Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Deja vu, S'il Vous Plait?

Déjà vu, S’il Vous Plait?

By Tom Wachunas

“Competitions are for horses, not artists.” – Bela Bartok –

“Art is the increasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers – and never succeeding.” – Marc Chagall –

“So let’s leave it alone ‘cause we can’t see eye to eye. There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy. There’s only you and me and we just disagree.”
- lyrics by Dave Mason, 1977 –

Once upon a time, in 1863, some four thousand artists raised a mighty stink about being rejected by the prestigious Paris Salon. To quell the scandal (one does not raise the ire of that many artists without serious repercussions), French Emperor Napolean III stepped in and spearheaded an alternative show that has since been known as the “Salon des Refuses.” Take that, you snooty intellectual types. Still, I’m sure that many Salon diehards dismissed the exhibit under their haughty breaths as “The Losers Show.” But it did bring to the fore such artists as Edouard Manet, who would consequently come to be regarded as the progenitor of Impressionism.

This is not to say that what we see in juried art shows these days, including the 69th Annual May Show at The Little Art Gallery in North Canton, is determined strictly by pompous or conservative academics, though some certainly are, no matter where they’re mounted. Nor am I suggesting that somewhere in the mix of works not chosen for the May Show are a few artists whose work might someday rock the art world with mind- boggling originality. In fact we’ll never know what we’re missing, unless…Where’s Napolean III when we really need him? (Note to self: find someone to stir up the also-rans?)

Seriously, though, on one level it’s hard to find substantial fault with the overall look of this show, and for that we can once again thank curator Elizabeth Blakemore for making the best out of what the jurors (Gail Rule-Hoffman and Sr. Rosaria Perna, both from Ursuline College) selected. Befitting the sharply polished look of the space, the show is a real stunner, that is if you’re biased toward representational art, be it faithfully naturalistic or with more expressive leanings. In the vein of Old Masters technique, Frank Dale’s “Sarah,” and Kristine Wyler’s “Through the Mist” are both absolutely breathtaking. And Deborah Woloschuk’s still life, “Vintage Iridescence,” is a dazzling feast of luminous textures. There are numerous other representational paintings, collages, and drawings – landscapes, still lifes, portraits - in varying degrees of skill and originality. What they share collectively in this context is a pristine preciousness that gives the show the aura of a haute design boutique. Safe, tried-and-true, and always pretty.

This is all fine and good as far as it goes. But as in too many local juried shows of the past, I miss the stuff I’ve occasionally seen fly just below our provincial radar. To be sure, there are some works in this show that do, very effectively, probe subtler things than visible reality. Just not enough of them. Whether or not this is a matter of jurors’ bias, or lack of depth in total entries for the show is, unless you poll the curator and jurors, an unknowable variable.

Pure abstraction, for example, is woefully under-represented. In that genre, Christopher J. Triner’s oil painting, “Shaken Not Stirred,” with its clustered, energetic impasto daubs atop a ghostly underpainted structure, is certainly among the most compelling works here. Likewise, “Landscape Revisited,” a digital print by Scott Zaher, while structurally derivative of Richard Diebenkorn’s iconic “Ocean Park” abstractions from the 1970s, is intriguing in how it evokes such a large velvety atmosphere on such a small picture plane. Elsewhere, Dr. Fredlee Votaw’s impeccably crafted mixed media “Thinking About the Holocaust” gives new and dramatic meaning to the notion of haunting juxtapositions. Similarly, if there’s such a thing as lyrical minimalism, Robert Gallik’s small sculpture of caged stones on a tray of sand, “River Piece #5,” fills the bill quite beautifully.

The inclusion of Richard M. Huggett’s crisp acrylic “HaveYou Been Eating Tacos?” is curiously jarring in this context. Maybe the jurors saw it as a happy medium between accessible and edgy. As it is, this goofy, Nouveau Kitsch cartoon has a Warholian slickness about it. It’s an irreverent though gentle slap to this show’s prim and proper face, and as such, oddly refreshing.

Photo: Detail of “Thinking About the Holocaust,” mixed media by Dr. Fredlee Votaw. On view in the 69th Annual May Show at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, through May 31. (330) 499 – 4712, Ext. 312

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