Introspection/Retrospection at the Morgan Conservatory
This year marks the tenth annual National Juried Exhibition at The Morgan Conservatory, which celebrates the paper arts. This year’s show was juried by Sienna Brown, curator at the Cleveland Clinic, and Jared Ledesma, senior curator at the Akron Art Museum. Through the theme of Introspection/Retrospection, several works draw inspiration from the periods of isolation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although themes related to the pandemic are starting to feel tired, the works represented in the exhibition are interesting, fresh, and beautiful. In harmony with The Morgan’s purpose, which is to preserve hand papermaking and the art of the book, all works in the exhibition use a common material: paper. How artists manipulate the medium brings meaning and depth to each piece.
This exhibition showed the possibilities of papermaking to be limitless. You can expect to find a well-rounded mix of two-dimensional and three-dimensional works in this exhibition. Several of the works incorporate intricate layers of materials best enjoyed in person.
The gallery space is quite breathtaking—natural light spills in through the windows, which I felt added to the experience. I appreciated a shrewd curatorial moment in which Katharine DeLamater’s Seven Observations greets us at the entrance. The following poem dances across the handmade paper paintings, setting the tone for the rest of the exhibition:
The deep light of total darkness
like me, splendid and obliterated
The brightening point, like me,
just beyond destruction.
Best in Show was awarded to Jennifer Scheur’s Aspiration/Mullein, a lithograph on paper. While the medium is understated compared with other pieces in the exhibition, the subject matter aligns perfectly with the exhibition’s theme. It depicts a pair of lungs—an appropriate choice given that we recently witnessed a global shutdown caused by an illness that attacks the respiratory system. The artist has embellished the anatomical subject matter with floral accents, echoing the refuge many found outdoors during the coronavirus quarantine. This is a stunning piece that shows a high level of printmaking expertise. It’s direct yet delicate—it doesn’t shout to you from across the room, but subtly draws you in.
Claire Bowman’s The End is a Reminder of the Beginning was one of my personal favorites. The work carries on the theme of poetry that we’ve seen before in this exhibition, layering in elements of nature. The poem reads:
Intoxicating by their
very nature, apple
blossoms are symbolic
of heady love, peace,
sensuality, and fertility.
The apple blossom is
also symbolic of long life.
More to the point, it stands
for the concept of life
continuing, even after
we endure a ‘death’
during the winter
of our lives.
As we emerge from the “winter of our lives” into a mask-less spring, the poem is a relevant reminder of seasons past, evoking hope after many of us endured hardships throughout the pandemic.
Artist Judith Quinn Garnett breaks free from the deceptively confining limits of the paper medium with Tailor Shears No. 1. The artist used rust process, indigo dye, and raw pigments on arches cotton paper and rice paper. In addition to the unique creation process, the subject matter connects to the exhibition’s theme. Scissors carry many meanings, one of which is cutting off and distancing from the outside world and looking inward.
Hannah O’Hare Bennett’s Twilight pulled me in. Using abaca paper and earth pigments, the artist has created an explosion of texture that glows under the light. Hung near Susan Twining’s Radiant, a composition using hand-pieced and stitched silk cocoon, these two striking pieces flank Diane Britt’s My Golem, a memento mori.
Socially-distanced Birthday Party by Genevieve Lapp takes on the Introspection/Retrospection theme more literally, incorporating birthday cake oil as a material and alluding to pandemic-safe “gatherings.” The piece feels delicate—almost youthful—but not without that grim undertone.
Often, these national juried exhibitions can feel haphazard and confused, given that the curators must put together the show based on the submissions that they receive. This show doesn’t feel that way. It feels cohesive and intentional. Truth be told, if I’d walked in and had no idea that this was a juried exhibition, it would’ve been hard to tell. Everything is wound together, through color, medium, and theme, and nothing feels arbitrary or obtrusive.
Not to mention, there are several works to see and appreciate. Over forty artists from across the country are represented and you’ll enjoy the many creative approaches to papermaking. This exhibition is worth the trip to The Morgan. I look forward to returning for future events and exhibitions.
March 25 – May 6, 2022
The Morgan Conservatory
1754 East 47th Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44103
10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.