Friday, July 30, 2010

Article in the Independent!

Here is an article that gives a review of two shows, "Money" and "Finding Objects: A Reappraisal", in yesterdays Independent!

"Review: Two art exhibitions reconsider a culture's concept of value

As changing economic circumstances force all Americans to reprioritize their lives, two local arts organizations are addressing the subject head-on, tackling the notion of prevailing cultural values in separately engaging exhibitions.

"Money," which closes at Hera Gallery in Wakefield tomorrow, is a multi-faceted consideration of currency - a word that means both a medium of exchange and prevalence. "Finding Objects: A Reappraisal," at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston through Aug. 16, is a compelling meditation on discovering meaning and worth in objects discarded or rejected.

Both shows touch upon various aspects of their theme, ranging from the satirical to the angry, the whimsical to the mythic, the contemplative to the transcendent.

Hera gives bang for the buck

WAKEFIELD - Not surprisingly, dollar bills play a highly symbolic role in "Money," as legal tender is often manipulated and defaced (but perhaps not devalued) in a range of artworks at Hera Gallery.

William Saylor's archival ink jet print "Time is Money" presents a National Geographic map of the United States plastered over with enlarged versions of $10 bills. Scrawled over the face of Alexander Hamilton are various phrases, such as "We've lost a lot of time"; "How do you spend your time?"; Is that worth your time?" In each of the dozen or so examples, an italicized word within the phrase emphasizes the association between money and value that is prevalent in capitalism.

Deanna Ooley deconstructs currency even further, integrating torn dollar bills into a couple of exquisitely realized works. Her "Money Brooch," made from sterling, pearl and U.S. currency, uses paper cash tightly wound in a floral pattern to create an object associated with decoration, costume, pretense, even flaunting. Coupled with her "Wall Street Buckle," a brass, copper and acrylic buckle attached to a belt showing stock exchange figures in decline, the work reinforces the idea that money is perpetually in fashion, something we choose to wear, something that consciously or unconsciously helps forge our identity.

Another Ooley piece, "Market After," is a small, shrine-like candle box made from walnut, brass, sterling and U.S. currency - all items, in their wood, metal and paper forms, considered valuable. The dollars are cut in floral patterns on the sides and in topographical or fluctuating stock-market line graph shapes separating spaces inside the box. The jagged dollars and a gold tree shape are given further resonance by the phrase "In God We Trust" clearly visible on one of the torn bills.

Equally impressive is Margot Rocklen's "Jettisoned," a monoprint/mixed-media work that deconstructs the dollar even further, presenting a vivid and colorful image of the bald eagle - America's symbol - clutching arrows in its talons, exploding through the scene, blowing apart the word "TRUST" and other bits of dollar symbols in the process. In this piece, Rocklen's version of George Washington's mug has a panicked expression, watching the fractured elements of the greenback - the eye in the pyramid, the number 1 - collapsing around him.

Rocklen's Japanese woodblock and mixed-media work "Shot Through: A Worrisome Thing" repeats many of the same symbols - worried George, angry eagle - in a design that demonstrates the theme's elasticity.

Guy Pearce's "Bank," made from copper, silver, mercury dimes and Mokume Gane, shows a deteriorated glove representing a hand, with stubbed fingers truncated at the knuckles, plugged with dimes. In "Decay," a row of four Connecticut quarters reveals the backside symbol of the Charter Oak in a state of entropy, each tree more damaged than the last, in a sly allusion to the environmental and moral decay that occurs when society values money above all.

Claudia Flynn's "Fiscal Assault," comprising an ice pick and U.S. currency, is a simple screed. The ice pick is jammed violently into the gallery wall, through the cheek of George Washington. A conscious act of desecration, Flynn's work has an added layer, whether intended or not, since Washington's mug on the $1 bill is the work of Saunderstown-born portrait artist Gilbert Stuart, whose most famous painting became the world's most familiar currency.

Artist Michael Yefko conveys indignation through a variety of mixed-media works. "The American Dream" presents a knocked-over trashcan with small houses spilling out and scattered like loose garbage. Encircling the rim on top of the can are the names of corporations implicated in America's financial meltdown. Two other works - "A Pox on the House of Finance and Greed" and "Trickle Down/Suck It Up" - offer variations on the same idea. The former presents a big house with little green houses attached like barnacles or parasites next to a giant martini glass with a large toothpicks skewering smaller versions of the green houses, presented as olives or cocktail garnishes for the affluent. In the latter, smaller versions of the martini glasses stand over coasters marked "AIG" and "Goldman Sachs" on a table representing housing grid plots.

Margi Weir's digital ink prints on rag paper, "Paper Tiger" and "Paper Tiger II," are gorgeous, visually arresting compositions that use contemporary and classic symbols to address the relationship between cultures and the objects they worship. In the second work, the tigers form a circle in the center of the paper, presented in pinwheel fashion around a bull's-eye represented by a copper penny. Above, Weir turns the familiar dollar bill phrase on its head, asking: "Who Can We Trust?"

Joan Klatil Creamer's "Mystery Newport Mansion" turns the gilded heritage of Newport's heyday into a meditation on the delicate and fragile nature of opulence. Her work combining eggshell, metal, clay, tissue, acrylic, Swarovski jewel and glass creates a scene of lavishness in miniature. It is presented as a museum piece, paralleling the fate of those former summer cottages on Newport's Bellevue Avenue, now surviving by the grace of tourists spending their vacation dollars to view the mansions' former glory.

One of the most disarming works in the show is the series of three small brown paper bags and U.S. currency by Eric Galandak. The three bags are presented stapled shut with hand-scrawled amounts on them: "$51.00," "$36.00" and "$23.00." Despite the simplicity of the concept, the work raises numerous questions: Does each bag actually contain the amount suggested by the title - or different amounts, or any cash at all, for that matter? Is the artist assigning a relative value to each work, even though they are exactly the same on the exterior, differentiated only by their placement on the pedestal? Would the $23 bag be worth more than the $51 bag if a patron paid more for it?

The mystery, reminding us of those often-disappointing surprise "grab-bags" in discount stores, is part of the work's appeal, forcing us to reconsider how and why objects of value are perceived that way.

Hera Gallery's "Money" ends tomorrow. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. For more information, call 789-1488 or log on to

Finding treasure in the forgotten

WEST KINGSTON - In "Finding Objects: A Reappraisal," the 13 artists whose work adorns the galleries at the Courthouse Center for the Arts subvert notions of wealth, consumerism and commodity by discovering value in the found, the forgotten, the discarded and the neglected. By re-using, recycling and reinventing found objects, these artists produce works of intrinsic meaning and value in ways that delight, shock and surprise.

Wood River Junction artist Ana Flores epitomizes the insightful nature of the show with a work titled "Oshun/Island Spirit," a figural vision in turquoise and blue featuring three primary components. The body is made from fabric that is designed to move with the wind; the face is a cracked mask in peaceful, contemplative repose; the crown emanating from the head is an organic, fan-shaped coral object. Collectively the pieces convey a mythic image, one that merges nature, womanhood and godhood in a simple and arresting scene.

Speaking more directly to the notion of cultural values, Maine artist Stephen Oliver's "Catching Hell," made from found objects and fishing tackle, presents a sort of terraced mobile, mingling the lures, rigs, bottles and detritus of fishing with the trash reeled up from the water and found on the coast. These include teabags and bottle caps from beer, soda and sports drink brands (one reads: "Be a little twisted.") An American flag pin, tiny plastic Christmas tree and a crushed Budweiser can are also among the shrine-like totems of our collective discard. The can of Bud is particularly apt, since anyone who spends anytime outdoors knows that while Budweiser likes to call itself the "King of Beers," it is also most definitely the "King of Dregs" found in the woods.

South Kingstown artist Jill McLaughlin's assemblage "Transplant" creates a small shrine in box form, combining vintage book, photographs, ephemera and found objects into a reflection on nature and memories. With elements that include a house, compass, a ruler and a map, the work emphasizes our navigation through experiences, places and memories to create keepsakes and fragments that allow us to feel a timeless and universal connection to the cosmos.

Two New Jersey artists complement one another with small-scale works. Charlee Swanson's whimsical little figure made from found objects titled "Give Me A Hug" is a wonderful counterpoint to the yearning expressed in Sherman Drexler's "Untitled" paint on stone, featuring the backside of a naked figure splayed across a stone expanse of blue and green. Fellow New Jersey-ite Anker West's colorful and amusing "Moisty Christmas," constructed from a skateboard, steel and tools, presents a skateboarding blue goose wearing a bright green scarf broadcasting the words, "He who saves will always have." New Yorker Lucy Hodgson's "Shingle Lens Reflex" reminds us that patience and artistry, which once defined the visual arts, has been sacrificed in the digital age. Her 8-foot-high tower from wood and shingle is a representation of a view camera that, because of its exaggerated size, has the quality of a temple relic.

South Kingstown artist Troy West's "Kiss of the Wasp" makes a kind of constructed folktale out of a paper wasp comb in combination with welded steel and discarded machinery - much of it rusted - and splintered wood gathered from his outdoor studio (which the artist refers to as the Museum of Ordinary Objects).

Other items on display primarily convey shock value. Steve Wood's "Street Purse" dangles from the ceiling, a black purse revealing a box of condoms, a necklace and four pennies. The object is presented almost completely intact from its discovery on a Providence street, although the Colorado artist uses wire to extend through holes in the pennies, as if extremities reaching out from the purse - an item universally known as a personal repository for valuables. Similarly the necklace and the purse straps are stretched into shapes suggestive of nooses or restraints, reflecting the quality of desperation that the artist may have sensed in his anonymous muse.

Wakefield artist Claudia Flynn's "Frock," using paint on fabric, mirror and wood, displays a little girl's flower dress once worn by the artist and made by her grandmother, hanging within a large wood frame. But the work as depicted is entirely a black mass. Only the texture of the dress in contrast with the wood frame distinguishes the two elements. The artist's willful destruction of the keepsake suggests the inevitability of loss - of childhood, of loved ones, of precious things, even of memories.

"Finding Objects: A Reappraisal" will run through Aug. 16 at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston. For more information, call 782-1018 or log on"

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