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Contemporary conundrums

Artlink's Regional Biennial

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


As far as the art world goes, juried exhibitions can be challenging, depending on the "point" of them — their relative importance and the potential benefit which an artist may gain from entering them. The quality of the artists entering and ultimately the art work displayed depends on the degree of success the juried exhibition holds. Artlink once again takes on the task and burden of their Regional Biennial exhibition this year, the results of which are telling of our arts scene, and also somewhat interesting. Being a part of this exhibition is one of Artlink's highest distinctions, as it not only presumably represents the top talent of our region, but also contains three awards which result in both cash prizes, and a three person exhibition in the following year.

While the exhibition as a whole included great work this year, it did seem to lack some of the talent that has been present is past exhibitions, most notably the 2010 Regional Biennial, the last in Artlink's former space on Berry Street, which was literally a wall-to-wall delight, full of extravagant examples of all media by both well known and relatively unknown names.

This year's exhibition does include highlights. Heather Miller’s dark, brooding constructions — almost Anselm Kiefer-esque — question the processes of painting and are interesting. "Exposed," an assemblage of spun wool, barbed wire, stones, and a guard becomes a somewhat alien vessel with both Freudian undertones as well as what feels like a weighted mind, heavy with experiences. "Crave," Miller's second piece in the exhibition, made of plaster, barbed wire, and epoxy resin is an incredibly intriguing direction for her work, and something well worth more exploration. Her transition between two and three-dimensional visual vocabularies is worth note.

Cara Lee Wade, as always, presents impeccable, emotional, documentary photographs with her "Georgia Portraits," which created an emotional vignette as the artist takes the viewer on a quick, three part tour through what could be her day or month. There is a unique quality to Wade's photography which makes the viewer quickly join in with the experiences almost claim them.

Also stunning, and ultimately, the most rewarding work represented in this year's biennial exhibition is presented by Marie Gardeski. Always a favorite due to the intimacy of her line work and tender surrealism, Gardeski's drawings, "Feed," "Brainburst," and "Tempt," — made of graphite, colored pencil, and watercolor — are truly stunning. "Brainburst" is probably the strongest example of the effect that Gardeski creates using relatively simple line work and a limited palette. The awkwardness of her drawn characters, coupled with the accuracy with which she applied each line, makes Gardeski's work breathtaking. Although there are certain visual references to artists like Marcel Dzama and others, Gardeski pushes through these potential comparisons and creates something truly unique.

And here in lies the problem with juried exhibition's of this type. While all three of these artists are deserving, they were not part of the triumvirate which were awarded a group exhibition next Fall. That distinction fell to Steven Anselm, Arthur Cislo, and Kimberly Rorick. While Anselm's large photography and Cislo's ever gorgeous works on paper are instantly recognizable as valuable works which carry meaning and speak within the Contemporary dialogue, Rorick's teapots that look like cats — although incredibly well built, and certainly deserving of praise — do not.

It is not to say that this is "unfair" or "wrong," because the rules were laid out, and everyone knows ahead of time that they must follow whatever is decided by the Juror. However, this also means that the juror must be well-thought, and versed in contemporary art. The 2012 Regional Biennial was juried first by Artlink's artist panel, and then the winners were chosen by Mark Ruschman, the chief curator of fine arts at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis. This is where this writer becomes somewhat confused, because as Ruschman states in the press release for his stepping into this role earlier this year, this appointment "brings me in to play to my strengths — contemporary art." And this writer knows that Ruschman is a defender of value of this Contemporary dialogue through his long celebrated Ruschman Gallery, which practically created the Indianapolis contemporary art world. All of this makes his choice all the more vexing.

A year from now, we will be presented with an exhibition of beautiful woodblock and monotype works on paper crafted out of a lifetime of disciplined figurative exploration, depicting concepts which are biblical in content and in their symbolic magnitude from Arthur Cislo. We will be greeting the desolate landscapes, rich in subtle detail and color by Steven Anselm, a relatively new name with awesome potential. And a lot of teapots made to look like cats.

This writer hopes that these three artists take the five hundred dollars they won, invest a portion of it into a heartfelt exploration of what it is they which to express to our community, and produce a message of indelible meaning. Perhaps Ruschman saw something that this viewer did not, and perhaps that something can be further defined and expressed over the next year. But this is the burden of an exhibition that defines itself as being a tastemaker to an arts community and the burden placed on the winners of the exhibition. This is an opportunity for these artists to more fully share their experiences through a unique expression. This writer cannot wait to see what they deliver.

9th Regional Biennial Exhibit
December 7-January 16, 2013

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