Art Review: Rockford Midwestern shows why you can’t put an ‘-ism’ on today’s art

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11503155816331.jpg’, ‘Photo by Susan Webb Tregay’, ‘An arts patron views a work of art at the opening reception of The Rockford Midwestern at Rockford Art Museum.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11503156195370.jpg’, ‘Photo by Susan Webb Tregay’, ‘David Sebberson’s painting has the look of a geometric abstraction and the feel of the interior of a house.’);

When the juror for the “2006 Rockford Midwestern” exhibition, Gregory Knight, chose an “inclusive” show where “no single trend stood out over another,” he chose a show that is thoroughly representative of our times.

What is going on in today’s art world? Today’s “era” is not like the easily defined periods in the past where this “-ism” or that “-ism” dominated the art scene. Art critics no longer choose the art stars and direct the show. They sit back and appreciate the diversity of both the artists out there creating and their works. Visit the Rockford Art Museum and appreciate this diversity for yourself.

For instance, there are two fantasy pieces by Wendy Rolf that are so beautifully painted, they feel realistic. Painted on curved surfaces, they are adorned with various materials from broken mirrors to an array of metal hands. This combination of surfaces, materials and techniques is part of what makes today’s art distinctive and exciting—hybrid art.

The Best in Show piece is also realistic—a floral, no less. George Mauersberger turned the realism screw several more times in his work, though. Through his imaginative and skillful understanding of current art, his Gerber daisies appear to be “taped” to a piece of black paper with many pieces of tape—red tape, duct tape, you name it. This work is edgy, unique and masculine, but the real surprises are the “3-inch nails,” complete with shadows, that appear to be pounded into the paper along with “tears” in the paper, which are actually drawn in. Trompe-l’oeil realism that fools the eye has been with us for a century or more, but Mauersberger’s use of modern materials for his subject matter brings this revered style into the new millennium.

Ned Gannon also uses realistic techniques while tearing off a chunk of paradise, and floating it, like an island, above the flat Midwestern landscape. As difficult as it is to get content and ideas into landscape paintings, Gannon gets us to move into his work and inspires our imaginations.

In the past couple of decades, women artists have been accepted for their talent. Now, for the most part, they no longer feel the need to hide the fact they are female. Some, such as Yvette Kaiser Smith, relish it.

Kaiser Smith knows how to crochet! And she flaunts it with a beautiful, astonishing wall sculpture. Created with fiberglass and resin, one huge, crocheted half-circle stands out from the wall and casts its magical shadows, while another hugs the wall.

Judy Langston, on the other hand, takes a humorous look at marketing to women—Botox. This has to be the most current topic addressed in this show. Seventy almost identical photos of a placid-faced woman are arranged in a grid. In each one, the woman is supposed to be showing a different emotion from aggressive and agonized, to turned on and withdrawn. Not only are these emotions labeled and alphabetized, they are “Botoxed.” This work is an unnerving mirror of our placid acceptance in today’s difficult world.

Then, Jessica Rose White has created a metaphor for distressed and abused women by whittling down an ornate wooden chair until it is dangerously thin in places and one leg is whittled away completely. It casts its ghostly “shadow” onto a piece of plexi cut to the shadow’s shape and outlined in acrylic paste.

Finally, several pieces use today’s “super-flat” motif. Somewhere in the recent past, we took a long, hard look at texture and decided that just because a painting has texture doesn’t mean it’s art. So these paintings, with areas of super-flat, pastel colors, now emphasize the balance of shape, size and value.

Robert Horvath’s two figurative paintings from 2004 are wonderful examples of this play of shape placement. His use of glossy, airbrushed paint against flat, contemporary-colored backgrounds combines techniques and surfaces. In one, he even takes this mix one step further and creates an Impressionistically painted ornament in the hair of his female figure.

On the same wall, David Sebberson’s painting has both the look of a geometric abstraction and the feeling of the interior of a house. Two large, flat yellow panels dominate the painting, while angular marks at the top and bottom of the work give the feeling of perspective. Along the edges are mauve bands decorated with wallpaper-like violet roses. There are two red slashes in the yellow panels that both surprise us and show the hand of the artist. His is a hybrid art of styles, with hints of perspective and realism.

I could go on and on, but you will just have to see this show for yourself. Before I close, though, I want to make one comment to artists reading this. Forty-five percent of the entries to this show were digitally photographed and turned in on disk. We are rapidly entering a new age where slides will become a thing of the past. Get ready.

The 2006 Rockford Midwestern Exhibition runs until July 23 at the museum, 711 N. Main St., downtown Rockford. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Phone 968-2787 for more information.

Susan Webb Tregay is a local artist, author and teacher.

From the June 14-20, 2006, issue

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