SILVERMINE STEPS TOWARDS AN EXCITING, UNCERTAIN FUTURE

By L.P. Streitfeld

(excerpt)

The second prize in sculpture went to Garnett for his granite “Fingerprint Portrait of David Bowie”.  Whentold that the sculpture actually originated from Bowie’s fingerprint, the juror smiled and said, “I like it even more now.”

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Thomas and Alexander Garnett – for the winning circle of the exhibition, which continues through June 15 at the galleries of Silvermine Guild Arts Center.
   Out of 1,400 entries from New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvaniea, Arning selected 142 works for the exhibition and designated 24 awards.  Winners received their cash prizes at a public reception/awards ceremony Friday.
   “Today the trend is all over the place,” explains Arning.  “I look for cutting-edge work – something that doesn’t look overly familiar.  There’s no common thread to my selections – that’s the joy of it.”
   Costanzo, a graduate of Rippowam High School, received the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Best in Show for her startling painting, “Cindy”, of her sister posed as a vampire from a series of family portraits entitled “Blood, Precious Blood.”
   “It has come full circle,” says Costanzo, who took her first figure drawing class at Silvermine and is a recent recipient of a Traveling Scholarship from the Boston Museum of Fine Art.  “I entered the show for two reasons; it was Silvermine combined with the fact that Bill Arning was curating the show.”
   Like the best of daring art, Costanzo’s painting embraces opposites, both in content and style.  “That is truly a bizarre painting.  And it’s shocking,” says Arning about the winner.  “It won first prize because it is incredibly well painted, but it is right on the good taste/bad taste borderline.  It is not a quick digestion.  You have to really think about this.  Who is this person?”  In fact, the artist says she intended her series to straddle the edge with beautiful/ugly portraits united with blood imagery revealing the personal through archetypal figures of horror.
   Fucigna won the second highest prize, the Silvermine Board of Trustees Award, for his mixed-media work, “Untitled Green & Orange.”
   Thomas, a former LAA president, won first prize in sculpture for his primitive yet futuristic form, “Four-Legged Mountain” of ceramic, glaze and platinum.  The second prize in sculpture went to Garnett for his granite “Fingerprint Portrait of David Bowie”.  Arning viewed the work as a welcome addition to Bowie inspired art.  When told that the sculpture actually originated from Bowie’s fingerprint, the juror smiled and said, “I like it even more now.”
   Guild member Eve Stockton of Weston won the highest prize in drawing for her unique paint and charcoal on paper, “Immaculate Conception,” recently exhibited at Silvermine.  Another Weston artist and guild member, Roger Mudre, won the top prize in painting for his acrylic and photo transfer, “An Early Front.”  Alex McFarlane of Pound Ridge, N.Y., who won the Silvermine Artist Guild award for his sculpture, “Industrial Composition,” is installing the exhibition.
   In this wide-open field was just about anything that can be considered art these days.  Arning seems to relish his role as interpreter for the collective conscience while pursuing his dream of working with artists of his generation.  Having weathered the cultural wars of White Columns, Arning left the position in 1995 for a post in Berlin that never materialized.  Instead, he turned to teaching and writing criticism for five years in New York.
   Arning’s current job as curator of the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Mass., where he is showcasing artists from abroad, has propelled him simultaneously into New England and the international field.
   “If you want someone who is going to pick a lot  of landscape, you don’t pick me,” says Arning.  “When picking work on this scale, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes.  I made spontaneous responses.   Jurying a show is like going to a garage sale – you go through all this stuff and suddenly you find something.”
   As he surveys the entries for “Art of the Northeast USA” Arning moves through the galleries like a shark, following well-honed instincts to whatever piques his interest.  With 20 years experience as an exhibition judge, he manages to pour through 1,000 pieces of art in just three hours.
   He claims to have developed the speed of assessment as a critic for “Time Out New York”, which demanded a 24 hour turnaround between initial viewing and a concise, well-developed assessment of art on paper.
   In the virtual warehouse of art that Silvermine has become for his brief visit, Arning uncovers such unfamiliar treasures as Annie Asenbrook’s award-winning “Bur Coat”, a multilayered work that satirizes the current trend of merging art and fashion by means of an unwearable piece of wearable art.
   The blurring of boundaries is a common thread through many selections.  Silvermine gallery manager Tasha Hutchinson, a recent graduate of Yale School of Art, receives an honor for “Reading”, a sculpture that synthesizes visual art and text in a manner that deconstructs the language of postmodern deconstruction.  Aki Kumond of Brooklyn, N.Y. receives the Mary Vann Hughes Award for his visual book, “Language”.  Nash Hyon’s “Darker than Blue” merges a child’s scrawl with images.  Kimberly Stone’s “Patterns” combines order and chaos through the random placement of words at the bottom of test tudbes arranged into a circle.
   “It’s subjective”, says Cynthia Claire, executive director of the Silvermine Guild Arts Center, of the selection process.  Arning joins major art world figures – including Thomas B. Hess, Henry Geldzahler, Hilton Kramer, Larry Rivers, Will Barnet, Clement Greenberg and Reuben Nakian who have been jurors of the contest since it began in 1949 as the New England Exhibition.
   Fucigna suspected he was blurring the lines between painting and sculpture with “Untitled Green & Orange” when he had trouble coming up with a category for the submission.  “The paint was still wet on the piece,” says the artist.  “Sometimes you make a piece and you don’t have time to think about it.  You just throw it on the wall.  I had no idea what the piece was going to be about.”
   Fucigna, currently chairman of the art department at Norwalk Community College, knew of Arning’s reputation when he submitted his winning entry to the exhibition, and had, in fact, traveled to White Columns to show his work to the curator.  “This is a return back to the very formal issues; line, color, shape, layering and effects,” says the artist.  While the his formalist sculpture won him an Art of the Northeast USA award 12 years ago, the new twist – the result of playing with unpainted industrial material – granted the sculptor a nod from Arning, who said about the piece, “It is a real painterly accumulation of stuff with a real painterly sense to it.  These are all lessons we have learned… to look at found materials and see formal qualities.”
   Which just goes to show how much chance plays a part into the selection process.
   In fact, on her very first day as new director, Helen Klisser During witnessed George King, the juror for last year’s exhibition, grant best in the show to a landscape painting.  Her nomination of Arning to juror for this year’s show represents a new direction.
     “The art I have seen in Alternative Space in New York is a lot more edgy than what I have seen in Connecticut,” she says.  “We need to exhibit some original and creative work here, not just landscapes, although they also have their place.”
   At this convergence between Silvermine tradition and an exciting, uncertain future lies the Bill Arning self-portrait, which opens its dialogue to the public through June 15.

“Art of the Northeast USA” is on exhibit at the Silvermine Guild Galleries, at 1037 Silvermine Road in New Canaan, through June 15.  Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 11 am – 5pm, and Sunday, 1-5pm.  Call 966-9700.


 
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