About Town

Alyssa Meza

Looking at the still lifes, landscapes and stoic portraits in ‘A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections’ at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, it is easy to forget that the artists who made them were innovators. What seems conventional now was at one time a rebellion against the stuffy Victorian notions that preceded it.’ These were the rebels.’

The Bloomsbury group, a community of artists, intellectuals and even an economist, inspired and taught one another.’ The group included Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forester, John Maynard Keynes, T.S. Eliot and others.

The exhibition runs through March 14, and showcases the works of the artists in the group: Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant.’ However, the exhibit is more about the artists than the art itself.’ It is a look at the artist behind the oil on canvas, the charcoal or the pen. The works are a Joycian ‘portrait of the artist’ and capture what it would have been like to live among a vibrant community of artists.

‘It gives a full and accurate picture of how visual arts were a part of Bloomsbury culture,’ curator Corinne Granof says. ‘You get a sense of who these people were and their interactions with one another.’

‘A Room of Their Own’ is a traveling exhibit of over 150 paintings, drawings and objects, all originally curated at Cornell University.’ The exhibit also includes a coordinated series of lectures and film screenings.’ Since the group’s artistic and intellectual interests were so diverse, the museum took the opportunity to incorporate other subject matter, like a lecture on the economist John Maynard Keynes, Granof says.

The first two rooms at Block are primarily paintings and drawings.’ The colors are muted and the pieces’ mood is somber, but the audio-video components offer much context and background to the lives of these artists.

The most aesthetically interesting portion is the Omega Workshop section. It boasts designs for chair seats and screens, ceramic plates and a custom-painted dresser as well as hand-painted book jackets for ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ and ‘The Wasteland.’ The absolute highlight of the exhibit is a table designed by Bell and Grant made with tiles from Virginia Woolf’s table.’ They transformed their everyday living space into art.’

The exhibit is traditional museum fare.’ It lacks the drama, flair and theatricality that might entice a college student-made evident by the fact that, on any given day, there might not be one person visiting the exhibit.’ Compared to the Robert Motherwell and Robert

Mapplethorpe exhibits from earlier this year, ‘A Room of Their Own’ is tame.’ The historical context of the work, however, is important. Contemporary art would not exist had it not been for the visionaries of past.’ Motherwell, Mapplethorpe and others owe much to the Bloomsbury group.