ITHACA, NY -- Open call group exhibitions are a familiar feature of the local gallery calendar. Typically, barriers to entry are low. Such shows invariably attract a wide variety of hopefuls: ranging from formidable artists with decades of experience, to gifted up-and-comers, to hobbyists with an inflated sense of self-accomplishment.?
The difficulty is accentuated by the popular practice of having an organizing “theme”: whether to fig leaf the same old show or out of a sincere desire to address some subject of purported social or artistic interest. Since local open calls attract the same entrants over and over — and since the gatekeeping is so lackadaisical — the result is that most artists don’t put in much extra effort. We see superficial variations on familiar approaches and questionable plunges into the “new.”?
These challenges and disparities ought to be evident to anybody with a commitment to the Ithaca area’s more ambitious artists. “POP!,” the fifth annual members’ show at the Trumansburg Conservatory of Fine Arts, is a case in point. This “tribute” to ‘60s Pop Art, open through August 7, was organized by the TCFA-affiliated Cayuga Arts Collective. As usual, any CayAC member is guaranteed inclusion. The results are predictably motley.?
The practice of a curator or juror including their own work in “their” group show would raise eyebrows in a more professional or serious-minded artistic community. Thankfully, curators Domenica Brockman and Marina Delaney are skilled, inventive artists and one doesn’t begrudge their inclusion here too much.?
Brockman is a talented geometric abstractionist, known locally for her work in encaustic (wax paint). Her overscaled “Palumbo,” done in acrylic, is a gorgeous concentration of stacked semi-circles, shaped in crisp silver and plangent magenta and reds and presented against bare canvas. It would perhaps have been better to leave her other two pieces here in the studio — if only to give a sporting chance to work with a more Pop sensibility.??
Delaney, an art historian, combines elegant draftsmanship and erudite wit in her figure drawings. “Two Classical Heads” juxtaposes a concise pen and pencil rendering of a female nude bust with a tiny stamp (placed on the matting) of a more obviously classical lady’s head, seen in profile.
It’s hard to deny the influence of Pop on more recent art but the concrete accomplishment is questionable. The idea of parodying commercial graphics — from print or electronic media — in the form of gallery art, chiefly painting, may appear clever or provocative. But it’s hard to pull off effectively in terms native to traditional fine arts media.?
Thus it’s unsurprising that the best art here has little or nothing to do with Pop in style, subject, or attitude. Characteristically ingenious is Victoria Romanoff’s painted wood assemblage “Overengineered Project” (remarkably, dated 1965), which exhibits Pop-friendly wit but has more in common with Dada and Surrealism. “The Invasion of the Rats,” a mixed-media work on paper by Joy Adams, shows a certain ‘50s proto-Pop sensibility in its conflation of expressionist abstraction, collage aesthetic, and painterly figuration. Irrelevant to the alleged theme but compelling nonetheless are abstract oils by Ileen Kaplan, feltworks by Denise Kooperman, and digital paperfold reliefs by Werner Sun.?
It’s easy to take some of the familiar tropes associated with Pop and give them a superficial treatment. Predictably, we see dull recreations of Roy Lichtenstein’s fake Ben Day dots and the inevitable faux-Warhol color variations.?
Extra credit — though not too much — goes to artists here recollecting the lesser-known history of Pop and Pop-adjacent art. Evan Freeman’s junk shop installation “Warhol’s Wardrobe” shows an above average familiarity with ‘60s culture. Dan Burgevin is showing painting and assemblage from his ongoing “Pop” series, which invokes the political turn taken by the movement later in the decade.??
Part of Pop’s mass appeal is in its name: punchy, demotic, onomatopoetic, and multi-referential. Aidan Kaplan-Wright and Natasha Keller take precisely the irreverent approach that the show’s stipulated theme calls for. Kaplan-Wright, also showing printmaking, presents a digitally animated video, “PYGB Squares,” that takes Op Art — that other ‘60s fashion — to its brain-numbing conclusion. More watchable is Keller’s performance video “My Movie” wherein the artist’s talking head calls out “Mom” in comic variations. This is reportedly the TCFA’s first foray into exhibiting video art. May it continue.?