Tuesday, July 29, 2008

summertime, summertime

I went looking to see if there had been any mention of Philadelphia meets Baltimore: Perceptions and Conceptions, the group show I have work in at Towson University. It appears that nothing had been written about the show in the local press. From the way this post from Suzanne Hill on Suite101.com reads, there doesn't seem to have been many people paying attention to the show:

Today I’ve been for the second time to the Philadelphia meets Baltimore abstract art show – called “Conceptions and Perceptions” – at the art gallery at the Center for the Arts at Towson University.

In particular I was mesmerized by the warmly-colored and intricately-detailed bead and stitching art by Baltimore fiber artist Karin Birch.

The first time I saw the show, I was the lone attendee. Today, again, I was the only person present. I asked the young art student behind the counter if the show has been crowded. He said, no, there haven’t exactly been huge crowds. In fact I was the second person that day to view the art. I shook my head in a puzzled way and he said perhaps the attendance fee kept them away [as a joke since of course there is no fee]. I’ve been asking others if they want to see the art, too, but they don’t seem too interested. The art student intoned sadly, “No one is interested in culture anymore.”

Well, I hope there have been at least a couple of more visitors on other days during the show. Hey, maybe because it's summer and no one is really around to look at the work. I mean, really, who wants to be indoors viewing serious artowrk when there are beaches to conquer (this is a college campus, after all).

All kidding aside, it's difficult at the best of times to get people into galleries to view in certain locations. Towson University is situated just outside the Northern edge of Baltimore proper and it seems that a car is your only option for getting there. So, in today's economy, do you go to see art or eat for the week or can you even afford the gas for either trip?

At the very least, I hope those who did see the show enjoyed it.


Installation shot of works in Inguiry: Five Painting Practices at Gross-McCleaf Gallery.
(Photo courtesy of Gross McCleaf Gallery)

Speaking of summer exhibitions, last week, I got to visit Inquiry: Five Painting Practices at Gross McCleaf Gallery in center city, Philadelphia. Inquiry, curated by Mark Brosseau, brings together five contemporary painters who have unique approaches to the use of line, space and structure in abstraction.

Gross McCleaf, known for its main mission of showcasing works in the realist tradition, ventures off the beaten path every now and then and has group shows focusing on abstraction.

Inquiry is a good, bold move for a summer show. The exhibited works run the gamut from the linear abstraction of Chris Burnside's cut and painted plywood panels, alongside the pointillist-like architectural structures of Rachel Wren to the mildly abstracted and fantastical landscapes of Susan Ziegler and nature-inspired near figurative forms of Heidi Leitzke. Last, but certainly not least, there are the bold, colorful spatial investigations of Jenny Hager.

All the works looked good in print, but, as with most art, you have too see it in person to truly get it. I had a feeling that I'd be in for a good show, but I wasn't prepared for just how good Inquiry turned out to be. The biggest surprise wss Rachel Wren's work. I expected that her work would be the least interesting. There was something about the forms that resulted from the multitude of paint dots in the reproductions that left me cold. In person, it's a completely different story-the interplay of color dots and thin grid lines provide just enough tension to keep the works interesting. Not only that, but Wren's work actually felt warmer than I anticipated.

The tactile nature of Chris Burnside's cut panels against the overlaid gestural mark-making provided another type of 'push/pull' tension that worked really well. By varying the concentration of cuts and mark-making, Burnside manages to inject a sense of space where you'd not expect it.

Leitzke and Ziegler share the more obvious use of nature as the main component of their works while handling it very differently. Heidi Leitzke draws us into lush, verdant scenes with hints of leaves, birds and other animals, real or imagined. In one painting, Portal, the viewer seems to be floating/flying above the earth with only small spots of possible ground seen below. Susan Ziegler also makes use of landscape in her works, but the original inspiration is much more apparent with the viewer's gaze cast out over varying geographical terrains while floating in often beautiful skies.

Jenny Hager'a approach to space is very open and loose, while being very solidly constructed at the same time. Her use of broad swaths of thin to thick color makes the at times, intangible surfaces appear to have more weight and solidity because of how she approaches composition. In Plains, for example, Hager has used the removal of paint, through the use of tape, to suggest what might be a wall and floor, but you're never sure how solid anything is because of the delicate washes of color left over. Also, there are a series of more gestural lines to the left side that leaves the space kind of under defined but hints at the possibility of being something more substantial.

There's still a couple of days left to catch the show and there's a closing reception this Friday, August 1st, from 5pm-8pm with some of the artists in attendance.

Gross McCleaf Gallery
127 S Sixteenth Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102, 215-665-8138

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