Sunday, July 26, 2009

WALKABOUT: View from the Southwest Corner

By Bret Chenkin

Bennington has been churning up the arts this summer—from the famed moose parade, to some great exhibits as well. Of course, the moose are back and have stopped traffic, and why not? They are greatly improved artistically, and if one enjoys kitsch and tourist art then we have a cavalcade to revel in. But on a more serious note, The Vermont Arts Exchange in North Bennington is still featuring the paintings of Phillip Wofford. Wofford is a longtime painter in the abstract expressionist style, whose talent as a jazz musician definitely permeates his frenetic and colorful sculpted paintings. He has huge assemblages that he feels is breaking out of the canvas space, and defining its own identity. They are exciting, dynamic, and monstrously engaging. The best thing is the price at this time, for Mr. Wofford has generously offered his art at far below the New York gallery prices to benefit the Vermont consumer.

The famed documentary photographer, Kevin Bubriski, and his daughter, are exhibiting at Bean and Leaf CafĂ© on Main Street. Bubriski is featuring a number of his color photographs, many of which were taken in Morocco. There is a lovely geometric music to the planes of blues and whites—I think of de Stael for some reason. In his work, composition is crucial, even a worn door has purpose. His daughter Tara Bubriski is not only holding his mantle, but is shouldering ahead on her own path, with documentary images from her trip to India. She has a nice sense for color, and is able to detect life around her—and capture it well. The collection in this gallery space makes for a nice excursion to the countries visited by both talented eyes.

The Bennington Museum just featured Ken Leslie, who has been documenting landscapes in the Arctic Circle for over decades in oil and watercolor. If you missed his sumptuous scapes—I hope you see them somewhere in Vermont as they are worth viewing: they not only have pictorial beauty, but political expediency, as Leslie feels his work detects the environmental changes due to Global Warming. The current regional artist featured at the museum is Leonard Ragouzeos. A settler in Newfane, the exhibit showcases Ragouzeos’ ink paintings and drawings on paper. As the press release explains: “the focus or subject matter of Ragouzeos' work is usually a person (often the artist himself) or a singular still life element such as a fruit, vegetable or a tool isolated and presented in a dramatic, somewhat Baroque light. Some of these black and white compositions, such as the self portrait on display titled "Doubt" are very large, up to eight feet or more in length.” It is hard not to escape a comparison with Chuck Close, but the artist appears to be more humanistic in his psychological pursuit of portrayal. And also at the museum, the exhibit, “The Quality of Space” is not to be missed! Jamie Franklin has selected a wonderful grouping of images—spanning the entire history of photography, including daguerreotypes, the work of Stieglitz, Frielander, and Lewis Hine. The intent is to determine a thesis: how does photography affect meaning of space—of documenting space? And in positing an answer, a museum-goer will relish the many great photos presented. The many local shots interspersed with famous scenes are a treat. One wonders at how historicity affects the value of an image—and even at the idea of whether a place can ever be truly documented. Either way, to think that Lewis Hine rode down a Pownal street and walked the mills there, photographing the mill girls is quite amazing.

And a tour of the area will not be complete without checking out the latest endeavor
in North Bennington of the outdoor sculpture show. This is the 12th annual production, and is held on the grounds of McGovern Masonry, near the post office, and by the Welling Townhouse, all of which are on Main Street. The neat thing about this show is the variety of work, from flower mandalas, by Amy Anselmo, to large metal and concrete forms (“Shield” by Peter Lundberg, which has the spectral appearance of a piece of Greek armament just dug from Laconian ground). Anselmo invites participation in her mandala, so bring some petals to add to her burgeoning kaleidoscopic circle. But all the works invite participation on some level, as they are so approachable, so public. Some are hits, some misses, and some just plain fun. The best thing to do is wind one’s way from the bottom of the show, to the top, like a bee. It is dizzying to go from a tattered sail, to a brick form sandwiched between two rough planks (Zac Ward)—a metaphor for homeownership, and then to a realistic bronze seabird, quite proud even in its diminutive size (Elaine Witten) and back to whimsical flowery shapes (Gary Humphries). Whatever your taste, it will be there on the green.

Above: Leonard Ragouzeos, The Fall, India Ink on paper, 38 x 25”.

Philip Woffard, Nuclear Wood, mixed media on canvas, 36"x40"

Ken Leslie, Kotzebue Summer Cycle, one of a kind artist book, 30" in diameter.