New Strohl exhibit gives viewers ‘blue heavenly time’


Four “Thistle Bottles” of different shades of blue by Carrie Gustafson, on display as part of the “Out of the Blue” exhibition at Strohl Art Center. Photo by Megan Tan.

Anthony Bannon | Guest Reviewer

Blue: Wavelength 440-490 nm; frequency 680-610 THz; ranging from navy blue to cyan as one of the primary colors. And there are other truths, other ways of seeing and being blue.

Another truth is that Judy Barie, director of galleries for Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution and curator at Strohl Art Center, caught a notion and decided to riff on. She calls her exhibition of paintings, drawings, prints, ceramics and glass works, “Out of the Blue,” and it continues through Aug. 23.

And this is, in part, her rhapsody; call it blue on blue.

“We eat blue cheese, wear blue jeans, sing the blues, dress our baby boys in blue, work blue collar jobs, talk a blue streak, accept blue ribbons, laugh till we are blue in the face, and we forever strive to capture the perfect blue sky,” she writes in an introductory panel.

Now, we all know that there are too many more blue-streak familiar quotations and bluesy puns and amusing symbolic meanings for blue. It wouldn’t be funny at all if we all were to share our blue books. Fortunately, Ms. Barie only asked eight artists to create blue work for the show. But if you like the color — and the statistics say that chances are it is your favorite color — you’ll have a blue heavenly time on Wythe Avenue.

On the other hand, if you prefer pink, blame it on the Korean artist Moon Beom. He was the inspiration for the show, and it is easy to see why. Barie saw his recent show in Kim Foster Gallery in New York City and was inspired by Beom’s otherworldly use of the color, an excess nothing short of alternative realities.

The viewer won’t miss the point. Barie has installed Beom’s large 5-by-4 painting, “Possible Worlds 846,” on the direct line of sight from the Strohl Main Gallery entrance, and it extravagantly announces itself from a sumptuous grounding in the elegant pigment of ultramarine blue. Beom slivers out of the blue a silver-lined creation, like the idea of waters splashing out of the dark void, roiling, misting for the first time into this place of the canvas, a new world, a new possibility.

That is a birthing call if ever there was one, and Barie was paying attention and doctored the idea along. There are other paintings by Beom, who would be the star of the show, which are like blueprints of a speculative imagination. And he is not alone.

Clayton Merrell, who has taught and shown with the faculty of the Chautauqua School of Art, also will be known. And he is included here in blue with his exciting, generative abstractions — fundamental ideas fit out in Talmudic proportions: ruptures of nature for a big bang Creation event blasting out of the sky, or the waves of the Flood streaming across the frame, or the charged particles of a divine presence, like a necklace of wonder in the sky, a rapture manifest above a farmer’s field.

Merrell and Beom play the major chords. Melinda Hackett, in smaller scale, conceives a biomorphic splendor based in blue, or so highlighted, and delights with visions usually reserved for cellular pleasures, here magnified into a painterly reality. In concert, Amanda Knowles’s screen prints envision blue-lined swirls of energy, design overlays, multiple forces wheeling out a make-believe, with smaller cousin images, papers stitched into a mixed media of artful propositions: What if we pie-chart a space like this? How might we put it all together, after all, even in blue?

And then along comes Ron Porter, driving big trucks into blue skies, our only psycho-realist happily reflecting clouds from the trucks’ shinning surfaces, and then — amazement — a truck taking off: a truck lifting off into the sky, having had enough with this actuality business: announcing the freedom of going airborne, just one stop short of abstraction, blue as a truly uplifting experience.

Carrie Gustafson and Adam Kenney then propose the range of blues in thin-necked glassware and blown glass that is etched and silvered, while Melinda Bernard creates an echo in ceramics for experiences off the wall. And there you have it: worthy of a blue-blood.

An opening reception was held Tuesday evening. Guess what? With a blues band.

Anthony Bannon is the Ron and Donna Fielding Director of George Eastman House, the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY.