EXHIBIT:14th Annual South End Art Hop, Juried Show and more at Specialty Filaments Building, Burlington. September 15, 3-8 p.m., and 16, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., or by appointment through September 20.
ARTWORK:"Bush" by John Douglas
Burlington's venerable South End Art Hop kicked off its 14th annual fest last weekend with a new main location: the former Specialty Filaments, at the corner of Howard and Pine streets. Redstone, owner of the recently vacated structure, offered its northernmost end as a one-time substitute for the Hop's usual flagship venue, the Maltex Building across the street. While it provided an urban, "industrial" look for this freewheeling arts event, the new site was used with mixed results.
A warren of 43 small offices on two floors housed juried and unjuried works by some 200 artists. (Participants can pay to simply hang their work somewhere, or to be considered by the juror.) The presentation was confusing, however: The first floor offices were labeled "juried show," with a three-room space at the northeastern corner labeled "juror's selections." Many viewers may not understand the distinction. Also, it was not easy to discern what juror Elizabeth Olbert had in mind, as nearly every room exhibited a mixture of good and not-so-good works. Nor were the top three winners identified with labels, as of last Saturday.
On the plus side, it was intriguing to wander from room to room - probably few, if any, viewers had ever set foot in Specialty Filaments before. The real boon of the building, though, was its cavernous warehouse. While the Art Hop curators could have taken better advantage of the space, it did allow for "Strut," the Hop's first "runway" fashion show mounted by local clothing designers, as well as several large-scale installations.
The latter were easily Art Hop's most impressive works, and not just because of size. Burlington artist Michael Kuk's dramatic installation, entitled "Player Piano," was set up in a regrettably easy-to-miss annex of the main warehouse. In the darkened room, Kuk constructed an ethereal "column" by hanging 17-foot-long player-piano rolls, as a sort of circular shower curtain, from the ceiling. A downward-facing spotlight, housed in a sliced-up metal cylinder, eerily illuminated the column's interior and the lone piano stool on the floor below. Despite its innocent-sounding title, "Player Piano" conveyed the starkness and tension of an interrogation room.
But Kuk's masterpiece - "Constructing the Mind" - was located across a narrow, unlit hall. Stepping uncertainly into the pitch-black room, the viewer was confronted by an abstract constellation of glowing arrows - seemingly suspended in space but in fact projecting from otherwise unseen television monitors. The arrows all pointed to a small, spectral face at the installation's center. Kuk's provocative use of light and dark created an unparalleled vision.
Clark Derbes made good use of one warehouse wall with a sprawling mosaic of metal appliance doors. Like a neo-Constructivist, he arranged the large squares and rectangles of "Modular Paintings #2 (Art Hop)" and enlivened them with 1970s designer colors: olive, brownish bronze and "harvest gold." Derbes further marked the sheet metal with chaotic, quivering lines.
Back in the labyrinthine juried show, several of the best pieces were photography, and among the strongest was Charlotte photographer John Douglas' 34-by-48-inch digital print entitled "Bush." The shot of a leafless shrub coated with snow creates a shallow field of lights and darks as lacy and delicate as a painting by Abstract Expressionist Mark Tobey. It was not, however, a prize winner.
Second-place honors went to an outsized, monochromatic ink-jet print, entitled "On the Way to Ikea," by Burlington photographer Andy Duback. (Three other similar prints appeared in the non-juried show in the warehouse.) His 48-by-48-inch cyan image starkly depicts Hydro-Québec's high-tension power lines looming over a low horizon. The ubiquitous structure is rendered strangely beautiful with Duback's use of unnatural, aptly electrified color.
Surprisingly, this year's first-place, juried prize went to a ceramic work - an earthenware platter by Christina Pellechio of Waterbury. The intricately patterned black-on-white piece is pleasing and well made, but a functional object (albeit wall-hung here) was an interesting choice in a show that has long been dominated by two-dimensional and sculptural works. It was also curious given the evident aesthetic bias of the juror.
Olbert, a Maine-based artist who shows in New York City and other urban locales, expressed views about "provincial" and "regional" art in her three-page juror statement that many locals found offensive. Art Hop Chairman Mark Waskow, who chose the juror, even saw fit to post a blow-softening disclaimer, though most viewers probably failed to notice it. (Waskow encourages viewers who may wish to weigh in to send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org .)
The Hop's historic problems with juror selection are perhaps best left for another discussion. Suffice it to say here that Olbert's third-place pick was a work whose ironic, sci-fi tendencies echo her own: David Kearns' neo-surreal, cartoonish oil painting entitled "Across the Rubicon."
As for the separately judged outdoor sculptures, Thea Alvin's "Cart Arch," an unexpectedly graceful construction of grocery carts, won first prize. The popular "People's Choice" award is still open - viewers can vote through this weekend.
Preliminary counts indicate that the 2006 South End Art Hop drew even more visitors than last year's record 20,000 attendees. Despite logistical challenges, municipal obstacles and questionable jurying, the event is clearly Burlington's biggest and brightest visual-art event. Here's hoping its organizers, and the hundreds of artists who participate, will hatch even better plans for next year.