Roland Bernier – Lifetime Artist

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“Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Who’s to say that a circle is more significant than a square or a triangle…shapes are shapes.  Letters are shapes too – if you can divorce the symbolic connotations from letters grouped together to form words and just begin to admire the individual letters for their shapes, you can begin to understand the world of Roland Bernier.  For Roland, words are compositions of form, worthy of admiration.

There are many text-based artists whose works are really focused on the meaning of words or phrases – I immediately think of Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, and Lawrence Weiner. Not all of Bernier’s work is devoid of reference, but that is not the main focus of his work.

It’s so rare to see anything truly new, but Bernier has been a pioneer; he started working with text-as-form some 50+ years ago. Since then, any number of artists have followed suit – consider Nancy Holt’s photograph “Concrete Poem” and Mel Bochner’s “Blah Blah Blah” paintings and even more recently of Thomas Müller’s ceramic forms in his show “Nothing Rhymes with Orange”, Fionna Banner’s “Concrete Poetry” and Jaume Plensa’s “Figurative Sculptures.”

I have visited Bernier’s studio a number of times to check out his archives (some is missing, but he has inventory dating back to 1965) and have seen eight or so shows at the Denver Art Museum, Spark Gallery and Walker Fine Art; I love his stacked words, the words on wheels, the cross words, his hysterical “What a Dump” series, “Talking in Circles” and his hands series.

My all-time favorite pieces are his more recent signature series.  After seeing some of his other shows, I went to see this body several years ago and initially tried to dismiss them. I found myself going back – the second time I saw his empty frames with nothing more than his signature, I recognized he was onto something. The third time I visited that show I understood: so much of art is about the signature – people rush up to look for the name.

Roland is now in his 80’s and for the past 5-6 years he has been acutely aware of his own mortality. His introspection leads him to explore the merger of art with artist. He now prefers the use of his own name in favor of more randomly selected text, covering literally anything and everything with his signature over and over and over …and over again, the latest pieces only with his last name. He is not morose, “This might be my last show, so I am only using my last name,” Roland says smiling, happy with his clever use of words.

Roland Bernier is represented by Walker Fine Art where “The Last Picture Show” is on view June 7-July 12. www.walkerfineart.com

Roland Bernier, "The Last Picture Show" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, “The Last Picture Show” at Walker Fine Art

Bernier at Denver Art Museum, 2007

Bernier at Denver Art Museum, 2007

Roland Bernier "Talking in Circles" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier “Talking in Circles” at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier's Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier’s Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, "What  A Dump" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, “What A Dump” at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier "HI" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier “HI” at Walker Fine Art

Some other artists using text as compositional form:

Nancy Holt Concrete Poem at CAG

Nancy Holt Concrete Poem at CAG

Mel Blochner Blah, Blah, Blah

Mel Bochner Blah, Blah, Blah

thomas-muller-at-project-4

thomas-muller-at-project-4

Fiona Banner at Frith Street Gallery

Fiona Banner at Frith Street Gallery

Some artists using messaging in text-based artwork:

Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn

Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn

Glenn Ligon at the Whitney

Glenn Ligon at the Whitney

Lawrence Weiner at the Guggenheim

Lawrence Weiner at the Guggenheim

Color/Pattern Studies

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This gallery contains 7 photos.

I am excited to share these two new series I began this the past year. They are hand-painted pyrographs on wood; the images on the longer strips are based on patterns I have created over the past 12 years and … Continue reading

Rita Blitt

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This gallery contains 20 photos.

Rita has been painting for over 70 years and has been making sculpture for nearly 50 years. When I look at her work, I can hear the music and feel the dance. It is a real treat to get to know … Continue reading

The MUST-SEE Show in Denver.

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If you only get to see one show in Denver, you really should check out the David B. Smith Gallery.

Michael Theodore fills the main gallery with an installation called “endo/exo.” At first glance (and I think probably in most of the image shots) it looks like industrial scaffolding; the lighting effects on the complex web of fibrous knots hint at stage design. It takes up the entire space and ultimately, he’d like to make it even bigger – like hundreds of feet bigger!

Take your time with it because it has so much to offer.  I got the chance to chat with Michael the other day and he explained a bit about his fascination with rhythms – both organic and mechanic (this makes total sense – he is a music professor); he envisions an increased interdependency…a symbiosis of man and machine.  It’s more than just man and machine, but really an exploration of the increased layering of complex systems and how they interact.

It’s easy to infer an influence of other artists who are working with light – Olafur Eliasson, James Turrell, Leo Villareal, and perhaps that’s right, but the work is more than that. It actually reminds me a bit of the installation in the Fuse Box at the Denver Art Museum; coincidentally, Annica Cuppetelli and Cristobal Mendoza have installed an interactive light display on rope. Their imagery responds with movements and sounds that draw the viewer’s attention away from the actual rope and into the digitized realm of human/computer interaction.

Micheal’s ropes never leave his story, they are held captive by the confines of the machine – there is a human/computer interaction here too:  lights change, the tick, tick, ticking of the clocks (okay, not actual clocks, but motorized ticking rods that could be clocks) speeds up and slows down, pausing for effect.  I find the narrative to be compelling – spellbinding, a bit sinister, and absolutely of the moment.

The rest of the show includes gorgeous generative loops on paper, delicately engraved scratchboards, and a series of video works and printed stills on view in the loft space.

There are a lot of shows in Denver right now that I have already written about – many of which are closing soon, but this one is up for a couple more weeks (June 15th). If you haven’t seen it already it is the one to rush out and see.

www.davidbsmithgallery.com

"endo/exo" by Michael Theodore, Courtesy the artist and David B. Smith Gallery; Photo: Melinda Kern

“endo/exo” by Michael Theodore, Courtesy the artist and David B. Smith Gallery; Photo: Melinda Kern

"endo/exo" by Michael Theodore, Courtesy the artist and David B. Smith Gallery; Photo: Brian Birlauf

“endo/exo” by Michael Theodore, Courtesy the artist and David B. Smith Gallery; Photo: Brian Birlauf

Top 10 in DC – Spring 2013

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I had the opportunity to go DC twice this Spring, and as a result my “Top 10” list is a little long this time around. It was great to get to go on back-to-back trips because some of the museums and galleries were installing shows during one trip or the other. I know I still missed a lot, but saw enough that my head is still spinning.  I tried to check out different parts of the city – Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Kalaroma, the H Street Corridor, Logan Circle, U Street, and of course the National Mall. It was a special treat to get to meet with Christine Neptune, who showed me about 2 dozen gorgeous Wolf Kahn monotypes; with Robert Brown, who showed me a portfolio of Per Kirkeby’s; and with  Andrea Marinkovich, who had a wonderful David Hockney.

Some of my favorites at the Museums:

  1. “Nam June Paik: Global Visionary” at Smithsonian American Art Museum
  2. “Ellsworth Kelly: Colored Paper Images” at the National Gallery
  3. “Albrecht Dürer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints from the Albertina” at the National Gallery
  4. “Nordic Cool” at the Kennedy Center
  5. “Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio & Dubuffet” at the Phillips Collection
  6. “Vanitas!” Jeanne Silverthorne at the Phillips Collection
  7. “Portraiture Now: Drawing on the Edge” at The National Portrait Gallery
  8. “Pump Me Up: DC Subculture of the 1980s” at the Corcoran
  9. “On Common Ground: Dominican Republic & Haiti” at American Museum of the Americas
  10. “Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848–1900” at National Gallery of Art

And at the Galleries:

  1. “Nothing Rhymes with Orange” at Project 4
  2. “Gordon Parks: An American Lens” at Adamson Gallery
  3. Robert Longo at Adamson Gallery
  4. Mel Bochner at Robert Brown Gallery
  5. “Gathering Space” by Timothy Thompson at Hamiltonian Gallery
  6. “Concrete Abstract” at Heiner Contemporary
  7. William Whitaker at DCAC
  8. “Narciso Maisterra – Recent Work” at Hillyer Art Space
  9. New Paintings by Kevin H. Adams at Gallery Plan B
  10. “Trash Talk” at the Torpedo Factory

Thomas Muller at Project 4

Thomas Muller at Project 4

Thinker on Rock 1997 Barry Flanagan

Thinker on Rock 1997 Barry Flanagan

Trashtalk by Alex Lockwood

Trashtalk by Alex Lockwood

Ellsworth Kelly colored paper

Ellsworth Kelly colored paper

Timothy Thompson Gathering Space

Timothy Thompson Gathering Space

El Maiz - Edgar Negret, 1996 at Organization of American States
El Maiz – Edgar Negret, 1996 at Organization of American States

Juha Pykäläinen - Elk Towers

Juha Pykäläinen – Elk Towers

She Who Must Be Obeyed - Tony Smith

She Who Must Be Obeyed – Tony Smith

Ai Wei Wei - Packing up the zodiac sculptures

Ai Wei Wei – Packing up the zodiac sculptures

Cool Disco Dan at Corcoran

Cool Disco Dan at Corcoran

Jeanne Silverthorne at Phillips Collection

Jeanne Silverthorne at Phillips Collection

David Hockney - An Imaginary Landscape 1967

David Hockney – An Imaginary Landscape 1967

Mel Bochner - From Floating World, 1990

Mel Bochner – From Floating World, 1990

10 Shows to See in Denver Right Now – April 2013

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There are so many great shows going on right now – I think that even though it’s still snowing outside, the exhibits are heating up:

  1. The shows at Robischon are an odd mix of Arcimboldo and vanitas  mixed in with woodland adventures and carnivals. As you’d expect at this gallery, the shows flow seemlessly – I think I love everything about it.
  2. “The Art Bucket” by Colin Livingston at Plus Gallery – Perhaps the most provocative show in the city right now. At first glance these highly-energetic swatches of color seem banal. Viewers have the option of leaving it at that or to delve deeper into a confrontational look at commoditization, consumerism, and consumption.
  3. “Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land” at the Denver Art Museum  – go see it now, it’s closing soon!
  4. “Bemsha Swing in Denver” Installation by Yoshitomo Saito at Ironton Studios – He is my kind of artist; his bronze sculptures capture the sacred in the everyday.
  5. “Heidi Jung: Black & White” at the Arvada Center – I especially like the charcoal-on-paper pieces, created in situ.
  6. “Long Lost” by Ryan Everson at Gildar Gallery –  For me, each peace would stand alone better than with the distraction of the others. That said, this Portland artist is clever and thoughtful and he offers up the chance for viewers to feel like they are clever and thoughful too.
  7. “Gather & Gentle Motion” at Walker Fine Art – While Roger Hubbard’s kinetic sculptures seem to be an audience favorite, I am obsessed with Brigan Gresh’s smooth, waxy abstract surfaces that reveal constance evolution of narrative.
  8. “Mind over Matter” at Space Gallery – Some of my favorite paintings out there right now; don’t forget to check out the back gallery where the show continues with Pat Aaron’s “Key West” encaustics and Ian McLaughlin’s “botanical science fiction.”
  9. “Moving Paint 2012-2013” by Ania Gola-Kumor at The Sandra Phillips Gallery – The new gallery space gives her complex paintings the natural light they require; I think they look better than ever.
  10. “Grey Towers” by Monque Crine at Goodwin Fine Art – These black and white paintings document JFK just months before his assassination and sit in dialog with her grandfather’s photographic archives of the same.

Colin Livingston at Plus Gallery

Colin Livingston at Plus Gallery

Ryan Everson at Gildar Gallery

Ryan Everson at Gildar Gallery

Brigan Gresh at Walker FIne Art

Brigan Gresh at Walker Fine Art

Yoshitomo Saito at Ironton Studios

Yoshitomo Saito at Ironton Studios

Nam June Paik at the Smithsonian

I have long been mesmerized by the frenetic visual displays of Nam June Paik’s video installations, but taking a look at the Smithsonian’s current show, “Nam June Paik, Global Visionary” takes it all to another level.  I love seeing retrospectives, and this viewing of his archives, is definitely that – and I do love it!

The thing that I have mentioned with other artists is that it is so helpful to see their work in the context of what was going on in the world at the time. What really sets Paik’s work apart is that he changed the context. He coined the term “Super (Electronic) Highway” 40 years ago and his work foresees the availability of information and unlimited access to media through electronics…at a time when people were still using typewriters, telegrams and postage stamps. His work clearly shows an eye to the editorial – synthesizing historical imagery with news media, cultural commentary and futuristic fantasy in a collage of (at the time) groundbreaking technology.

Check out the show – it is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through August 11, 2013.

Merce-Digital, 1988

Merce-Digital, 1988

Electronic Superhighway Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii (1995)

Electronic Superhighway Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii (1995)

Megatron/Matrix, 1995

Megatron/Matrix, 1995

TV Buddha (1974)

TV Buddha (1974)

American Museum of Western Art

I often write about the art I see during my travels, but the reality is there is a lot to see right here in Denver.  A couple months ago I went with an art historian to The American Museum of Western Art. It was a treat and really a must see in Denver’s growing art scene.

The museum is the showcase of the Anschutz Collection, arguably the best private collection of western art in the world.  It packs, salon style, as many pieces as it possibly can into the 4-story Italianate building from the 19th century (The building itself is worth checking out and has a storied past – read http://www.westword.com/2012-05-31/culture/museum-of-the-american-west-anschutz-collection/  for more information.) There are more than 600 pieces covering works spanning 150 years of artists’ engagement with the West.

The museum is generally planned according to movements and schools of art and while not exactly in chronological order moving from the oldest works on the lower level and up to the most recent on the upper levels.  It is useful to think about these schools and movements and you progress through the museum – there is so much to look at, it helps to organize the experience and see the works in relation to what other artists were up to at any given time.  Docents typically lead you through the floors, but I am told visitors are free to wander.

The main groupings of works include:

The Expeditionary Artists (George Catlin, Seth Eastman, Alfred Jacob Miller, John Mix Stanley); these guys generally went along on expeditions and scouting adventures to record journeys though the west. Their paintings often showcase the interactions with various tribes and depict trappers as they developed the fur trade.

Hudson River and Rocky Mountain Schools ( Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Worthington Whittredge); these painters typically lived in New York City  and often are most known for their paintings of the Hudson River Valley and later, the Rocky Mountains. These landscapes are filled with light and convey a sense of splendor.

Narrative Artists (George DeForest, William De Leftwich Dodge);these guys were the basic story tellers and depicted what was actually happening as settlers took hold in the west.  They took inspiration from the Renaissance, focusing on playwrights and writers, and poets while telling stories of battles and the gold rush.

California Painters  (Charles Christian Nahl, George Henry Burgess, A.D.O. Browere); these guys came for the gold but went on to showcase early California, often celebrating its Spanish heritage.

Interpreters of the Old West (Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, Charles Schreyvogel); even as the West was quickly developing into a major hub of urbanization, the public embraced their depictions of heroic frontiersmen and the idealized landscapes that filled the pages of papers, magazines and dime-store novels.

Illustrators (NC Wyeth, Dean Cornwell, Herbert Dunton); these artists of the early 20th century were the favored illustrators for short stories, novels and magazines.  Because of the publications, theirs are the iconic images most recognized.

Taos and Santa Fe Schools (Ernest M. Hennings, Ernest Blumenschein, Walter Ufer); these guys were educated artists in search of subject matter. As they travelled west, they basically landed in northern New Mexico and stayed. They developed a style of Southwestern art that is immediately recognizable.

American Regionalist Painters (Thomas Hart Benton, John Stewart Curry) These guys painted America’s heartland in a pseudo-realistic style that gave emphasis to everyday life of small towns and farmlands.

New Deal Artists (Maynard Dixon, Victor Higgins, Frank Mechau,) In the 1930’s Federal programs including the Works Progress Administration and the Section of Painting and Sculpture employed artists to commission paintings for post offices, state capitols, and government buildings. Many of these paintings were murals that depicted the strength and resourcefulness of Americans and the bounty of the landscape.

Expressionists (Marsden Hartley, Birger Sandzén); these artists were modernists, they conveyed emotion through manipulations of color, surface, and form.

Cubism and Abstraction (John Marin, Georgia O’Keefe); it is at this point in the tour of the museum that I really began to notice how quickly styles of art were changing, not only in the West, but around the world. The museum speeds through different modernist styles.

The size of the museum belies the collection – it really is so extensive that you can go back to again and again and continue to see different things and learn more about the development of art of the West and how it relates to the history of our country. (http://www.anschutzcollection.org/)

The-Silenced-War-Whoop - Charles Schreyvogel

The-Silenced-War-Whoop – Charles Schreyvogel

The-Last-Race-Mandan-O-kee-pa-Ceremony George Catlin

The-Last-Race-Mandan-O-kee-pa-Ceremony George Catlin

Death of Minnehaha - William de Leftwich Dodge

Death of Minnehaha – William de Leftwich Dodge

Sunrise In The Vineyard Kim Douglas Wiggins

Sunrise In The Vineyard Kim Douglas Wiggins

Laura Letinsky at the Denver Art Museum

Laura Letinsky: Still Life Photographs, 1997–2012, is on view through March 24, 2013 at the Denver Art Museum.

Laura Letinsky is one of those smart ones – you know the type that makes you wish you had really focused on your homework.

Letinsky is well-versed in art history and it shows; her gorgeous still-life images are immediately accessible to the viewer because of their familiarity. The influence is obvious and yet… there is something more…or less. These aren’t the luscious depictions of the lavishly abundant Dutch tables of the 17th Century. Hers are barely-there pieces of fruit on white linens with white backdrops. There are none of the skulls of the vanitas, and yet there is the melancholic reminder that her stories are of moments passed.

Letinsky is a philosopher. We generally obsess with that fleeting moment of perfection when a peach is at its very juiciest firm-fleshed fullest or a lily is sweetly fragrant. Letinsky’s focus is more on the reality this is the penultimate state of dying. In her photos the fruit has that juicy-sticky quality that makes us want just to clean it up before the flies begin choke on the decay. The perfume is beginning to remind us of the stench of fetid water.

Letinsky is a technician – she uses film and she knows all those things that photographers seem to know about cameras and lenses and lighting. I heard her talk and for all I know, when it came to the technical “stuff” she could have been describing how to build spaceships.

Letinksy is a photographer – Of course she knows that the images engage viewers to connect the dots to history and confront mortality and philosophize about perceived meaning, but above all else she is a photographer. I once asked a painter about some of her recent works – the symbolism or meaning of the recurrent imagery; she laughed and told me “It’s paint on a canvas.” It’s funny because I didn’t quite get it then; I mean, it seemed like an idea I could get behind when looking at Abstract Expressionism, but her paintings were figurative. I do get it now – Letinsky’s work sets it out there: there is decaying fruit, spilt wine, paper cups and wrappers; but ultimately they are photographs. She is in the business of taking light and color and composition and capturing that with her camera in a way that allows her to share her “paint on a canvas.”

"Untitled #54" from the series "Hardly More Than Ever," 2002, by Laura Letinsky. (Photo provided by the Yancey Richardson Gallery)

“Untitled #54” from the series “Hardly More Than Ever,” 2002

ArtLook-Art-Look-Laura-Letinsky

Untitled, #5 2005 To Say It Isn’t So

 

 

Untitled #2 from the series "The Dog and the Wolf," 2008

Untitled #2 from the series “The Dog and the Wolf,” 2008

Untitled #1 31x40 from the series "The Dog & The Wolf"

Untitled #1 31×40 from the series “The Dog and the Wolf” 2008

New York, January 2013

We just got back from New York – it was a wonderful week  for us to spend time with close friends and, of course, for me to check out the art.  The highlight was the blockbuster (just closed) Picasso Black & White exhibit at the Guggenheim. After that it was a week-long frenzy of galleries and museums. I raced through The Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,  MoMA, The Museum of Art and Design,The New Museum, the Noguchi Museum, PS1, and The Whitney. I spent a couple of days roaming in and out of doors down in SoHo and Chelsea. I squeezed in a few galleries up on Madison Avenue and Bedford Avenue over in Williamsburg.

The reality is that no matter how I wear myself out, there is no way for me to really do more than take a cursory glance – I got to about 40 galleries this time around, but that is hardly a dent when you consider how much there is to see. As I reflect back on the week, it is already beginning to blur together but here are my top 10:

1) Picasso Black & White at The Guggenheim

This was the big blockbuster show – I love retrospectives in general, but really liked taking in a subset of works that spanned his entire career. Of course, the central atrium of the museum helps – there is such wonderful natural light and the spiral up the circumference allows for viewing from different vantage points. I loved being able to see works like “La Cuisine” close up and then check them out from across the rotunda.

2) George Bellows at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

It was a treat to see this retrospective of arguably one of the greatest  American painters of the early 20th Century – a member of “The Eight,” he was a realist, and often focused his works on the daily realities of urban living. His works captured the essence of NYC as it expanded during the turn of the century.  Many of the paintings were familiar: fighters in boxing rings, prostitutes, the excavation of Penn Station, etc. Ones that I especially liked were taken outside of the city up in Woodstock or off the coast of Maine.

3) Judith Bernstein “Hard” at The New Museum

What can I say? I mean her work just fits so perfectly in the Bowery…I was glad to see the museum showcasing her. I think I’d love to see her confrontational imagery in a more rarified setting; maybe on the Upper East?

4) Mickalene Thomas at Brooklyn Museum

It was fun to see this show which got my head spinning in so many directions. She happened to be checking out her own show the day that I was there and so that somehow added inexplicable relevance. I am beginning to explore concepts of popular imagery put into compositions based in historical reference. That is nothing really new, but right now it is especially hot in the art world.  I was particularly moved by her candid and touching portrayal of the relationship she had with her mother who passed away this past Fall.

5) Noguchi Museum

It takes a while to get yourself out there, but it is totally worth it. If you can manage it on a nice day, combine it with Socrates Park.

6) Daniel Buren at Bortolami

It was funny because when I entered the gallery all of the printed materials by the door were for Jillian Clark (whose installation was on display in the back of the gallery). I immediately looked at the stripes on the wall with recognition, but then questioned myself because of the literature. Once I got past the momentary disconnect, I really enjoyed the show.

7) Seth Casteel “Underwater Dogs” at Dillon Gallery

This guy’s photos are just so fun – it was a great burst of energy to see this show in the middle of a long, cold day of gallery hopping.

8) Yayoi Kusama “Narcissus Garden” at Robert Miller Gallery

These are the same polished steel marbles that the gallery took down to Art Basel; an installation that illustrates the role of context in art.

9) David LaChapelle “Still Life” at Paul Kasmin Gallery

These celebrity portraits force the viewer to look twice; they are broken busts taken from a wax museum.  They are sumptuously colorful photographs that challenge notions of permanence and mortality.

10 ) Henry Moore “Late Large Forms” at Gagosian

I’ve seen a lot of his work through the city in London and in museums everywhere – last year the Denver Botanic Gardens. These large scale pieces make an impact at the gallery – WOW!

Picasso La Cuisine at the Guggenheim

Picasso La Cuisine at the Guggenheim

Noguchi Museum

Noguchi Museum

Mickalene Thomas at Brooklyn Museum

Mickalene Thomas at Brooklyn Museum

Yayoi Kusama Nacissus Garden

Yayoi Kusama Narcissus Garden

Seth Casteel at Dillon Gallery

Seth Casteel at Dillon Gallery

George Bellow Winter Afternoon at the Met

George Bellow Winter Afternoon at the Met

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