Tuesday, April 26, 2011



By Tom Wachunas

The current exhibit at the Kent State University at Stark Main Hall Gallery is not one that will stop you in your tracks as you shuffle by and look through the big glass wall. Eye-popping colors and other visual grandiosities do not beckon from afar. This is not a show that will stand up well to a quick, over-the-shoulder glance, which is too often the typical viewing mode of too many people.

Nevertheless, there’s plenty of inviting visual intrigue in this group show, called “New World: Places + Form,” provided you allow sufficient time to see its unique balance of concept with physical substance. The works by the four guest artists in this show – Kate Budd, Beth Lindenberger, Matthew Kolodzie, and Donna Webb – make for a visually pristine, quietly cerebral atmosphere.

Both Budd and Lindenberger are clearly fascinated with the organic forms suggested by certain animals, vegetables, flower buds, seedpods, or shells. Their pieces – small enough to fit in your hand – are spread out on two long tables covered with white cloth. Like laboratory specimens. Lindenberger’s glazed ceramic works are in large part more naturalistic and tactile – though sometimes playful - homages to the forms that inspired them. Budd, on the other hand, brings a heightened sense of psychological wonder to her forms molded in wax. Several of them are translucent, and embellished with tiny glass beads, protruding pins, or perforated with evenly-spaced holes. Some suggest small vegetables or pods that have been cleanly sliced on one end. They exude a distinctly charming sense of mystery, hinting at human interactions or interventions - like enchanted, sensual forest ingredients carefully prepared for a secret ritual.

Kolodzie’s 22” x 30” gouache wash drawings on paper, titled “Out of Sync” (numbered 1 through 5), are each alternately dense and airy configurations of overlapped, graffiti-like markings in flux. Within these clusters of scribbly dashes, lines, and curves are rhythms in one color that shadow and echo rhythms in another, vibrating in a tentative dance between zones of apparent chaos and fields of more controlled spontaneity. Call them topographies of structured intuition. They’re nervous and even astringent at times, yet strangely confident and seductive. Mesmerizing maps of a sort, they vaguely describe landscapes both urban and rural, simultaneously dispersing and congealing.

And speaking of dispersed landscapes, there’s “The Boogie Man of Howard Street: a place to be blue” by Donna Webb. The central panel in this installation that spans the main wall of the gallery is a mosaic of ceramic tiles, and a study for a public work commemorating Akron’s Howard Street entertainment district. From the right side of the image, a loosely rendered figure in brown, arms stretched as in flight (or reaching to touch land?), floats above intersecting streets. In her accompanying statement, Webb tells us that during the 1940’s and 50s, the district was the night-life hub of the African American community, with clubs offering the music of jazz and blues greats of the day. Declaring the area “blighted” in the 1960s, the city razed it in the name of urban renewal.

To the left of the panel is a round, ridged ceramic ‘platter’ – a shiny blue sun, as it were – surrounded by a variety of smaller ‘orbiting’ discs that also extend to the right of the panel. The work doesn’t so much read as an angry indictment of relentless urban development as it is a sensitive remembrance of a bygone era. On another level, this symbolic microcosm does bring to mind that, for better or worse, modern cultural identity is no longer a fixed, immutable entity. If there is a “new world” identified here, it’s perhaps one of cultural diaspora. And like the rest of this show, the work invites and deserves our gentle contemplation.

Photo: “Out of Sync #3,” gouache, by Matthew Kolodzie, on view through May 6, Main Hall Gallery, on the campus of Kent State University at Stark. Gallery hours are Monday – Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to noon.

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