Published: October 12, 2016
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy The Housatonic Museum of Art
BRIDGEPORT, CONN. — Fifty works are on view at the Housatonic Museum of Art in an exhibition titled “Body & Soul.” The works span local, regional and international artists in an exhibition that focuses on the human form through prints, paintings, photographs and sculpture, and is dedicated to the remembrance of John Elroy Ortiz, brother of Ben Ortiz, who passed in 2008. It also serves to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Housatonic Community College and Museum of Art. All of the works in the exhibition have been donated to the museum from the Ben Ortiz and Victor J. Torchia Jr Collection.
“‘Body & Soul’ presents a variety of images that contain political and economic narratives, hierarchical and exploitative power relations and collective and individual identities,” said Robbin Zella, director of the Housatonic Museum, in her foreword to the exhibition. “Each work … expresses a deep reaction to the concerns or struggles of the day juxtaposed with universal themes such as mortality and memory, persistent elements of the human condition.”
Ben Ortiz has celebrated a long and endearing relationship with the museum, serving as a curator for the institution and mounting numerous exhibitions, including “Paper Visions,” a biennial of works on paper by established and emergent artists from the Caribbean and Latin America. He received his education at the Housatonic Community College and went on to curate at the museum under direction of its founder, Bert Chernow. Ortiz’s intimate knowledge of the permanent collection informed his donations.
“They have a strong collection of photography,” said Ortiz, “but they didn’t have many early works in daguerreotype or ambrotype. I would take my allowance money and buy these for a couple bucks when I was a kid.”
With that in mind, a Mathew Brady albumen print of Tom Thumb and his wife Lavinia on their wedding day was included in the exhibition and among the donations. Ortiz grew up in Bridgeport and interned at the Barnum Museum while in high school. His long history of collecting, which began at age 12, culminated with a career as a cultural worker with a focus in promoting the education of the visual arts. His connection with the city, college and museum is resolute.
“The whole basis of giving is to promote education: what’s a lithograph, what’s a mixed media, what’s an etching,” said Ortiz. “It’s all part of the whole philosophy that art should be brought into everyone’s life. With these pieces, the college will be able to expand the students’ exposure to different mediums and a broader spectrum of artists. We feel it’s important to give back to the collections in Connecticut.”
Each work in the exhibition represents a year of John Elroy Ortiz’s life, who would have celebrated his 50th birthday this year. Regarding the collection, art historian and independent curator Gustavo Valdés wrote, “Each of the 50 works in the exhibition, all of which deal with the human figure, reminds us that behind each work of art there is a human life, rich in creativity, commitment, devotion, history, meaning, spirituality and passion. It’s been said that ‘art imitates life,’ thus art should celebrate life.”
Speaking to the donation, Zella said, “We are very pleased and happy that Ben and Victor have given these wonderful works to the museum. It’s a nice full circle; Ben started his art career here as a studio artist and then came under the mentorship of Bert Chernow, the founder of the museum’s collection, as he developed a vocation for collecting and curating. He started and helped build our Latin American collection as well as other areas. It feels like there are so many touch points with this gift in the many ways that Ben is connected to the museum. It’s a nice realization and culmination.”
The Housatonic Museum of Art is at 900 Lafayette Boulevard and is open Monday through Saturday with extended hours on Thursday.
For additional information, http://housatonicmuseum.org or 203-332-5052.
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