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Shades of White

By Anna Mann on October 13, 2014 11:00 AM

Prof. Geraldine Ondrizek's installation Shades of White Courtesy of Geraldine Ondrizek

The discredited science of eugenics served as inspiration for Shades of White, an installation by Prof. Geraldine Ondrizek [art 1994–] created for the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon. Prof. Ondrizek spent years researching the work of Alexandra Minna Stern, a medical historian at the University of Michigan and the author of Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America. 

Ondrizek’s investigation led to a visual reinterpretation of the “Gates Skin Color Charts” created by R. Ruggles Gates and used by eugenicists in the mid-20th century to assign an individual's racial category. Hand-dyed silk, displayed in 18-gauge steel boxes, approximates variations of skin pigmentation. “Her appropriation of this eugenic device to facilitate a discussion of human dignity is poignant and timely,” notes June Black, the museum’s associate curator.

gerri ondrizek

“I have done similar genetic research-based projects, but I have not previously taken on such racially controversial material,” says Ondrizek, who explores personal and political issues related to genetics, ethnic identity, and disease in her work. Her choice to use steel and silk was of particular importance for this project, she says. “These two materials had enormous effects on the global economy and human relations and as a result, our genetic inheritance for centuries.”

Shades of White is funded by a 2014 Hallie Ford Individual Artist Fellowship in the Visual Arts from the Ford Family Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and shows in the Artist Project Space through December 14. The museum is offering free admission on Wednesday, December 10, 11 a.m.–8 p.m., to commemorate Human Rights Day in Oregon.

GO FURTHER: 

A related lecture by Alexandra Stern, “The Legacy of Eugenics in the Contemporary Era of Human Genomics,” is Wednesday, October 15, at 4:30 p.m., in Psychology 105. Dr. Stern also will speak about her book Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America at the University of Oregon in the lecture “Dividing Humans: Genetics, Race, and Disability in Mid-Century America,” on Tuesday, October 14, at 5:30 p.m.

Prof. Ondrizek presents a lecture, “From Eugenics to Genetics: Tracing Visual Categorization in 21st Century Art,” and a gallery talk, beginning at 2 p.m., Saturday, November 8, at the museum; a reception follows the talk.

June Black, associate curator for the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, gives viewers a look at the exhibition during an episode of Oregon Public Broadcasting's Art Beat.