It’s hard to miss Simon Dinnerstein’s “The Fulbright Triptych.” Upon entering the Monan Gallery at the McMullen Museum, the viewer is immediately confronted by Dinnerstein’s famous three-paneled painting that spans the entire length of the wall.
Originally conceived by Dinnerstein in 1971 while he was studying in Germany, the painting’s three-panel design is inspired by the Northern Renaissance altarpieces Dinnerstein encountered abroad. Although similar with respect to design, the subject matters between Dinnerstein’s work and those of Northern Renaissance artists could not be more different.
Whereas altarpieces often depicted saints and holy figures on the side panels with a religious scene in the middle, Dinnerstein depicts his family on the side panels with his workshop in the middle.
His wife is seated with their baby daughter on her lap, staring out at the audience as Dinnerstein does on the other side panel. They are both relaxed and content, with the exhibit lights illuminating them against the wood texture painted behind them and the darker hardwood beneath their feet, lending a cozy and rustic ambience to the scene.
The lack of distinctive landmarks imbues the setting with an ambiguity, allowing the viewer to consider their own experiences and places of safety and comfort. This could be your grandmother’s lakehouse, or your uncle’s cabin. Yet, one thing is clear: For Dinnerstein, this is a place of great importance, for it includes the support of his family.
Upon taking one or two steps toward the painting, the viewer spots numerous reproductions of paintings, drawings, and other notable works pinned to the wall. And then, after examining Dinnerstein’s desk with tools, pens, and pencils, it is clear that this is his studio.
The overall work is calming and contemplative, as every new glance reveals a new clipping on the wall or blemish on the hardwood, influencing one’s perception of the work as a whole and how the setting relates to one’s own families and professions. Dinnerstein’s work declares that his devotion lies with his family, and with his art.
Perhaps the most cutting edge aspect of this exhibit as a whole is its self-referential nature. The painting itself is a melding of two of his studios: “The Fulbright Triptych” is art about the production of art itself. More interestingly, the circular piece being created on the workshop table is actually found in the exhibit.
On the other wall, the viewer can examine this work, “Angela’s Garden.” This circular engraving depicts a tranquil path winding through a garden. This piece could easily be looked over, yet its inclusion is instrumental in conveying the self-referential nature of the exhibit and, furthermore, its hidden garden subject matter remains in line with the exhibit’s introspective mood.
After walking out the glass doors of the Monan Gallery, it is easy to forget the specific wall clippings or tools on the workshop table painted by Dinnerstein in favor of Spanish vocabulary quiz words or chemical formulas. That said, the inspirational intensity of Dinnerstein’s devotion to his family and artwork will remain long after the stress of midterms and pop quizzes. Dinnerstein’s work inspires one to consider what is truly valuable and worthy of love and commitment.
Featured Image by Aneesa Wermers / For The Heights