Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fired Up?

Kennedy Heights Arts Center opened its exhibition, Fire last weekend to a full and excited crowd of patrons. As always, the show includes works displaying a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, photography, pottery, and textiles. Ned Stern’s paintings for this show focus on fire disasters and rescue. Like his cityscapes, these paintings capture the appeal of the local audience with a certain civic pride. Though Old St. George In Flames easily touches a universal core of sensibilities. The blazing steeples of a church are an apocalyptic image that stuns whether you are from Clifton or England.

Biblical themes speckle the show with works by Harold Dreibelbis, Pentecost and Vision of Christ, and the inclusion of Tony Arrasmith’s The Religious Right in 1692, a photograph made for a production of The Crucible. Fire also includes a rather comedic perspective on eternal damnation with Danny R. Dean’s Hades Vent. This sculpted smokestack in the gallery wonderfully if uncomfortably redefines the space. One painting that captures your attention soon after entering the center is David Hartz’s Protection From Fire. This large-scale painting of a person engulfed in flames seems oddly titled until we realize that Hartz’s media includes fire. He is known for his performance pieces using fire. Many of his Pyrographs are also included in the show.

While Fire, as a themed show, offers quite a bit of freedom for the artists and their various styles, its broadness does not always provide an effective context for the artworks. I found myself returning to the beautiful abstract paintings of Megan Triantafillou a few times wondering why these were included in the show. Titles like Warmscape II and Warm LXXVII are not convincing and in fact seem to mock the show. The only conclusion I could come up with was her warm palette. Surely Fire could not be that broad in scope. Similarly, the inclusion of works by well-known KHAC artist Barbara Gamboa sometimes seem out of place except that we expect to see her work in the gallery.

KHAC has been the big buzz in the local art scene for nearly 5 yrs. Local art centers and community advocates view it as an example to follow. KHAC enjoys a loyal patronage and an active and supportive guild. To better serve their artists though, they need to rework their exhibition schedule. More thought-provoking themes or even more solo shows will better encourage their artists towards further exploration of ideas and developing new discussions. Their last show, Shattered Myths – Twenty-one Visions Contemplating the Actual Cost of War, seems to hint at a movement towards more challenging shows. I hope so. Patrons of the arts are not only looking for things to hang over the sofa, but also look to artists for a perspective to some of life’s questions. KHAC has the loyal audience. It is time to permit the artists to challenge it.