"Hera Gallery returns to Main Street with 'Money'
WAKEFIELD- "Burn your money," read a leftist pamphlet from the wild summer of 1968. "Burn your houses and you will be free." Mainstream America would hear none of it. Economic radicalism of this sort vanished, or was marginalized while related movements against the subordination of women, supporting civil rights, and opposing the invasion of Vietnam survived into the 1970's. But the the grand 60's coalitions collapsed and money, which Shakespeare called "a visible God" and "the common whore of mankind," survived.
Hera Gallery (named for the formidable Greek goddess) opened in 1974, at a moment when America's socio-economic and political activism began to fade. The art gallery was a small, non-profit cooperative jointly owned and operated by twelve women. The new sisterhood was comprised of Southern Rhode Islanders who hoped to establish a gallery-"a cultural force" in the region- that would challenge a status quo in which women were prevented from showing their art.
Hera, a small honeycomb, sits between the two artistic hives of New York City and Boston. Consequently, the women who began the cooperative gallery desperately relied on the monthly dues of each member to keep Hera buzzing. The ironically named Roberta Richman, a founding member, wrote "We had plenty of reinforcement from each other and the community but money was scare." Only three such cooperative galleries still exist. While Hera's mission began with the question of "what it means to be a woman artist" it has since changed. Now, according to the Gallery Director, Islay Taylor, the newly re-opened gallery still holds its "feminist undercurrents" but smartly adapted itself, posing a different question for a different age: "What does i mean to be an artist in a community?'
Perhaps this new query and the gallery's new exhibit entitled "Money," derive from the historical moment Hera and its artists find themselves in; an age of global capitalism, fractured communities, constant movement, hyper-individualism, and endemic uncertainty. One Hera member I met told me money was "the hot topic in everybody's life today." Other loudly topical themes in Hera's recent past have included "American Democracy Under Siege" and "The Environment Under Siege."
Adoning the walls and gracing gallery stands are prints, paintings, sculptures, and sketches selected by Newport Art Museum's Nancy Whipple Grinnell, the show's guest curator. Each curios and interesting work in this thematic show critically looks at money. The exhibit is not large (Hera's building was a former laundromat) but the stronger works are layered in complexity. Taylor, as she showed me around said, "I look at money differently than before this show; now I see it more as fine art."
A good example of this is "We, If" a close-up photo of a paper bill by Susan Hayward which, at first, resembles the simple shapely contours of a Rudy Burckhardt photograph. On its face the work is a contrast between the acute slopes of the "We" and the rigid lettering of the "if" belo. Yet, the very history which brought Hera's into being- the progressive collectivist spirit- is locked within that curvaceous "We."
Beneath it, sitting beside liberty's fiery torch is that stumpy terrifying "if." Two letters identifying the possibility of a different world, a Just City. If anything, Harward shows us that there is more to notice on our cash than "In God We Trust."
Money is a sketch of a dollar bill by Jason Lee Taylor. It recalls the radical cartoons of William Gropper and the Social Realism of Jack Levine. Mr. Taylor's bill no longer has the face of a respected leader- a 'soverign' whose face historically legitmized printed currency. Instead, "Dow Jones"" personified in an Uncle Sam's hat is the bill's iconic face. He wears a gas mask protecting him from the stink of a rotten system he oversees.
Hera's new exhibit is an intriguing look at America's national obsession. The exhibit has few images of people, illustrating the de-personalizing effects of the almighty greenback. But several of its works speak loudly about life in a monied world. Martin Amis once wrote "Money, I think is uncontrollable. Even those of us who have i, we can't control it. Life gets poor-mouthed all the time, yet you seldom hear an unkind word about money." If ever there as a place for such a critique it was in this gallery. While small, Hera's holds within its walls so much history and hangs on its walls so much possibility.
If you go
Hera Gallery is at 327 Main St., in Wakefield. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday from 1-5 p.m. Visit www.heragallery.com."