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Project Rembrandt: more than an art exhibit.

Crowds flocked and shutters snapped on the evening of May 30, at the MetLife Gallery in New York City, as AGAINST THE ODDS:

THE PROJECT REMBRANDT(R) 1991-92 BIENNIAL, the eighth of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's juried exhibitions for artists who have multiple sclerosis, opened. Over 600 people attended the gala preview reception, including actress Carol Lawrence and actor Tony Roberts, luminaries from the artistic and corporate worlds, journalists, photographers, television crews and friends of the Society.

Among the most important attendees were the artists themselves. Seventeen of the 23 finalists were there adding tremendously to the excitement of the evening ... and reminding us of its greater significance.

Leah Finch, a sculptor who was diagnosed with MS when she was 22, was among those present. "Having multiple sclerosis can make a determined person very creative," she said.

"To me the real meaning behind PROJECT REMBRANDT is how each artist is able to use his or her mind to adapt and continue when the body becomes difficult. Anyone with MS knows the process I am talking about. This program inspires me not just as an artist. It's a symbol of other people like me who have multiple sclerosis, and who adapt their abilities and continue to work." Unable to paint as she had before the onset of MS, Ms. Finch took a class in ceramic sculpture that focus people with disabilities and has worked in that medium ever since. Other PROJECT REMBRANDT artists have also adapted: Bess Bonner's career as a medical illustrator was derailed by MS, but 18 years later she became a painter using a brush in a mouth holder. Tom Martin switched from painting large canvases to smaller, more conceptual ones when he could no longer stand in front of an easel. Amy Wexler began to explore black and white photography when she began having trouble seeing colors. Now that her sight has improved, she creates brightly colored mixed-media constructions.

"It's important for the public to realize this tremendous capacity and drive to adapt," Ms. Finch said, "and not to count out people with disabilities."

Ms. Lawrence, who is presently featured on the television show, General Hospital and is known for her Broadway work, traveled from Los Angeles for the event. She made the same point in a different way when she appeared on the syndicated Live with Regis and Kathy Lee TV program. "This is the most uplifting art show I have ever heard of," she said. "All of us are inundated each day with the things we cannot control, and we get frustrated and depressed ... these artists deal with the changes and the battles that go on with MS with such optimism, beauty and talent." This year, there were 152 entries. Of these, approximately 90 were from artists who had never applied before. Thirteen of the 23 finalists are first-time participants.

According to Lowell Nesbitt, cochairman of the PROJECT REMBRANDT National Committee, "The competition this time around was the most impressive yet." He, along with National Committee members Donna De Salvo, independent curator and consultant to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; and Paul J. Smith, director emeritus of the American Craft Museum in New York City, juried the exhibition.

For the first time we had to meet twice to complete the judging," he said, "and much fine work unfortunately had to be turned down due to space and financial constraints." PROJECT REMBRANDT was founded in 1983 as a small show of works by a handful of artists in the Society's national headquarters. In contrast, this year the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company hosted the 74-work exhibition in its beautiful gallery, with MetLife curator Linda Marchisotto responsible for the sensitive installation. Not only was it a record attendance for a PROJECT REMBRANDT opening, it was also a record for any preview held at the MetLife Gallery. Moreover, the 900 plus people who visited the biennial when it went on view to the public the next day broke the gallery's one-day attendance record.

"We're proud of the way the program has grown," said Katherine Goldsmith, co-chair with Lowell Nesbitt. "Part of the reason has to do with an increasing visibility in the community and the willingness to promote it. Also, more and more artists are deciding to participate. One of the aims of PROJECT REMBRANDT is to help build a climate of understanding and acceptance into the mainstream. We hope we're doing that."

Two other important "firsts" have marked the program's growth as a visibility project: Funding has allowed the Society to print a catalogue this year and the exhibit is touring nationally thanks to a corporate sponsorship. Through the generosity of the makers of Pinch 15-Year-Old Scotch Whisky the exhibition is currently on view in Chicago at the 333 Gallery at the 333 Building on West Wacker Drive through September 27. It will continue on to San Francisco in October and November, and will be in the Miami area in December and January (sites to be confirmed).

It is estimated that PROJECT REMBRANDT 1991-92 will be seen by approximately a quarter of a million gallery-goers by the year's end and that its message that disability is not synonymous with inability will be transmitted to millions of television veiwers and radio listeners, and will reach additional millions through local and national newspaper, magazine and art journal coverage. Plans are being developed for the 1993-94 biennial which is scheduled to be judged in the fall of 1992. If you are an artist with MS and are thinking about participating, or if you would like to consider PROJECT REMBRANDT as an art exhibition in your city, please contact Shirley Silverberg, director, or Andrea Furey, manager, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 205 East 42 Street, New York, NY 10017; 212-986-3240.

-Andrea Furey

The Society wishes to acknowledge the generosity of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company for opening its doors to PROJECT REMBRANDT and for sponsoring the preview party, brochures, invitations and signage.

We also deeply appreciate the sponsorship of the national tour by the makers of Pinch 15-Year-Old Scotch Whisky.

The Grand Hyatt New York the Loews Summit Hotel, the Rihga Royal Hotel and Ritz Carlton enabled the Society to extend its hospitality to the artists traveling to New York City for the opening by offering hotel rooms at reduced rates, and the Society is grateful.
COPYRIGHT 1991 National Multiple Sclerosis Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:exhibit by MS artists
Author:Furey, Andrea
Publication:Inside MS
Date:Jun 22, 1991
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