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Worth the Wait

Fort Wayne Museum of Art Biennial

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


The Biennial exhibition is a gauge of an institution's importance and its city's ability to attract artistic talent. While the international biennales garner the majority of the attention, there are a number of significant smaller biennial exhibitions throughout America which achieve notoriety among their niche audiences within the art world.

The Fort Wayne Museum of Art's "2012 Contemporary Realism Biennial" is an example of an exhibition which has steadily gained both an audience and an importance with American artists working within such a broad category. Hosting artists from through our region, FWMoA is creating a stronger identity for our arts community. By hosting artists nationally, it has created a reason for former Fort Wayne residents to interact with their city again, through their work, as well as bringing in a cross section of the dialogues going on within the contemporary American art world.

As with any exhibition, there are high and low points, as well as a great number of "connective tissue" pieces which take the viewer through variations of the central theme. There were many artists, like New Jersey based Elaine Kurie and her piece "Center Stage", which used traditional still life and landscape formats, eliciting superb formal responses, but lacking the stronger conceptual purpose so prevalent within contemporary art. Bruce McComb of Holland Michigan, and his piece "Blue Chrysler", an amazing watercolor in its own right, is another rich example of a truly beautiful image, which becomes breathtaking once you realize the media used to produce it, lacks the depth of character to sustain itself at the top of the viewers mind.

Tamara Peterson of Hilliard Ohio, whose pieces "Fuel" and "Sin", both acrylic on panel, was another example of what would at first be considered a standard still life. However, once the viewer begins to exposit the image, they find a number of what must be references to both pop cultural references and personal observations about the contemporary world. This deeper conceptual current inherent to Peterson's practice is exciting. A number of artists in "2012 Contemporary Realism Biennial" use this practice of tightly composed images transferring some sort of metaphorical and symbolic knowledge. Peterson describes this best by explaining that she uses common objects selected for their symbolic potential.

As always, there were a few extremely exciting pieces of artwork and artists represented in this year's exhibition which deserve a special note. At the top of this list, Curtis Cascagnette, of Perrysburg Ohio (outside Toledo), offers "Zero," a graphite on paper image of a mirror against wall, and "View," an oil on canvas of a partial self-portrait seen through a view of a mirror placed in a room. Cascagnette's images are process based self-reflective musings of what it means to make an image from within the studio. This stress on the space in which creation happens peels back the secret and sacred aspects of the artist's studio and highlights it psychological sources and meanings. "I am interested in depicting this situation and illusory place from which our subconscious produces a concrete identity in an ambitious spiritual experience." Cascagnette's work takes on a number of descriptions through this practice, being intensely minimal, realistic, conceptual, as well as slightly political.

Sharon Moody, from McLean VA, on the other hand, offers "Action and Adventure," a pair of immaculate tromp l'oeil paintings of comic books which are such pure eye candy, they transcend the realm of realism and become oddities. Moody's use of tromp l'oeil, the centuries-old style of painting images which, at first, appear to be three dimensional objects, using perspectival illusions to expand beyond the picture place of the canvas, teases the viewer and, to crib the tenants of epic theatre, makes the viewer incredibly aware that they are looking at a painting. This respect gained for Moody's work also has the backhanded effect on all of the works around her, which struggled to convince the viewer of some mimetic achievement. Through a complicated existential communication with the viewer through her work, Moody finds an exciting way to exhibit purely formal images which are anything but.

To round out the most impressive artists represented, Christopher Ganz, a Fort Wayne based artist and IPFW educator, offers his piece, "The Initiation", created in charcoal on rives BFK paper, stretched over canvas. Ganz's work depicts multiple self portraits vaguely interacting with each other while occupying the same space, seemingly set in a high rise perch, overlooking a great city. Meant to be exceedingly dramatic, Ganz attempts to question greater power structures through the use of the artist, depicted in a peculiar, modernist literary light, being at odds with the world around him. However, Ganz is adamant that the artist is not meant to be read as self-portraiture, but as a construct acting within his work. Ganz states, "I see my person as a plastic vehicle whose rigorous portrayal allows for unrestrained expression." This transference of body and identity in Ganz's work somewhat mirrors Cascagnette's process of exposing the psychological processes behind the art itself, but in a much darker way. Ganz's images seemingly attempt (and succeed) in stripping the viewers only identity down, making them realize component pieces of their psyched, some of which may not be so readily available. The psychological nature of Ganz's work is both superb and disturbing.

All in all, the Museum's "2012 Contemporary Realism Biennial" is another excellent exhibition in what will likely be a long series of anticipated expositions of how artists are finding new spaces within the world of realism, and new ways of seeing ourselves through this pursuit.

For more information:
"2012 Contemporary Realism Biennial"
Fort Wayne Museum of Art

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