This fall season, The Arts Guild New Jersey in Rahway has an unusual and extremely interesting calendar of exhibitions planned. Three separate, but linked shows, comprising The Triad, put together a fascinating vision of a rarely-seen aspect of the art world. The director of the Arts Guild, Lawrence Cappiello, has invited three different New Jersey curators to organize three different themed exhibitions based on the work of the same ten artists. Each curator, sensing similarities, differences or harmonies among the work of these artists will present her unique vision. While the curatorial eye and sensibility is always present in every exhibition, The Triad group of shows highlights this orchestration of art in a way not seen before.
The first of the three exhibitions, Abstract Lives, opened on Sept. 8th. It is curated by Dr. Virginia Fabbri Butera, and focuses on what she describes in her thoughtful and eloquent catalog essay as the way "artists are commenting on what they see and feel, that parts cannot necessarily be pushed back together to become what we once knew and understood." So, she has selected a group of works in which she feels the current reality of "our abstractly collaged and refracted lives" has been addressed. She uses a brilliant play on the dual possibilities of the word "lives" as either noun or verb, adding a layer of meaning – abstraction lives on in our increasingly disjointed and abstracted lives.
Dr. Butera has put together a beautiful show of works by an accomplished and talented group of contemporary artists. Her ability to intuit in these works a sense of the "the unease and distress of our rapidly changing social, political, and technological world" in cut up and reassembled images allows viewers a unique glimpse into their own multifaceted worlds, through the eyes of these artists.
Adel Gorgy, Beauty Dwells in the Dark Folds of the Night
Adel Gorgy's Beauty Dwells in the Dark Folds of the Night (after Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy) is a bold, arresting image, and one of the largest pieces in the show. Brilliantly toned multicolored triangles sit amidst patches of soft black. The artist explains how it reflects the ability to see beauty in the world around us. "Sometimes it's blindingly obvious. Sometimes it seems to disappear. But beauty never leaves. It's only that we are not looking hard enough." Gorgy makes complex, intricately detailed photographic images based, largely, on works of art, carrying forward what the famous critic Clement Greenberg posited—namely that the crucial subject of all modern art is art, itself. This carries into his current body of work, Traces of Pollock, de Kooning and Warhol, represented by Song of the Heart, in which traces of Pollock can be perceived, but the artist has recomposed, reinterpreted and recontextualized them into a wholly original and beautiful composition.
Rocco Scary, EROSion
Rocco Scary's evocative, poignant and elegiac mixed media sculpture/book, Book 11, offers a moving portrait of the tragedy embedded in our collective consciousness—9/11. Over the course of 9 months of work, he painstakingly created some 3000 sheets of handmade paper. They are divided into two chest-high stacks, reminiscent of the Twin Towers. The name of each victim of the event is written in a pale, ghostly grey ink, along with his or her date of birth and age at the time of the attacks. It is an incredibly haunting and moving remembrance of the tragedy, and remains with viewers long after they have seen it.
Diane Savona, Hiroshima
Also evoking memories and the past are the fabric assemblages of Diane Savona. In her powerful sculptural works, time, memory, history, the role of women, and, ultimately, fate are addressed. She collects detritus from sites as far as Turkey and Japan, and from the distant past, and creates "maps" that describe a place and its history. In Hiroshima, Savona collected objects from the riverbanks of the nuclear bomb site and tenderly sewed them into a wall sized hanging that is at once both stark and somehow comforting in its beauty.
Rodriguez Calero, Divine Prophet (RoCa is an abbreviation of the artist's name)
RoCa's large, colorful mixed-media acrollage paintings (a term the artist coined to explain the various processes involved) have both an implicit spirituality and a deeper, more indefinable mystical quality. In Divine Prophet and Transformed Image eyes, including third eyes, wings, and halos join more decorative patterns and collaged cut-outs to create portraits that transcend depictions of form. They become, instead depictions of essence or spirit.
Frances Heinrich, Civilized
Frances Heinrich's mixed media installations, photo-transfers and assemblages provide a light note, yet deliver a powerful message. Her World Sampler, a Whitman's candy box filled not with empty calories, but with catchy, sometimes kitschy, tidbits of life on earth, chronicles humanity in a way not seen before.
Eileen Foti, Affordable Housing
Eileen Foti's thoughtful lithographs address everything from environmental issues to economic disparities. Affordable Housing presents a tounge in cheek solution to the plight of homelessness in the wake of the recent collapse of the housing bubble. In this diagram-like drawing with folded papers, the artist offers a do-it-yourself remedy. Fold a paper house, and live in that, she seems to say, is as much as our government, institutions and society are willing to offer.
Peter Jacobs, Shipyard 4
Peter Jacobs captures the passage of time and the possibilities present in a unique moment in his photographs of shipyards, Shipyard 1, and Shipyard 3. The bold patterns of paint and rust, ropes and equipment capture the beauty of abstraction that are all around us in life, as Butera points out. Sometimes, the artist is the necessary ingredient in making them visible.
Bill Westheimer, Colfax
Bill Westheimer's photograms and photographic prints are striking in their simplicity and the power of their abstraction. In CWB #1, photographs of wire balls, in simple black and white, become an instruction on seeing the depth in objects. In another work, shards of broken glass form abstract-expressionist color fields. In Colfax, 12 cut and pasted images become a vibrant, energetic expression of time and space, light and dark, color and negative space.
Neal Korn, Things are Looking Up
Neal Korn's take on the cut and reassembled lives we lead is direct and unique. In his photograph, Union Sandy, he cut and assembled strips of photographs chronicling devastation post-Sandy into an abstract, black and white composition. In Things are Looking Up, a mixed media work, a broken house-like structure lies on its side, while a charcoal and paint rendering of the same subject hangs behind it. It captures the sense of destruction that can happen in less than a moment, as if, while riffling the pages of a flip-book animation, the object just tumbled out.
Tom Nussbaum, Bottle Head
Tom Nussbaum's somewhat playful, somewhat puzzling sculptures and drawings hearken back to surrealist works. Things that don't belong together are purposefully joined, perhaps for the sake of wit, or, perhaps to allow the viewer a way to experience the merging of unexpected elements. Pom Pom Boy, Bottle Head, and Wheel Bird are definitely saying something, but what anyone will take away will be the result not so much of the object, but of the viewer.
The pieces presented in Abstract Lives are anything but the pedagogic, often self-referential work we have become familiar with in contemporary abstraction. The exhibition is filled with works that are memory-based and even nostalgic, yet they are still fresh, vibrant, at times, playful. This is a collection of lyrical, often spiritual and deeply felt works that reaffirm the touch and feel of humanity always present in our, albeit, abstract lives.
Kudos to the Arts Guild's director, Cappiello for this fresh and original idea, and for organizing such a thoughtful, informative, elucidating group of exhibitions, and to curator, Butera for orchestrating such a memorable collection of works.