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Latest treasures in permanent collection
now on display at Benton Museum
March 1, 1999

The permanent collection at The William Benton Museum of Art is growing, and 40 recent acquisitions are now on view. Prints, photographs, drawings, etchings, and sculptures by more than two dozen artists are being shown through March 10.

Among the recently acquired works on display are large-scale pieces by Luis Gonzalez-Palma, Clarissa Sligh, and Albert Chong.

"The works by these artists are of a very personal nature," says Sal Scalora, the Benton's director. They are tied into the artists' pasts, their cultures and family issues, he says. The works were acquired through the Louise Crombie Beach Memorial Fund.

Through Victorian style portraiture and post-modern photography, Gonzalez-Palma captures the beauty, mystery and sadness of Guatemala, his native country. "As if gazing through a sepia-toned Baroque-looking glass, he creates mesmerizing images that speak of difficult life journeys and spiritual transcendence," Scalora says. El Hombre Triste (The Sad Man) is a hand-painted and toned gelatin silver print. "It's a kind of altarpiece, very contemporary, about death and passing," according to Scalora.

An architect from Guatemala City, Gonzalez-Palma creates dark, bitumen-toned portraits of descendants of the Mayans. A self-taught photographer, his work reflects the difficulties that Guatemala has endured since the beginning of its 35-year civil war. Using mostly Mayan Indians as his models, Palma manipulates photographic images, often combining toning with bitumen, painting, tearing and stitching, and applying gold leaf. "His images are imbued with a handmade richness that is rarely found elsewhere," Scalora says.

Sligh has spent most of her life exploring the history of her African- American family. Her eight-panel, photographic-based print, Who We Was, commands an entire corner of the gallery space. Measuring 120 inches by 80 inches, the eight prints are surrounded by 26 glass plates, acid-etched with family names. In this image, she combines photographs of herself, her brother, and her two younger sisters with illustrative images of African women wearing traditional clothes. Her work reflects her childhood, growing up in the 1940s and 1950s in a segregated Virginia neighborhood.

Chong, born in Kingston, Jamaica, to a large family of shopkeepers, came to the United States to attend art schools in New York City and San Diego. His work focuses on his Jamaican-Chinese family history and the ritual elements of his religious practices.

Aunt Winnie's Story, a 42-inch by 32-inch color photograph of Chong's aunt, keeps her memory alive, Scalora says. The work is framed with a six- inch wide inscribed copper mat that tells her story. "It is a sad tale that ends in an admission of lost love and a life of regret," Scalora says. But for the artist, telling her story, "keeps her memory alive and creates a golden shrine for her spirit."

Running concurrently with this show is another exhibit, After the Photo-Secession: American Pictorial Photography, 1910-1955. The William Benton Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday 1-4:30 p.m.

Sherry Fisher