Nov. 3, 2002 – More than a dozen crates filled with Virgin Islands artwork were airlifted over to Puerto Rico a week ago in the company of St. John artist Janet Cook-Rutnik for hanging in the Museo de las Americas, the city-block size multi-gallery complex that is the heart of the art district in Old San Juan.
The show, called VIA Colectiva, will open Tuesday evening as part of the Noche de las Galerías festivities and will hang through Jan. 12, 2003.
"Galleries Night" is a recurring event the first Tuesday evening of each month from September through May. It "attracts thousands of visitors to Old San Juan who come out to see the many new exhibitions opening on this special night, at the museum and the many galleries up and down the cobblestone streets of the old city," Cook-Rutnik said.
Tuesday, she noted, is election day in the Virgin Islands but not in Puerto Rico.
Hanging a show is always challenging, Cook-Rutnik says, but the Museo has its particular challenges for someone accustomed to the art venues of the Virgin Islands. "The galleries are huge, and it's awesome at first," she said.
"It is really thrilling, though, to see the work laid out so majestically," she said. "Nowhere in the V.I. do we have this kind of exhibition space. Each piece is given its proper due, with lots of breathing space."
Cook-Rutnik, whose solo show at the Museo three years ago became the impetus for bringing VIA Colectiva about, was joined by St. Thomas artists Edney Freeman and Mace McDowell in unpacking and hanging the show, a process that took three days of physically demanding work.
One of Freeman's reasons for going to San Juan last week was to install his three large abstract ceramic and wood "shields" that reference African totems. The longtime Charlotte Amalie High School art teacher "was an incredible help" on the V.I. end, as well, Cook-Rutnik said. "He got the crates made and took time and care to make sure that the work was properly wrapped and packed for shipping."
And McDowell "showed up Monday morning with her paintings and was a great help uncrating work and moving stuff around," Cook-Rutnik said. "There was so much big work — wooden crates more than 6 feet tall to open and move — but it worked out."
While the show consists mostly of paintings, the low-relief hung art includes Cook-Rutnik's assemblage "goddesses" as well as Freeman's shields. Among the two-dimensional works, one of the largest pieces is 6-by-5 feet, a painting by Maria Henle titled "Amazonas II." There also are large-scale architectural paintings by Jeri Hillis, early abstract works by Aquannette Chinnery and Roy Lawaetz's "Triangular Modular" paintings inspired by Taino zemi stones. (See "Old San Juan museum to show 20 V.I. artists' work".)
It helped that curator Marlene Hernandez "is very experienced and has a good eye and good ideas. She was a great help," Cook-Rutnik said. But the VIA show was just one of four installations in progress last week, so Hernandez, museum director Maria Angela Villela Lopez and their staff had their hands full, too. On Thursday, there will be a big 10-year anniversary celebration at the museum, concluding the observance of the quincentennial of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus.
Thousands of art appreciators come out for Noche de las Galerías, taking in the four opening receptions at the Museum of the Americas and others at many of the smaller galleries within strolling distance.
The VIA show will not be the only exposure the territory will get Tuesday evening and in the days to come. Donald Laurent Dahlke, a longtime St. Croix resident who still spends time in the islands painting each year, will be opening a solo show at one of the other Museo galleries.
That two of the four Museo shows are of Virgin Islands art "represents an incredible milestone in Virgin Islands art history," Cook-Rutnik says.
Cook-Rutnik's own solo exhibition three years ago, the first by a Virgin Islands artist in a major museum in Puerto Rico, took place in the same 4,000-square-foot gallery, Sala Tres (Salon No. 3), where the VIA show is installed now.
Tuesday's elections in the V.I. notwithstanding, most of the VIA artists are expected to be on hand for Noche de las Galerías. St. Croix artist Roy Lawaetz will be coming from the Dominican Republic, where he now lives.
The exhibiting contemporary artists are Chinnery, Denise Christopher-Smith, Susan Edwards, Freeman, Mitch Gibbs, McDowell and Erik Pedersen of St. Thomas; LaVaughn Belle, Danica David, Henle, Hillis, Gerville Larsen, Lawaetz, Marjorie Robbins and Catherine Roche of St. Croix; and Kimberly Boulon, Cook-Rutnik, M. Lisa Etre, Deborah St. Clair and Aimee Trayser of St. John.
The retrospective works are four prints of famed Impressionist Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), who was born on St. Thomas; 11 paintings by Albert Daniel (1897-1982), a self-taught artist who dedicated his life to capturing the changing island scene; and five by Eric Winter, who also painted the changing island scene, from 1954, when he moved to St. Thomas straight out of college, until shortly before his death nearly two years ago.
VIA Colectiva is being sponsored by Banco Popular of the V.I., FirstBank, the V.I. Council on the Arts, the Tourism Department, United Airlines, CapeAir, Hovensa, MAPes MONDe, MSI, Mr. & Mrs. Ricardo Charaf, Mango Tango, The VI-PR Friendship Committee, the Planning and Natural Resources Department and Joanne Bozzuto. A full-color 32-page catalog commemorating the exhibition provides a history of Virgin Islands art and a look at cultural and artistic ties between the territory and Puerto Rico.
For those interested in making overnight visits to San Juan to view the exhibitions, Cook-Rutnik said, two hotels, El Convento and the Wyndham, are offering discounts to Virgin Islanders who identify themselves as attending VIA Colectiva at Museo de las Américas.

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