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Art Notes: ‘Word and Image in Contemporary Art’; Strong Messages In Hood Exhibit 

One of the great treats of art and architecture in the Upper Valley is the climb up the stairs to the second-floor galleries of the Hood Museum. I tend to walk in there with a head full of tribulations, but as I near the top of the stairs, there’s usually a giant, striking piece of art that sweeps my thoughts away like so many cobwebs.

The painting occupying that privileged spot right now is one of the Upper Valley’s great art treasures, Ed Ruscha’s Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, from 1963. How terrific is this monumental pop art masterpiece? In 2011, the national art critic Tyler Green noted that if the Los Angeles County Museum of Art owned Standard Station, “it would be the museum’s trademark, seen by hundreds of thousands annually.”

Green also notes that the Hood doesn’t always have Standard Station on display, but the museum’s planned expansion might allow it to stay on view for longer stretches.

Until August, Standard Station is available to us as part of “Word and Image in Contemporary Art,” an exhibition curated in collaboration with 24 Dartmouth studio art majors. The show is a survey, drawn from the Hood’s collections, of how artists from Marcel Duchamp to today have incorporated language into visual art.

Ruscha’s approach to language was often documentary, as in Standard Station, but the other artists are all over the lot, and the point of the show is to take in the variety of ways artists deploy the materials of the title.

For example, Duchamp himself is represented by LHOOQ, a 1940 facsimile of his 1919 alteration of a postcard of the Mona Lisa. One of the artist’s “readymades,” LHOOQ shows the famous smiling portrait wearing a mustache and with the five letters of the title printed underneath. The letters, read out, sound like “elle a chaud au cul,” which refers to the “hotness’’ of her posterior. It’s a cute pun that takes the famous image down a peg, but strikes me as rather less illuminating than Duchamp’s more object-based readymades, which at least asked the viewer to examine a commonplace artifact in a new way.

Other artists looked not to Duchamp, who remains the most influential 20th century voice in contemporary art, but to other movements. Robert Rauschenberg’s Surface Series #48, a 1970 screenprint, owes as much to cubism, with its blocky forms of newspaper headlines and pages overlapping to create a collage of grim sentiment from those days. Vietnam, integration, Mafia killings and Pope Paul VI all jostle for space. The cubist painters used overlapping visual effects, often featuring language, to similar ends.

A lot of the work in “Word and Image” is heavy handed, sometimes powerfully. Faith Ringgold’s op-art United States of Attica, from 1971, shows a map of the United States on which the artist has written the dates and locations of massacres and beatings from colonial days to the famous Attica prison riot, of the same year, that left 39 people dead. At the bottom, Ringgold wrote in all caps, “This map of American violence is incomplete. Please write in whatever you find lacking.”

Student curator Sharon Zhang took this to heart and wrote wall text that lists events from 1977 to the 2011 Occupy UC-Berkeley rally.

Some of the language on the Hood’s walls is incidental. A big drawing by Christo, a 1976 study for his Running Fence, features written notes and planning documents taped to the drawing. Above it is a map of the project, a 24-mile fence across part of California’s Sonoma and Marin counties. Here, the language is merely illuminating, but the simplicity is lovely, and welcome amid all the ideological freight elsewhere in the exhibition.

When I considered the show, I wondered why there was no comment on the use of words and images throughout art history, even a brief sketch that might have included illuminated manuscripts, history paintings, surrealism (Magritte’s The Treachery of Images comes to mind, with its famous assertion: Ceci n’est pas une pipe.) But there is something very peculiar about the age that contemporary artists live in, saturated as it is with images and words, in advertising, in art, in school. It’s a clamorous, noisy time.

It’s hard to beat Ruscha’s approach. He’s at once coolly detached from the gas station in his painting, and celebrating it. The words say what they say, and Ruscha rolls with it. Enjoy it while you can.

“Word and Image in Contemporary Art” is on view through Aug. 4 at the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover.

Also at the Hood: “The Women of Shin Hanga: The Judith and Joseph Barker Collection of Japanese Prints” and “Evolving Perspectives: Highlights from the African Art Collection at the Hood Museum of Art.”

Of Note

Newport’s Library Arts Center has issued a call to artists for its annual “Juried Regional Exhibition.” Artists can submit one or two recent works tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., or Saturday 10 a.m. to noon. The jurors are Amanda McGowan Lacasse, corporate art consultant at McGowan Fine Art in Concord, and Camellia Sousa, gallery and store director at Sharon Arts Center in Peterborough, N.H.

Mark your calendars: Center for the Arts has planned “Arts on the Green,” a juried arts and crafts show on the New London green, on July 6 and 7, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Donald Claflin Jewelry Studio in the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College is bringing in three acclaimed jewelry artists and metalsmiths for three days of events later this month. The events include a free public slide lecture and exhibition on Friday evening, April 26, at 6:30 in the Hop’s Alumni Hall. On Saturday, April 27, the artists, Andy Cooperman of Seattle, Donald Friedlich of Madison, Wis., and Deborah Lozier of Oakland, Calif., will teach a day-long workshop in the studio at a cost of $125 a person ($75 for Dartmouth students). For more information, call 603-646-3226.

Openings and Receptions

Chandler Gallery in Randolph opens its annual “Area Artists Show” on Saturday with a reception from 4-6 p.m.

∎ Williamstown, Vt., artist Jan Rogers shows graphite, pastel and colored pencil drawings at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph.

Ongoing

Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction hosts “Oceana,” panels by Jenny Lynn Hall and also shows woodware by Ria Blaas and jewelry by gallery owner Stacy Hopkins.

∎ AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon hosts “AVA Beginnings: Work by Founding and Longtime AVA Artists,” part of AVA’s ongoing celebration of its 40th anniversary, and “Musings,” watercolors by Stephanie Reininger.

∎ Dartmouth College’s Studio Art Exhibition Program shows work by artist-in-residence Luke Fowler and “no kill shelter,” art by Jodie Mack, a professor of film and media studies, in the Hopkins Center galleries.

∎ “Picture Show: As Seen Through My Eyes,” a solo show by Tunbridge photographer Fred Carty, is on view at Tunbridge Public Library.

∎ “My Favorite Places,” mixed media on canvas by Christine Hauck, is on view at West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library.

∎ Spring art exhibitions at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center include oil paintings by Deborah Frankel Reese and Gillian Tyler and watercolors by Marlene Kramer and Lynn Hoeft.

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction exhibits prints by the studio’s non-member faculty.

∎ ArtisTree Gallery in Woodstock hosts “MUD (season): Viridian and Vermillion,” a group show that reflects on this messy time of year.

∎ Colby-Sawyer College in New London holds its annual Gladys Greenbaum Meyers Juried Student Art Exhibition in the college’s Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery.

∎ Ledyard Gallery in Hanover’s Howe Library hosts “Capturing Nature,” work by Susan Bridge and Gail Barton.

∎ Norwich Public Library hosts an exhibition of photographs by Elizabeth Dean Hermann and traditional and contemporary textiles from India.

∎ “Underwater,” an exhibition of recent large oil paintings by Strafford artist Micki Colbeck, is on view at the Vermont Supreme Court in Montpelier.

∎ “How People Make Things,” an exhibition that looks at how all sorts of objects are made, is on view at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich through June 2. Admission to the Montshire is $12 for adults, $10 for children ages 2 to 17.

∎ Nuance Gallery in Windsor hosts “Resiliency,” featuring work by Joyce Harden and Nance Silliman.

Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday. Send email to artnotes@vnews.com.