Ten years ago this month Princeton Pike-based neurosurgeon Ariel Abud and his wife of 40 years,Janice, realized a dream that was immersed in matters of the human mind, but not as it appears in procedures or CAT scans. They established the Abud Family Foundation for the Arts, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting artists in the community, particularly those whose work has been shaped by the traditions of Spain and Latin America.
The Abud gallery will celebrate that milestone Thursday, November 29, with a reception for “Painting Borges: Art Interpreting Literature.” The traveling exhibition will feature 16 artists and 24 works that range from paintings and etchings to drawings and mixed-media pieces. “Painting Borges” will remain at the Abud gallery until, Thursday, January 24.
Dr. Abud’s passion for Ibero-American art began long before the 30 years of practice in Mercer County. Born in Nicaragua, Abud studied medicine in Mexico City. During his time there, he developed a passion for the visual arts. That passion persisted and took concrete form in the Abud Family Foundation for the Arts.
As part of its mission, the foundation identifies artists (in the past, they have come from Spain, Cuba, and Peru as well as the tri-state area) to which they lend support. The organization then curates an exhibition of the chosen artist’s work and covers costs related to travel, lodging, and promotion. Though most of these artists’ works are profoundly influenced by Spanish or Latin-American artistic traditions, the foundation also lends its support to a local artist every year.
As part of its anniversary year, the Abud gallery has planned several exhibitions set to open in 2013, including a show by Hugo Rodriguez, an artist from northern Mexico, and the Columbia-born Alberto Becerra. Becerra, who currently resides in Pennsylvania, is at work on a series he has (suggestively) titled “Nadia’s Moons.”
In addition to extending resources to current artists, the organization engages in projects designed to promote the visual arts in a different way. Because part of the foundation’s aim is education, it encourages teachers to bring students to the gallery and has donated its gallery space to exhibitions by area students. In so doing, the Abud Family Foundation’s work encourages young people to experience the visual arts — both as viewers and creators — more intimately than might otherwise be possible.
“Painting Borges” is not just an assembly of powerful, visually compelling works by emerging artists. At its core, this exhibition is also part of a voyage of the mind, one that began several years ago. In short, it is a graphic expression of one of our celebrated modern philosopher’s journey through the tangle of how stories and pictures relate, and how one “interprets” the other.
For instance, when an artist paints a scene from Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” is the painting an interpretation of the book? The worlds of the visual arts and literature are dramatically different ones. Does this mean that the “Moby Dick” artist has created something new?
These questions are not as abstruse as they might sound. After all, since we are all confronted with-and enmeshed in-the complexities of our human relationships, why not extend our inquiries (and perhaps understanding) to the art we create?
Jorge Gracia, a SUNY Buffalo professor in philosophy, began to ask these very questions about what kinds of relationships, what kinds of meanings, are created in the world of art.
It is impossible to catalog every step of Gracia’s journey here. His 2012 book “Painting Borges: Philosophy Interpreting Art Interpreting Literature” provides a more detailed map. In a sense, the Abud gallery’s newest exhibition lends tangible form to intellectual curiosity itself.
Organized by the University of Buffalo and hosted in New Jersey by the Abud gallery, the exhibition made its debut in Buenos Aires in 2010 and began a tour. When it concludes in December 2013, “Painting Borges” will have traveled to five other venues across the United States, from Texas to Massachusetts.
Not all exhibitions begin with one story. “Painting Borges” arises from a dozen fictional narratives, literally. Gracia selected the short stories by Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), the eminent Argentinean writer notable for his blisteringly imaginative poetry and prose. Gracia followed the selection by organizing the stories according to three themes: identity and memory, freedom and destiny, and faith and divinity. He then invited artists to choose from them and create related visual compositions.
Visitors will note that each of the stories represented in the exhibition is addressed by two artists. Though the exhibition is intimate, there are nevertheless two ways of “seeing” each story that it showcased.
Yet, Borges is not a storyteller who invites easy graphic representation. In reality, the author was blind by the time he reached middle-age, though that is merely a melancholy coincidence. It is the stories themselves, “stories pregnant with abstract ideas,” as Gracia aptly described them in a telephone interview, stories that resist an easy translation to images. In fact, Borges’ stories — often classified as “magical realism” — occasionally and unpredictably erase the border separating the fantastic from the mundane, fiction from reality.
The raw force of vivid imagination that infuses Borges’ writing finds an analog in the works displayed in “Painting Borges,” though that force is expressed in a variety of ways. Some of the artists embrace something akin to the modernism of the early 20th century (think Matisse, not Warhol), a rare and welcome choice. Others adhere to strict, traditional canons (such as mimetic representation of the body) but update them in surprising ways. Still others create altogether different kinds of compositions by making use of non-traditional media — such as markers and coffee stains — to extraordinary effect.
Labyrinths, winding passages, and garden mazes appear in many of Borges stories. One of his most famous narratives, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” includes such an allusion in its very title. These are at once images — real mazes, for instance — and themes, within the story and outside of it. They also become emblems of the reader’s own experience of (strangely pleasurable) disorientation. Though the reader may find himself disconcerted by the lack of distinction between times and places and what is real and imagined, Gracia observes that this is precisely the point. As he explained, “Borges does not present a fixed understanding. He is licensing a multiplicity of interpretations. He makes the reader into his own poet.”
This exhibition is, in typical Borges fashion, an experience within an experience. When visiting the Abud gallery, viewers will not just see representations of a famous modern writer’s short stories, they will see how others have made sense of the cunning paradoxes and imaginative confusion that lie at the heart of those famous narratives.
In the process, we as viewers are invited to invent our own stories, our own ways of making sense of things, of becoming our own poet as we survey the art featured in “Painting Borges.”
Painting Borges, Abud Family Foundation for the Arts, 3100 Princeton Pike, Building 4, Suite J, Lawrenecville. Thursday, November 29, through Thursday, January 24. Opening reception November 29, 5 p.m. www.abudartfoundation.org or 609-844-0448.