Wednesday, February 11, 2009

REVIEW: Little Stories: Assemblages by Axel Stohlberg

Capitol Grounds Café, 27 State Street, Montpelier
Through February
by Janet Van Fleet

Cultural critics have noted that in places like Bali the arts are seamlessly integrated into all social functions and venues, while western countries have confined the arts to concert halls, theaters, galleries, and museums. Happily this appears to be loosening up a bit, and we can now find music on the street and art in cafes and airports.

Capitol Grounds Café in Montpelier is almost always packed with people – singletons writing on their laptops, small groups of friends chatting, parents and grandparents with children. Here Axel Stohlberg, one of the area’s most talented and prolific artists, has mounted a bit more than a dozen assemblages that riff on the life of the café and enrich it at the same time.

The Little Stories of the exhibit’s title feature small figures (rarely more than two inches high) set on columns, plaques, or weathered chunks of wood, in paper and wooden boxes, with eggshells, teacups, and writing implements thrown into the mix. The labels with title, price (all are $50) and date are library card pockets, humorously referencing the literary theme.

Fun and wit are in long supply here, as Stohlberg engages in a vigorous variation on themes. Eggshells nestle in the compartments of a 5x7 cardboard grid, each egg featuring one word (or space) from the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty pasted into its curved shell. In Repair, a workman urges a polished white sphere prominently printed with the letter E back into a broken eggshell. A little plastic baby crawls into the sheltering cove of a brown eggshell.

The vessels used to hold coffee and tea appear in at least three of the assemblages – some whole, some broken, and some with teabags clinging to the rim. In one, the label on the bag’s hang-thread says (on both sides):

Bread and
water can
so easily
be toast
and tea

Writing implements are another subset. Nineteen pencil stubs march like soldiers across the top of a back-cover library discard. In The Writer, a toy truck transporting an ink bottle stops at the edge of a wooden cliff whose face holds a red fountain pen.

More charming tales of love, loss, and life in Vermont:
  • Dragging My Heart presents a mustard yellow car towing a big rusty chain attached to a shiny chrome heart.
  • In Weighing Time, a woman teeters on top of a box littered with the faces of watches and small clocks, holding a balancing bar whose ends are also watch faces.
  • And finally Snow, Snow, Snow: A tiny man with a snow shovel stands on a white column, endlessly but cheerfully shoveling, an everyday-Vermonter’s sports trophy, perhaps.
Axel Stohlberg deserves an Art Trophy for his many years of mounting confident, energetic, intelligent exhibits of paintings, drawings, assemblages, and sculptures in both great and small venues. We raise our double cappuccinos to him!