Monday, July 6, 2020



Magic Circle Variation 6, by Rogan Brown (2015)

Heart of the Son, by Michael Buscemi (2016)

Tsunami-Oblivious, by Bovey Lee (1982)

Coringa, by Margaret Griffith (1981)

Collective Portrait #8..., by Amy Oates (1987)

(top) Cabron, (bottom) Untitled (Irises), by Gabriel Schama (2015)

Between the Lines, by Mounir Fatmi (2010)

By Tom Wachunas

   “With this exhibition we can see that the long history, tradition, and art of paper cutting now find a rich synergy with our contemporary art world. The process and art of cutting—complex, delicate, beautiful, tedious, consuming, frustrating, and awesome—can be seen as a metaphor for life itself and the acts of creating: in art, work, and family.”  - Excerpted from curatorial statement prepared by Carrie Lederer, Curator of Exhibitions and Programs at the Bedford Gallery.

   EXHIBIT: Cut Up / Cut Out, at Massillon Museum, in the Aultman Health Foundation Gallery / THROUGH AUGUST 23, 2020 / 121 Lincoln Way East in downtown Massillon, Ohio / Phone: 330-833-4061 / HOURS: Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am - 5:00pm and Sunday 2:00pm - 5:00pm

     More info at:
   These recent months of navigating the torrid seas of societal mayhem have radically disrupted my sense of time passing, of place and destination, of purpose and productivity, and otherwise my expectations of “normalcy.” It’s all been a rude reminder that expectations are often resentments waiting to happen.

   But enough with such frustrations. My experience of walking through the doors of Massillon Museum on the first day of its re-opening (June 26) was a therapeutic one. Healing, in fact. After such a protracted period of involuntary fasting, seeing actual art again - in real time, in an actual, physical place designed to exhibit it – viewing Cut Up/Cut Out was just like partaking of a lavish feast.   
   This travelling exhibition, featuring the work of more than 50 national and international artists, was organized in 2016 by Carrie Lederer, Curator of Exhibitions at the Bedford Gallery in the Lesher Center for the Arts, located in Walnut Creek, CA. Her inspiration for the exhibit came from her avid interest in the art of paper cutting, historically an often decorative practice with roots dating back to 6th century China, the birthplace of paper as we know it.

   The very eclectic range of content in this splendid exhibit transcends the immediacy of ornamentation - dazzling as it often is - into compelling symbols, narratives, and metaphors.  In the hands of these artists, the skilled act of cutting a tangible surface or plane (and not just paper here)of severing, penetrating, perforating, reshaping – is not simply a finely-crafted diminishment or removal of material for decoration’s sake. Rather, the cutting reveals things beyond the apparent. The entire exhibit is an exhilarating reminder that much of the power and beauty of art is in its capacity to transform worldly materials and mundane processes into metaphysical realities…to make the spiritual somehow tangible.  

   The sheer intricacy of minute detail in many of the works can induce a  hypnotic hold on your attention. Look long at the labyrinthine clusters of tiny shapes (hand and laser-cut paper) in Rogan Brown’s aptly titled Magic Circle Variation 6. There’s a practically microscopic intensity in the way the work evokes diving deep into a bleached coral reef.

   Equally mesmerizing and meditative is Michael Buscemi’s Heart of the Son (hand-cut archival paper). All those curvaceous foliate shapes seem to emit their own radiant light, bursting from the center like tongues of white flame.

   Tsunami-Oblivious (Chinese rice paper), by Bovey Lee, tells a riveting story about the power of churning wind and waves. [Please note: The photograph of the work I’ve included here is from the artist’s web site. The piece in the Massillon show is mounted under glass on a dark blue ground.]  Considering the chaotic nature of the disaster unfolded before us, the piece is rendered with an uncanny delicacy.

   Coringa is a commanding and mystical floor-to-ceiling installation by Margaret Griffith, made with all-black hand-cut paper. The piece suggests something at once architectural and floral, posing some intriguing associations. Is it a silhouetted scene from nature at night? Or the animated shadows of sculpted arabesques on an ancient gateway or temple? It dances in space.

    For her Collective Portrait #8: All the people I encounter each day (hand-cut paper hung with monofilament), Amy Oates constructed a fascinating crowd of seemingly transparent figures that appear to float in and out of their own shadows. It’s a delightfully spirited memory of real people, or maybe a fleeting encounter with friendly ghosts. 

   So let me return for a moment to my sense of this show being a feast. I came hungry. I savored the lavish menu for its wild variety of tastes – some savory and sweet, others packing a tangy wallop. I left gratefully nourished. It’s a grand table indeed, set to serve any famished soul.

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