The View from Home: AAWR’s Virtual New Now
The New Now, Artists Archives of the Western Reserve’s biennial staple of the Northeast Ohio exhibition calendar, showcases a juried collection of artists from throughout the region. Partnering with Cuyahoga Community College, the exhibition is normally held at Tri-C’s Gallery East. This year, however, it has been moved to an online format on the Archives’ website. Cat Sheridan, the director of The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery in Columbus, Ohio, served as this year’s juror. She believes viewers will recognize the truth of our times through these works.
“We find ourselves placed squarely at the nexus of change, acutely aware that we are experiencing history. Deep emotions have shaken off their apathy and pulse forward into focus with urgency, as seen in these works through themes of representation, equity, social justice, climate change, the global pandemic, displacement, isolation, and meditation,” Sheridan said.
The presentation is clean and easy to navigate. Organized in alphabetical order, the works play off one another visually, telling a larger story of the human experience. Concepts and imagery were part of Sheridan’s selection process, “I pulled images and shuffled them around to be sure there were myriad ways the exhibition could be presented–with a mind to layering, supporting, and growing the elasticity of meaning in the work and flow of the exhibition.” The result is a beautiful display of works that speak of external issues as well as being deeply introspective.
All virtual exhibitions are challenged with how to present different sized works in a visually compelling way. New Now, with a uniform grid layout, crops the images to fit the allotted square of the exhibition’s main page. While missing components of some pieces makes it difficult to fully appreciate the communication that is happening between the works, connections can still be observed. Once clicked through to the work’s individual page, the layout gives ample room to view a large image of the work. Sheridan reflects, “I took my time to research deeply the works submitted to ensure I was interpreting meaning appropriately. Some works are included that I as a viewer made my choices based on the emotion or visual cues I interpreted.” A headshot of each artist along with additional statements gives a deeper connection to the works and how they fit into the exhibition. Biographical information is included in the printed exhibition catalogs which are available for purchase at the AAWR. I enjoyed this aspect of the presentation as it helped me get to know the artists and their intent, creating a deeper appreciation of the exhibition.
Even through a digital platform art can center and focus us. A story we all relate to about our situation during the pandemic is told through the eyes of Sheridan and the talent of the 64 artists in New Now. This is epitomized by the photograph, Covid Fears, by Jackie Sadjewski. Taken early in the pandemic, it shows DIY attempt of a couple trying their best to not touch their faces through cut out lampshades. It speaks of our determination and resilience to make it through to better times.
Well-balanced visually, the exhibition celebrates a variety of styles and subject matter that enhance the viewer experience. Several works illustrate how memories can be attached to physical objects. Other pieces explore the psychic concepts of home. Longing and searching through isolated figures capture both the vulnerability and strength of the human spirit. These are just a few of the connections that can be made throughout the exhibition.
By using objects in both painting and assemblages, artists Patricia Zinsmeister Parker and Linda McConaughy suggest aspects of everyday life spent at home. Parker’s painting, Everything but the Kitchen Sink, shows us vases and vessels accumulating on a tabletop, just as objects randomly collect on surfaces in our own homes. McConaughy’s Modern Apothecary: Cabinet of Delights compartmentalizes objects in drawers to trigger memories of “everyday delights” including things like maple syrup, tea, and laundry detergent, while clocks and playing cards mark the passage of time.
Sawsan Alhadad and Danté Rodriguez examining ideas about immigration in abstract terms. Both artists explore the emotional toll immigration has on the individual. Alhadad’s family emigrated from Iraq to all corners of the globe, and she questions what makes a place home and one’s ability to go back there. Her work in cold wax and oil, Hallowed Portals, suggests that home is found through the memories of where we have been. With Nepantlero, Rodriguez presents the viewer with the internal struggles of the immigrant—in particular, those near borderlands—living within two different world views. The balance of forging a new identity out of the old is depicted by the web of curving and bending lines in the hollowed out, amorphous torso. It reminds us that we are all in a constant journey of losing and rebuilding our identities.
Stephen Yusko’s sculpture, This Space, brings the idea of home into a different perspective. As we have been spending incalculable amounts of time in our homes over the past year, Yusko wants us to reflect on the homeless. He writes, “According to a 2019 New York Times article, there are six times as many vacant houses as there are homeless people in the United States.” The large sheet of metal with its message, “This space intentionally left blank,” sits on legs that resemble upside down houses. It is a powerful statement on our nation’s underutilized housing stock, rising real estate prices, and the racial disparities found in homelessness.
There are a numerous figurative works depicting people of color. Samantha Bias, Clarissa R. Katz, Baila Litton, Melissa O’Grady, and Judy Takacs created emotionally moving portraits of women that express vulnerability and resilience. Each shows a figure of strength emerging from various states of struggle. Takacs’ painting, Venus, She’s Got It, won first place in the exhibition. Referencing Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Takacs brings an inclusive view to Renaissance Italian art and mythology. “Takacs’ piece celebrates the power, extraordinary contribution, and fundamental necessity of Black women to the world,” Sheridan says. “Representation matters; celebration of contribution matters; reframing societal standards to be inclusive matters; and we’ve only just scratched the surface in this regard. I chose this piece to celebrate that vision and direction.”
Mindy Tousley, director of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, says that they actively work on inclusion throughout their organization, “As repositories of culture, it is the job of museums to be socially engaged.” Tousley says the AAWR is committed to “presenting programming which takes on the issues that are important to a racially diverse community.” In New Now, diversity is represented more through the subject matter than in the selected artists. Ideas pertaining to representation and understanding found in the works present these artists as allies. Takacs’s statement about her Venus painting as “gifting the fire of love to a non-Euro-centric view of the world” really encapsulates the exhibition on the whole. New Now demonstrates that art can be a powerful vehicle in which both the individual and our communities have the strength to collect, reflect, plan, adapt, and move forward.