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Wednesday, July 24, 2024


"Galleries Night," or Noche de las Galerias, happens on the first Tuesday of every month in Old San Juan, attracting thousands of Puerto Rican art lovers to enjoy an after-hours walking tour of the dozens of art emporiums and museums that line Cristo Street.
November's event had an attraction no other Noche has had: the opening of a solo show by a Virgin Islands artist.
Janet Cook-Rutnik, who was invited earlier this year by the Museo de las Americas in Old San Juan to exhibit her paintings and collages, said the show opening this week brought "a tremendous response from the public."
That actually caught her a bit by surprise, she admits. "I'm not from Puerto Rico, not from the Dominican Republic, not from the Latin Caribbean. Puerto Ricans support their artists and collect them." And yet, she found, "They really appreciated how different my work looked."
Cook-Rutnik, who has a studio at Guavaberry Farms in St. John's Fish Bay, works in a variety of mediums, but mainly acrylic, pastel and collage. She is among the territory's few internationally recognized local artists — and among the even fewer whose work is predominantly abstract and figurative, rather than representational.
On various occasions, she has been among a handful of V.I. artists selected to represent the Virgin Islands in regional exhibitions, notably the three biennial shows at Santo Domingo's Museum of Modern Art in the Dominican Republic. She had a solo show in Miami earlier this year and has also exhibited in Washington and Paris.
For the San Juan show, her plan had been to exhibit 30 paintings and collages plus an installation piece; however, she ended up hanging 45 works, in addition to doing the room-size installation, which she describes as "a three-dimensional painting."
Tuesday night's opening was the culmination of incredibly time-consuming work. "That was about my 10th trip over to Puerto Rico within the month," she says. "Going into the opening, there wasn't any time for feelings. You should have seen the size of the four crates I shipped over. I thought I would do the installation over two days, but I spent one whole day at the airport clearing the paintings through Customs."
The exhibition is in three connected mini-galleries at the art museum that occupy about 4,000 square feet in all. "The museum is about the size of Cruz Bay, and I'm in one wing!" she says with a laugh. Certainly it's a lot more exhibition space than a Virgin Islands artist could ever hope to have at home.
"Visitors walk through the galleries on one side, then back on the other side and finally to the installation piece," the artist says. She had to hang all of the wall pieces before putting the three-dimensional work together. "It was the first time I'd ever done anything like that," she recalls. "To create a three-dimensional painting was just a concept in my mind. There was a kind of spontaneousness. It had to be done there; it had to fit in that setting."
In fact, she says, it wasn't done "until a couple of hours before the show opened," but in the end, "I was pleased."
She was even more pleased with the turn-out for the opening. "Over the years I've met a lot of San Juan artists at the biennials and other regional exhibits that I've been a part of, and a lot of those artists came," she says. "People from the museum's School of Visual Arts there and art critics and art professors came."
Overall, "It was a fabulous experience," she said. "People there are so genuinely interested in art, and they are very knowledgeable." One of them purchased a major piece that night, a work priced at the upper end of four figures.
Her fellow museum exhibitors included a young woman who "had big paintings that had lots of influence in them," and a "very well established Puerto Rico artist who had a major solo show in Paris last year."
Another St. John artist contributed to the success of Cook-Rutnik's show. Kate Norfleet of Kate N Design created the cover and initial design of the catalog. In the 12-page publication with color plates, San Juan Star art critic Manuel Alvarez writes that Cook-Rutnik's "aesthetic universe – rich and generous – combines powerful existentialist depths and the magic that defines the Caribbean."
The exhibition will continue through Nov. 29. On Friday and Saturday, Nov. 19-20, Cook-Rutnik will return to San Juan to present a slide showing at the School of Visual Arts for the board of directors and art critics and historians of works by fellow Virgin Islands artists. Her hope is that the museum school "will want to have a group show of V.I. artists."
Later this month, her work will be represented in yet two more international group exhibitions: in Paris at the Salon d'Arte in a show titled Grands et Jeunes d'Aujourd'hui ("the great and the young of today"), and in Santo Domingo at the Sala de Bellas Artes in a show called "Urban Life in the Caribbean" that is being held in conjunction with a summit meeting of international art critics.
Meantime, to help cover the costs of putting her solo exhibition together, Cook-Rutnik is holding a raffle of a painting in the show from her new series "Life is Elsewhere, Life is Everywhere." Titled "Vista," it's a 40" x 48" acrylic on canvas that she describes as a "still life/landscape scene replete with a mysterious figure" that "incorporates images from past themes in a new setting" and "echoes some of the motifs in my popular pastels that many of you have in your collections," but in a new medium.
The painting, valued at $3,500, is the piece illustrating this article. It also can be viewed on the artist's web page at www.cookrutnikART.vi. (From the home page, click on "Exhibitions" or "Upcoming Events" and scroll to the bottom.) Raffle tickets are $25 and a maximum of 150 will be sold. The raffle drawing will take place on St. John at Frames of Mind on Friday, Dec. 3, between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. For details on getting tickets, call 776-6809.

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