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August 1, 2007

Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture presents
Andrea Robbins and Max Becher: Portraits

January 31 – March 22, 2008

Contact: Thomas Moore
Director of Arts & Culture

Note: You may view or download this release as a pdf file.

UMBC’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (CADVC) presents Andrea Robbins and Max Becher: Portraits, the first exhibition to examine the portrait photographs of this esteemed husband-and-wife team, opening on January 31, 2008 and closing on March 22, 2008.

Robbins and Becher’s portraits—like their radical landscapes and city-scenes—are powerfully evocative, boldly subverting our expectations of the discipline of portraiture: rather than “capturing” the visual essence of a sitter, they reveal identity to be multifarious, transitive, and culturally and historically bound. They capture their subjects in ways that transform, enhance, and accentuate social and cultural meaning. They do so with the full complicity and respect of the people they photograph. They spend weeks living with each community they document. They immerse themselves in the stories of its citizens and history. They interview its residents and participate in their rituals and customs. They photograph them in various, active stages of work, play, and home life. Most importantly, they allow their subjects to represent themselves—not only as they would like to been seen, but also in ways that illuminate the complexity of their humanity. The exhibition will contain eight series created over the past fifteen years: German Indians (1997-98), Colonial Remains (1991), Bavarian by Law (1995-96), The Americans of Samaná (1998-2001), Sosúa (1999-2000), The Oregon Vortex (1994), Postville (2005), and Figures (2002).

An opening reception will be held on Thursday, January 31st from 5 to 7 pm, and the exhibition will open for its first full day on Friday, February 1st.

Since 1984, Andrea Robbins and Max Becher have worked individually as well as collaboratively using photography, film, video, and digital media. They have taught at The Cooper Union and Rutgers University and are currently at the University of Florida. The primary focus of their work is what they call “the transportation of place” — situations in which one limited or isolated place strongly resembles another distant one. Everywhere, not only in the new world, such situations are accumulating and accepted as genuine locales. Traditional notions of place, in which culture and geographic location neatly coincide, are being challenged by legacies of slavery, colonialism, holocaust, immigration, tourism, and mass-communication. Whether the subject is Germany in Africa, Germans dressing as Native Americans, American towns dressed as Germany, New York in Las Vegas, New York in Cuba, or Cuba in exile, the artists’ interest tends to be a place out of place with its various causes and consequences.

About the Series in the Exhibition

German Indians
Every year in February many cities in Germany celebrate Karnival, or Fasching. Over a period of several days people dress up in costumes, get together, celebrate and have parades and parties. Children also participate and put on all kinds of homemade or storebought costumes. Many dress up as Native Americans, images of which they have derived from American movies as well as from the book and film versions of the novels of Karl May.

Colonial Remains
Between 1884 and 1916, the country of Namibia was one of four German colonies in Africa. Despite resistance by the local populations, the colonists took the best farmland, exploited the extensive mineral resources, and imposed their own institutions in an attempt to create a transplanted version of Germany in Africa. This transplantation was slowed when, after Germany’s defeat in World War I, the League of Nations mandated the territory to South Africa. A German influence has persisted due to the many Germans that remained or settled later and benefited from the apartheid system.

Not until 1990 did Namibia achieve independence. After years of struggle against South Africa and its Western allies, UN-supervised elections finally established majority rule. Since then the new government has had the difficult task of reforming the economy and reversing the effects of racist indoctrination. Understandably, the industry and politics of tourism play an important role in both these tasks. All national monuments and cultural events present an opportunity for the new leadership to bring in needed foreign currency, revise official history, and redefine national identity.

Every year on August 25 the Hereros from all over the country gather in Okahandja, near the capital of Windhoek. As part of the activities, a procession of men and women slowly walks to touch the graves of famous chiefs. Many of the chiefs died in a major war of resistance against the so-called German protection force, which killed 75–80% of the Hereros between 1904 and 1905. Today the dress of many Herero women is visibly influenced by the nineteenth-century Victorian dresses that the German colonialists brought with them.

Bavarian by Law
In the 1960s, after a period of economic decline, the logging town of Leavenworth, Washington decided to alter its image in order to attract tourism. Among such themes as Italy, and The Wild West, Bavaria was chosen as the new look for the town, not because of any significant cultural connection, but mostly because the surrounding landscape resembles alpine Germany. Despite some local protests, the town council instituted “Bavarianization” in order to create a cohesive experience for the visitor: a schedule of annual festivals and the imposition of new tax laws, zoning regulations, architectural elements, and even a limited set of Germanic typefaces, on all commercial enterprises.

Within a decade, tourists came in large numbers and the town's economy turned around. Many businesses have moved in to participate, and some residents have voluntarily “Bavarianized” their homes. Still, many residents are conflicted about the town's transformation, because it contradicts their faith in unrestricted resource development and obscures the town's actual history. On the other hand this “old world” economic and cultural conformity has proved very profitable and created the most recognizable place in the area.

The Americans of Samaná
On Samaná peninsula, in the northeast of the Dominican Republic, live the descendants of freed African-American slaves. The original group of about 34 families came in 1824 when the country had just been taken over by the newly independent black nation of Haiti. The scheme was initiated and financed by President Pierre Boyer of Haiti, with cooperation from the American Colonization Society (which had the dual motive of humanitarianism and the immediate expulsion of freed slaves.)

Although this Caribbean nation is Spanish-speaking, about 8,000 of the descendants still speak an American English from 1824. African-American names, manners, music and some recipes like Johnny (or Journey) cake have been preserved among the increasingly homogeneous Spanish-Dominican culture. Unfortunately, the old American English is also threatened by “tourist English,” which is replacing many local languages not just in Samaná but throughout the world.

Although a linguistic and religious isolation — the “Americanos” are protestant — has maintained customs and group identity, it has also undermined full inclusion in the developing economy. Also, a succession of dictatorial governments have outlawed English, sabotaged local development, and even destroyed the historic downtown of Santa Barbara, the provincial capital, in a deliberate fire. Once skilled, prosperous, and united, a large number of today’s descendants are living in poverty. But, many still identify themselves as Americans and hope for repatriation, or at least some reunion with branches of their families in the United States.

In 1938 the infamous dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, agreed to resettle a quota of European Jews who were trying to escape Hitler. About 600 Jewish men came and settled in a remote forested area of the Dominican Republic that had been abandoned by the United Fruit Company.

One purpose of his benevolence was diplomacy: a year earlier he had massacred over 25,000 Haitians, and needed to respond to international protests against his “Caribbean holocaust.” Accepting Jewish refugees, especially at a time when most nations, including the U.S., were closing their doors to them, helped improve his image. Another of his motives was racist: he hoped that the new European immigrants would “lighten” the local population through intermarriage.

The refugees that stayed, most of them urban, educated, and German-speaking men, managed to adapt to their incongruous surroundings and established a thriving meat and dairy industry as well as a popular tourist destination. Nowadays, the remaining original settlers and their families must share this Caribbean town with masses of mostly young, loud, sun-seeking European tourists, primarily from Germany.

The Oregon Vortex
On a hillside in southwest Oregon, there is a circular area of about 165 feet diameter in which strange phenomena occur. For example, at certain locations within this “vortex,” compasses and light meters behave erratically and people standing in a relaxed position will stand at an angle or sway back and forth at 22 second intervals. The most noticeable effect is that of apparent changes in size of objects and people. In some areas of the vortex, when two people are placed opposite each other on level ground and along a north/south axis, each person will be measurably smaller on the left side than when positioned on the

right side. This effect is noticed by the people themselves as well as by any observer. Scientists have studied this area, which Native Americans called “the forbidden ground,” and have given a variety of explanations. One recurring proposition is that the anomalies are related to a dense ore deposit in the ground. Some theorize that the apparent change in size is only an optical or light effect. Others, however, consider the change to be physical, and note that blind persons can sense the changes in size by touch and hear the other person's voice coming from an elevated or lowered position. Despite all the measurements and calculations no one has yet succeeded in fully explaining the phenomena in accordance with accepted scientific models.

In 1987 Aaron Rubashkin, a Russian-born Lubavitch Jewish meat provisioner from Boro Park, New York, bought and refurbished a defunct slaughter house in the town of Postville, Iowa. His idea was to establish a large meat plant in an area that produces some of the best beef and poultry in the country. The highly successful AgriProcessors Inc. now provides meat products that are Glatt Kosher (the most stringent type of Kosher) to Jewish communities around the world. The plant employs 350 workers, many of whom are ultra orthodox Jews and mostly Lubavitch, making Postville the home of the largest number of Rabbis per capita in the United States. The influx of Hasidic Jews and other ethnic groups that work in the plant, such as Mexicans and Russians in the town of Postville has brought about many changes in the small homogeneous town. A book about the town’s transformation, Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America by Stephen G. Bloom, is despised locally by most of the residents, Jewish and gentile, but has introduced the phenomenon of “Postville” to a wider audience.

The Hasidim that came to work in the slaughterhouse brought their lives from Brooklyn and established a modern shtetl in a small corner of Iowa. They set up a synagogue, two schools including a Yeshiva, two ritual baths (one for men and one for women) as well as the first and only kosher market and restaurant in the state of Iowa. A dairy and Pizza company followed, which was aptly named after 47th Street, well known in New York City as a place where Hasidim work.

Many of the Jewish residents feel isolated and far way from the larger community. But, because Hasidim generally do not shun technology, the modern conveniences of air travel, and phone, email, and internet contact keep them in touch internationally. Also fortunately, Postville provides the families with many of the joys of country life that are missing in Brooklyn or other urban environments. Affordable, spacious houses with backyards and a very beautiful countryside allow for many activities such as fishing, hiking, bike riding, swimming and weekend trips. Unfortunately, included in that idyllic environment are the chores of Midwestern life required by local ordinances, such as mowed lawns and snowplowed sidewalks, as well the other incongruities with the established local culture.

In each image, the Star Wars figure on the left is from 1979 and the one on the right is the re-issued version from 1997.

About the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture
The Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (formerly known as the Center for Art and Visual Culture or CAVC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study of contemporary art and visual culture, critical theory, art and cultural history, and the relationship between society and the arts. The CADVC serves as a forum for students, faculty, and the general public for the discussion of important aesthetic and social issues of the day. Disciplines represented include painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, photography, digital art, video, film, television, design, architecture, advertising, and installation and performance art.

Since 1989, the CADVC has incorporated a number of public programs into its exhibition programming schedule to further impact the communities it serves. Symposia, lecture series, conferences, film series, visiting artist series, and residencies have all been fundamental in an effort to create an ongoing dialogue about contemporary art and culture. The Center has also initiated a number of projects with Baltimore and surrounding schools systems to integrate the contemporary artist and their concerns into the classroom. These projects take place on-site at both middle schools and high schools and are team taught by the instructors at these schools, professional artists, and students from the CADVC’s Internship Program.

The Center produces one to two exhibition catalogues each year. Each document is fully illustrated and contains critical essays on the given subject by a variety of distinguished professionals in the field. Recent publications include Postmodernism: A Virtual Discussion and Paul Rand: Modernist Design. These books and catalogues are published and are distributed internationally through Distributed Art Publishers.

Since 1992, the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture has actively pursued the organization of exhibitions that contain the aesthetic, theoretical, and educational potential to reach both a national and international audience. Over the years, the CADVC has traveled these exhibition projects to a broad spectrum of museums, professional non-profit galleries, and universities national and internationally. Recent traveling exhibitions include:

White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art (2003)
Fred Wilson: Objects and Installations (2001)
Adrian Piper: A Retrospective (1999)
Bruno Monguzzi: A Designer’s Perspective (1998)
Minimal Politics (1997)
Kate Millet, Sculpture: The First 38 Years (1997)

Beyond the scope of these traveling exhibitions, the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture also undertakes an exhibition schedule that includes a Faculty Biennial, and projects such as the Joseph Beuys Tree Partnership. As part of the educational mission of the CADVC, one graduate thesis exhibition and one undergraduate senior exhibition are scheduled on a yearly basis.

This multi-faceted focus for presenting exhibitions, projects and scholarly research publications focused on contemporary art and cultural issues positions the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture in a unique position within the mid-Atlantic region.

Hours and Admission
Sunday and Monday — Closed
Tuesday through Saturday — 10 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Admission is free.

UMBC Artsline (24 hour recorded message): 410-455-ARTS
Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture: 410-455-3188

UMBC Arts website:
Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture:
Andrea Robbins and Max Becher:

• From Baltimore and points north, proceed south on I-95 to exit 47B. Take Route 166 toward Catonsville and then follow signs to the Fine Arts Building.
• From I-695, take Exit 12C (Wilkens Avenue) and continue one-half mile to the entrance of UMBC at the roundabout intersection of Wilkens Avenue and Hilltop Road. Turn left and follow signs to the Fine Arts Building.
• From Washington and points south, proceed north on I-95 to Exit 47B. Take Route 166 toward Catonsville and then follow signs to the Fine Arts Building.
• Daytime metered visitor parking is available in the Administration Drive Garage.
• Online campus map:

Images for Media
High resolution images for media are available online:
or by email or postal mail.
All images in this release ©Andrea Robbins and Max Becher.

Posted by tmoore at August 1, 2007 1:28 PM