An enthusiastic crowd of artists, curators, collectors and arts educators turned out to celebrate the launch of the Jordan Schnitzer Gallery at Dieu Donné in late October at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In one area, kids were participating in a lesson on papermaking – laughing and playing and creating with pulp and paper and colors. In another part of the space, artist Chuck Webster, assisted by master papermakers, demonstrated some of the range of materials and processes available to professional artists. The afternoon culminated in a dedication ceremony. Dieu Donné founder Sue Gosin introduced Schnitzer, who was on hand to say a few words. This was followed by a tour of the inaugural exhibition curated by Jennifer Farrell, Associate Curator of Drawings and Prints at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition, up until the end of November, is a survey of works by many of the illustrious artists the space has hosted over the years such as: Glenn Ligon, Do Ho Suh, Richard Tuttle, Polly Apfelbaum, James Siena, William Kentridge, Ursula Van Rydingsvard and Jim Hodges.
In describing the current exhibition Farrell explains, “All of the art reflects the spirit of collaboration, the excitement of experimentation, and the myriad of possibilities inherent in the process of hand papermaking.”
Dieu Donné, founded in 1976, is a fine art papermill and artists’ workspace dedicated to the creation, exhibition and preservation of contemporary art utilizing handmade paper. Just last year, in 2017, they moved into their new space in Brooklyn. They offer educational programs, including workshops and classes, as well as artist residencies and access to a printmaking studio. A recent partnership with the Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm will soon allow resident artists access to the resources of the farm to create works that address issues of ecology and the environment.
That spirit of creativity and openness to new possibilities, with a focus on works on paper, makes the pairing of Dieu Donné and Jordan D. Schnitzer a natural one. The gallery opening was another step towards Jordan Schnitzer’s goal to provide art appreciation and education opportunities for as many as possible, especially young people and non-traditional audiences. Schnitzer is the President of Harsch Investment Properties, a privately owned real estate investment company, based in Portland, Oregon with hundreds of properties in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. The son of a gallery owner, he grew up with art all around him. His commitment to art and social justice was nurtured at a young age, and his excitement is palpable when you get him talking about accessibility and arts education and the impact that art can have on people’s lives.
“The greatest thing you can do for children is giving them a passion for the arts. Give your kids a passion for the arts, and no matter what they face, they can go back to the arts, they can be refreshed, and come back with a new perspective on life,” he said.
Attracted by the collaborative and egalitarian nature of printmaking, Schnitzer has assembled one of the largest collections of fine art prints in the United States. In another article, he generously explained “There is no sense of ownership in my art, as I feel very much a steward of the work and a facilitator between these brilliant artists and the wonderful institutions that mount these shows so that we, the public, can share in the experiences that art brings to our lives.”
Over the past several decades Schnitzer, through the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, formed in 1997, has helped organize over 110 exhibitions and has had art exhibited at over 150 museums. And they are not just in the usual cosmopolitan hotspots like L.A. or here in NYC, Schnitzer has funded and made loans for exhibitions in far-reaching places from Missoula to Montgomery, Tulsa and Tampa, from Pendleton to Palm Springs, demonstrating a commitment to community outreach rarely seen in the art world.
As a successful businessman, Schnitzer is also pragmatic when he talks about the importance of arts education. “Too often people think art programs are just nice to have,” he explains, “but that is not today’s reality. The companies that are hiring today, whether it’s Google or Caterpillar or some other company, they need people to think creatively.” Further, observing that young people today tend to be more visual, in large part because of smartphones and other technologies that communicate in images, Schnitzer believes this actually increases the potential to get kids connected to art. But it has to be accessible. It can’t be something out there that they have to search for, it has to simply be part and parcel of people’s lives.
Schnitzer’s mission is long-term and multi-faceted. First and foremost, he wants young people and underserved populations to have the opportunity to experience art first hand, so he provides funding for exhibitions, and loans works from his own collection to venues across the country. Second, he is quietly making space for alternative artists to be introduced as equals to their more established peers. For example, during the “Under Pressure” exhibition at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, a few years ago, Schnitzer included the works of Native American artists Rick Bartow and Joe Feddersen. These artists were exhibited right alongside for example, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Barbara Kruger and John Baldessari.
Further, during the run of “Under Pressure” he made it possible for school groups to visit the exhibition. In so doing, he not only gave local kids a chance to view artworks by famous artists, but also, by including artists from their Native American cultural community, he reinforced the message that art is not something made by, and for others, but in fact meant for all. Lastly, his belief that education in general, regardless of the specific discipline should include the arts, has been manifest in the opening of art galleries and museums such as this one at Dieu Donné, as well as on college campuses, the most well-known of which is the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon.
Schnitzer’s latest project, “Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography” is currently on view at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon and includes works on paper by forty artists including: Kara Walker, Radcliffe Bailey, Caitlin Cherry, Martin Puryear and Willie Cole. The catalogue is also available, with an Introduction by Leronn P. Brooks.
The Jordan D. Schnitzer Gallery at Dieu Donné is open Monday through Friday 9 am – 5 pm and by appointment. The current exhibition will be on view until the end of November.
Dieu Donné is located at 63 Flushing Ave. Bldg. 3, Suite 602, Brooklyn NY 11201
Learn more about the Jordan D. Schnitzer Family Foundation at: http://www.jordanschnitzer.org/