Wednesday, November 07, 2007

out of focus

From this week's paper:
Juried group shows are familiar fare for Groton's Main Street Gallery. Annual shows highlight paintings, photographs and quilts. A local guest juror is invited to lead a selection from submitted work. Recently, submissions have been taken from across the country.

There are advantages and disadvantages. A positive aspect is the possibility of surprise. Area gallery exhibits are strongly weighted towards area artists. While it is important for locals to be able to show locally, this can also result in provincialism and a limited horizon of influences. Introducing artists from around the country in a rather random manner mixes things up. Unfortunately, this randomness often results in shows that feel arbitrary and unfocused. National Photography '07, juried by Cornell professor Stan Bowman, is typical in this regard. Of course this is hardly the fault of the artists, several of whom contribute fine work.

Rooftops, Gaudi, a gelatin-silver mosaic by John S. Tilney, is a standout. It gives a fragmented, multi-perspective view of the Catalan art nouveau architect's well-known Casa MilĂ , in Barcelona. The wavelike, surreal apartment building was built in the first decade of the 20th century. Today parts can be visited by the public. One such section is its rooftop terrace with its sculptural protrusions loosely resembling armored knights. It is these, along with rows of small windows (themselves curiously helmet-like), that dominate the foreground of Tilney's image. (Although this can't be seen in the picture, the windows overlook a large central courtyard). The piece is divided into a grid of squares: five high by eight wide. White space surrounds each. Most of the squares are duplicates (or near-duplicates, look closely). A cloudy sky covers most of the top two rows; its haziness contrasts with the clean lines of the building. The piece captures the Gaudi's fluidity while imposing a more rigid architecture. The grid of Rooftops is echoed by the finer one of Red Channel # 5, a pinkish portrait of a young woman. Each adjacent square has a different overall tint, masking the facial features. This effect flattens the image in a bland way.

Bob Gates' digital Last Picture Show shows the front of an old-fashoned, well-worn movie theatre at night. Lights are incandescent, giving the picture a golden glow. Towards the left, under a marquee advertising the theatre ("Island") and the show ("Transformers"), a distant looking woman leans against a lit-up (but empty) box office, gazing leftward. In the center, facing the other way, a middle-aged man in a white shirt and dark tie carries a film reel out onto the sidewalk. Toward the right is an antique-looking streetlamp partially obscuring a pair of movie posters. The posters provide color contrast: green and blue. Above the marquee is a curtainless window; inside is a dimly lit room from which a reel has yet to be removed. The story and mood are compellingly presented.

The female figure is a recurring theme (males are strangely under-represented). Chloe, a gelatin-silver print by Polly Chandler, shows a young girl in a pale dress, her eyes closed beatifically. Her lower body is blurred, as is the strange building in the background. The effect is a bit contrived but works reasonably well. Another gelatin-silver, Body Fear, Leah in the Tub, is by a local artist, Julie Magura. The diptych shows two views from above of a girl bathing. On the left she too is closing her eyes while on the right her head is disturbingly cut off. Excepting the romantic couple Musings at Dusk (Lyn Gardiner), portrayals of grown women are less intimate and less interesting.

Toys and figurines make compelling protagonists in several photos. A kitschy, lit-up greenish Gnome (digital, by Allen Palmer) stands against a bathroom wall between a toilet and sink. An electric cord tethers it to a socket near the upper right corner. Weirder yet is Susan Steinfeldt's Parking Lot Dollhouse. The two-story house, pink and white, stands parked in the middle of some suburban commercial wasteland. The pavement is damp, the sky cool and overcast. The perspective is low, as if the viewer was a child. The house stands in for a car, but it also suggests a human presence in an otherwise desolate setting.

National tries too hard to cover all the bases. Some of the work is both miscellaneous and weak. For example: the lurid digitally-altered Pansies (Richard Montemurro), the bland, birds-eye playground abstraction Summer Fun (Joyce Solberg), and the faux-painterly Now and Then (Eric Hoffman). Other pieces, such as Erin Gleeson's vivid arrangement of found color Voyage to India Collage are strong but feel isolated. Regrettably, this is what tends to happen when your source material comes from whomever decides to respond to an advertisement.

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