The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson



Newark USAOpen Doors, Part V: 570 Group Show

Newark USA

A fotojournal about LIVING in Newark USA, New Jersey's largest and most cultured city, by the author of the foto-essay website RESURGENCE CITY: Newark USA.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Open Doors, Part V: 570 Group Show

I have delayed putting up this discussion of my last experience of this year's Open Doors artsapalooza because it was too depressing. But I can't move on until I get it out of the way. I have some fotos of the outdoor arts festival from Newark artist Ing-On Vibulbhan Watts that I can add to a very few of my own from the closing moments of that event, which I mostly missed for having to go home to recharge my camera battery. But I did not myself really attend that event, so will merely show fotos with little commentary. (Now, won't that be refreshing?) And that should close out this blog's coverage of OD '11.

The first fotos today are of Kevin Blythe Sampson's area of the show, which I liked. So they should serve as positive counterweight to the negative things I discuss in the text.

There is ordinarily one Newark Arts Council group show in each year's Open Doors. This year, I thought it was at 570 Broad Street, across Fulton Street from Peddie Memorial Baptist Church. But I was later given to think that there were two NAC group shows, one at the Adrienne Wheeler Gallery, which I was unable to get to (inasmuch as we had a freak snowstorm just before the last day that show was to be open, the Monday after the Open Doors weekend, and I was snowed in), and the other at 570 Broad Street, which, unfortunately, I did get to.

Kevin said that this work was more like what he expected to do at the Venice Biennale this summer, but he got sidetracked into a different presentation there. He explains his central piece as Sarah Palin leading her army of rats down a yellow-brick road, and trailing a wagon filled with the baggage of the Radical Right, which includes a Confederate battle flag emblazoned with symbols of the Ku Klux Klan. He's such a timid little guy in his artistic expression, isn't he? Come on, Kevin, don't hold back. What do you really think of Sarah and the Tea Party?

The Wheeler Gallery show did not seem to have the imprimatur of the Council as an NAC group show. It may have been much better than the 570 show, but I didn't see it. For one thing, Anne Dushanko-Dobek was a participating artist at the Wheeler show, and I like her work. For a second, I have seen a little of Adrienne Wheeler's work at a Catfish Friday group show, and am inclined to think she has good taste. For a third, and most tellingly, the 570 show was AWFUL, an unbelievable mess.

I do not set myself up as an art critic, but merely offer readers my perspective. From my perspective, the 570 show was crap. I hate to say that about anything the Newark Arts Council ("NAC", said as letters, N-A-C, not a word) organizes. But somebody fell down on the job, fell asleep at the quality switch, or otherwise f...ouled up in putting together this year's NAC group show.

I asked Kevin, who often works with found objects, where he found the rats. He said, in a dollar store. I've never seen plastic/rubber rats in a dollar store, but, then, I wasn't looking. Perhaps they're a Halloween item.

Not everything in the show was awful, of course. One of my favorite Newark artists, Kevin Blythe Sampson, had a major piece there, which I found out almost instantly upon arriving, in that he saw me enter and said hello, and when I asked if he had anything in the show, he pointed me to his area. There were also good things by Lori Merhige (which I had already seen at Solo(s) Project House; see my post of November 5, 2010) and other artists. Only a portion of Lori Merhige's Solo(s) show appeared at 570, scattered over a large, and mainly empty area. Why?

Unfortunately, the liting in the exhibition space at the time I was there (very late afternoon, with sunshine streaming in low from the west) was execrable, and I couldn't get a decent foto, with or without flash, of Kevin's piece, including the artist, in that the piece looked east, so the sun was behind it.

I mentioned to Kevin, when I checked my first, discouraging foto of him beside it in my camera's little monitor, that I have had great difficulty taking pictures of black people except in the clearest and britest of lite. He wasn't taken aback at all, but merely said "Photoshop". Yes, I do need to manipulate fotos in a graffics program, tho mine is Jasc Paint Shop Pro rather than Adobe's Photoshop. The two programs do much the same thing, but Adobe's costs hundreds of dollars, whereas Jasc's came free with the purchase of my computer. Guess which I'm going to use, when the choice is spending hundreds of dollars or working with what came free with my computer.

When a foto seems unusable even after processing in Jasc, I don't think, "I should have Adobe", but assume that Photoshop wouldn't have solved the problem either.

Kevin's piece also spilled onto nearby columns and wall areas.

I do have an account on Adobe's free Photoshop Express online service, but its foto-improvement features are slender, and I find the site very hard to work with. It is not the slitest intuitive.

Kevin's great, political piece was among the good areas in the show, which comprised the majority of this sparse, odd exhibition. But two particularly awful and offensive pieces (of crap) marred the show overall, and dragged everything else down with them.

That show was curated by a woman from outside Newark. She was born in Minneapolis and has lived and worked since 1999 in Queens. So why did the Newark Arts Council entrust its group show to someone from outside Newark? That's insulting to Newark arts.

Kevin's "Occupy Newark" wall was, happily, the last thing a visitor might see on leaving the show.

We have curators in Newark, who would have done — had to have done — a better job.

The Star-Ledger's Dan Bischoff described this piece: "Works at this exhibition — such as 'House,' by the now Detroit-based Osman Khan, using fluorescent tube lights, aluminum pipe fighting [fittings?], wire electronics and wood — put an urban focus on the financial crimes in the housing market that crippled the world economy, and illustrate the fragility of our 'recovery.'" Fine, but did it have to be so big? The thing was perhaps 8 feet tall, and empty within. Surely the same point could have been made equally well at half that size or less, and left more room for other things. But there was plenty of room the curator did not use.

Did anyone at the NAC, such as Linwood Oglesby — the refined head of the Council — review the curator's proposed exhibition? Or did the NAC give her free rein, to do as she might? Artistic freedom sounds great, but what if it produces unbearable crap? Shouldn't someone of better taste have stepped in to prevent an offense to the Newark arts community, and to anyone outside that tidy group who ventures near — but because of an appalling show, goes away with a terrible view of Newark arts?

In regard to this particular show, JJ could have saved herself three syllables, and called herself "Jennifer Junk", because that is what the "Call & Response" exhibition turned out to be: junk, because of two 'artworks' in close proximity, both of which literally relied upon and created junk. Much of the rest of the show was OK to good. But two works that were just plain awful ruined everything else. It's like a counterfeit $20 bill having the face of Michele Bachmann, of Junkermeier's home state, rather than Andrew Jackson. Even if every other detail were right, the bill would still be worth nothing — not $20, not $1; nothing. Andrew Jackson was bad enuf, for having been one of the worst Presidents ever. But Michele Bachmann on the $20 bill? Absurd and intolerable. The 570 show that Jennifer Junkermeier put together was equally absurd and intolerable.

Typical portion of this dismal show, almost empty, and filled with litter.

It's the old "one bad apple spoils the barrel" phenomenon, when what is bad is so bad that it not only affects everything it touches but also drives the good right out of your mind. In the "Call & Reponse" show, there were two bad apples, one involving plastic garbage cans piled four-high above plastic cups thrown upon the floor to be blown about by fans arrayed nearby; and the other entailing willful littering, in which people were to rip sheets of paper into pieces and throw the pieces up into the air, to fall to the floor, possibly also to be blown about by the fans on the other side of the other contemptible "artwork". Some people instead made paper airplanes that they threw past the immediate vicinity of the 'artwork', as spread the trash farther. This is the kind of indefensible garbage that gives modern art a bad name. I want Newark arts to tell the world that Newark is NOT a place for bizarre personalities to vent their frustrations and inartistic aggressions upon the world.

The crowd at the closing reception was sparse. Perhaps others had heard how bad that show was, so stayed away.

How did Ms. Junkermeier justify this travesty? Oh, with the kind of absurdist drivel that so much writing about art is. Here is the description from the NAC website:

"Call & Response" is a group exhibition and part of Open Doors 2011. The exhibition includes the work of twelve artists exploring formal and theoretical structures and systems in three and four dimensional forms within the context of international current events that have caused economic, political, and social disarray. The exhibition theme addresses such cataclysms as the recent break down of world financial systems to the BP oil leak in the Gulf, and other instances where traditional structures and systems proved outdated and obsolete subsequently unveiling the increasing need for innovative resolutions.

This is one of the pieces I liked, by Lori Merhige. But I had already seen it, months earlier, at Solo(s) Project House.

The title of the exhibition makes reference to a term used in music referring to a succession of two distinct phrases played by different musicians, where the second phrase is heard as a direct commentary on or response to the first. In terms of the exhibition, the artists (in varying degrees) have translated 'call & response' into three and four dimensional forms working together to develop individual site-specific works creating an active 'call & response' scenario within the exhibition space. Included work 'responds' to one or more of the following 'calls': the Exhibition Space (The Hyperlocal), a response to the physical, architectural, environmental structure(s) of the exhibition space; the Exhibition Place (The Regional),a response to the physical/conceptual/social/historical structure(s) of the site, the building, the neighborhood, the city, people, the community, the resources, or products, of Newark, NJ and/or theExhibition Time (The Global), a response to the "break down" of political/social/economic structures or systems that are transpiring now, in 2011, with effects of international scope.

Another litter-strewn, mainly empty area of the show. The metal crown on a stand in the background is also Lori Merhige's, and was also part of her Solo(s) show.

By playing with scale, movement and form using a range of materials from found objects, industrial products and plants to light, technology and dangerously high-powered magnets in a variety [of?] mediums ranging from installation, sculpture, social interventions and performance[,] each artist creates new situations in 'Response' to the 'Call' (and vice versa) of the world around them that is in need of alternative visions.

What is that 319-word verbal morass supposed to mean? The words make little sense. The exhibition made less.
I do not pretend to be avant-garde, but only a sensible person. That is hard enuf to be today, when all kinds of lunacy are foisted upon the general public as normal, even admirable.

This foto, shifted slitely leftward, shows again the void that much of this show was. A newcomer to Newark arts would be justified in thinking there just aren't artists and art enuf in Newark to fill even this one relatively small vacant office space. That is nothing like the truth. Dozens of artists and hundreds of artworks had to have been rejected to produce so barren a show.

What was so offensive that it tainted every good thing in the 570 show, is that these two despicable "art"works appeared in the very middle of the show, not off in the periphery,where you might pass over them quickly, then ignore them. No, you had to see them pretty much immediately upon entering the exhibition, then pass close to them as you negotiated the rest of the show. The choice to make them central to the exhibition, and not peripheral, was Ms. Junkermeier's. Here's the first, seen from the side.

Here's the second.

So prominent, and so disgusting, were these repulsive pieces that you couldn't just pass over them to other, better things, and let go of the crap that they were. They were CENTRAL to the entire show. Why? What was she thinking? Perhaps litter and trash on the floor is rebellion in Minneapolis, or (far less likely) Flushing, Queens. In our area, however, it is what we struggle AGAINST every day, in the central cities of the Tristate Metropolitan Area — 22 million people trying to find neatness and order. We crave order and cleanliness. Disorder and litter depress us.

No, please don't.

To be rebellious around here, as regards litter, an artist would have to produce a robotic Felix Unger, but speeded up in its cleaning many times, as, say, the Unger 2000 Kleenbot.

This is a wide view of the mess that that "artwork" created. What the hell were the 'artist' and curator thinking?

Not only was the 570 show appalling, but the liting was also dismal, much too dark to make me want to stay around. So I left, to go to the (much, much better) "Blackface" exhibit (see my post of November 2nd, and then home.

Outside the taint of that trashed floor, but in gloom, was this interesting interactive piece. Tho it may have required ambient darkness, the bulk of the exhibition was lited by daylite outside the windows and only occasional incandescent lights, and not even floodlites, just regular litebulbs.

I do not know what seized control of the NAC's collective mind and voided its better judgment, in approving this group show, but I hope that it is a one-time aberration and, in the future, clearer minds will do a much better job of reviewing proposals and the finished shows that result before any innocent visitor is wounded, misled by some weirdo's appallingly bad judgment into thinking that the one bad show they saw represents Newark's generally excellent art scene.

The last good lite at the 570 Show is nearing its end, as the sun sets behind me. My shadow appears among the pillars.

There were no paintings at all on the walls of the weird 570 show, whereas the NAC's Open Doors group shows have always, in my experience, had many paintings. This year's show was a jolting, horrifying change from what we who have attended earlier Open Doors events had come to expect. Not all change is bad, of course, but this was.
posted by L. Craig Schoonmaker @ 11:59 PM links to this postNewark USA