HBS Art Appreciation Society Hits Top Newbury Street Gallery

I know nothing about art. Okay, that’s perhaps not entirely accurate. In undergrad I took Introduction to Art History, but that was mostly because Anna Bordeau – she of the sexy French accent and flirtatious demeanor – was also taking it, and because alphabetical seating is a beautiful thing. Though one could argue that my interest in art started rather, shall we say, dubiously, my appreciation for it grew during the semester (unlike any rapport with Ms. Bordeau). What’s more, one of my best friends is an art history Ph.D. student, and so by the transitive property…okay, I still know next to nothing about art.

However, if HBS has taught me anything, it is that knowing nothing about a subject should not impede one’s ability to pontificate about it (i.e., “Yes, Professor, Dell’s non-straddling synergistic strategy creates enormous competitive barriers to imitators…”). So, with that extended caveat, bear with me while I review the recent gallery event put on by the newly-created Harvard Business School Art Appreciation Society.
The event was held last Thursday, the 21st,at The Judi Rotenberg Gallery, located at 130 Newbury Street. Long the home of all things trendy, Newbury Street has been the gallery’s domicile for the past 30 years, or several eons in the capricious world of art dealerships. The Judi Rotenberg Gallery, located above a KaBloom florist (which assuredly has not been there 30 years), is quite simply a beautiful space to view art. Muted hardwood floors, uncluttered hangings, and clean lines create an inviting space lacking in pretension. My only criticism, albeit a minor one, is of the lighting, which might be bright enough to heat the Spangler Grill’s pizza. Yet overall, this was certainly an impressively designed venue.

The gallery’s curator, Abigail Ross, complemented these surroundings perfectly – bright, direct, and lacking any hint of artsy affectation. After allowing us 30 or so minutes of mingling around the gallery, Abi warmly welcomed the group and began a lecture on just a few of the works contained in the gallery. Abi described The Judi Rotenberg Gallery’s two defining characteristics: (1) it is keen on color – only 2 of the 20 or so works didn’t present color as a dominant theme in the work, and (2) the artists are all local.

Abi began by talking about the works closer to the front door of the Gallery. Pieces at this end tended to be representational rather than abstract in nature, influenced by artists familiar to all – Matisse and C‚zanne chief among them. Harold Rotenberg’s “Holy Hills” is exemplary of this group near the entrance. Despite the fact that Harold is Abi’s grandfather, the work’s presence cannot be derided as mere nepotism. The senior Rotenberg’s piece aptly captures movement yet solidity at the same time. The colors and shading are remarkable, as is the diagonal composition. However, despite the painting’s obvious beauty, for me it had the “white elephant” problem (e.g., Try not to think of white elephants, and what is the only thing you can think of? White elephants.). When looking at “Holy Hills”, I tried not to think of C‚zanne, but unfortunately ended up unable to think anything other than C‚zanne.
It was the back of the gallery that won me over. The gallery recently shifted focus to include more abstract works, and their efforts are worthwhile. Here the pieces broke free of the restraints of the old masters into more thought-provoking works. Ian Factor’s “Red Wine” watercolor drips with sensuality and decadence. Gustav Klimt (who my art history friend calls “highbrow porn” but is more famous for “The Kiss”) has long been my favorite artist, and Factor’s piece captures all the raw energy and eroticism of a Klimt’s works.

While “Red Wine” was my personal favorite, David Kupherman’s “Cloud Dance” was a close second. Its modulating coloration is almost reminiscent of Mark Rothko, but the work has a different theme from Rothko’s. Kupherman focuses on horizons and the blending of atmosphere and earth. Is it calm? Is it tumultuous? I spent several minutes staring at this one work, yet the only certainty that presented itself was this: “Cloud Dance” is a beautiful piece of art.

So, if you’re on Newbury shopping for that perfect outfit for Newport Ball, take a breather in The Judi Rotenberg Gallery, and have Abi give you a quick tour. It will be well worth your time.