Art as nonviolent protester at Florida Holocaust Museum

BY LENNIE BENNETT

Times Art Critic

ST. PETERSBURG

Everyone tries to find a way to cope with terrible things, a way that will perhaps mitigate the inevitable trauma, whether it's personal — the death of a loved one — or public — the 9/11 attacks. Artists naturally use visual tools, and history is loaded with their aesthetic coping mechanisms.

One of the missions of the Florida Holocaust Museum is to present art that addresses intolerance and the suffering it causes. Right now, "Art Not Hate" is on view, a collection of prints, drawings, videos and handmade books by Bob Barancik. He's a sort of artistic version of the nonviolent protester, using art to encourage a peaceful, creative response to turmoil.

This isn't a large show, sharing space in the third-floor community room with other exhibitions, but it's effective and affecting. One of the handmade books is an interpretation of kvitls, the prayers like those inserted into the Western Wall in Jerusalem. These mourn the lost souls of the Holocaust. Another is fashioned to suggest a community of shadowing figures and disintegrating buildings of the ghettos. But, as he writes, "my ghetto walls can be held in the palm of my hand and unfolded into different configurations at will." Being able to see through and around something has always been a way of coming to terms with it, right?

Barancik also contemplates other human disasters. One work is subtitled "A folio from a post 9/11 world" and is filled with collages and drawings that suggest people huddling in and overwhelmed by an urban jungle with faces that remind one of Picasso's fascination with masks.

Six prints best convey Barancik's vision, which splices together collaged papers, wispy, genderless figures and abstract images to create a narrative. The best is Bird at Sunrise, ambiguous in its symbolism since the bird's both on the wing (hopeful) and black (not).

Also on view in the second-floor galleries is a collection of paintings by Samuel Bak, who is more literal (and monumental) in his work.

Art therapy is a well-regarded professional tool, and I often think that more of us could benefit from our own amateur explorations of art as a healing agent. We have only to look at the phenomenon of the Vietnam War Memorial, one of the finest ever created, and its comforting power.

And I recall remarks by the director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York immediately after the terrorist attacks, when the city was in turmoil. He said the museum experienced record attendance but of a different kind. People simply came in to sit or wander slowly through the galleries. They came in search of some kind of reassurance and peace, he thought, and they seemed to find it.

Art is powerful in many ways, and in this one perhaps we haven't plumbed its depth as fully as we might.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

>> Art Not Hate

The exhibition of works by Bob Barancik is at the Florida Holocaust Museum, 55 Fifth St. S, St. Petersburg, through March 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $14 adults, $12 seniors, $10 college students, $8 students under 18. Free for military, USF students with ID and children 6 and under. flholocaustmuseum.org or (727) 820-0100.

Art as nonviolent protester at Florida Holocaust Museum 03/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 5:30am]

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