By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – In an era where so much seeks to divide us, Paul D’Ambrosio is hoping art can unite.
“We loved the idea of having Pete Souza’s photographs of presidents Reagan and Obama,” said The Fenimore Art Museum president. “Even though they were on the opposite ends of the spectrum politically, this exhibit shows their shared humanity, what they had in common.”
“Pete Souza: Two Presidents, One Photographer,” on display now in the Clark Gallery through the end of December, highlights 56 photos of the two presidents, taken during his time as official White House photographer.
It’s part of the fall season at the museum, which is showcasing Souza, “Albrecht Durer: Master Prints” and one piece from the postponed Keith Haring exhibit in anticipation of opening the exhibit next year.
“This exhibit has been a year in the making,” said D’Ambrosio. “We’ve always had a good audience for our photo exhibits, especially ones, like the Herb Ritts, that draw on recent history. It’s especially appealing to a younger audience.”
What made Souza unique as a photographer, D’Ambrosio said, is that he had access to two presidents. “He had the ability to make these men forget he was in the room,” he said. “Under Reagan, he took upwards of 20,000 photos a week.”
Many of the photos are of serious moments – Reagan consoling soldiers after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, or Obama watching the attack on Osama Bin Laden. “Souza set up a camera above the desk in the oval office so he could snap a photo of Reagan without being in the room,” said D’Ambrosio. “He captures a lot of the loneliness of the job.”
But interspersed with those are behind-the-scenes looks at each president, such as Obama bending over to let a young boy touch his hair. “He saw a president who looked like him,” he said. “It’s a very powerful image.”
In the center of the exhibit is a room of photos of each man displayed side-by-side to show off similarities of the office, including watching movies in the White House theater, greeting Popes John Paul II and Francis, and interactions with British Royalty – Obama greeting a young Prince George (who wore his bathrobe for the occasion) and a blushing Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta at Reagan’s Inaugural Gala dinner in 1985.
“We think a lot of people will remember these photos,” he said.
Souza also documented Obama when he was a senator, as well as the official photographer for Reagan’s funeral; however, those photos are not part of the exhibit.
Also new this fall is “Albrecht Durer: Master Prints”
“This is more subdued, more for the ‘art’ crowd,” said D’Ambrosio. “Durer may not be a household name, but he was a master printmaker in Europe, at a time when printing didn’t have the same reputation as painting. He made it not just popular, but accepted as an art form.”
Several of the pieces were part of the museum’s Thomas Cole exhibit in 2018. “You can really get absorbed in them,” said D’Ambrosio. “They’re so old and they’ve survived so much, so there’s a kind of reverence there.”
Although the Keith Haring exhibit has been rescheduled for next year, several pieces from the Thaw Collection had already been curated for a sister exhibit, “Elegant Line, Powerful Shape,” and will remain on display through next fall.
“You can see how he was influenced by non-western art,” said D’Ambrosio.
But for those who can’t wait, one Haring piece, “Medusa Head” has been put on display at the top of the staircase. “The scale really does make it powerful,” said D’Ambrosio. “He really uses this style to explore power relationships, the figures struggling against this Medusa.”
He continued, “When you see this in the Clark Gallery, opened to full-size, it’s going to really be incredible.”
Also postponed until 2021 was the “Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams” and “The World of Jan Brett.”
And the art isn’t just confined to inside the museum. On the patio are two sculptures by East Springfield sculptor Akira Niitsu.
“We’ve had such a beautiful summer, and people are picking up a boxed lunch and dining out on the terrace,” he said. “We want people to know that you can still get out and
go to a museum,” he said.