Subpar—Or Sour Grapes? The PS Art Museum's 'Artists Council Exhibition' Includes Some Hits—and a Lot of MissesWritten by Victor Barocas
Temperamental artists took to the Internet after the Palm Springs Art Museum announced the works that would be included in the Artists Council Exhibition 2015.
Normally, the complaining ends within a week of the announcement; however, this year, the comments seemed especially fractious. While most selected artists took pride in their inclusion, many Artists Council members who were not included criticized every aspect of the selection process, from the number of jurors to the number of submissions per artist. (Full disclosure: I submitted art to the show which was not selected.)
Some suggested that the museum create a show featuring the rejects. Regrettably, a small contingency made the conversation personal, impugning the integrity and competency of Artists Council peers.
The results of the selection process are now on display for everyone to see. Unfortunately, I found a fair number of the pieces to be derivative, in a way that does not add to an understanding of an artist or school of art. In addition, I felt some included artists need to rethink their message, and how it is expressed. However, since I am in the awkward position of being a reviewer whose own work was not selected for the show, I’ll focus on the pieces that were decidedly successful.
The narrative presented by Debra Thompson’s assemblage-encaustic “Newtown 26” contains at least two stories: In addition to skillfully honoring the lives lost as a result of the Sandy Hook killings, the artist covers her journey toward a personal understanding and reconciliation of that event in the context of the Second Amendment and the need for the United States to find a better way to address the mental-health needs of its citizens.
Thompson constructed a less-than-pristine American flag out of a series of materials. Some of the 50 white stars are missing. In their stead, the viewer sees the bottom of shell casings. Old Glory’s white stripes are an encaustic or waxy substance, upon which grayish-white faces of children are presented. As with the stars, a number of faces are replaced with the bottoms of shell casings. The most subtle and ultimately disconcerting component of the flag is its stripes: The six stripes that would normally be red consist of crayons—bordered by bullets.
Philippe Chambon continues to create visual spaces that are seemingly in constant motion. As he’s done on many other canvases, Chambon employs a limited number of deep, highly saturated and frequently muddied colors in “Reflection No. 34: ‘The Kiss.’” The artist applied purples, blues and greens to this 40-by-40-inch acrylic on canvas to create a merger of geometric and curved shapes. To enhance the dimensionality, Chambon outlines each shape or object with black paint. However, it’s his use of bright-white paint that makes the viewer’s eyes dance around the canvas. Surprisingly absent is the artist’s usual letter-like iconography.
Offering a contrast to the intensity of the works of Thompson and Chambon work is Alison Hunt Ballard’s woodblock relief print “Double Bond (Latere),” from her Trans Isomerism series. In this 30-by-22-inch work on paper with a mustard background, the artist shows two kneeling women with long black hair. Ballard presents one woman in a darker green-grey, while the second woman is presented in a lighter green-grey. A sense of connectedness is created by having each woman wrap her arms around the waist of the other. The message of connection is furthered by the depiction of the two, similarly shaped, overlapping heads. Inside each woman’s abdominal area sleeps a content, curled-up cat. Do these cats, presented inside a solid-red oval shape, represent wombs?
Bob Hoffmann’s 40-by-32-inch piece “Midcentury Modern” is separated from the less-successful pieces with a midcentury design thanks to its execution. Yes, “Midcentury Modern” contains all of the characteristics of the period (colors, geometric shapes); however, Hoffmann’s use of sewn fabric to develop and execute his creative intent makes the piece a unique addition. Beginning with a grid, the artist deconstructs the space with his use of a creamy-beige fabric. The deconstruction process results in a set of geometric forms, like rectangles, squares and trapezoids. Hoffmann completes his composition by inserting contrasting colored fabric into the open geometric shapes. While some spaces are filled with shades of the same color (deep blues, lime green), two complementary colors, such as orange and yellow, are used in others. Lastly, one space includes what seems like confetti with many of the colors frequently chosen by midcentury designers, architects and artists. The sewn-together pieces of fabric create a softness that is hard to achieve with paint.
The Artists Council Exhibition 2015 does indeed offer museum visitors an opportunity to see some excellent pieces created by local artists. However, it also includes a number of pieces that, in the eyes of some (myself included), aren’t worthy of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Check it out—and decide for yourself.
The Artists Council Exhibition 2015 is on display through Sunday, Dec. 6, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, located at 101 N. Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. The works are on sale, and 50 percent of the proceeds go toward the museum’s education programs. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; and noon to 8 p.m., Thursday. Admission prices vary. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org.