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RISD's 'Locally Made' only scratches the surface
By GREG COOK  |  August 28, 2013

VISIONARY Chippendale's 'Providence 2046.'

If the RISD Museum’s “Locally Made” (224 Benefit St, Providence, through November 3) is a warm-up for a more significant engagement with art made around these parts, then I’m okay with it. But since it’s billed as the museum’s “first large survey of work from the greater Providence area in more than 20 years,” the impression is that they intend this to be a really big deal, something to really show off Lil Rhody, something worth waiting more than two decades for. If so, then the museum has fallen short of its goal.

It’s great that the RISD Museum is attempting to embrace the amazing and often world-class creativity pumped out by the Creative Capital. We need this. They can help more people experience and better understand our art, and thus spread the ideas and inspire even more shenanigans. They can challenge artists to up their game. They can help promote local art to the rest of the world. And the museum benefits from having this good stuff and increasing its ties to the community. The art world — including our local one — is an ecosystem and if the top institutions aren’t directly engaged in their community, their absence hampers its development.

And, yes, there are some impressive things in “Locally Made.”

Dina Deitsch of DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Massachusetts — one of the best curators in the region — has organized a cool showcase of seven video artists on three screens, including Xander Marro’s visionary stop-motion animated film of birds and all-seeing eyes and Megan and Murray McMillan’s dreamy performances of a man rearranging a room full of lamps and a guy walking up invisible stairs into bright light.

Tony Cokes’s Evil.16.Torture Musik is a bracing, brilliant, righteous, musical slideshow explaining how American forces subject prisoners to pop music — from disco to the Barney theme song — cranked up to unbearable levels for days at a time, “the transformation of culture into the very instrument of torture.” You feel the evil of the psychological abuse, as well as anger that art has been perverted to become a coconspirator in the crimes.

But “Locally Made” is really a marathon workshop and performance festival with an art exhibition tacked on. RISD Museum educators Deborah Clemons and Hollis Mickey have organized an incredible schedule of some 200 visual artists, DJs, poets, cooks, and Jacob Berendes — basically just about everyone in the local creative scene at some point during the run of the exhibit.

The roster is astonishing in its scope and range of talent, but a drawback is that most visitors will catch maybe one or two artists on the day they visit. If they’re lucky, maybe they’ll come back another time or two for another random sample of what’s going on. I wish more art could be incorporated into a single visit so more people could experience more of it. As is, a visit to “Locally Made” leaves an anticlimactic feeling: That’s it?

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