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‘Rabble-Rousers’ Exhibit Piques Interest 

Northport residents Nadine Dumser and Liddy Latter were surprised to see that most pieces in the “Rabble-Rousers: Art, Dissent, and Social Commentary” exhibit would probably not be considered shocking in today's society.

Within the muted teal walls of Huntington’s Heckscher Museum of Art lives a collection of paintings that appear quiet and subtle. Like an owl perched on the branch of a tall and sturdy tree, the exhibit is calm and unthreatening. But, also like the wise old owl, these powerful paintings have seen times of social and political triumph and turbulence. At night, after all, an owl swoops swiftly from its resting branch to devour its prey.

The Heckscher currently features its “Rabble-Rousers: Art, Dissent, and Social Commentary” exhibition – an arrangement of works from the museum’s permanent collection.

“A lot of it looks very tame today, and it’s hard to understand, how that would’ve been challenging or controversial,” Heckscher Museum of Art curator Lisa Chalif said. “Certainly you have to understand the context and when the artist was working.”

Chalif, a Huntington resident and art historian, has been with the museum eight years, and its curator for five. Her goal with this exhibition was to display works that either had not yet been seen by the public or had not been seen in a long time.

There is May Stevens’ “Big Daddy, Paper Doll,” which questions the true distance between butcher, policeman, soldier and executioner, each an authority figure who delivers death.

There are Larry Fink’s photographs, including his Gatsby-esque “English Speaking Union, New York City, December 1975,” which compare the lifestyles of the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy, revealing the inherent social hierarchy in big cities.

There is George Grosz’s “I Was Always Present,” a colorful chaos of oranges and reds, which serves to represent the artist’s anxieties about the Nazi party and foretells societal destruction.

There are Robert Rauschenberg’s “Monkey Chow,” “Calf Startena,” “Rabbit Chow” and “Mink Chow” – an almost ironically whimsical series of mixed-media works reminiscent of dairy farms and branded by the red-and-white checkerboard pattern of Purina pet food bags.

Northport residents Nadine Dumser and Liddy Latter happened upon the exhibition last week during one of their occasional visits to the museum.

“It’s quite a mix of different things,” said Dumser, who was interested to see the varying representations of “people dissenting.”

“It’s really different and not what you’d expect,” she said.

Latter echoed her sentiment. While the two acknowledged that the theme in the room revolved around individuals taking rather outrageous action, they were surprised to see that nothing represented in the art actually seemed too outrageous in today’s age of Tweeting and “twerking.”

“Maybe at the time it was shocking, but now it doesn’t seem like it’s shocking in any way,” Latter said.

“Rabble-Rousers” will be open until March 16, when the museum will close for two weeks in preparation for its “Long Island’s Best” exhibition.

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