Tuesday, July 26, 2011

REVIEW: Art in the Park in North Bennington

14th Annual North Bennington Art in the Park Show
Part One: The Sculpture

by Bret Chenkin

On July 14th, the annual North Bennington Art Show opened with much fanfare as a funky band jammed on the McGovern Masonry green and dozens of art goers strolled around viewing work. The picturesque Victorian train station once again hosted over a dozen paintings in the Train Station Gallery, curated by Jillian Casey of the Forum Gallery.

The line-up of outdoor works, as arranged by Fred X. Brownstein, reflected the democratic tradition of this annual exhibit – ranging from established artists to the "professional by day, artist by night" practitioner. The overall sculptural tone and material presence appeared to tap into the waning nature of our times: scrap metal, rusty steel, and rough wood abounds.

The general hue is subdued, almost melancholic (not much in the way of primary colors), yet a few more traditional pieces, in bronze and stone, grace the lawn here and there. The voluminous amount of objects certainly indicates much sublimation is occurring in the area. All this “sound and fury” also shows that many people are laboring on various metaphorical and formalist problems in art, and that the tremendous pleasure in wrestling with those problems – even in these fractured, media-saturated times – has not waned.

With over thirty (mostly large) objects to deploy, Brownstein did a nice job finding the appropriate space for each work. Colorful pieces were near greenery-while smaller pieces (such as Peter Lundberg's cast iron scholar rocks) were given more area for proper contemplation. The utter variety was taken into consideration too, so that a formal work was juxtaposed with a really conceptual or abstract piece – to the benefit of both – most of the time. Sometimes the works that were comprised of found objects or less 'appealing' material got lost in these informal settings, but if compositionally strong, their equilibrium eventually recovered. Inversely, pieces that traditionally function best in such settings (on lawns, greens, beside buildings) seemed contrived when in the presence of less pretentious fare. All in all, this disparate work scattered about the streetscape is visually engaging.

When scanning the lay of the land, rust and dilapidated wood appeared to be le mode du jour. This may have as much to do with people's penchant for recycling, as it does the convenience of found objects. But the many allusions to end times may also be informing this weary aesthetic. For example: Michael Biddy's tragi-comical Death of the Dollar, displays a large wooden dollar sign laid upon a funeral bier; or Patrick Healey Labor is like some tired wooden monument to the futility of energy expenditure; while Stephan’s Seasweep, with its confluence of refuse, may be both an elegy to the dying seas and a clever poaching of postmodern art (such as the work of Stockholder, Murray, and Kelley).

Other works in this more contemplative vein are Zac Ward's Figure in a Boat, with a configuration of choppy lines in wood and steel clamps, and a harshly rendered seeker (in a proto-Cubist style) navigating uneasily upon the thrusting vertical plinth; and Stephen Anisman's Citadel , a glossy red pyramidal mini-monument of steel dowels tilted from the ground.

Londa Weisman really wowed with Out There, a hefty Caligariesque home of rusted steel plates, in which the interior implodes upwards and inwards almost three feet, to a diminutive square window, this teasing geometric play on light providing a mystical escape.

Fred Brownstein, Mason Hurley and Andrew Devries made it clear that the mythic, and the Biblical, still influence art today: Brownstein's Ulysses Heads for Trouble, rendered near-perfectly in marble, speaks of the dichotomy between the modern and the classical: the siren is carved as a headless Grecian nude, while Ulysses is a hero of organic bulges. Hurley's Hephasetus appears to be the lame god's forge, or maybe the famous net he created, while DeVries with a double billing melodramatically interprets Adam's fall from Eden and creates a cold, domineering Venus, both in bronze and more than life-sized.

Not to say that all was grim or grave, for color came in the form of Willard Boepple's yellow curvaceous abstract line drawing of painted wood, connected in a tense counterpoint arrangement and also Michelle Vara's 3-D doodle (like a drawing taking a walk) in a matte brick red. Outright humor and whimsy is present in Gary Humphrey's giant musical sculpture, the aptly titled More Cow Bells constructed of rusty metal; Matthew Perry's two concrete block figures by the station, a man and woman, suburbanites who are waiting for the train; Leif Johnson's "Garden Chair" of slate and steel; and Andrew Dunhill's "Twinkle Toes", which conjures a dancer in space in the form of huge metal tubing, resembling in some ways a giant's gastrointestinal tract. Joe Chirchirillo's water tower of concrete and steel, and John Umphlett's Primrose Bronze, which features a bronze flattened blazer and a trough of fine sand with an aluminum rake, add to the variety of this enormous showing.

Forrest MacGregor, Getting There, Wood and Steel
Bill Botzow, Willow, Wood and bark
Andrew Dunnill, Twinkle Toes, Steel
Patrick Healy, Labor, Wood and steel
Fred X Brownstein., Ulysses heads for trouble, Marble
Matthew Perry, Man still waiting for the train and Woman waiting for the Train, Mixed media
Londa Weisman, Out There, Steel