The Flaten Art Museum, located in the Center for Art and Dance, is showing an exhibition titled “Altered Skyline: Brenda Berkman’s Thirty-Six Views of One World Trade Center.” The exhibit is curated by Visiting Assistant Art History Professor Christina Spiker, and it will run until Oct. 15. Spiker holds a Ph.D. in Visual Studies from the University of California, Irvine, specializing in Japanese art and visual culture.
Brenda Berkman ’73’s “Altered Skyline” exhibit connects to French artist Henri Revière and Japanese artists Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. “The 36 views really start with an artist by the name of Katsushika Hokusai, and he did it of Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is so iconic in the landscape, that everyone in the city of Edo [modern day Tokyo, Japan] could see it,” Spiker said. Hokusai featured Mount Fuji in each of his 36 views as a way of looking at how people in everyday life interacted with the iconic landscape.
Later on, French artists became infatuated with Japan. As a result, the art scene reflected the Japanese cultural landscape. Revière applied Hokusai and Hiroshige’s works to the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris in the late 19th century. More famous artists like Claude Monet and Mary Cassat also joined in this movement, at a time when cultural appropriation was not a concern. “People today think of the Eiffel Tower as being synonymous with Paris, but people were really skeptical of the building,” Spiker said.
In a similar sense, Berkman explores the skepticism related to the construction of One World Trade Center. “People were skeptical about One World Trade Center, and there was a lot of debate. It was actually many years before something was built on that site,” Spiker said. Berkman also applies the idea of 36 views by using the Five Boroughs of New York City as different perspectives of One World Trade Center. Her work reflects upon the horrific events of 9/11 but also uses history as a catalyst to move forward.
The exhibit includes ephemera to express the artist’s journey throughout college and her vast career experiences. The ephemera is displayed in collaboration with college archives. A particular piece of ephemera in the exhibit is an original Washington Post magazine, which reflects on the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
After graduating St. Olaf with a B.A. in history, Berkman went on to study law in New York City. In 1977, the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) stated women could not join the force. Berkman then used her legal knowledge to file a lawsuit against the fire department. She won the case, allowing women to join, but realized soon after that the test to join the FDNY was rigged. She continuously fought structural inequality until she and other marginalized people were able to serve. Berkman served on the FDNY for 25 years—including as a first responder on 9/11. Today, Berkman is a part of a nonprofit organization called Monumental Women. Their current influential achievement is the first installation of an all-women statue in Central Park not featuring fictional characters. The statue includes three women — Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony — all of whom fought structural inequality.
The exhibition could not have been possible without each contributor, including the Cleveland Art Museum, St. Olaf College Archives, installation technicians, student workers and viewers to see the exhibit. Spiker encourages students of all areas of study to take in the works, as we can all find connections from our personal and educational experiences through Berkman’s work.