Art Commentary: Material Matters at Southampton Cultural Center

Most exhibits have a focus or a theme; if the artist is well-known, his or her name is all that’s needed to give the display a context. Nevertheless, shows which feature a formal artistic quality, including shape, space or color, are unusual.

The use of a more comprehensive aesthetic element, like material, is even more unusual and more welcomed. Curator Arlene Bujese knows this all too well, celebrating material not only at her current Southampton Cultural Center presentation, but at various times throughout the years when she had her own gallery.

Material, existing in all manner of forms, hues, combinations and textures, is as varied as most anything we can imagine. What’s fascinating, however, is the different purposes that material can serve. Obviously, it can be the raison d’être for the art itself: in other words,  material is the “end,” rather than the “means.” For example, we can look at a sculpture and marvel over the beauty of  its wood. In fact, we wouldn’t be wrong to say that all the work at the Cultural Center fits this particular intention.

Some pieces, of course, are more bold than others, as far as texture goes, like hangings by Carol Hunt and fiber wall pieces by Tracy Jamar. Yet, Hunt’s abstractions, using thread, wool, silk and feathers, recall her computer paintings of the universe, where there’s no closure, and images go beyond the picture plane. It’s curious to note that Hunt’s interest in material, when she started designing and making her own clothes at an early age, came way before she majored in Math.

Dennis Leri’s welded strips of metal suggest a thematic intention for his material, reminding us of his homage to September 11 and its fragmented destruction (we don’t know if these latest configurations relate to his previous pieces). We can’t help but observing that such flat works are juxtaposed with other shapes evoking three-dimensionality as frames-within-frames draw our eyes into the work, an effect created by Nick Tarr with his box constructions made several years ago. This time, Tarr creates objects that look like books encased in wax. While they, too, may evoke a three-dimensional quality, it’s the use of wax which also infers a theme dominated by primitive and eternal  elements.

Christa Maiwald employs a needle and thread to convey political/satirical themes that border on conceptual art. Her works in the current show still convey such a focus, although they’re more subtle. For example, the images contain cats juxtaposed with one or two figures like Queen Elizabeth, drones or a soldier dressed in English garb. The viewer must figure out what the connection is, making it sometimes difficult to determine the meaning. Perhaps the cat and the Queen suggest the contrast between the ordinary and extraordinary. Perhaps the gentle image of a cat evokes a contrast with the soldier. Yet again, both objects are symbols of tradition, providing comfort in our unpredictable world. Jeff Dell’s target board may also make us think of a play on words, and therefore satirical, as the  letters “NO” can be transformed into “ON.”

There are other works in the show that are more literal with no hidden meanings, including Abby Abrams’ animals made from flexible wire and mostly mounted on the wall. They are full of life  and energy, just as are Gabriele Raacke’s drawings on glass. While these figures tell a story, we must admit they are as playful as Abrams’ work and even a bit surreal. Geometric shapes are also literal in works by James Kennedy and Patricia Feiwel as are Bob Skinner’s flat driftwood pieces with antique tools (like a pitchfork). We would label them both functional and art.

“Material Matters II” will be on view at the Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton until Nov.19, 2013. Call 631-287-4377, southamptonculturalcenter.org.

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