The Yuko Nii Foundation Permanent Collection from the COVID-19 Period

Much has changed since when the pandemic started about 3 years ago, both on a global and an individual level, much has yet to be changed. What? What is there left that needs to be rearranged to the present yet? This is one of the questions raised by The Works Acquired in the Yuko Nii Foundations Permanent Collection” exhibit, displaying some of the artworks presented in the three last exhibitions related to Covid-19, all of them held between 2020 to 2021. That was a period of transition and of uncertainty, where the pandemic-related anxieties born in 2020 fermented into frustrations that applied to different fields of contemporaneity. On the other hand, 2021 was also a year that inaugurated new life phases for many of us, if not smoothly, might as well positively. The exhibit promotes the constructive outcome that followed the unprecedented historical moment, that is the power of resilience and creativity to save humanity; art is indeed an effective tool capable of bridging emptinesses that the human reason cannot fill.

The three WAH’s shows, previous to the exhibit subject matter of the catalogue, analyzed 3 artistic and social aspects:

Lockdown”, Nov. 17, 2020 Jan. 17, 2021 —the social isolation due to the global lockdown.

Togetherness and Oneness”, May 22July 10, 2021 —the artists used the products of nature as their mediums in their art-making. 

  • “America the Beautiful”, Sep. 18Nov. 13, 2021 —An homage to America, “United States of America” that would highlight the positive aspects of living in this very country.
  • 1. One piece in particular from Lockdown”, part of the Yuko Nii Foundations Permanent Collection, well represents the feeling of disorientation that humanity experienced as a result of the new health mandates (the social isolation plus the requirement to wear the face mask), But Brad! by Clay Burch. The artist inserts the face mask, an object that soon became symbol of an unprecedented historical moment, into a pop-inspired image. Burch re-elaborates Roy Lichtensteins iconography using the ancient art technic of mosaic, though in But Brad! the woman wearing the mask leaves just an empty balloon. But Brad! is stunningly smart for having deconstructed the various layers of culture: formally, we see the emulation of a specific stylistic language tied to a defined moment in the Western mass culture via a historically opposite art medium; conceptually, the artist affirms that the face mask became an integral part of our society (anticipating what would have come next) —moreover, the face mask pictured within a pop-art context assumes the icon value—. Finally, the empty vignette suggests the profound alteration of communication, not only on a practical level but also in terms of contents. The prolonged social isolation and the new health mandates opened a gap between the individual and the community, a gap that needs to be overcome with new ways of communicating.

2. Amongst the works acquired from Togetherness and One-ness”, Rain Rake by Jennifer Hecker celebrates the connection between Nature and the humans life cycles. The second exhibit of 2021 questioned the ecological crises provoked by men as cause of the Covid-19 spread. Rain Rake represents the necessity of re- balancing the relationship between the ecosystem and the human being in order to heal not only the global crises, but also the individual on a spiritual level. The glass- made artwork’s structure consists of two elements that nothing have to do with one another in reality: the rain and a rake. In the artwork these become one, melting in each other and infused of a pantheist force that reminds us how respecting the environment means respecting ourselves —the rain, here elegantly sculpted, pours from the top tapering into slender drops, ending up to grip onto the rakes teeth and freezing in an eternal glass pose. Hecker shows that beauty is able to unfold new perspectives on our understanding of time and on our tangible, yet ephemeral, presence in this world.

3. The photographic series of the Brooklyn Bridge by artist Jeff Watts, exhibited in America the Beautiful” and part of the Niis Foundations Permanent Collection, is the perfect example of the conflictual relationship of Americans with their homeland in 2021. The racial protests following the murder of George Floyd, the MeToo Movement that overturned social habits from being “usual” to being “discriminatory”, a tragic pandemic, the transition from a dark political time towards a to-be re-built future. On the other hand, the trust into a nation that historically offered, and continues to do so, shelter and better life possibilities for many, the unconditional affection for the suffering homeland, and the will to celebrate its imperfect beauty. The Brooklyn Bridge is an iconic symbol of New York City; in the black and white pictures that captures it during the inclement weather Watts highlights its suggestive beauty, at the same time paying homage to his native city and to the resilience of its citizens.

The Works Acquired in the Yuko Nii Foundations Permanent Collection” exhibit preserves precious records of a period that changed our lives on a deep level. Beside the Covid-19 related issues, the works on display testify the pathways through which we, as individuals and as a community, question our beliefs in order to achieve a better existence. Sometimes they can be arduous, sometimes they can be pleasant, but they are always for the better, and, most of all, they are necessary.

Elena Mencarelli

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