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Realness Examined

FWMoA Contemporary Realism Biennial

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Six years ago the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's Regional Biennial was an exhibition dedicated to showing the best that our region offered, be it abstract or realism, painting, drawing or sculpture. While these exhibitions were certainly needed at the time, and rather exciting, it was clear they were never going to be a true showcase, or gain the respect of outside art world. After this, under the command of a new director, the FWMoA Biennial was rebranded as a National Realism Biennial. This newly focused entity, which debuted four years ago to both excitement and criticism.

The "Contemporary Realism Biennial 2010" proves itself as being a force to be reckoned with, as it proudly states that realism is not to be dusted off once every two years, but rather, that it is being celebrated nationally by many large names within the art world. The show includes 113 artists from 26 states, selected by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's curatorial staff to represent the national state of Contemporary Realism. This curatorial team, including Sarah Aubrey, Jessie Bower, Mary Hoogenboom, and Michelle Cano obviously had a passion for the nature of this show, and the work accentuates their curatorial choices. "Far from being an exhibit filled with homogeneous works, the "Contemporary Realism Biennial 2010" offers a dizzying array of striking artworks...", Sarah Aubrey, Curator of American Art at FWMoA remarks in the exhibition's catalogue.

In addition to the FWMoA staff, two art historians, whose work revolves around the human image were chosen to flesh out the identity of the exhibition even further. Juror and Lecturer Dr. Theresa Leininger-Miller chose David Cunningham, Christopher Ganz, and Robert Schefman for awards. Dr. Elizabeth Kuebler-Wolf provided an eloquent essay for the exhibition, which is the best way to start off the viewing experience, as it preps you for the large variety of the exhibition and the gravity of the topic, "the real."

Kuebler-Wolf's essay, "'To Conger Glory by the Aid of the Pencil:' Realism's Undying Appeal," is a small treatise on the historical dichotomy in visual arts, which arises out of the differences between illusion and representation. Beginning with the Greeks through Zeuxis and Parrhasius, and ending with Amanda Joseph and Ben Madeska, Kuebler-Wolf's brilliant insights and examinations really set the tone for Contemporary Realism, by guiding the viewer into a slightly more heady, less retinal space. Kuebler-Wolf summarizes the greatness of realism in one sentence: " Realism offers a diverse array of visual, sensory, and philosophical pleasures, primarily among which is delight in the artist's skill at reproducing the visual world."

Two artists representing this inherent difference in the practice of realism are Luigi Benedicenti and Caleb O'Connor, two invited artists, who had work on loan from Bernaducci Meisel Gallery and Ann Nathan Gallery respectively. Benedicenti's pieces, "Sweet Reflection," and "Un Dolce Bacio," both incredibly detailed and rich oil on wood paintings of pastries expand the mind's boundaries on the topic of
representation, and what this means. The larger than life, and hyper-supple nature of these images makes them incredibly attractive and woefully artificial simultaneously. "Un Dolce Bacio," or "One Sweet Kiss," is a blown up pair of cream puffs, sitting side by side just a fraction of an inch from touching, looking delightfully fluffy, sweet, and delicious. Psychologically, Benedicenti grabs the viewer's minds with Pavlovian responses to baked goods, while letting them slam into the reality of the image, jolting them. Following this with the incredible detail and quality of his craft, Benedicenti creates a score to his works, beyond the composition of the picture plane.

Caleb O'Connor's pieces, including "Fleeting Moment" and "Focus," are more fanciful and almost allegorical, depicting stoic women floating effortlessly across bodies of water and cityscapes, all painting perfectly depicting vast and rippling reflections on water, and scaled cityscapes from one thousand feet in the air. O'Connor's work can be seen as a bridge between the realistic depictions of each piece of his image, and the loose definition of realism, which is embodied in the total images, which give a palpable sense of anticipation, thrill, and weightlessness do the mid air compositions.

Award winner's Robert Schefman and Christopher Ganz's works, while at first inspection seem quite different, both contain a deep mystery, and simultaneously blatantly describe the visual nature of each work. "God Making Birds" by Shefman is an enigmatic, noir image of a woman sitting conventionally at a kitchen table, surrounded by inanimate versions of crows, some with wings, some without; those without are accompanied by disembodied wings as well. Like some sort of depiction of a modern day Santeria creation myth, Schefman's image rationalizes an absurd act through realism. "Self Check Out II" by Ganz, is a large tableau vivant depicting the artist in a generic grocery store. Each character which the artist represents is different, from those which are being scanned as they pass over the grocery store conveyor belts, those scanning in their vests with key cards, those who represent shoppers, and still others which are products waiting to be wheeled out in their respective shopping carts. The unlying concepts of the piece involve the alienated modern identity, the value of the individual, and a very humorous twist on the portrait artist's self-portrait.

Because of the intense diversity in "Contemporary Realism Biennial 2010, it is best to take the time to simmer on each image, examining the whole exhibition, and going back through to solidify your relationship to each piece. This biennial collection of nationally acclaimed art is great addition to Fort Wayne's growing arts scene, and will no doubt ensure a strong culture of realism in our local visual arts. Be sure to visit the Fort Wayne Museum of Art soon to catch the end of this excellent exhibition.

Contemporary Realism Biennial 2010
Sponsored by: Lincoln Financial Foundation, Ian and Miriam Rolland Family Foundation
For more information: www.fwmoa.org

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