More is less

By GREG COOK  |  August 28, 2013

There’s also a subtle diss in the project, whispering to many of the artists that they’re good enough to do a little workshop or hold what RISD calls “office hours” here, but they don’t really want your stuff on the walls.

Another troubling signal: The most elaborate installation in the show is a barn-like “School House Long House” commissioned by the museum to host these presentations. And “Locally Made” seems to get less real estate in the museum than last winter’s “RISD Faculty Biennial.”

So what’s on the walls? RISD curator Jan Howard and freelance curator Kristen Carbone have set up one room devoted to works by nearly 40 artists from the museum’s collection, many of them arriving with help from indispensible Rhode Island arts patron Joseph Chazan. Forty sounds like a lot, but it’s a scattershot sampler.

NATURE STUDY Hong's 'Ki Yosei.'
Jean Blackburn carved her baby rocking chair from parts cannibalized from an adult rocking chair facing it. It’s a sweet and cutting take on parenthood. Dean Snyder offers a sculpture of glassy red flowers atop a long black stem sprouting from a big red blob that looks full of blood. It’s seductive, like an alien vampire.

There’s also Georgia Marsh’s incredible realist drawing of flowers poking up through snow, Jungil Hong’s screenprint of hawks gliding over tree stumps, Brian Chippendale’s inspired map of Providence, and Jessica Deane Rosner’s feminist mediation on politics and housework jotted down on rubber cleaning gloves.

But much of the selection feels cursory, too small, too polite, many of the right artists but not their top work. It’s not the electric, rascally, smartypants, ambitious, swaggering, fun Providence art world that we love. And there’s little attempt across “Locally Made” to analyze, to identify themes, to provide context — you know, a museum’s job.

RISD, you can do better. Let this be the beginning of a more substantial, sustained engagement by the museum with art made here. Let the roster be your map of where to go.
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