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On "the scene"

Two shows at Artlink and SOMA

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-03-10


When looking at any urban community, you can usually break it down into a number of related cultural groups which, for lack of a better term, is usually called a “scene.” Scenes have been the economic and social origins for a lot of the cultural success stories of the 20th and 21st centuries. Fort Wayne’s current cultural scene has been growing, and is starting to see a few nice developments. In terms of the visual arts, the city has a disproportionate amount of artists, all looking for a place to show work; the beginnings of alternative spaces being used like Soma gallery and the Phantasmagoria show, and established galleries like Artlink has grown to the point where shows like “Poppin’ Pills” can branch out and attract artists from around the country.

Artlink, Fort Wayne’s go-to art space for the last 30 years, has consistently exhibited quality art from the area and the nation. Through wide community support, Artlink has been able to offer 8 yearly exhibits in its main gallery and 8 subsequent exhibitions of member work in its hallway gallery. The last exhibit “Poppin’ Pills” was a big surprise for me though. Honestly, when I heard about the show, I wasn’t very excited by the concept and thought I was just going to see a lot of clichéd two-dimensional (both physically and conceptually) pieces that explored the pain or numbness of living in America these days.

Almost immediately upon entering the show, I was excited by the wide variety of works and the playful ways in which the artists where creating them. There were paintings, photographs, readymades, collages, and installations. I was also very surprised to see so many non-local artists being represented. Bringing outside art in is an integral part of a healthy art scene, because it promotes new ideas, eliminates stagnation, and stimulates competition. Think about it as though artists are these creatures living in an ecological niche. Every once in a while, you need to switch things up to make sure the artists are strong enough to go this way or that with their ideas, because no one wants a sheltered artists just reproducing the same thing over and over.

Another phenomenon I noticed at Artlink, but more so at the two other recent shows, was the addition of new local names to the art scene. At Artlink, William Baulkley’s gorgeous photography was a high light, especially “Something in the Valley of the Dolls.” His merging of fashion and fine art photography is refreshing.

At Soma Gallery’s “Alphabet Show,” I was amazed by all of the new names, and high quality art that they brought with them. This line up included Katie Deitle, John Myers, and Suzanne Kopson. John Myers’ painting, “Letter B” was very attractive in its rich use of color and playful abstract forms. His painting style is something like Roberto Matta, but with more solid and slightly less depressed characters interacting in a highly abstracted space.

Other notable artists in this show were Nate Utesch and Max Meyers and Cara Wade. Wade’s “I for Iconoclasm” was a wonderful digital collage also using the technique of mordancage, for which Wade is known for. Although the Alphabet show was a bit lax (not every letter was represented), the quality of many of the works really made this show shine.

“The Alphabet Show” also contained a performance of local poets, which was a great addition to the art being shown, and a sign that Fort Wayne’s toddler art scene is moving in the right direction, incorporating diverse interdisciplinary events. The poets included Mandy Korchyk, David Kopson, and Darin Leinbach. Leinbach’s performance of spoken word included at one point a Jimbay drum, and had an emphatic cadence somewhere between a Baptist sermon and psychotic language. Korchyk and Kopson’s poetry was more stylized and both had just enough ambiguity to get the job done and keep the audience interested.

Soma Gallery, although having quite a short run (The Alphabet Show is probably their last) fulfilled a meaningful role in the art scene, as being a space of complete freedom for the artist and audience. As much as Artlink and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art are important for the development of an arts culture in our area, with their more concrete missions and parameters, there is just as much of a need for the radical, fluid, and grittier art spaces like Soma, or Avant-Garde, which was a very important young gallery. And like Avant-Garde’s short lifespan (later becoming the more stationary Kachmann Gallery), Soma will be remembered for it’s three shows which brought in new audiences and gave people a little taste of the kind of work being done by Fort Wayne’s younger artists.

Which brings me to the last of three shows, which have made me optimistic about Fort Wayne’s art scene. “Phantasmagoria”, Beckie Stockert’s brainchild was a one night carnival-esque show, which took place on March 1st. One of the largest shows in Fort Wayne’s history, “Phantasmagoria” included over 40 artists, with a whole spectrum of media and styles. This show included David Birkey and Marie Gardeski, whose collaborative works literally blew me away, and Flash One, one of Fort Wayne’s best photographic talents. Some other very notable artists were MSG, whose naïve watercolor was reminiscent of Marlene Dumas or Andre’ Butzer, Tim Baron with his immaculate pen and ink drawing, Daniel Dienelt, Sommer Starks, Stephanie Fenstermaker, Joel Faurote, John Myers, Mandy Korchyk-the list literally goes on and on. Besides the art, the thing that made this event important was the incredible turnout. Nearly 400 people came out, from very diverse backgrounds and from all around Fort Wayne, to view and enjoy art.

It is not the amount of money circulating, or the number of artists per block, or even the number of shows per year that make a viable and productive art scene, it is the relationships between the artists and the public, the artists with other artists, and the desire for freedom and creativity. Upon experience these three shows, “Phantasmagoria”, “Poppin’ Pills”, and “The Alphabet Show”, I have a renewed optimism for what can happen in the future as Fort Wayne’s artists, art venues, and art audience all grow together, forming what could be quite the formidable scene.

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