Sunday, September 13, 2009

WALKABOUT: 2009 South End Art Hop in Burlington

By Janet Van Fleet

This year I started Art Hopping from the SEABA office at 180 Flynn Avenue, where they are exhibiting the work of seven artists loosely arranged around the idea of food and eating. Michael Kuk’s funny installation, Bulk Shopping, is right inside the front door, and three pastel and collage pieces by Cathy McCarthy were great backdrops for the volunteers hard at work at Art Hop Central. We walked out the back door of the office into the warren of studios, hallways, and businesses that populate this old industrial building, happy to be guided by Mark Waskow (SEABA’s Art Hop Chair and a well-known art collector), who knows his way around, also knows everybody, and is both speedy and indefatigable. In a back hallway I found this impressive carved door by Jenna Kelly, displayed on an old steel-clad door. It is at once strongly primitive, like the African Dogon carved granary and house doors, and also emphatically contemporary, like the graphic art of Keith Haring.

A few feet away, up a small staircase, Borough Studio and Gallery is displaying work by their three excellent resident artists – Emily Wilson (enthusiastic circular forms and linear extensions), Jodi Whalen (cityscapes and occasional bug-like cars), and Shawna Cross (abstract oils).

On to Flynndog, whose hall is dominated by huge, impressive banners by Peter Schumann, one of Vermont’s resident geniuses. His wall paintings and texts however, along with photographs by Ayman Mohyeldin, seem a bit more like journalism or reportage than like art, if it’s possible (or desirable) to make such judgements...

The other spaces at 208 Flynn Avenue are less like warrens and more like upscale urban enterprises, but still hard to find your way into and through if you don’t know what’s what. Downstairs at Galen Health Care Solutions, I liked Sam Thurston’s line-drawing illustrations of passages from Chaucer, Keats, and Shelly. At Propeller Media Works, Keith Wagner’s metal sculpture and paintings, and new work by Hal Mayforth, are elegant and well-displayed.

Nearby, and with a similarly prosperous feeling, Select Design is showing several interesting suites of work – ceramic sculpture by Alex Consantino (which suffered a bit from being displayed on the visually-noisy brick walls), digital prints by Mark Gonyea (“Mr. Oblivious”), and mixed media works by Adam Devarney. His acrylic paintings of hands combined with tanks (the elements of the paintings are cut out and re-assembled on panels with acrylic medium) were particularly compelling.

Downstairs at Frontside Foundation, the feeling was a mite funkier, with wild and wooly paintings by Mikey Welsh. In the back of the space, Welsh has painted a fabulous mural on the wall in front of the restrooms. And on the other side of the exhibit room, Beth Pearson’s paintings and monoprints provide a counterpoint that is a bit more sedate (but not at all stodgy).

Up Pine Street to the heart of the Hop. I digress to say that even someone on a reviewing mission can only look at so much work before eye fatigue begins to set in (well, unless you’re Mark Waskow, maybe...). In previous years I’ve started from the north end, and worked my way south, but this time I did it the other way around. I don’t know if it’s that change in my navigational system, or whether it’s a change that’s happened out there in the world, but I experienced a real difference between the more polished fit and finish of the Flynn Avenue spaces and the funkier displays in the Pine Street venues. With the exception of the new SPACE (Soda Plant Artist Collective Environment) area and the Alderson/Jordan Silverman space, I began to feel slightly oppressed by the dark, unfinished surfaces and tight hallways (at the Soda Plant) and the clunky hanging systems (at the Maltex Building).

But some clunky hangers can be invigorating (and perfect), like in Al Salzman’s exhibit, THE ECONOMY: Seven Allegories, outside the truck entrance to Sterling Hardwoods. Out front, he had a statement in rhyming couplets called The Bull Market, and a quote from Nietzsche, “We have art so that we do not die of reality,” behind which the acrylic paintings on oval canvases stood in a line, sporting protective plastic bags ready to be drawn down in case of rain.

Art Hop is a work of love, enthusiasm, and art appreciation for which the city of Burlington should be both proud and grateful. Many of the exhibits (including the juried show in the Soda Plant hallways, open 9 am - 5 pm, Monday - Friday and 10 am - 2 pm Saturday/Sunday) are open for the rest of September. Have a look at the SEABA website and call places you’re interested in visiting to see if they are still welcoming visitors.