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Louise McCagg (1936-2020)

Hungarian Connections

February 5 - March 5, 2022

The Gallery at Dobbin Mews is pleased to announce the exhibition of the late NY artist Louise McCagg. To honor Louise’s work and philanthropy, this exhibition focuses on the artist’s life and death masks that she created since the early 1990s through her personal Hungarian connections. Louise and her husband, a scholar of East European history, spent extended time in the country.

In 1991, her assistant András Böröcz introduced Louise to Hungarian writers György Petri, Endre Kukorelly, and László Garaczi at her New York studio. The writers were asked to have molds of their faces taken as Louise was intrigued by the idea of “giving words a face.” They wrote immediate reflections of their experiences when they were cut off from the world while under the molding materials. The poet László Job Baránszky also participated in the casting and writing project. The following summer, Louise made a mold of Sára Karig’s face in Budapest as she was interested in the poems Karig wrote during her imprisonment in Vorkuta, USSR. Later Louise published some of them in a handmade book with Karig’s permission. On Louise’s visit to the Petofi Irodalmi Museum in Budapest, she was shown a unique collection of death masks of Hungarian artists. The experience triggered the idea to create a discourse between the living and the dead writers: “using their portraits of varied proportions to indicate the rhythm and line and life of the spoken word, of poetry; and in which various aspects of their being would be reflected.” While this is the Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, the Mews has been a location of artistic discourse and creative facilities (including a paper mill) for three decades, and Louise was a participant. She had an active work relationship with the owners, András Böröcz (who assisted her for over twenty years casting her sculptures and brainstorming ideas) and Robbin Silverberg (who produced many of her masks in handmade paper and Louise’s artist books). In addition, Louise was one of the founding members of Alma on Dobbin Inc, an arts nonprofit based in the Mews.

This exhibition consists of three installations of masks: “Shrouds of Hungarian Poets,” “Paper Heads: Hungarian Portraits,” and the “Death Masks”; Two artist books: “Manhattan 05.12.91” & “Vorkuta Poems”; And a postcard size bronze relief: “Postcard from Auschwitz.”

The life-masks were made of a viscous alga mixture, shrunk to their final shape while drying, and then cast in either plaster, bronze, or paper pulp. Louise was preoccupied with the problems of sculpture, which are proportion and dimension. Her goal was to create these works not measured by a yardstick but by an inner logic and a conviction of the image itself.

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