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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Decorum at the Hygienic show

Hygienic Art Gallery
83 Bank St., P.O. Box 417, New London, (860) 443-8001
Hygienic Art Exhibition: Salon des Independants XXVIII
Closes Feb. 10, 2007

What's happened to "epater le bourgeois?" In previous years, the New London free-for-all known as the Salon des Independants—now in its 28th year—has been notable for having a bracing dose of sexual imagery. After all, the rules are no rules: no judge, no jury, no fees, no censorship. As one of the organizers told me for an article I wrote for the New Haven Advocate in 2001, "There's usually a large penis factor at the Hygienic."

But at this year's show, the "large penis factor" was pretty much confined to Jacqueline Phillips' "Feel," a pastel of an ecstatic woman atop an enormous male member.

The Hygienic has also been known for acidic political commentary. Given the present climate, it would have been reasonable to expect a lot of Bush-bashing. And there was some of that. But it seemed pro forma, half-hearted, lacking in real passion or artistic energy. Robert Hauschild's "Who Is the World's Worst Dictator? Imperial Bush" is, loosely speaking, a collage. But the slapped-on imagery and text is artless. It doesn't match the ferocity of its political rage.

There were a few pointed works inspired by the recent eminent domain controversy in New London. (The city evicted a number of local homeowners to clear the way for economic development in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.) Jimmy Hill's "Kelo's Curse" is an oil painting that depicts the pink home of Susette Kelo, the named plaintiff in the Supreme Court case. Kelo was one of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood residents who lost their homes. Her curse on New London officials—sent to them on notorious 2006 Christmas cards—is printed on a piece of poster board beneath the painting. The painting itself is competent in an amateur sort of way. Perhaps it's all the more evocative for the earnest grassroots naïveté of its execution.

Another locally topical work is Robert Bareiss' "Screw U." Made out of recycled metal, it sports a big screw and a u-shaped piece of metal bolted to a base. A plaque reads, "Q: What did the NLDC say to the residents of Fort Trumbull?" The answer is the title. (The NLDC is the New London Development Corporation.)

Among the standout works at this show were sculptural pieces. These included Karen Greenwald's "Flying Spaghetti Monster," a mixed media hanging accompanied by an "Open Letter to Kansas School Board". The letter was a satiric response by Kansan Bobby Henderson to the then-school board's imposition of a fatuous "intelligent design" curriculum to be taught along with evolution. It postulated that the "was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster." Greenwald represents this deity well using wires, vines, straw and twine (but no spaghetti that I could see).

Other notable sculptures included Marie Kobar's punning "Poultry in Motion," a likeness of a hen a-laying made out of chicken wire, toilet paper rolls, recycled poetry pages, a record player and Styrofoam eggs. The "poultry" spins on the record player. M[arcus]' "DOG" is a room-filling found object (oak and steel) sculpture of a larger than life canine. Dave Mourad's "De Pino Grigio: a tribute to 'God' himself" is an imposing Lego sculpture of physicist Enrico Fermi. Fermi wears a bowtie with clocks on it; a plaque at his feet has the symbol for radioactivity on it. Fermi points toward Colin Burke's kinetic sculpture "Tempus Fugit," mounted on the wall over the front windows. A noisy representation of atomic scientists' "doomsday clock," its motor feverishly spins its one hand. The panel it is mounted on features a timeline charting—according to atomic scientists—the number of minutes from doomsday we have been each year from 1947 to the present. (Things aren't looking good, folks.)

Perhaps the most courageous work in the show is Laura Natusch's "Project Hamad." This is three pieces of paper crudely matted triptych-style on one piece of board. In the left panel is an orange piece of fabric with "#940" printed on it. This page reads:

For seventeen years, Adel Hamad worked for nongovernmental relief organizations. He was a hospital administrator. He taught orphaned children. He told jokes and played ping pong. He was a husband and father.

Now he is Detainee #940 at Guantanamo Bay.

There is no evidence that he supported terrorism or sympathized with those who did.

He never had a chance to prove his innocence in court.

(As an aside, under what used to be our system of jurisprudence, the state had to prove guilt.)

In the center is a letter from Natusch to Hamad saying she has "not forgotten your suffering in Guantanamo Bay" and hoping he will soon get a fair trial. In the panel on the right, she admits,

I am afraid to mail this letter. I am afraid the government will put me on a list of people who support terrorism because I believe in habeas corpus. But I will mail it anyway. I hope some of you will join me in signing it or write letters of your own.

A pen attached by a chain—how apropos—is provided and a few dozen people have signed it. But it is only Laura Natusch whose address is on it.


So, why a more genteel Salon des Independants this year? Vinnie Scarrano, president of Hygienic Art and one of the founders, thinks one factor might be that they started allowing artists to sell their work through the gallery (at a 30 percent commission) at the show a couple of years ago. Perhaps artists are putting in more "serious" work—work people might buy. (Scarrano also said there were about 50 less participants this year than last year—a holiday for art provocateurs?)

"Last year we sold about $26,000 in artwork," Scarrano said, referring to the entire year and not just the Salon des Independants show. "What's good on our part is I'm always seeing checks going out to artists from the Hygienic. When someone gets a check from Hygienic Art, it's always good P.R. For artists, it makes them want to come back here."

James Stidfole, Hygienic Art treasurer, added, "That's our role—to support the development of emerging artists. So we take less [normal commercial gallery commissions are significantly higher] and spend more time begging for grants ."

"So we truly are non-profit," said Scarrano, laughing.


Blogger david said...

join Laura Natusch in support of justice at Guantanamo

there is a growing grass-roots effort to restore habeas corpus. join us at:

and read about the latest developments regarding habeas corpus suspension and its effect on U.S. citizens at our blog:

10:46 PM

Blogger Studio 323 :: 56 Arbor St said...

Thanks for the coverage. Two things I want to point out with regard to the placement of my piece, Tempus Fug-it, over the windows and Dave Mourad's piece "pointing" at my kinetic sculpture: This is the third year in a row I've put a piece over the window and the third year I've had some electrical component in my work. Dave Mourad's piece was already in place when I arrived to install. It was all purely coincidental, but it looked like it was planned, I guess. thanks again, Colin Burke

1:23 PM

Anonymous NEGLECTURE said...

Ha - so two Hartford artists who have worked at the 56 Arbor Street building synchronize for the potential of nuclear annihilation - that's additional "serendipity" I hadn't known until reading the comments thread.



3:35 PM

Anonymous Grippo said...

Let it be noted that Hygienic Art is not what it started out to be,which was a revolt of the local establishment art scene.
Now it considers itself so important that one of it's boardmembers had an anti-semitic blog posted on it's own website for 3 months.
Fellow boardmembers did nothing.
But when Grippo, a past founder & officer, started a campaign to make Hygienic Arts supporters aware of their apathy, Grippo was threatened with arrest by their president-Vincent Scarano!
The shameful blog,written by Terry "Davo" Davis (who still is a boardmember!) was allowed to stay on their website for 3 months, yet when Grippo posted comments highlighting the hypocrisy of this boardmember in relation to Hygienic Arts core values, Grippo was summarily banned from their website, which further highlights their hypocritical image.
Hygienic Art has now become it's own worst enemy.
It's rather ironic that the article discusses Adel Hamad and Guantanamo Bay, when in this light, Hygienic Art has become a dictator unto itself.

1:26 PM


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