by Patricia Grandjean
May 13, 2011
11:57 AMBox Office
Review: Exploring the "Continuum"
"Ambiguous"—a necklace of bone, faux bone, sterling silver and glass beads—, by Greenwich artist Jody Silver, is part of "Continuum: Gender Identities," now at Ridgefield Guild of Artists.
If only there were more gallery exhibits in Connecticut like Continuum: Gender Identities, on display at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists through June 3. Curated by Nancy Moore—a member of both the Ridgefield and Silvermine (in Norwalk) Artists Guilds, a freelance editor for the Yale University Press and the mother of a transgender son, Sean—Continuum is an attempt to instigate "a big conversation in a small town"—within the safe haven of artistic expression—about the challenging and often touchy title subject. It seems a crucial conversation to have, given our society's struggles with "defining" marriage, deciding whether or not to end the military's policy of "don't ask-don't tell and simply accepting the presence of alternative lifestyles in our midst.
Moore invited 52 artists, 36 of whom are Connecticut natives or current residents (others hail from as far away as Holland, Ecuador and New Zealand), to provide works on the subject of gender, leaving the choice of media and themes up to them. As the result the exhibit spans everything from painting, ceramics and video to jewelry, photography and fiber art; the themes encompassed are at once traditional, personal, abstract, rule-breaking and political. Among the most affecting is Ridgefield artist Mary Louise O'Connell's simple oil study of her elderly parents, "The Last Year," which invites viewers not only to reflect on the gender roles played by the couple in the painting, but their own.
Overall, there's a lot to love, whether sentimental, daring or just really funny: assemblage artist Nina Bentley's tribute—made up of antique typewriter, jewelry findings and gold wire—to her 15-year-old granddaughter's love of poetry ("A Poem for All People"); 18-year-old bigender digital artist Mady/Eric Guiliani's Schmee Film Compilation (which climaxes with a gender-bending romp choreographed to the Ben Folds/Regina Spektor song "You Don't Know Me"); carbon-steel purses by sculptor Diana Moore; and excerpts from two photo series by Leonard Nimoy (yes, that Leonard Nimoy), including the captivating "Secret Selves" and "Full Body Project," in which Nimoy reimagines famed portraits of women by Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Henri Matisse and Sandro Botticelli with the help of San Franciscan burlesque troupe, The Fat Bottom Revue.
Participating artists were also asked to contribute a written statement about their art and their lives as both relate to the subject of the exhibit, which dramatically reveal how difficult it often is to try to make an artistic concept literal. Some of the most telling remarks are the briefest. Joslyn Newman's striking watercolor-and-ink shadowbox of paper dolls, complete with interchangeable clothes, is accompanied by her comment: "My mother always taught me to be comfortable and do what feels right. If only finding that comfort were as easy as choosing what to wear." Mary Valencia pairs her disturbing drawing "Got Your Back"—depicting a woman's feet (with heels that have formed into spikes) walking an agonized man's back—with the not so simple question, "If there was a war of the sexes, could anybody win?"
On the second floor, one finds writings and artwork by children and teenagers from all over the state, including students from the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven. There's also a "gender bookshelf" filled with books to buy, borrow or peruse. The message is clear: This is a conversation that's meant to be all-inclusive, no matter our differences (it's no wonder that Continuum's opening reception drew visitors in the hundreds), and one that deserves a venue not just in a small town, ut on a national scale.
Nancy Moore will conduct a curator's tour of Continuum: Gender Identities May 14 at 3 p.m., as part of the guild's weekly "Artist Walk-and-Talks Series." On May 21 meet artists Don Arsenault, Ellen Schiffman, Regina Moss, Elizabeth Back and Suzanne Benton; on May 28 Claire Watson Garcia, Michael Elsden and Nina Bentley will participate. On May 19, 5-9 p.m., the gallery hosts a Vintage Designer Clothing Trunk Show. For more information, call (203) 438-8863 or visit rgoa.org.Review: Exploring the "Continuum"