|Dark and Deep, by Joanna Mack|
|Ceremonial Chip #2, by Stephen Calhoun|
|Charcoal in Nylon Bags, by Hope Hickman|
|Coral Dance, by James Leslie|
|Mask of the Meat Eater, by Kenn Hetzel|
|Innocence Lost, The Remnants of Human Trafficking - by Judi Krew|
By Tom Wachunas
EXHIBIT: FRESH 2020, 16th Annual Juried Art Exhibit at Summit Artspace, 140 East Market, Akron, Ohio, THROUGH FEBRUARY 8, 2020
Free artist panel discussion on Thursday, Feb. 6 at 7:00 p.m. RESERVE A SEAT HERE:
EXHIBIT HOURS: Jan. 10-Feb. 8, open weekly Thursday and Friday, 12-7 p.m, Saturday, 12-5 p.m.; free. Open for 3rd Thursday, Jan. 16, 4-7 p.m., and Artwalk on Feb. 1, 5-9 p.m.
First this, from Summit Artspace: “Art that will be accepted as part of this annual exhibition must be innovative and challenging... Accepted artists will have pushed the boundaries of what art can be… will challenge the viewer to see the world through a new lens...will feature novel styles, original thinking…” And, “…FRESH 2020 is following in that tradition with cutting edge works by local artists.”
Are we to take the promotional buzzwords and phrases such as innovative, challenging, pushed the boundaries, new lens, original thinking, and cutting edge (my favorite) to mean that this entire exhibit is a sizzling hotbed of avant-garde ideations? If so, as a whole, this year’s show of 69 very diverse works (one of them is mine – check the ARTWACH archive for my post from December 14, 2019), selected by juror and artist Katina Pastis Radwanski, falls somewhat short of that lofty mark.
This is certainly not to say that the show lacks overall aesthetic excellence and skillful execution in the conventional sense. In the elegant simplicity of Craig Leslein’s BalustAgain, the play of light along the uneven surface of all those re-purposed cut wooden porch ballusters, packed together like so many puzzle pieces, creates an array of small shadows which in turn make a separate composition integrated with the larger field of repeated colored wood shapes. And the alternating angles of the pronounced woodgrains are a rhythmic punctuation that augments the hypnotic character of the piece.
More mesmerizing still: Joanna Mack’s marvelously intricate fiber work, Dark and Deep, and Stephen Calhoun’s Ceremonial Chip #2. Calhoun’s work is an inkjet print on aluminum - a spectacular, infinitesimally detailed mandala. Looking at it – or more precisely, looking into it – is to be immersed in a radiant symmetry, a complex matrix of practically religious dimensionality.
In a mixed bag exhibit of this magnitude, there are some distinctly more edgy, intriguing visions prompted by social consciousness - and conscience. Speaking of mixed bags, Hope Hickman’s arresting acrylic painting, Charcoal in Nylon Bags, is at once serene and disquieting. A disturbed fertility. An alert. Those pristine white sacks piled in a field of wild grass are positioned such that they suggest hooded ghosts, dancing their eerie dance of chemical pollution.
The naturalistic forms in Coral Dance, a beautifully textured ceramic piece by James Leslie, seem to float in a swaying motion. The piece is decidedly celebratory in nature – a bittersweet savoring of our beleaguered ocean environs.
There’s something oddly precious about Kenn Hetzel’s Mask of the Meat Eater. You might call it a tribal trophy. This neatly crafted appropriation of a real skull adorned with forks seems to be a glib if not too obvious skewering of juicy steak connoisseurs.
One aspect of this exhibit that I find a bit problematic is that all the artworks aren’t in the main gallery. There is art to view in the newly-named THREE G Gallery (formerly the Big Box of the BOX Gallery) on the third floor of Summit Artspace building. The continuity of the viewing experience in a single dedicated space gets disrupted, initially creating a sense that these upstairs works, stashed away as if in an attic, and so distant from the main body of the show, were an afterthought, a parenthetical inclusion. Interestingly enough, though, one of the most compelling works in the entire exhibit is in this space: Innocence Lost, The Remnants of Human Trafficking, by Judi Krew.
But the piece was situated too close to a corner of the gallery. This sculpture-in-the-round merits considerably more walk-around space, more breathing room, than it was given here. It’s a female torso on a pedestal, clad in a patchwork lingerie gown. Hanging from a red ribbon around the neck is a large handwritten tag, quoting Leah Carroll (on Refinery 29.com). An excerpt: “…(a trafficker) was not just a rapist, he was also a murderer; he’d murdered their childhoods, he’d killed the girls they’d once been. The details of the abuse were terrible to hear…” Viewers are invited to take hold of the paper cut-out hands dangling from the hem, turn them over and read what’s written on them, to “be made aware of a fact that needs a voice.”
Those facts are more than just sobering statistics about a virulent evil in our midst. They’re utterly heart-piercing. Cutting edge indeed.