Context Fine Art debuts with Shapes of Abstraction: Nine Women Artists

Context Fine Art gallery, Shapes of Abstraction: Nine Women Artists, installation view.
Image courtesy of Context Fine Art.

Context Fine Art, the new gallery located on the third floor of 78th Street Studios, premiered in September with Shapes of Abstraction: Nine Women Artists. A partnership between artist Justin Brennan and art historian Christopher Richards, Context is a space for abstract art to be considered and reconsidered in thought-provoking configurations. This exhibition highlights Context’s promising potential as a smart, well-curated gallery dedicated to Cleveland’s contemporary art scene.

Richards, who until 2020 served as curator and collections manager for artNEO, has spent a decade exhibiting artists from the greater Cleveland area. Context materialized as an opportunity to showcase the region’s best abstract art. With artwork spanning fifty years, Context’s ambitious exhibition showcases artwork from a diverse group of female artists with roots in Northeast Ohio: Vivien Abrams Collens, Ruth Bercaw, Sarah Esposito, Phyllis Fannin, Tiara Grayson, Rebecca Kaler, Catherine Lentini, Jenniffer Omaitz, and Eugenie Torgerson.

Works of Jen Omaitz, installation view courtesy of Context Fine Art.

“When I started picturing what the show would be, these are the artists that just came to mind immediately,” says Richards on Context’s serendipitous inaugural exhibition. “I knew exactly what types of pieces from their bodies of work that I wanted to show, and it just happened that it was all still available.”

This diverse set of artists is united by a shared interest in the boundaries between two- and three-dimensional art. Their artworks span the 1970s to the present, exhibiting influences from such contrasting styles as Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Op Art. Richards juxtaposes each artist and their work to highlight surprising similarities across generations.

“[Viven Abrams Collens] never realized [she] was using a square tube that long ago,” says Richards, who curated the exhibition. “It was kind of like an aha moment for her.”

Works of Vivien Abrams Collens, installation view courtesy of Context Fine Art.

Collens, a successful Cleveland-born artist known for her line-based sculptures, is one of the artists placed front and center in Shapes of Abstraction. Four of her artworks can be found opposite the gallery entrance, immediately drawing visitors in with their colorful, structural qualities. Collens’ “aha moment” came when Richards displayed her large-scale wall hanging Iconic Logic (1977) near three of her freestanding Organizer sculptures (2023). Upon seeing these artworks together, Collens was surprised to learn something new about her own artistic process. Despite coming from vastly different points in Collens’ career, these artworks demonstrate surprising formal and conceptual similarities when placed in conversation with each other. Form, concept, conversation–these ideas are foundational to Context’s goals as Cleveland’s newest contemporary gallery.

Works of Phyllis Fannin, installation view courtesy of Context Fine Art.

The connections do not stop there. In the 1980s, Phyllis Fannin created large-scale hanging sculptures out of folded paper. In the 2020s, Jenniffer Omaitz uses digital technology to turn photographs of folded paper into references for her planar, hard-edge paintings. Both Fannin and Omaitz exhibit examples of these works in Shapes of Abstraction, providing the exhibition with a sense of continuity and change over time. Here, we see opposite processes produce a strikingly similar effect: the simulation of two- or three-dimensionality in its opposite context. The connections drawn from artwork to artwork give the exhibition a lively, collaborative energy despite the artists working in different times, places, mediums, and styles. The pieces are already strong individually but are enhanced by the carefully curated contexts in which they are displayed.

This clever collection of abstract art walks visitors through fifty years of Cleveland’s art history, encouraging audiences to draw connections between concepts and processes throughout. Shapes of Abstraction is an exhibition you can and should take your time with. The artwork is diverse, visually compelling, and thoughtfully arranged to maximize intellectual effect. Perhaps you will even have an “aha” moment yourself.

Shapes of Abstraction: Nine Women Artists is open at Context Fine Art through October 28th, 2023.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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