STRIKING DESIGN A poster by Grear.
In art communities like Providence, local institutions often ignore their town's history. Which can convey the message that little art made here ever mattered. And the corollary: Little made here ever will matter. Which is, of course, silly in the town of Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Shepard Fairey, Kara Walker, Fort Thunder, and Dirt Palace.
In 2008, as if sensing this gap, the Providence alternative space AS220, which has so vitally fueled art making in Rhode Island, got into the act. "It is my assertion that the more conscious we are about documenting Rhode Island's community of makers," AS220 artistic director Bert Crenca wrote then, "the more likely that this community will be sustained and, in fact, grow." AS220 partnered with collector Joseph Chazan and the Newport Art Museum to produce a "NetWorks" exhibit and video documentaries about a fledgling hall of fame roster of local artists — though they were careful to avoid such grand terms and the project had something of a seat-of-the-pants style.
Now they've all joined forces again for "NetWorks 2009-2010" at the Newport Art Museum (76 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, through January 17; an abridged version of the exhibit is scheduled to appear at Gallery Z in Providence from January 12 to February 26). It's a hit-or-miss buffet of 23 different artists — the 2009 and 2010 "inductees," if you will — filling two galleries. The art varies widely, from Erminio Pinque's mutant puppet masks to Astrid's swirling abstract doodles to Malcolm Grear's corporate logo designs to Annu Palakunnathu Matthew's photo installations pointedly teasing the colonial confusion between Native Americans and Indians from India.
Highlights include McDonald Wright's photo portrait of jazz trumpeter Wallace Roney in three images that overlap for a rhythmic cubist effect. The layering looks like digital editing, but in fact it's a tour de force of multiple exposures on a single frame of film. Wright advances his film a fraction of a frame at a time for an on-the-spot, in-camera improvisation that in look and technique echoes midcentury jazz cool.
Agustín Patino's Metropolis y Orillas is a magic realist painting of a pile of junked cars submerged in a flooded river. A woman stands painting the scene atop an old bus, turned into an island house. Towers of ruined autos and waterfall fill the background. It feels like a post-global-warming aquapocalypse.
AQUAPOCALYPSE Patino's Metropolis y Orillas.
Ben Anderson's Trout Pond Triad
is three glazed earthenware plates that remarkably depict a damp woods, from leaves and snails to a worm and glistening green and brown shells. Nicole Chesney and Coral Bourgeois wow with vivid color. Chesney's Arise
is a sort of shimmering blue-green oil paint, glass and aluminum Rothko; Bourgeois's If Only You Knew
is a tower of vivid violet, green, and blue resin-glazed tiles depicting decorative jewelry box motifs of classical busts, horse statues, antique prints, and fancy dudes in top hats and ladies in gowns.
AS220 gallery director Neal Walsh channels rusty, romantic urban decay in a pair of abstract paintings. One is a square panel encrusted with black and bits of mossy green built up across stripes of root beer brown. It resembles an old lath and plaster wall, painted and patched and repainted over generations.