just kind of jump in and want to make it happen, Marsh said, despite Sandy and the destruction of the gallery, and the destruction of a number of pieces of Oris.
The second hitch: The Museum of Fine Arts Boston. A very large portion of this show essentially came directly from Boston, Marsh said.
History Repeating, a huge exhibition of Gershts photography, was on display there until early this month.
But to get the art from Boston to Gambier would mean cutting it close to the Gund Gallerys planned Jan. 25 opening.
Often shows are committed to tour to a number of other venues way in advance, Marsh said. It didnt work out for it to tour, [but] weve sort of recomposed it here.
It wasnt a matter of parking a U-Haul outside of the MFA and loading it up with Gershts large, archival prints. Marsh first had to court Gershts New York gallerythe same one soaked through by the hurricane.
If its a contemporary artist, work isnt really in [the permanent collection] of museums yet, Marsh said. Work will end up there, if youve chosen well, and its an artist who is probably destined for that, and I think thats what we have here.
During the first week of December, Marsh jetted down to Miami for Art Basel, an annual contemporary art festival peppered with international A-listers, to meet with Glenn McMillan from CRG.
The meeting was successful, and in the weeks that followed, Marsh started to craft text about the show and secure lender commitments.
Then you get into that period of absolute silence during the holiday, Marsh said. She waited, and by the second week of January, lenders reemerged. [I] finished putting the checklist together, Marsh said. Made a few last-minute requests.
I really, really wanted to have work from his Ghost series, Marsh said.
It turned out that the Cleveland Clinic Collection would lend after all and so thats where were getting it. Thats the last piece that will arrive. It goes up on the wall today, less than 24 hours before the opening.