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Art Notes: Artists Blur Lines Between Media in AVA’s Summer Juried Exhibition

  • "Carousel Horse" by Reginald Vessey, of Mount Holly, Vt., is part of AVA's 2017 Juried Summer Exhibition, on display until Aug. 23, 2017.

  • "Movie Night" by Shawna Gibbs, of Claremont, N.H., won the Cornelia M. Rahmelow Photography Prize in AVA's 2017 Juried Summer Exhibition, on display until Aug. 23, 2017.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, August 10, 2017

Since 1993, AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon has held a summer juried exhibition which highlights the wealth of artistic talent in the Upper Valley.

The exhibition was an annual event until 2013, when the gallery decided to hold it biennially. This year the gallery received 213 submissions from 121 Vermont and New Hampshire artists; of these, this year’s curator Hood Museum director John Stomberg ended up selecting 103 works by 81 artists.

These statistics show how far-reaching the biennial juried exhibition has become. It is a valuable barometer of the health of the visual arts, not only in the Upper Valley but also in Vermont and New Hampshire. The scope and quality of work on exhibit is remarkable: paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture, multimedia, watercolor and fiber art.

Stomberg recognized four artists in particular. Bruce Blanchette, of Walpole, N.H., received an award for the mixed media work Space-Time Artifact; Quechee artist Helen Shulman was cited for her painting Three Part Harmony; and Susan Wilson, of Putney, Vt., for her sculpture Vigil. Shawna Gibbs, from Plainfield, received this year’s Cornelia M. Rahmelow Photography Prize for her photograph Movie Night.

The works on view have the technical skill you would expect, but they also demonstrate flair, verve and an organizing intelligence. You see minds at work, not just egos. That said, the works on view don’t, I think, speak to larger societal issues. They are not required to, of course, but it does beg the question of what art’s role is.

The cataclysms of the 20th century raised a subsidiary issue. What is art, and what are its responsibilities, if any? Artists in the post-World War I and World War II periods grappled with that question in ways that were surreal, shocking, angry, dissonant and ironic.

I think of the 20th-century Western artist as a kind of surgeon forcibly prising open the ribcage to get at the beating heart beneath: Let’s get at what matters, despite, or because of, the risk involved. Sometimes the effort dies, sometimes it’s messy, but if it’s done with urgency, conviction and skill, the payoff can be big.

Western art of the post-war period was, often, sprawling, big and chaotic. Some artists were magpies, snatching at this or that shiny, interesting object or trend, loading up their works with paint and weird detritus, emphasizing the process and the materials over subject or theme, sometimes to indifferent effect.

Audiences have, rightly, sensed in some work contempt or mockery, which puts their backs up, makes them defensive and dismissive about what they’re looking at. On the other hand, audiences tend to underrate the intellectual and physical labor that goes into making art and, like some critics (cough, cough), rarely ask how art is actually made.

In looking at the AVA show, it struck me that one of its unspoken themes was just that: How art is made, and what is it made from? The lines of demarcation between media have crumbled.

A photograph might look like a painting, a painting might borrow photographic elements or mimic a photograph altogether, a sculpture uses found objects and film strips, fiber or textile art has the richness and sheen of oil paint, and sculpture may remind us of architecture, for what is architecture but a kind of sculpture writ large?

The definitions of “What is Art?” and “How Do You Make Art?” loosened over the course of the century, a shift you can see here. How then do artists advance their chosen medium? When everything’s been done, how do you make something new? Do you have to reinvent the wheel every time out?

The answer to that last is, not always. Take the painting Carousel Horse by Mount Holly, Vt. resident Reginald Vessey, which is painted in egg tempera and has a naif quality, like a piece of folk art that you’d find at the Shelburne Museum. You might walk by it in search of something more obviously contemporary but you’d miss the sheer, old-fashioned pleasure of the work.

A carousel horse seems to have been brought in to a workshop for repair. Vessey has tucked numerous details into the scene. Wrenches and screwdrivers hang from a peg board, hammers, drills, a measuring tape and glue sit on a work bench. The horse, a bit in its mouth, looks ready to leap out of the frame.

In 19th-century trompe l’oeil fashion he has painted the canvas to look as if it were weathered wood, with flaking and blistering — just because he can. It may not move you to deep thought but that’s fine. Vessey clearly has taken so much delight, and has invested so much skill, in making the painting that the means to the end become the end in itself.

I also admired Hyperbolic Plantation, one of two wall sculptures by Lebanon resident Timothy Olson. The sculptures are displayed next to Bruce Blanchette’s award-winning Time-Space Artifact, and Barbara Bartlett’s Harmonic Honeycomb, an installation of discs, made from dyed filter paper, beeswax and thread, which are arranged horizontally and vertically.

Hyperbolic Plantation is a symmetrical arrangement of rectangular wooden sticks, made from maple, plugged or glued into a maple backboard. Looking at it head-on and then from the side reminded me, in no particular order, of chain mail, the exterior skin of the World Trade Center, porcupine quills, a burned-out forest seen from the air and the game board for that old chestnut, Battleship. Its structure and lines are clean, precise and elegant.

It seems as straightforward as could be, except that it isn’t. Olson has built into it, or gives the illusion of, a kind of undulation, so that the piece appears to curve and bend like a mirage, depending on which angle you look at it from, and how hypnotized you want to be.

The side-by-side placement of the works by Olson, Blanchette and Bartlett makes one of the strongest visual impressions in the exhibition.

Rather like Olson’s Hyperbolic Plantation, the subtlety of Helen Shulman’s abstract oil on panel, Three Part Harmony, reels you in slowly. It shares with Olson’s work a beautiful geometry.

The lines and angles are obvious at first glance but there’s a sense, behind the paint, of an interior organization of shapes and colors that compel us to keep looking at it, without being able to pinpoint a specific reason why.

I had the same feeling about Hanover artist Martia Smith’s Untitled #50B, an oil on linen with an arresting mixture of cobalt and indigo blues, and marble and putty hues.

Mystery is at the heart of Shawna Gibb’s photograph Movie Night, one of those deceptively unshowy photos that sneaks up on you.

In a backyard someone has hung a white sheet between two poles, so that it can function as a movie screen. You see, behind the sheet, the shadows of an adult and a child. But their shadows don’t quite line up with their actual calves and feet, which poke out from underneath the sheet.

Some physical plane appears to have been broken. Does it have something to do with the properties of light itself, the way it bends? Is it a manipulation of the image? Does it matter whether we know?

It’s as if we were thrust back into the 19th-century days of the magic lantern, when the ability to record and project images was astonishing, the province of wizards and something to be marveled at.

Other strong entries, in no particular order, are:

H. Seano Whitecloud’s Creation, a multi-colored, far-out-in-a-’60s-Haight-Ashbury sense installation of handmade clothing — and I use the word clothing loosely. They’re more like ceremonial garments.

Susan Wilson. Dreamer Awake, terra cotta and mixed-sculpture.

Shari Boraz. Different But the Same, digital photo on cotton with hand-embroidery.

Christine Hawkins. Ambrosia, oil on paper.

Brenna Colt. magna tarp throws shade, photograph, custom giclée print.

Joseph Saginor. Dirt Red Landscape. Oil on canvas.

Nils Johnson. Old Montreal Shop Girl, oil on canvas.

Mary Mead. Black Bison, prontoplate lithograph.

The juried summer exhibition runs through Aug. 23.

Of Note

Also at AVA, in Kira’s Garden, is a show of work by featured Upper Valley sculptors include: Scott Gordon of Norwich, Lela Jaacks of Brownsville, Michael Kraatz and Susan Russell of Canaan, John Kemp Lee of White River Junction, John Matusz of Waitsfield, Vt. and Abraham Oort of Hartland.

Benefit Concert: As part of its year-long celebration of its 25th anniversary, White River Junction’s Main Street Museum, the Upper Valley’s favorite, and only, cabinet of curiosities (and so much more), is having a benefit concert on Saturday, Aug. 25 at the Barrette Center for the Arts featuring a not-to-be-missed performance at 7:30 by New York composers and musicians Nico Muhly and Nadia Sirota. (Muhly’s parents Bunny Harvey, a painter, and Frank Muhly, a filmmaker, live in Randolph.)

The festivities begin at 6 p.m. at the museum, and then move to the Barrette Center for the Muhly and Sirota performance. Afterward, you are invited to return to the museum at approximately 8:45 p.m., where Cambridge, Mass. band Só Sol, Thetford musician and artist H. Seano Whitecloud and Burlington street and brass band Brass Balagan will also perform and make merry. There will be a cash bar and dessert.

Tickets ranging from $45 to $65 are available now for purchase through eventbrite.com (search for Nico Muhly and Nadia Sirota) or through the museum’s website, mainstreetmuseum.org. Look for 25th anniversary at the top of the page. It will redirect you to eventbrite.com. All proceeds go to benefit the museum.

Openings and Receptions

Recently opened at Pompanoosuc Mills showrooms in East Thetford is an exhibition of work by artists who also show at the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon. This is the fifth year that the showrooms have exhibited work by AVA artists. Participating artists are: Joe Carton, Claremont; Penny Koburger, Enfield; Judy Laliberte, Quechee; Elizabeth Mayor, Hanover; Rosamond Orford, Norwich; and Sue Schiller, Norwich. The exhibition runs through Sept. 23.

Recently opened in Hanover at the Howe Library’s Ledyard Gallery is an exhibition of photographs by Max Fehr. Each photo is paired with one of Fehr’s poems. The show runs through Oct. 4.

The Center for the Arts, Lake Sunapee, presents three exhibitions in the New London area that go well into fall. Photographs by New London resident Larry Harper are on view in the exhibition “Kearsarge and Beyond” at the Lake Sunapee Bank in New London. Enfield artist Amy Fortier exhibits “Landscapes of the Sunapee Region” in the micro-gallery at Whipple Hall. Maria Blanck, a part-time resident of New London, and Springfield, N.H. artist Yvonne Shukovsky show their work in the exhibition “Potpourri” in the lobby of the New London Inn. All three shows run through Oct. 28.

Ongoing

Aidron Duckworth Art Museum, Meriden. “Pride of Plainfield,” a community exhibition celebrating the town’s rich agricultural presence through photographs, articles and audio, is up through Oct. 29. Featured businesses include Edgewater Farm, Garfield’s Smokehouse, Hall Apiaries, McNamara Dairy, Noda Farm, Riverview Farm and Taylor Brothers Farm.

Also up at the museum is “Bartelli Murals Remembered,” which looks back on the past of Route 120 in Lebanon through a 1990 mural by the late Plainfield painter Aidron Duckworth. Through Sept. 10.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. “Walk Into My Heart,” a multi-media installation by Deborah Bohnert, continues through Saturday. The exhibition blends such mediums as sculpture, paintings, sketches and found objects. Also on view are prints and sculpture by the late Hugh Townley, the late sculptor and printmaker, through Sept. 10. “Commune,” an exhibition of photographs of buildings by Boston and Vermont-based photographer Erik Baier continue through Sept. 9. There will be a public reception and artist talk by Baier Sunday at 4 p.m.

Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “Scale: Models to Monuments” explores the history and impact of public art through sculpture and photography. Randolph sculptor Jim Sardonis curated the exhibit. On view through Sept. 2.

Chelsea Public Library. “Moving Paint, Moving Bodies,” an exhibit by the longtime Chelsea dance artist Hannah Dennison, highlights the relationship between Dennison’s dance career and her paintings. Through August.

Cider Hill Art Gallery, Windsor. The gallery and garden center exhibits sculpture, painting and installations by Steven Proctor, Herb Ferris, Gary Haven Smith, the Mythmakers and Gary Milek.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. Members of the artists’ group Odankansis show their work in the exhibition “Summer Time in Lyme.” Through Sept. 30.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. The hospital’s summer art exhibit includes the work of seven New England artists: Mark Bolton, Carol Keiser, Alison Palizzolo, Richard Perry, Sheryl Trainor and Robin Weisburger. It also features masks created by patients in the psychiatric unit as part of the project “The Faces of Mental Illness and Healing.” Through September.

Hall Art Foundation, Reading, Vt. There are three shows currently on view: “Hope and Hazard: A Comedy of Eros,” a show of more than 80 paintings on the subject of romantic and sexual love; “Ready. Fire! Aim,” a collaboration between the foundation and Burlington City Arts; and a solo show by David Shrigley. All run through Nov. 26.

Hood Downtown, Hanover. “The Everyday Fantastic,” an exhibition of photographs by Missouri photographer Julie Blackmon, is on view through Aug. 27.

Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. Susan Pearson, a pastel artist from Canaan, exhibits her work during regular library hours through Sept. 30.

Norman Williams Public Library, Woodstock. The photos of Joanna Garbisch, who helped develop color Polaroids in the 1960s, are on view through Monday.

Norwich Public Library. An exhibition of work by Claremont artists (and husband and wife) Sue Lawrence and Andrew Williams titled “Together, Captured Moments in Realism” closes Aug. 26.

Osher at Dartmouth, Hanover. “The Outsiders,” a show of work by Anne Hartmann, Judith Pettingell and Ann Semprebon, runs through Aug. 24.

Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. Lindsey Cole, a seventh-generation Vermonter and South Royalton native with a master’s degree in environmental law from Vermont Law School, shows paintings, drawings and photographs through Sept. 29.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish. Nancy Azara’s exhibition, “Passage of the Ghost Ship: Trees and Vines,” is up at the Picture Gallery at through Sept. 10. Admission is included in the $10 entry fee to the park.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. For the month of August Scavenger Gallery takes up residence in Hartland at the blacksmith’s shop and studio at 11 Brownsville Road, across from Skunk Hollow Tavern. Hopkins will show her collection of cast animal and bird skulls provided to her by the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences in Quechee. The White River location will re-open in September.

SculptureFest, Woodstock. The annual sculpture exhibition at 304 Prosper Road features work by Judith Wrend and Joseph Chirchirillo, with Murray Dewart as a special guest artist. Other sculptors showing new work are: Brooks Baird, Charlet Davenport, Herb Ferris, Liz Fletcher, Roger Goldenberg, Bruce Hathaway, John Hikory, Lela Keen Jaacks, Justin Kenney, Robert Markey, Jay Mead, Leah Woods and Zoe Frie.

Tunbridge Public Library. The group show “Connecting Fibers” features fiber art by Susan Cain, Judy Cayer, Louise Clark, Carrie Cooker, Christina Duffy, Betty LaWhite, Karyn Lord, Caitlyn Macglaflin, Katrina Mojzesz, Fern Strong and Belinda Whipple Worth. Through Aug. 26.

White River Gallery at BALE, South Royalton. The paintings of Patrick Dunfey are on view through Sept. 30.

Zollikofer Gallery, White River Junction. “Up Close in White River Junction,” a tribute by members of the White River Junction branch of the Vermont Watercolor Society to the wealth of historic architecture in town, is up through August.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.