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By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
2011 has been an extremely important year for Artlink, Fort Wayne's "little engine that could" non-profit gallery which has been exhibiting local art for over 30 years. As part of the new Auer Center for the Arts, Artlink opened a gorgeous new space on the first floor in what used to be a stark room full of cubicles. Now, wall after wall of art hangs above a polished cement floor, with a much larger showcase for jewelry and small art works, as well as class rooms and expanded storage. This new Artlink will provide a stronger space for exhibiting Fort Wayne's emerging contemporary artists and innovative exhibitions.
Artlink's "100 Years of Connectivity: George Kessler Park and Boulevard System" is an exhibition currently paying tribute to the beauty of Kessler's legacy. Fort Wayne's parks system, river greenway, and more recent trails system have been one of the key factors in the City's ability to attract and retain citizens. The exhibition includes approximately 44 artists, and over 66 pieces of art. More than anything, "100 Years of Connectivity" is meant to bring awareness to this incredibly important and often overlooked asset within Fort Wayne.
Roughly one hundred years ago, the City of Fort Wayne, through the effort of some of our more wise city fathers like Adolph Jaenicke, Fred Shoaff, and Robert Hanna, contracted George Kessler to design the Fort Wayne Park and Boulevard System. The Kessler Plan, as it is now known, included many of todays most popular parks. To be precise, the Historic District which protects to the Kessler Plan includes 11 parks, four parkways with 10 associated park-like areas, and 10 boulevards — 1,883 acres in all.
George Kessler was a prominent name in the American arts and culture world, being one of the founding members of American Institute of Planners, and one of the original United States Commissioners of Fine Arts. Kessler was also a prolific designer, completing plans for 26 communities, 26 park and boulevard systems, 49 parks, 46 estates and residents, and 26 schools over his 40-year career. With his work being a part of only 100 cities around the globe, Fort Wayne can claim a piece of this rich cultural heritage.
Because of this exhibition's universality, and it being an open call, "100 Years of Connectivity" explores the entirety of the Kessler Plan's heritage through painting, sculpture, photography, and a variety of other media. Some highlights of this exhibition includes the works of Karen Moriarty, Don Osos, Art Cislo, Peter Lupkin, and Jay Bastian. Two artists, Audrey Riley and Hannah Burnworth, presented especially notable work. Riley, an art world regular, presented "Linked" and "Untitled," small abstract encaustic works on panel, while Burnworth, a newcomer to Artlink, presented Terry Winters-like organic abstractions entitled "Forward and Backward: A representation of Connectivity", and Former Wells Street Bridge over Spy Run Creek".
Audrey Riley is best known for her highly composed, designer pieces involving yard sticks, tops, and rejected paint sample page monotypes. Ever-changing, Riley's work has recently taken a turn to the world of painterly encaustic (wax) pieces in both two and three dimensions. "Linked" and "Untitled" are beautiful examples of the control that Riley gains over any media at her hand, with incredibly fine details and high craftsmanship involved with a media known for its expressive and barely controlled quality. The images themselves seem to be somewhere between Brice Marden and Chris Wool, merging maximal and minimal into the same space, creating a zen balance between the two. Each panel in "Link" includes multiple fragment shapes which vaguely connect one disparate picture plane to the other. In both "Linked" and "Untitled", Riley hovers vibrant colors under opaque neutrals, and both of these on top of hazy warm backgrounds creating an artificial sense of depth which nearly pulsates as the eye is pushed and pulled due to cool tones overlapping warm. Riley's mastery of media and design is even more apparent in these pieces than her past work.
Hannah Burnworth's images, though less tightly composed, are nonetheless as engaging as Riley's tight abstractions. Burnworth exudes the neo-expressionists of the late 70's and early 80's with both of these pieces, "Former Wells Street Bridge" being painted directly onto a quilt or textile, and "Forward and Backward" being built up and carved back out onto a panel. In both images, cell-like structures navigate muddied, neutral, complicated organic environments. In "Former Wells Street Bridge", Burnworth adds some architectural elements, but then partially covers them with more organic structures. "Forward and Backward", the strongest of the two pieces, is reminiscent of Terry Winters' pieces like "Double Gravity" (1984), but with an even rougher application, and with a much more intense palette. In this way, Burnworth's image is like a snapshot, seen through a microscope, of some aggressive life form, dyed an earthy red for easy detection, as it travels through the bloodstream or some other biological environment. Although both of these artists strayed from the thematic core of the exhibition, they provided the most engaging, entertaining, and aesthetically pleasing pieces.
Artlink's new space was well represented with "100 Years of Connectivity," as it was the perfect way to invite many of the long-standing artists who have supported Artlink along the way to include a piece. However, the theme of the Kessler System was not presented in the conceptual context which it was originally derived through much of the art in the exhibition; instead it is represented mostly in glorification of the nature scenes which are the byproduct of the Kessler System's discrete pieces.
To learn more about the Kessler System, and Fort Wayne's public art dialogue, please consider attending "Friends Lecture Series" Landscape as Art, a Panel Discussion" present by the Friend of the Parks of Allen County, Inc, at Artlink on November 28, from 5:30-7:30pm. If interested, RSVP by Friday November 25 to Robin Holley firstname.lastname@example.org
"100 Years of Connectivity: George Kessler Park and Boulevard System"
On view through November 30th