A Measure of Humanity is an attempt to fix on a thematic thread that twists and winds through the extensive and at times divergent private collection of Julie Harcos and Jack Huneke. While strong and obvious formal elements, notably line and media, unify a collection of fine art and art objects totaling well in excess of 500 pieces, my primary interest as curator is to tease out the thematic and conceptual elements that exist in tandem. It may be these elements that speak more to Harcos-Huneke as individuals, collectors and arts patrons.
In the three years I’ve known Harcos-Huneke, their interests beyond the arts have been revealed to me through conversation, simple observation and in no small part perusing their massive library. The couple is most certainly interested in individual personality in relation to sociology and psychology, and above all interested in the human condition – in what it means to be human, especially at this period in history.
In selecting specific pieces from the collection to comprise this exhibition, I followed both my intellectual curiosities and my emotional responses to individual works. Because my primary artistic concerns dwell in our relationship to the ‘natural’ world (our ideals, notions, and conceptions of the sublime in nature) I was immediately drawn to the constructed, fantastical landscapes of David Berg (“Negative Painting #18”) and Terri Friedman (“Yellow Swell”). This type of work exemplifies contemporary artists grappling with ramifications of “Manifest Destiny” and what it means to dwell within the post-natural world. I consider this post-natural space to be the world we now find ourselves in – modified from its pre-human state, while simultaneously mutated, enhanced, idealized, ravaged and also utopian.
However, I found an even stronger sub-current in the collection to be that of the human being (in form and spirit) existing within this world. This human is what I refer to as the post-human, the 21st century individual who can and does exist in many states of being at any or all moments in time. These states of being include the brutal, sub-human, degenerate, cyborg, genetically modified, super-human, abstracted, enlightened, pure, sublime, divine. At the precise moment we are reaching for redemption, enlightenment and spiritual wholeness, we are also headed for damnation and oblivion in the spiritual disintegration brought on by the hatred and slaughter of our own species, the environment and the planet. We humans are curious and contradictory creatures, something Harcos and Huneke know quite well.
In fact, the collection’s inaugural artwork is a drawing by East German artist Ines Denel. Huneke purchased the work in 1992, not long after Denel arrived in America after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In this work, the abstracted human figure is clearly incapacitated by anxiety, the body doubled over onto itself. This piece is one of many in the collection that reference war (see Arneson’s “The Colonel is at it again”), the exodus of refugees (Hajrush Fazlui’s “Deportation”) or other images of general disturbia.
Yet an antidote seems to exist for every example of despair. The serene works of Hung Lui, Nathan Oliveira and Judith Hale serve as powerful counter weights. And the works of Heather Wilcoxon and Roy De Forest add the levity (if sometimes only at face value) needed to round out the collection as a psychological exploration of what it means to be human.
The Grand Gallery’s spaces offer a unique opportunity to present A Measure of Humanity in a manner conducive to exploring the human condition and relationship to nature on a continuum, without a necessarily fixed viewpoint. As the two larger galleries are connected via a smaller portal gallery in the middle, the viewer, entering at this point, must choose which direction to take from this intermediary zone that connects brutality in one space to the sublime in the other. Depending on how one moves through these spaces, one experiences a progressive evolution or a degressive devolution.
Julie Harcos and Jack Huneke have amassed a collection of works by known and unknown artists over the past seventeen years. And though quickly running out of space in their home and private gallery, they show no signs of slowing down. In addition to the more than 350 fine art pieces, Harcos-Huneke also boast a massive collection of ceramic, glasswork and other craft works.
In order to maintain a strong connection with the contemporary art world after relocating from San Leandro to Miramonte, California, Harcos and Huneke founded the Stonehouse Residency for the Contemporary Arts in 2001. This artist-in-residence program allows 6 to 15 artists and writers per year a one-month retreat in which to focus solely on creative production. The couple generously opens their home and provides studio workspace to three artists at a time, several times per year. I, myself, was one such artist in 2006. Without their gracious support and encouragement in these few short years since, this exhibition would not be possible.