A Crowded Spectacle of Incurable Diversity (Part 1)
By Tom Wachunas
“I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.” - Claes Oldenburg –
“…A work of art when placed in a gallery loses its charge and becomes a portable object or surface disengaged from the outside world… Works of art seen in such spaces seem to be going through a kind of aesthetic convalescence. They are looked upon as so many inanimate invalids, waiting for critics to pronounce them curable or incurable…” - Robert Smithson –
Absent from my native Stark County for 22 consecutive years (14 of them spent in New York City), I returned in 1992 eager to continue pursuing a life in the arts, both as practitioner and critic. My years in New York had forged an attitude infused with the kind of postmodern hubris lurking behind the statements quoted above. My first few years here in the greater Canton area were spent negotiating a profound sense of disappointment and disorientation. Gone were my emboldened Big Apple brothers and sisters at arms, my vociferous cohorts trudging the 1980s trenches of contemporary artfare (or so I thought). Instead, I felt as if in a time warp, surrounded by a throng of mediocre, traditional artsy-craftsy confectioners, a very small contingent of engaging modernists, and fewer still really daring visionaries. Culture shock? More like culture schlock.
That’s arguably an overly- harsh assessment of our local scene, and one that has, to some extent, softened with time. The fact of the matter is I still cherish our local museums and galleries if only because I cherish the act of looking and discerning, and the time it takes to do a creditable job of it. And over the years I’ve found that a traditionally painted portrait, landscape, or still life can be every bit as exciting as the most arcane abstraction or problematic “conceptual” or installation work. As to the ultimate relevance or efficacy of “old school” methodologies in presenting art to the world at large, I confess to being of two conflicted minds. Therein, the ideological juries, as it were, will remain forever hung.
Speaking of juries, as in juried art shows, Marilyn Simmons (Gallery Manager at SPACES Gallery in Cleveland), and mixed media artist Paul G. Jira, provided the thrilling stuff of a truly memorable gallery experience in their selection of 65 works that comprise the 70th Annual May Show at The Little Art Gallery in North Canton. While there are some excellent pieces here from familiar, accomplished local artists, this is also an impressive showing from numerous individuals unknown to me, and no less remarkable in their content and craft. On the whole, the exhibit is wildly multi-faceted proof of the diversity in aesthetic depth and creative passions thriving in Stark County.
On the subject of diversity, I do find it curious that ‘straight’ photography was excluded in the accepted media for the show unless, as the prospectus stated, it was “…altered as mixed media.” There are photographers in our midst who are acknowledged masters of their craft and I miss their presence here. The reasoning for the exclusion of such a long-established fine art form evades me at the moment. Is it really that far off from deciding to exclude floral-themed watercolors, which would no doubt raise a howl of protest from many in these parts?
As it is, there’s no shortage of other visual/sculptural media here, and part two of this commentary will offer more specific observations about some individual pieces. Understandably, the show is very crowded – so much art, so little space. The salon-style format doesn’t allow for much breathing room between works. But this is nonetheless a butt-kicking exhibit, so to speak, and warrants more than cursory looking. So consider it an invitation to get up, get out, and give it the time it so well deserves.
After all, art – no matter where you find it - sits on its ass only to the extent that we viewers do the same.
70th Annual May Show, on view at The Little Art Gallery through June 2, 2012. Located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton. firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos, courtesy Little Art Gallery: (Top) “Pat Catans Man” charcoal by Jerry Zelinskas / “Virginia” oil on muslin by Erin Wozniak