Art Commentary With Marion Wolberg Weiss

A Look Back At Art Exhibits: 2011

It’s always difficult to compile a list of exceptional art exhibits during any given year. In other words, to suggest a “Best of 2011, ” like film critics do. And then again, why not? After all, sculpture, paintings, prints, and photographs are art forms, just like movies. If we admit our selections are somewhat subjective and put such choices in context, we are not committing the crime of the century by putting forth our preferences.

So, here goes.

Excuse this critic if the top of the list is devoted to young artists, the annual Student Art Shows at both Guild Hall and the Parrish Museum. While not enough respect is given to American art education, we’re still lucky here to have exceptional programs in our private and public schools. And well we should, considering the artistic legacy that our area is known for. Moreover, the museums knock themselves out providing the students with the best possible venue. They all deserve myriad kudos. [expand]

From the young to the old: two exhibits, particularly, celebrated established artists who are no longer with us. First, Conrad Marca-Relli’s show at The Pollock Krasner House, a venue that’s especially known for keeping legacies alive and well. Marca-Relli’s work is, of course, exceptional, rich with textures, tones and earth colors suggesting primitive, essential sensibilities.

Second, Esteban Vicente’s exhibit at the Parrish Museum was another noteworthy homage to a great artist, whose palette was more colorful, perhaps, than Marci-Relli’s but whose cultural background and family spirit inspired a similar love of life.

Vicente’s and Marci-Relli’s overwhelming penchant for material brings us to favor two other shows this year featuring media and materials. Dale Chihuly’s new glassworks at The LongHouse Reserve are a case in point where his “White Belugas” suggested any number of objects, like a candle, bottle or person. Even though glass is known for its fragility, Chihuly’s pieces seem to last forever. The exhibit, “Material Matters,” also highlighted texture at Southampton Cultural Center. Archetypical compositions became the subtle centerpiece in weavings by Carol Hunt and monotypes by Roseann Schwab.

While these examples stress formal aspects of art, this critic favors work that expresses provocative ideas and concepts and/or political and sociological themes: art that is “food for thought.” This “food” includes slightly wacky and quirky art by such artists as Charles Waller and David Sutter in their last show at the Pamela Williams Gallery. Consider Waller’s metaphoric “Victory Garden” and Sutter’s equally ambiguous sculpture “Lost.”

Richard Prince’s “Uncovering Pollock” at Guild Hall was another equally ambiguous but still provocative series where photographs of Jackson Pollock were covered by smaller pictures. The effect suggests that Prince wants to “uncover” Pollock’s hidden persona. Or perhaps, he wants to keep it hidden in order to protect him.

Bastienne Schmidt’s photographs (“Home Stills”) of female figures at Harper’s Books served as metaphors as well, inferring that woman are suffering from suffocation and entrapment. They are also not “whole” human beings when Schmidt masks her characters in blurry defocusing. Regardless of this technique, however, her message is clear and concise.

We look forward to 2012 and all the varied, stimulating exhibits it will surely bring.

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