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Collaboration between Wunderkammer and Jennifer Ford Art yields a unique show
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
The Fort Wayne arts scene has, over the years, gone through a number of bubbles and bursts when it comes to the lifeblood of any creative economy- Talent. The micro and macro cycles of developing talent within a city or tight geographic area follow trends outside of a city’s control like national economics and political climates, as well as controllable trends, based off of the quality of life, openness, and investments in the arts within an area. Due to our city’s relative lack of investment, especially prior to the last few years, we have struggled to compound our arts scene due to overlapping generational retention of artists, those who appreciate the arts, and those who fund it.
One notable exception to this rule within the past few years is Jennifer Ford and her eponymous gallery Jennifer Ford Art, in partnership with Choice Designs Inc, one of Ford’s other companies that supports creatives in its own ways. Through Jennifer Ford Art (JFA) and her own personal advocacy, Ford has embarked on a path to collaborate with our current arts institutions and staple artists while also finding young and emerging talent to foster both locally and nationally. Through these investments made by JFA, our community has a chance to establish momentum within the national arts dialogue which is necessary in the attraction and retention of local talent.
Even more exciting, JFA is making these investments strategically through programmatic choices as well as the more traditional forms of cultural patronage. This is an important distinction because within the art world, cultural capital is many times more important, and more difficult to develop in short periods of time within a very concerted effort. JFA’s programming includes supporting artists throughout the entire spectrum of development, giving younger artists a platform to explore their talents and gain a unique voice, while also strengthening more established artists through the “business side” attributes which have been hard to come by locally, such as access to licensing, corporate collections, and more recently, access to the global art world through the inclusion of high end art fairs like Market Art+Design Hamptons in the summer of 2016.
Most recently, JFA’s mission and investment strategy have culminated in “Import/Export,” a unique exhibition held in conjunction with Wunderkammer Company. This exhibition highlights the work of artists described as “Imports”, having moved to the Fort Wayne region recently and being non-native, as well as “Exports” being artists who are native to Fort Wayne who have since moved to larger markets to pursue their talents and who have had success, but are still interested in developing their hometown. “Import/Export” artists include Austin White, Htoo Doh, Ethan Ross, Stephanie Carpenter, Sarah Nordling, Gregg Coffey, Jake Saunders, Tim Parsley, Nick Ferran, Aleks Shcherbakov, Katherine Rohrbacher, Rosie Lee, Madeline Wilson, and Chandler Sowden. Interestingly, Rohrbacher and Coffey are both “Import” and “Export” as they both have lived for extended periods outside of Fort Wayne and have moved back recently, though are originally from the area. By highlighting not only the work, but the developmental stories of these artists, “Import/Export” finds ways to extend beyond the art world and interact with the story of our city itself and its own challenges and successes to woo its citizens.
While all of the invited artists’ work is impressive and capable of enticing the viewer, there are a few particular “stand out” artists and stories that were particularly impressive to this viewer. Htoo Doh, an export native of Burma, who lived in Thailand prior to moving to the United States, includes photorealistic portraits of American political icons such as Martin Luther King Jr, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. The political nature of Doh’s art references the nationalistic leanings of the aesthetic native to Burma and the dictatorial regime which has controlled it since the 1962 coup d’etat. In seeing America’s political climate through this perspective, Doh’s work unconsciously critiques our dependance and faith in these characters which can be perceived as substantial or fabricated.
Katherine Rohrbacher’s work, like “Arcadia” and “Around Midnight” are an interesting departure from the work she was known for making prior to her “exiting” Fort Wayne to gain her MFA in Baltimore and subsequently then relocating to Los Angeles where she has lived and worked for the past few years. Where Rohrbacher’s work was tied intricately to her own image, in sometimes heart-wrenching and incredibly intimate self portraits which dealt with her coming to terms with her adoption, as well as the more universal struggles we go through, her new work is exploring more formal issues, and takes on a decidedly more pop, but still introspective and inquisitive.
Other artists like Jake Saunders, who was last seen in Fort Wayne in his multi-person regional biennial winner exhibition a few years ago, include beautiful large scale works with a sophistication we did not see before. In “A Danse Macabre,” Saunders depicts a figure writhing across the picture plane in distinct moments, all intersecting, almost like turn of the century photographic studies of figures in motion. The fact that this large scale image is produced as a mixed media work on paper with graphite and watercolor is even more stunning. To examine the growth of these artists is as interesting as the explorations of their works. “Import/Export” gives the viewer multiple lenses to discuss the work and its relationship to the other pieces in the exhibition and the world around them. More importantly, it is a very unique aspect to experience in the art world.
Through multi-faceted investments in individual artists and the Fort Wayne arts community in general, Jennifer Ford Art is finding new ways to represent works and bridge audiences to produce a more comprehensive business case for our city to make its own investments into our creative economy, which is ultimately what will be needed to truly move the needle on so many of the efforts currently underway in our community.
For More Information:
Jennifer Ford Art