Open Call NNE (North Northeast)
An opening reception for Open Call: NNE (North-Northeast), free and open to all, is scheduled for Saturday, January 10 at 11 a.m. Please join us!
I approached curating the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center’s 2014 Open Call NNE (North Northeast) with an open mind and no expectations of assembling an exhibition based on any specific themes, other than one: quality. By quality I mean “the perfect combination of vision and means.” Vision is the act or power of imagination, and means is the ability to manifest this in a fully articulated manner.
Now, “quality” is an elusive concept, based as it is on subjective judgment and, in the case of a juried show, on the juror’s ability to determine relative worth of artworks from projected digital images. But after years of mentally comparing my accumulated knowledge of the physical world with images of objects, I can truthfully say I’ve become fairly adept at interpreting works of art in this manner. Usually I get it right; but sometimes I don’t. This dilemma argues for the need to actually go somewhere—such as this museum—to look at art. We can’t fully understand the world on a screen; we are still physical beings living in a physical world.
In my judgment, the thirty-eight artists in Open Call NNE all possess remarkable foresight and imagination, and all have fully used the tools and materials at their disposal to realize their visions. And, as diverse as the works in this exhibition are, certain threads connect many of them to each other as well as to the outside world.
Surprisingly, the works of twelve of the artists are rendered in black and white, or have the absence of color as subject matter. These works include Charlie Hunter’s haunting paintings of human-made objects in the landscape; Marjorie Forte’s sensitive embroidered grids on paper that reference the work of Agnes Martin; Anita Hunt’s prints that recall the fugitive images reflected on puddles; Simone Alter-Muri’s sculptures that organize barcodes and images of other more draconian forms of control in shelf-like units; Linda Bond’s chilling rendering in graphite and gunpowder of a Lockheed AC-130 Gunship alone in a troubled sky; Louise Laplante’s animated chalk drawing on collaged pages from a nineteenth-century illustrated book; James Buxton’s lyrical abstraction made of wooden chair parts; David Shapleigh’s biomorphic, site-specific wall drawings; and Toby Bartles’s fluid ballpoint pen drawings that coalesce line into form.
Perhaps Xiaowei Chen’s and Jing Jing Lin’s works push monochrome the furthest: Chen’s fantastically detailed forest scene includes a double rainbow ironically rendered in black and white, while Lin’s stark black and white photograph of an industrial facility has what we presume to be the artist, roses in hand, gazing down at a full-color, rainbow-like apparition appearing on the pavement below.
Why so much monochrome? Perhaps it’s a reflection of the seriousness of our times. Nothing makes it clearer than black and white.
One would expect an exhibition of work originating in a particular part of the country to reflect the cultural landscape of that region. The work of ten of the artists does indeed include references that can be considered “northeastern” in character.
These include Tami Zeman’s beautiful photos of Vermont done with an iPhone 5 (more black and white!); Eric Korenman’s photographs that juxtapose the excesses of contemporary culture with the reserved beauty of Shaker aesthetics; Sharon McCartney’s textile construction that includes indigenous natural elements such as feathers, twigs, and stones; Elizabeth Hill’s painting that poetically manifests the “music” of the northeastern forest; Jeff Stauder’s work on paper that provides an unusual view of a suspicious Pilgrim; Eliza Stamps’s sensitively drawn “paths” that trace the profiles of some of Vermont’s most notable mountains; Ahren Ahrenholz’s painted bronze sculptures that suggest agricultural artifacts whose purpose has been forgotten; James Allen’s trompe l’oeil rendering of a ship’s figurehead that recalls New England’s maritime past; Bonnie Sennott’s “sampler” that comments on the repetitive nature of its making; and John Anderson’s bow saw–like wood carving that reminds us of the hand labor required before power tools.
Short-form video makes an appearance in works by Adam Niklewicz and Ann Steuernagel. Niklewicz’s piece combines the creative use of an unwanted gift and a phone call from the artist’s mother into a humorous meditation on creativity; while Steuernagel’s Bird Talk loop takes snippets of birds from old nature films and choreographs them to the strange, rhythmic cadence of a human voice with a speech impediment.
My appreciation goes out to all of the 474 artists who submitted their work for potential inclusion in Open Call NNE. There were many worthy works that could not be included because of space considerations, and, as is the case with all large group exhibitions, hard choices had to be made among works whose character was similar.
I want to thank the talented staff of the museum, particularly chief curator Mara Williams, exhibitions manager Sam Kelley, and events coordinator Amanda Whiting, for their professional skills and their hospitality. I hope that you, the viewer, find, as I did, extraordinary experiences in the presence of the works brought together here in Brattleboro.
— Richard Klein, Juror
Exhibitions Director, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut
In addition to those mentioned above, the following artists are featured in Open Call NNE: Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Dana Filibert, Harriet G. Caldwell, Lori Glavin, Bart Gulley, Rachel Hammerman, Elizabeth Hatke, Kristina McComb, Robert Morgan, Andrew Mroczek & Juan Jose Barboza-Gubo, Cathy Osman, Christopher Sproat, Anna Thomford, and Darcy Tozier.