Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: Lucky 13 Art Show at North Bennington

by Bret Chenkin

North Bennington has hosted an Art Park show for 13 years. That is quite a feat considering the scope and scale of the program as envisioned by the initial organizers. Since its humble beginnings as a venue for local sculptors, the exhibit has burgeoned and blossomed and mutated off and on into a democratic profusion of art. This year, for Lucky 13, curator and sculptor, Fred X. Brownstein teamed with Jillian Casey, of the Forum Gallery in NYC, to produce a cornucopia of creativity that graced the greens around the town’s post office, as well as inside the former train station. The fact they used the train station—a wonderful example of Victorian architecture—for exhibiting the paintings, exemplifies the show’s philosophy that the community’s assets be highlighted.

The show itself was open to artists from the local area as well as surrounding towns—and the talent ranged from established artists, to up and coming ‘folk’ artists, as well as the occasional dabbler. Brownstein wanted a full force gale of representation—and with over 50 artists he really blew through town, though some judgment questions emerge—as to whether such shows should be edited, or does one allow for the inclusionary process to stand, possibly jeopardizing the program’s aesthetic integrity? However, either way, the showing that just ended was impressive in scale and continued to demonstrate North Bennington’s tradition as a community that supports the arts.

Ironically, although the show began as primarily a sculpture exhibit, this year it appeared the paintings had a stronger presence. Housed in the station’s spacious rooms, not a wall remained unadorned. The large windows provided great light and the white walls were large enough to hold over thirty works. Bennington College faculty members provided a stellar representation—with Ann Pibal, Mary Lum, and Andrew Spence flanking walls on the first floor. Longtime Bennington resident and abstract artist Pat Adams (Zabriskie Gallery) also held sway in this space: Lum’s Stuart Davis, Pop-Cubist re-imagination—of comic strip, city zone swaths dominated in its red hue intensity—which was a nice balance to the more pensive, linear, geometric pieces of Spence and Pibal. The subdued palette of Adams’ large ovoid on sandy ground weighted one side of the room. Other artists on this first floor included the surreal sculptures of Amy Podmore of Williams College and a crafted sphere of chrome nails by Steve Anisman (who moonlights as a cardiologist). On the second floor, more paintings were hung —including a lovely exercise in 19th century American landscape light—by Colin Brant; a work of whimsy by Anima Katz; some large paintings and prints also offered interesting viewing. In addition, John Umphlett, who never disappoints, had a fascinating aural sculpture—of styrofoam cups turning on long stems of what looked like glass crack pipes—infinitely turning on a gear—while plinking out of tune like some busted music box.

I could not help but think of a riff on Russolo’s intonarumori. The paintings looked quite at home in the station, and Brownstein hopes the town will continue to support art exhibits there.

Outside sculptures abounded—all conceivable places to erect something werer covered. Along the train track, Matthew Perry had a cast block concrete man waiting for a train--- and metal Dandelions popped around the station’s lawn. On the green by the post office were works by Gary Humphries and Bill Botzow that had a monumental feel—with Willard Boepple adding what looked like a wooden playground of plywood and beams. Around the lawn of Welling, a Victorian era dorm, and in a glade nearby, there were even more works—in fact, nestled in and out of the bushes, here and there, a piece was situated. Some works had quality—some did not (the chicken wire soufflé had none of the wonderful ingenuity of Philadelphia Wireman who may have served as inspiration, or more probably Duchamp had some perverted hand in it.) The Andy Goldsworthy designed near the woods desired a more reverential intent—while a Devries nude was a flaming insult to Kenneth
Clark’s musings on the subject: I personally would have selected some other kitschy work from this artist’s oeuvre, if forced to. However, there were many excellent and conscientious and honest pieces to enjoy: Amy Anselmo was a communal affair—using her cut stainless steel hearts as a vehicle for changing how the viewer feels (by rearranging magnetic words) and Jessica Schimpf had a quiet meditation on decay in nature—her chair rusting out in the ivy. There were also old standby artists: Zac Ward had a large strange piece of a painted metal cave-womb, and Jon Isherwood and Fred Brownstein were represented with monumental pieces in stone. Also contributing to the variety of works were some performance and political pieces done at the exhibits’ opening in June including an interactive work by Daniel Richmond who brought the travails of banana plantation workers close to home.

Overall, the show was a welcome visual addition to the Bennington area summer arts scene.