BRILLIANT: ‘Ballerina’ is by Shelly Feinerman. (Artwork by Shelly Feinerman)
The Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in Loveladies presents the 23rd annual National Juried Competition and Exhibition: Works on Paper, featuring 70 artworks created by artists working in all 50 states. The variety of mediums includes drawing, painting on paper, printmaking, photography, digital prints, mixed media and paper constructions in the wide-ranging exhibition of artwork created in the past two years and curated by Lanka Tattersall, curator of drawings and prints at the Museum of Modern Art.
Tattersall selected 70 works from more than a thousand entries and will award three cash prizes and several honorable mentions.
Many of the works are more than reasonably priced and may offer an art collector a special opportunity to acquire unique contemporary artwork.
Because Tattersall is the senior curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints at MoMA and, prior to 2019, was associate curator at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and has many degrees in modern and contemporary art, her expertise must be without question.
As a whole, the exhibit strikes the uninitiated as a rather depressing experience with only a few bright lights in a sea of badly framed, sometimes dirty presentations by some artists who seem unable to rise to the occasion of an exhibit of this magnitude. But then the artworks were to be completed during the past two years, which included unprecedented events on the national and world scene. If contemporary art is by nature a response to the times, a crushing pandemic, shutdown of cultural institutions, shuttering of cities, a reckoning of racial intolerance, a contentious election and the assault on the nation’s Capitol and democracy were certainly enough to sicken the sensitive “canaries in the coal mine” that artists often represent.
LOVE LINES: ‘Two Figures’ by Heather Brown. (Artwork by Heather Brown)
The bright lights that shine in the sea of ennui and despair include Shelly Feinerman’s portrait “Ballerina,” a joyous celebration of color in pastel, acrylic and charcoal. Also, Heather Brown’s three ink drawings, “Chorus,” “Two Figures” and “Untitled” are magnificent expressions of continuous line.
Two pastel paintings by Beth Peck, “Laundry, NYC” and “Benny in Process,” are symphonies in earth tones that represent the crushing boredom and discomfort of physical labor. So realistic, they are documentaries in themselves. Peck has mastered pastel painting.
It should be obvious that this writer gravitates toward representational art more than abstract or post-post-modern, and I will attend the closing reception when that date is announced to be educated further on the contemporary scene.
GERMS: ‘Virus Alphabet 5 Antibody’ by Dana Chodzko. (Artwork by Dana Chodzko)
So let’s turn attention to the abstract. Artist Stacy Lawrence’s cardboard construction epitomizes the ennui of these offerings. The slap-dash of sticking cardboard pieces on paper resurrects that old saw “But is it art?” Well, yes it is – again, consider the times. “Man Listening to the Wind” by Curt Lemieux and his other piece, “Two Meatpacking Workers Take a Much Needed Cigarette Break,” might be considered “outsider” art except he can put a sentence together. These are exhibited next to Jerry Archuleta’s two “Grape Still Life” works, which might be paper placemats from a wine bar. These are ripped in places as if the artist was anxiously mutilating them.
Artist Dana Chodzko has titled her lovely, repetitious color blobs “Virus Alphabet 3 Infection” and “Virus Alphabet 5 Antibody,” tying them at once to the pandemic, as does Kelly Pontoni’s “COVID vs. AIDS,” a dark blotch print.
There is also a figurative piece by Mars Clawson titled “Cleaning Ears,” where Q-tips are prominent, which speaks to the self-absorbed isolation the pandemic caused.
A second trip around the Blai Gallery revealed more nuances in works that were at first quickly passed by: Erin Wohletz’s piece (which was not yet titled by staff) of child’s toys, game pieces and a child’s drawing also reminds us of the year of closeted activities. Big abstracts by Edward Mills, “Death of a Pig” and “Uprising,” may have something to do with racial unrest – again, we would need instruction beyond the titles.
Suzy Kupf’s triptych of the same suburban landscape in watercolor is pleasing and may have been painted while in lock-down.
On leaving the gallery, with reflective thoughts on the two years past, I decided I could give myself a gift by walking the breakwater at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. Here were smiling fishermen, families enjoying an outing, lovers walking hand in hand and boaters breezing through the inlet. There was a refreshing exuberance, a return to life before pandemic – the 15 months of pain seemed to be far in the past.