An art collector who was so moved by her experience visiting the students and employees of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has donated a painting to the university.
Art collector Pierrette Van Cleve visited UA Little Rock from Sept. 4-6 to give lectures to art students and to attend a reception for an art exhibit that was displayed at the Windgate Center of Art and Design.
The exhibit, “Memory/Commitment/Aspiration,” featured work from the Pierrette Van Cleve Collection and serves as a backdrop for a new art history course, Global Contemporary Art, being taught this fall by Dr. Lynne Larsen in the Department of Art and Design. The artwork explores the moral and political oppression of people living in Southeast Asia and India.
“When the show opened on Wednesday, most of the students were there looking at the paintings, asking me questions, and wanting to take pictures with the works and myself,” Van Cleve said. “I found them to be curious, intelligent and introspective about the depth of the collection’s subject matter. I remember on my last day, after all the lectures and openings were completed, a young woman came up to me and said, ‘I want to be you in my career.’ I smiled and told her the best thing she could ever be was herself.”
Van Cleve has traveled throughout Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Tibet, China, and India, establishing personal relationships with artists in these countries. As a collector, Van Cleve is drawn to stories about freedom, equality, and fights for justice. Memory, commitment, and aspiration fuel these defiant and powerful artistic voices. The conditions of life these artists have survived and experienced and what they hope to obtain in the future are hallmarks of their creative output.
“Pierrette Van Cleve was so moved by the exhibition and her experience at UA Little Rock that she has gifted a painting to the university collection in my honor,” said Brad Cushman, director of the UA Little Rock Art Gallery. “It is a great honor for me, and the piece donated is a very powerful and expressive painting.”
Cushman and Van Cleve have known each other since 2009, when Cushman was curating the exhibit, “El Grito: The Cry for Independence,” on display at UA Little Rock.
“It was part of the citywide project called Arkansas Celebrates Mexico 2010. Pierrette represented the artist Hugo Crosthwaite which we included in the 2010 exhibit,” Cushman said. “Both Pierrette and Hugo came to campus to work with our students at that time. We also have Hugo’s work in the university collection.”
Van Cleve donated a painting, “My Surrounding People,” by Phan Thanh Minh. The painting features expressive faces on electric orange skeletal figures crowded together with their hands shielding the exchange of whispers and rumors.
“I decided to donate the painting in honor of the exhibition that Brad had curated of my collection,” Van Cleve said. “It was my gift to the university as well as a nod to Brad’s decision to show this collection of southeast Asian contemporary art. I also wanted to honor Brad’s years of curatorial vision, his dedication, and the gallery which bears his name.”
Van Cleve recalls how she first came across the painting in Hoi An, Vietnam, in 2009.
“I was walking across a bridge outside of the city center and I smelled oil paint. I looked around and there was a doorway tucked away at the end of the bridge,” Van Cleve said. “I wandered into the studio of Phan Thanh Minh and was greeted by these amazing paintings.”
Although she did not speak the artist’s language, their love of art brought them together.
“Neither Minh nor I spoke each other’s language to any extent but the work, so passionate and powerful, bonded us together,” Van Cleve said. “I looked at him amazed and smiled, and he did the same. I relished in his work and bought two paintings. He somehow explained to me, I think he might have brought a friend in that spoke English, that these works were about surveillance. If citizens saw or heard something that was considered subversive or anti-communist and they reported it, they would be paid when the person was arrested. Ming’s art put him at risk.”
In the upper right photo, Brad Cushman (right) visits with art collector Pierrette Van Cleve (left) in the Windgate Center of Art and Design. Photo by Ben Krain.