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Lucas Museum founding president: A story through art
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-01-20

This article shared 8424 times since Wed Jan 20, 2016
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With the Star Wars franchise handed over to Disney and its latest installment already smashing box office records for an opening weekend, its creator George Lucas is in production and collaboration on another legacy to be passed down to multiple generations of children and adults.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will not require their imaginations to travel to a galaxy far, far away; rather, it will bring to Chicago a wide collection of narrative art—stories from the equally boundless human mind.

From the parietal art discovered on cave walls to graphic novels to film and the ingenuity of their architects traversing every world culture, medium and technology, those who visit the Lucas Museum will be hurled into the kind of wonder relatable to anyone who, as a young child, put crayon to paper and so documented their lives using the immeasurable possibilities of creation.

Lucas Museum of Narrative Art Founding President Don Bacigalupi has spent a lifetime immersed in the kaleidoscopic whirlpool of imagery which formed around his own narrative.

He was born in New York in 1960—the year John F. Kennedy spoke of a new frontier that demanded imagination—and raised from the age of 9 in South Florida.

Jackson Pollock—an artist who would become deeply influential in Bacigalupi's life—once said that "painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is."

Bacigalupi himself recalls a moment in his teenage years where history and self-discovery collided.

Anita Bryant had set out on her "Save Our Children" campaign to repeal the Dade County ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"It was fraught with images that were not familiar to me from my own life just demonizing gay people in every way," Bacigalupi told Windy City Times. "I didn't understand. I didn't relate to it. I didn't see the point of the campaign she was waging. My parents did not know, nor did I have words for my own sexuality at the time but, to their credit, they thought she was absurd and articulated their opposition to that kind of extremism."

For Bacigalupi, it made coming out to them five years later considerably easier despite their Catholic roots. "I had the conversation with my mother first and then my father and they had their issues they needed to address," he said. "But we worked through it as a family. By the time I went back to college, I knew that there were no ongoing issues to deal with."

"They are what parents are supposed to be," he added. "They are remarkable people in terms of their generosity, kindness and goodness and that's something I benefited from and continue to benefit from in my life."

Similarly, art has always had an immutable presence throughout Bacigalupi's days.

"One of the earliest memories I have was as a young child being given a board game called Masterpiece that I played with my siblings," he said. "I was completely fascinated with it. The centerpiece of the game was a deck of postcard-sized reproductions of famous works from the Art Institute of Chicago. I was enamored with them and so completely enraptured by these images that I thought someday I could see these works of arts in the flesh and understand what they are about."

One of them was Jackson Pollock's 1953 work Grayed Rainbow. Despite the playful derision of his siblings, Bacigalupi was immediately captured by its magic and mysticism.

He was a pre-med student at Emory University when he travelled to the Art Institute and finally stood before the work as large as the life it would go on to impel and as infinite as the universe.

"I understood it because suddenly I was not seeing a miniature reproduction but the passion and gesture of an artist, the energy, movement and dance that it took to create that work through rhythm with the gesture of the arm and the sweeping movement of the body—the layering, control and chaos," Bacigalupi recalled. "I drifted into it thinking, 'That's what I want to be. Understanding the passion, the inspiration, the making of a statement through art'."

Less than six months later, he switched majors to art history, completing his graduate degree at the University of Texas.

Before undertaking his doctorate, Bacigalupi lived in New York City forging the genesis of a career in art—running a gallery in the Soho neighborhood and writing art criticism for magazines and newspapers.

It was the 1980's. The AIDS epidemic and related antagonism towards the gay community was at its zenith.

"I was certainly aware of the dangers of being out and open," Bacigalupi said. "It may have been driven by ambition but I was also aware of being able to live my own life in the open and present—an image that might change people's perceptions, open their eyes and diminish that hatred fueled by a sense of otherness. As my career began and I was moved into visible leadership positions, I had a sense that it was important to represent other people who weren't as visible and who didn't have a platform to be able to speak for themselves."

Like many people who were building relationships in the 1980s, AIDS wreaked devastation upon Bacigalupi.

"Many friends died between '84 and '89," he said. "When I moved back to Austin to pursue my Ph.D., one of my closest friends died in hospice in my arms. It was a life-changing experience for me. It's very unnatural for a young person to lose friends like that, and it certainly changed my view of the importance of living one's life every day to the fullest to honor those who aren't with us, and to ensure that we have no regrets when our own lives end."

After finishing his doctorate, Bacigalupi met his partner—then graduate designer Dan Feder. They have been together for 22 years and have a ten-year-old son.

Through it all, art has been a constant narrative in a career which has seen Bacigalupi take the helm of The Blaffer Gallery at The Art Museum of the University of Houston, the San Diego Museum of Art, The Toledo Museum of Art and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

"It communicated to me as an eight-year-old and continues to communicate to me as a 55-year-old," he asserted. "Art has always had that magical spell over me. It is such a powerful means of communication across the world through the millennia and from cultures, times and places we have no access to, art still speaks and resonates to us. That is why I am still eager to learn more about art. The more I know, the less I know. I'm still driven to look at it, to live surrounded by it and to try and share all of those experiences with the public who may or may not have access to it."

Yet when Lucas first approached him with the idea of a museum of narrative art, Bacigalupi was reticent.

"I've had opportunities to build other museums from the ground up," he said. "I didn't want to start again. But the vision was so compelling to make art accessible and relevant and to share that passion I've always had. George is passionate about education and creating opportunities through the arts to inspire—particularly for children. It's clearly a focus for George and the museum for art forms that children naturally respond to."

For those who visit the Lucas Museum when it opens in 2019/2020, Bacigalupi promises many of the same experiences that captured his imagination as a child armed only with a deck of cards.

"The vision of a museum that is about that universal and very human need to tell stories through art is compelling and unique in all the world," he said. "We're bringing together not only fine art forms of painting and sculpture but also the popular forms that have inhabited all cultures and, in so doing speak to the broadest audience. There are traditional art museums that find themselves boxed in by the definitions of what is or is not art so we end up excluding a lot of the visual forms that people live with and pay attention to. We have this unprecedented opportunity to break down those barriers and to present and explore all those forms that are story telling in nature."

Breaking down barriers through art remains essential for the LGBT community. It is a narrative which Bacigalupi hopes to see continue to thrive through the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender artist.

"It is essential that their personal stories are as honestly, poignantly and emotionally told as possible so we who experience different things can understand what their life is all about, their issues and responses," he said. "From an art historian's perspective the works that speak over time and live on as great are those that are perceived as universal. The things that make works of art personal are universal. When you speak for yourself honestly, truly and intimately, the personal transcends the idiosyncratic and so often becomes the canonical that affects change or minds forever. All of us experience moments of self-doubt and the overcoming of that to live our lives and tell our stories openly and honestly is transcendent."


This article shared 8424 times since Wed Jan 20, 2016
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