The object encased in glass is a wooden circle with a slice cut out of it, reminiscent of Pac-Man. Scribbled across the disk in black ink it reads, “Betty P. Happy Birthd Saul ST Jan. 1980.”
The birthday card created by artist Saul Steinberg was gifted to the artist, art collector, and art dealer Betty Parsons for her 80th birthday. It now stands in The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art’s current exhibition Reading Objects 2015. SUNY New Paltz Professor Reva Wolf wrote about this work for the Reading Objects catalog and wall label.
According to Wayne Lempka, art collections manager, “The Reading Objects exhibition is the sixth iteration of this very popular project where faculty and professional staff at the university are invited to view objects that have been pre-selected by museum staff.”
In correlation with the show the museum recently hosted the discussion, “A Modern Art Dealer and Her Artist Friends.” Wolf arranged the conversation with the multimedia and ecofeminist artist Helène Aylon about the widely influential Parsons.
Upon researching the artwork, Wolf recalled a 1977 interview between Parsons and Aylon that appeared in the short-lived publication Woman Art. Wolf became inspired by the idea of creating a public program at the Dorsky that would include playing audio clips from the interview, to hear Parsons’ resonant voice and Aylon speaking about Parsons.
“She was sort of my aesthetic foremother in a sense,” Aylon said.
The event consisted of Aylon reading from her memoir, Whatever Is Contained Must be Released: My Jewish Orthodox Girlhood, My Life as a Feminist Artist. This was followed by five different snippets from her interview with Parsons. Both Aylon and Wolf provided commentary throughout the discussion, which concluded in a question and answer segment.
Parsons’ very distinguishable voice booms through the speakers as she enthusiastically commands statements like, “You’ve got to tell the truth to yourself even if it’s very unpleasant.”
She created colorful wooden sculptures with stripes and geometric patterns on the surface of the objects. According to Wolf, Steinberg’s birthday card highlights a dialogue between the two artists and friends. Steinberg’s use of wood, and of colorful stripes (drawn onto the edges of the disk where a wedge had been removed), evoke Parsons’ sculptural work. The professor selected Steinberg’s birthday card to write about because she felt magnetically drawn to it. She said that the stripes of color that outline the inside of the cut out wedge can be understood as representing the vibrant inner life of Parsons.
“One of the things that I love about the piece is that it seems so plain, on the surface, but it represents a rich complexity of loving human interaction,” Wolf said.
According to Dorsky Curator Daniel Belasco this event is part of a series of informal talks that consist of contributors discussing the various pieces in this hodgepodge exhibition and there are two more upcoming conversations.
The exhibition Reading Objects will remain in the Dorsky until Dec. 13, 2015.