Anthony Bannon | Guest Reviewer
This is about the culture that Chautauqua makes.
Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution most often shows the culture of others in its galleries — collections of work on themes selected by the curators, from other institutions or by artists selected for the annual national invitational.
Each year, another exhibition accounts for the thinking of VACI exhibiting members and how they contribute to the culture of their community. This year, more than 75 artists submitted about 150 works, and 122 were selected to share. That’s a good number of people for a small population, and many, many more anticipate the showing, enjoy seeing and discussing it and often purchase to make the work their own.
The visual arts here — and how the arts create meaning — are an important aspect of the exchange at Chautauqua, a way in which we make ourselves known to one another and to others. The conversation points in the exhibition — the works on view — include views, of course, of Chautauqua itself and of the region nearby, and there also are still life pieces, jewelry, abstracts, portraits, crafts and sculpture: work in just about every media and most every manner.
In its sum, the VACI Partners Members Open Exhibition in Fowler-Kellogg Art Center suggests the range of interests, experience and commitment — and how that commitment may impact acceptance of unique experience. For that, after all, is the agenda of art.
This unique interpretation, truly looking for something one hasn’t experienced before, is the bedrock of art (and education) and so central to the Chautauqua culture.
Aptly, this culture is summarized by Debra Eck, a professor at Jamestown Community College, who presents a collaged poem about her interpretation of Chautauqua. Called “Chautauqua Moment,” it brings together scraps of ephemera from the Institution with cutouts of maps, drawings and bits of text to create a poetics that points toward her appreciation of this place. It is a view grounded in study, religion, art, gardens, liberty, joy and seeing — just plain seeing.
Rita Argen Auerbach is a legend at Chautauqua. Her watercolors abound, signatures of life in its summer splendor — here a view from a wicker-graced porch across water to the Miller Bell Tower, c-scows catching the wind, the raked evening sun in its golden hour. Her vision of life here is iconic in its measurement — synonymous with the values of a good life, well considered.
The exhibition extends from home to abstraction and brings in visions from other places. Lara Mann, a VACI intern and Carnegie Mellon University student, creates a color primer with wrapping fibers around boards structured into an equilateral triangle. The 6-foot-sided triangle leans against the wall and presents the energy of contrasting and adjacent hues. It is museum-thinking, and Caroline Cole Newell picks up another side of that culture with lovely graphite drawings of three Italian Renaissance chairs — “Museum Chairs,” she calls it — and it is quite sufficient.
Barbara Stewart Prendergast’s work in Raku pottery, a rough-and-tumble application whose tradition begins in the ancient tea ceremony, and Patrick Delmonte’s elegantly simple cherry and maple bowls — also admitting to the roughness of process — are fine examples of craft art in the exhibition.
An unexpected treat this year is the inclusion of the five staff photographers from The Chautauquan Daily, offering a remarkable range of work that point to the diversity of talent at this paper:
- Eve Edelheit’s perfect summation of the contrasting grit and elegance of Mumbai, as a young woman whisks by the dirty clutter of the city street while wearing a beautiful red sari outfit.
- Megan Tan’s existential image of an older man walking alone into a dark lake for a morning swim.
- Demetrius Freeman’s partnering view of a Roskilde dock in Denmark, pulled in for the winter, the frost beginning to collect on the lonely scene.
- Ellie Haugsby’s geometry of the beach, the random patterns of sunbathers, blankets, seaweed and ocean detritus.
- Greg Funka’s beautiful American Tiger Lily, Lilium Superbum, a portrait of nature’s grace notes that are so friendly at Chautauqua.
The work of the Daily photographers each day during the season gives evidence of the culture created here, so their presence in the exhibition adds weight to the inclusive exhibition of Chautauqua talent, continuing through Aug. 24 at Fowler-Kellogg Art Center.
Anthony Bannon is the Ron and Donna Fielding Director at George Eastman House, the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, N.Y.