Saturday, December 19, 2015

Thrilling Me Softly (and other eye tunes)

Thrilling Me Softly (and other eye tunes)

By Tom Wachunas

     “Interestingly enough, the sheer emptiness of the expansive gallery floor, combined with the generally neutral look and feel of the walls, conjures an eerie impression of an empty ballroom, awaiting the arrival of spectacularly attired guests. Ah well, maybe next year the dance will be more grand.”
    - from ARTWACH post on October 18, 2014

EXHIBIT: Stark County Artists Exhibition, at Massillon Museum, THROUGH JANUARY 10, 2016 / 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon

    Quoting myself above is simply a way to remind you of how miffed I was about the quality of last year’s annual Stark County Artists exhibit, not that it’s anything of great importance. Still, this year I’ve no axe to grind beyond my persistent concerns about the efficacy of “juried” exhibits and assigning gradated awards (Best in Show, Second Place, Third Place) along with a handful of Honorable Mentions, which one might call “also-rans.”
    In this postmodern era, there’s no universal standard by which to measure and declare an artwork’s indisputable excellence (much to the dismay, I’m sure, of some academic traditionalists). And regardless of a juror’s credentials, the process of determining relative levels of aesthetic quality is in the end a complex and mostly subjective one, fraught with subtle biases, including multiple definitions of art. The practice has become needlessly imperious and even a bit silly. Why can’t we simply have “jurors” as guest curators who choose the entrants to be exhibited and leave it at that? This is after all an art show, not a horse race. The designations of win-place-show certainly mean something unarguable in the sport of kings, but they have little if any truly meaningful function in the context of group art exhibitions.  
    Meanwhile, back at the track Massillon Museum, and to continue with the analogy of selected works with attendees at a ball, this year’s guests are elegantly dressed to thrill even if their aesthetic sensibilities are for the most part conservative and familiar. If artworks were songs - 63 of them here, by 42 artists -  most of them lie somewhere between easy listening and contemporary pop. That said, here are a few of the more appealing tunes that had me humming right along.  
    The sole printmaker in this year’s show is William Bogdan, and his haunting black-and-white woodcut, The Doe Lay Dead in a Field of Asters: No, is as stark as it is poetic. The large-scale verticality of the piece is compelling, giving it the resonance of a devotional icon. There’s something angelic about how the subtly toned and textured animal, with a cluster of floral shapes inscribed in its abdomen, seems to be ascending. Death begets life.
    Of the mixed media entries, In Her Shoes, by Clare Murray Adams, is especially fascinating. She’s particularly adept at distilling elements of ordinary domesticity into extraordinary moments of poetic materiality. There is an air of gentle mystique about this page from a dreamworld scrapbook – a tactile montage of childhood musings and memories.
    If there can be such a thing as Romantic Minimalism, photographer Seth Adam may have hit upon it with his crisp and bright image of a Pueblo structure in his Taos Shadows. While photographers don’t overtly “invent” a pictorial composition in the way a painter might, the most remarkable ones, such as Mr. Adam in this instance, know how to recognize and reveal a magical moment when they see one.
   Tina Meyers’ abstract acrylic painting, Living in the Trees, is a remarkably muscular composition, tight in structure and loose in gestural mark-making. The piece fuses figural with floral elements to create an enchanting biomorph.
    And there’s also plenty of enchantment in Brian Robinson’s Simple Waves. Robinson is a true master of the pastel medium. His stunning landscape is replete with feathery, silken textures; saturated, luminous colors; and sunlight rendered so lusciously you can almost feel the warmth on your face.
   Equally accomplished in the pastel medium (oil pastel, to be precise) is Diane Belfiglio, beautifully evident here in her glowing Fleeting Fall II. But her new sculpture, Repetitions II, is a surprising revelation. It’s a serious departure from the naturalistic realism she’s been so meticulously exploring – exhausting, really – for many years. The intriguing geometric abstraction of this free-standing work is on one level a nod to painter Piet Mondrian, but in airy 3D, with just a hint of Alexander Calder’s mobiles. Belfiglio is singing a new song these days, so to speak. Call it adventuresome alternative programming, and stay tuned for her future hits.

    PHOTOS (from top): The Doe Lay Dead in a Field of Asters: No, woodcut by William Bogdan; Living in the Trees, acrylic, by Tina Meyers; In Her Shoes, mixed media, by Clare Murray Adams; Repetitions II (foreground, on white pedestal), pinewood and chains, by Diane Belfiglio           

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