Jessica Renee Talley

Decidedly Different View of Art

By Eric Ernst

The greatest impact of "Abstraction," the current exhibit at East Hampton's Town Hall sponsored by the East Hampton Artists Alliance, comes in the form of a reminder that art in public spaces is a much needed acknowledgment by government of the importance of recognizing the role of art and creativity in a healthy society.

At the same time, it's important to acknowledge that logistical factors in spaces not meant for displaying artwork often seem to detract from the effectiveness of events such as these.

Essentially leaving aside the inevitable moronic rumblings from aesthetic reactionaries and conservative thought-police who are constantly attempting to monitor content to protect us from ourselves, the other problem with an exhibition such as this is actually much more closely related to context and the manner in which the works are presented.

In essence, while this is a wonderful and necessary gesture by the town and the Artists Alliance curators, it would be beneficial to rethink for future consideration how exhibitions are displayed in this particular space. The configuration of the space and current placement of the works in the town's combination court room and Town Board meeting room make it clear that the only people who can really ponder the paintings at length are the politicians and judges who work there (and who probably shouldn't be distracted from whatever it is they're supposed to be doing to begin with).

As for the rest of us, who realize that watching local government in action is about as intellectually stimulating as staring at a television test pattern (less, actually), it is difficult to be pleasantly distracted by the artwork since most of it is either behind the gallery or on the peripheries.

My suggestion for future exhibitions in this space would be to reconfigure the display of the artworks so that they are behind the dais, where the audience would be able to ponder them at their leisure. This would, in addition, fool the Town Board into thinking people actually paid attention to their proceedings while also giving DWI arrestees something interesting to meditate upon during their arraignment.

In its current configuration, however, since the best place for visitors to view the artwork is from the physical perspective of our elected representatives, I suggest going up to the dais and hanging out for a time in the seats normally reserved for the politicians and judges who work there (although you might want to do this when the Town Board is not meeting and court is not actually in session).

This has two distinct levels of appeal since from each seat one gets a different perspective on the exhibition, while also allowing a personal indulgence in megalomania as the visitor takes on the imaginary duties of a favorite representative.

Whether you want to re-zone Sag Harbor as a sheep farm or sentence to death that New Yorker who stole a parking space from you last summer, there is interesting artwork before you to offer intellectual stimulation as you pass your imaginary judgment.

For example, from the seats reserved for Pat Mansir and Brad Loewen, the work with the greatest impact is Susan Hersh's "Hail Chief" (oil on canvas). Although the work is unfortunately framed by two windows, its effective juxtaposition of rhythms and restrained coloration nevertheless offers an air of quiet meditation.

At the same time, while its use of geometric overlapping squares and muted type set in the center of the work creates an interesting collage environment, the overall pictorial framework develops as more of an abstract architectural concept than merely an exercise in non-objective meanderings.

By contrast, the wall most immediately within the view of Pete Hammerle and Debra Foster is a much more energetic, even frenetic, mix of works by various artists.

Most effective is Jessica Renee Helfand's "Underground" (oil on canvas), a powerful combination of a gently assertive structure reminiscent of an abstracted circuit board with an expressionistic application of color and light that seems to quiver with a kinetic inner intensity.

Also of note is Connie Fox's "Paragraph" (acrylic on canvas), which strikes a similar tone, although in her work she defines compositional structure less in the actual construction of physical territory than in the implied spaces created by her exuberant and passionately spirited use of brush strokes and vibrant coloration.

Town Justice Lisa Rana's perspective on the exhibition from the center of the dais is, although the most expansive, perhaps the least visually cohesive. While effectively balanced by the complementary coloration in Civ Cedering's "Cityscape" (acrylic on canvas) and Angela Flood's "Whispers," this point of view offers a distraction in the pop art piece in the center of the display that turned out to be an actual wall clock.

"Abstraction," featuring works by members of the East Hampton Artists Alliance, continues at Town Hall in East Hampton until a date to be determined, probably in April.

Issue Date: Southampton Press 2-2-06. Copyright, The Southampton

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