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Great Things at the Hood

02/20/02 12:00AM

I had a little time before heading north to Bradford after a luncheon meeting in Hanover a few weeks ago. So I squeezed in a few minutes to wander the galleries of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College.

I have a regular Hood routine. I begin with a visit to the special exhibitions upstairs. Then I head downstairs to the European gallery, then to the American collection.

I always wrap up my tour seated in front of the row of Assyrian bas reliefs that line one wall of the hall filled with artifacts from the ancient Near and Far East.

I sit quietly before the larger-than-life parade of Assyrian royalty, attendants and genies. I wonder at the minds that conceived and believed in the assumptions they depict, and at the hands that held a hammer that tapped a chisel almost 3,000 years ago.

But on my most recent visit I found myself with much less time to complete my tour. I found it almost impossible to leave the two current exhibits in the upstairs galleries.

First, there's Mel Kendrick's series called "Core Samples," in which the artist has deconstructed and then reconstructed parts of trees.

Imagine a three-foot hunk of a mature white birch just where the branches begin to emerge into the crown.

First, he's cored the tree, leaving himself with two entities to work with - the tree's exterior, including the bark and outermost layers of sinew; and the monochromatic woody interior of the tree.

Then comes the magic. Kendrick cut each of these entities into separate pieces, and then reassembled them, though not exactly matching part to part. The product is two sculptures standing side by side; two disassembled and then awkwardly reassembled parts of one complex whole.

He's done this with cedar and birch, with large masses and almost fillagreed brachiations.

Kendrick takes us far beyond mere analysis of form and structure. He raises questions about form, structure, function, beauty and the relationship between art and nature that, frankly, I didn't even know existed.

So I walk out of the gallery, stunned. I'm ready to head downstairs for my stint with the Assyrians when I notice the collection of photographs across the foyer. Reflections in Black, an exhibit of the African American experience by African American photographers beckons.

I walk in, and there they are: Dr. King and his cohorts marching bravely from Selma to Montgomery in a 1965 photo by Jack Franklin; Jonathan Eubanks' 1969 picture of a defiant young activist in a Black Panther beret waving a "Free Huey Newton" banner.

There's Mohammed Ali when he was creating the legend that he became. There's Malcolm X with Ali, and there's Malcolm X with his children, and Mahalia Jackson and Pearl Bailey and Duke Ellington.

They're all there, all the household names of the African American experience.

But the other side of the experience is there, too. Len Jones' quietly wrenching portraits of men on death row. And Linda Day Clark's poignant 1993 photo, "Babies," depicting black teenage girls seated on a front stoop in Baltimore, holding their own children.

I left the exhibits as exhilarated as I was exhausted. I almost didn't have the energy for the Assyrians. Almost.

These two exhibits will run until March 10, with accompanying gallery talks and workshops.

This is Nick Boke in Weathersfield, Vermont.





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