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Art Notes: The Art That Once Unsettled Viewers Has Lost Some of Its Bite

By Ralph Eugene Meatyard, from 'Portfolio Three, number 4 of 10: Romance of Ambrose Bierce'

By Ralph Eugene Meatyard, from 'Portfolio Three, number 4 of 10: Romance of Ambrose Bierce'

There’s just one small problem with “Shadowplay: Transgressive Photography from the Hood Museum of Art.” As an organizing principle, transgression is meaningless. One person’s transgression is another’s walk in the park.

Which isn’t to say “Shadowplay” isn’t worth a look. I went expecting to feel queasy, but a lot of the taboos the photographers are breaking are kind of old hat, the transgressions of yesteryear. Yes, Jock Sturges once had his studio raided by the FBI on the grounds that his photographs of nude bathers in France constituted child pornography. Yes, an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs that included homoerotic and sadomasochistic works upset the American Family Association. But both of those skirmishes in the culture war took place more than 20 years ago.

Indeed, the work on display by Sturges, Mapplethorpe, Sally Mann, Susan Meiselas (part of her Carnival Stripper series, part of which was made in Vermont), Nobuyoshi Araki, Renee Cox and others is interesting in how little power it has to shock or even titillate. A group of Dartmouth students who took Museum Collecting 101 in the winter of 2007 orchestrated the purchase of one of Araki’s bondage photographs, on display in “Shadowplay” in part because it represented “a type of work that was underrepresented in (the Hood’s) collection,” the exhibition’s wall text says.

There was one image that made my skin crawl: Rebecca Belmore’s 2007 photograph Fringe shows a woman lying down, her back to us and a long diagonal incision on her back that has been stitched up, the suture thread still hanging down. “Shadowplay” is replete with naked bodies, but Fringe offered the only one whose integrity had been violated, a true and severe transgression.

Overall, if “Shadowplay” tells us anything, it isn’t that the work is transgressive, but that our vision is too narrow, that there is much that we don’t want to see. The curators, Dartmouth studio art professors Virginia Beahan and Brian Miller, cite Robert Adams, who photographed vernacular architecture in the American West, office parks and strip malls and cookie-cutter housing developments. Why, people would ask him, did he want to explore such wastelands rather than the nation’s majestic parks?

“One reason is, of course, that we do not live in parks, that we need to improve things at home, and that to do it we have to see the facts without blinking,” Adams wrote in his book, The New West. See the facts without blinking. If only we could spread that idea around more widely.

There’s a sign at the opening to the exhibition that warns viewers to take a look at it before deciding whether a child should see it. Of course, children shouldn’t see this show, but adults certainly should. The sign reminded me of President Obama’s first inaugural address, when he urged his fellow Americans to “put away childish things.” The show is about the messy business of being an adult, of balancing love, ethics and stewardship against gratification, ease and the sensual.

“Perhaps a unifying theme then here,” the curators write, “is not just the idea of transgression, but also the body as the locus of the sensual apprehension of the world, and this physical world as the body that nurtures and sustains us.”

“Shadowplay: Transgressive Photography from the Hood Museum of Art” is on view through Dec. 8. The Hood is holding a discussion-based workshop on the exhibition on Wednesday evening, 6:30 to 8. The workshop is free, but space is limited. Call 603-646-1469 to register no later than Monday.

Of Note

Dartmouth College art students will open the studios at the Black Family Visual Art Center Tuesday evening from 4:30 to 6:30. All of the studio art classrooms will be open to the public and students will be on hand working on projects in media ranging from drawing to video. There will also be a reception for the current exhibition in the Black Center’s student-run gallery.

∎ The recent screening of Hand of Brick: Densmore Brick Company — A Look Back filled AVA Gallery and Art Center to capacity. So AVA will screen the short film again on Monday at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. In addition, AVA also will exhibit vintage World War I posters from the collection of former board member Al Quirk. Admission to the screenings and the exhibition is free.

∎ Also in honor of Veterans Day, the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich will offer $2 admission on Monday for veterans, active duty military personnel, members of the Guard and Reserves, military retirees and one guest. On view at the Montshire: “From the Mountains to the Sea: Plants, Trees, and Shrubs of New England,” the first traveling exhibition of The New England Society of Botanical Artists. The show features portraits of more than 60 plants and is designed to promote public appreciation of botanical art and the diversity and beauty of plants in our own backyards. General admission to the Montshire is $14.

∎ Long River Studios in Lyme will hold a reception on Nov. 15 at 5 p.m. for a new book of poems by Parker Towle composed on collages by Orford artist Barbara Newton.

Calls for Entries

A handful of art galleries are seeking entries for holiday exhibitions. Among them is AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, where artists can drop off work on Nov. 16, 17 and 18. Entrants must be AVA members.

∎ Nuance Gallery in Windsor is seeking entries for its next exhibition. Artists are invited to bring gallery-ready art and fine craft to Nuance on Tuesday through Thursday next week from noon to 5 p.m., or by appointment. The group holiday show opens Nov. 16 with a reception from 4 to 6. Proceeds from the show will benefit Good Beginnings of the Upper Valley, a nonprofit that assists parents with infant children.

∎ ArtisTree Gallery in Woodstock has issued a call to artists for “Small Work in Miniature.” Submissions are due on Saturday, Nov. 23. For more details visit www.artistreevt.org/gallery/.

∎ Cafe 232 in South Strafford is asking for entries to a photography contest. Only photographs of Strafford that are no larger than 12-by-18 inches are eligible. It costs $10 per photograph to enter, and the top prize is $50 cash and a $20 gift certificate to the cafe. Submissions must be received at the cafe by 2 p.m. on Nov. 16. For more information, go to the cafe’s website at cafe232.com, or contact the cafe at eatwell@cafe232.com.

Openings and Receptions

Newport’s Library Arts Center opens its annual “Gallery of Gifts” exhibition with a reception Friday evening, 5 to 7. As its title indicates, the show features art and crafts for the impending gift-giving season. Through Dec. 21.

∎ Nuance Gallery in Windsor closes its current exhibition, “Eclectic: A Collection of 19th and 20th Century Art,” with a reception and poetry reading Saturday afternoon, 1 to 3.

Last Chance

e_SDLqPoints of View: Seven Portrait Artists” is on view in Randolph’s Chandler Gallery. The show traces the development of seven Central Vermont artists who work each week from the same model. Agathe McQueston, Lark Upson, Sande French-Stockwell, Judith Beckett, Liesi Hebert, Marcia Hammond and Joan Feierabend have been meeting weekly in Feierabend’s Tunbridge studio to share the expense of paying a model. Through Sunday.

∎ “Spare,” works by Brenna Colt, is on view at the Chandler Downstairs Gallery in Randolph through Saturday.

Ongoing

AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon hosts “AVA Selections: Work by Twenty Artists” and “Form and Pattern,” an exhibition of work by Linda Roesch to benefit AVA.

BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt., is devoting its space to “Aviary,” a group exhibition about birds that includes work by Virginia Beahan, Varujan Boghosian, Gail Boyajian and Floyd Scholz, a Hancock, Vt., resident who is widely considered one of the world’s finest birdcarvers.

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction shows new prints by longtime studio members Lois Masor Beatty and Sheri Hancock-Tomek.

Zollikofer Gallery, in White River Junction’s Hotel Coolidge, hosts “Ordinary Beauty,” photographs by Carla Kimball.

∎ Tunbridge Public Library hosts “Intersectionalism: An Interdisciplinary Art Show” by Tunbridge artists Jennie Harriman and Christopher Smith.

∎ “Reimagining the Local Landscape,” paintings by Gail Barton and Susan Bridge, is on view in Ledyard Gallery, in Hanover’s Howe Library.

∎ At Cider Hill Gardens in Windsor, “Autumn Art Show” comprises Gary Milek’s landscape paintings in tempera and gold leaf and monumental stoneware vessels by Stephen Procter.

∎ “Horses of Vermont,” photographs by Linday Rosenthal, are on view at The Woodstock Gallery through Nov. 17.

∎ “Blue River — New Versions,” recent drawings and paintings by Craig Hood, is on view at the Taylor Gallery at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden.

∎ “A Year of Natural Color,” pastel and digital paintings by Grantham artist Paula Dorr, is on view at West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library through Jan. 31.

∎ The Main Street Museum in White River Junction hosts “Written in Stone: Voices of the GLBTQ Community,” the museum’s first show consisting solely of work on the expression of gender and sexual identity.

∎ Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction shows sculpture and woodware by Ria Blaas and jewelry and sculpture by gallery owner Stacy Hopkins.

∎ Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art hosts “The Vollard Suite” and “Cubism and Its Legacy” through Dec. 20. Also at the Hood: “Between Tradition and Modernity: The Art of Fan Tchunpi,” paintings and ceramics by the 20th-century Chinese artist, who lived much of her life in New England; “Shadowplay: Transgressive Photography from the Hood Musem of Art,” an exhibition organized by Dartmouth studio art professors Virginia Beahan and Brian Miller; and “Evolving Perspectives: Highlights from the African Art Collection at the Hood Museum of Art.”

The Jaffe-Friede Gallery in Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center hosts “Attention,” a series of five print projects by the Philadelphia artist Daniel Heyman. Heyman, a 1985 Dartmouth graduate, has focused his attention on the victims of abuse in Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison during the American occupation.

∎ Fall art shows at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center include mixed media from Long River Studios in Lyme; colored pencil drawings by Corrina Thurston; pen and ink and watercolors by Lone Mountain Artists; photographs by C.E. Morse; and pen and inks and watercolors by Carole-Anne Centre.

∎ Giovanna Lepore shows “New Small Works,” recent oil and watercolor paintings at Galleria Giovanna Fine Art in Canaan. Sales benefit the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The gallery is located at 313 River Road, Canaan. For more info visit giovannalepore.com.

Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday.

Send email to artnotes@v news.com.