Women Artists At The Pg Art Center
A smaller net might have improved the catch at the Pacific Grove Art Center.
Thursday, November 7, 2002
Photo: Working Women: Peter Hughes''s portraits of Belle Yang, Melissa Lofton and Ann Downs show the faces behind the art.
Women Artists of the Monterey Peninsula, a new exhibition at the Pacific Grove Art Center, has all the makings, or trappings, of an informative exercise in contemporary art history. Unfortunately, the lack of any connecting stylistic or curatorial thread-other than gender-reduces the viewing experience to a sometimes frustrating search for art, craft and content.
Conceived almost two years ago by Denise Sallee, a Peninsula photographer with a background in women''s studies, the exhibition grew out of discussions with colleagues regarding male artists and female artists. Is there a difference in sensibility between men and women as they explore the creative process and produce final works?
"I researched the bohemian tradition of this area and knew that many of the early artists were women-Josephine Culbertson, Mary de Neale Morgan, Effie Fortune, Maxine Weeks Abdy," recounts Sallee. "I also knew that there were many women artists working around here today. What would it be like to pull them all together?"
Sallee called upon 32 local women artists to contribute a piece each to the exhibition and answer questions regarding their decisions to become artists, their training, their inspirations, and their choice of the Monterey Peninsula as a place of residence.
Although Sallee didn''t quite use an "all-comers" approach in her selection of the artists, she did listen to friends and other artists suggest this or that person to include. "The selection process grew organically," she says. "It was for women who haven''t been seen that much before. I didn''t want just another show of the usual names. I didn''t want to be discriminating, I wanted heart and soul."
The weakness in the exhibition, and it is considerable, is the wildly varied quality of the work. What might have been a strong feminist statement-Look what these women are doing today!-has become watered down with the lack of screening. Student-level work or work with little or no foundation in technique or content punctuate the whole. A survey of the show raises cloying questions regarding artistic imperative. This exhibition has several levels of technical accomplishment and, as a result, displays a range of voices-some sing, some are hushed and some are inaudible. It is one thing to be thought-provoking, challenging, confrontational, and quite another thing to be bereft of discipline and a point of view.
But any gathering of 32 works will have its nuggets, works that stop you in your tracks or grow in complexity and reward with sustained viewing. Martha Casanave''s pinhole photograph of tidal rocks has more resonance than the biggest painting in the show. The artist has used the immediacy of the simple camera and created a timeless image, where water and rock interact in their eternal pas de deux. Deep tones and velvety highlights combine magically, conjuring an emotional place and documenting a specific scene.
"Pasigraphie 7" by Tracey Adams is a deft oil painting that melds a personal iconography, flowers, birds, egg shapes, with a painterly space of arches and blotches of color that advance and recede and define a dream place. The forms come and go like errant memories; as formal relationships are digested, the personal realm she has created becomes, if not known, then intuited.
Mary Balzar Buskirk''s weaving, "Choices," revels in its own clarity. Her provocative message, like warp and weft threads, repeats dronelike and haunting: "great nations write their histories in the book of deeds, the book of words, the book of art."
Jan Wagstaff''s painting of reeds and reflections on water is another in her ongoing series that plays a concerto of searing highlights and calligraphic blades of grass against the deep orchestra of blue-greens. It isn''t about place; rather, the image is a vehicle for the artist to mark, to illuminate, to reveal the nuances of touch.
Women Artists of the Monterey Peninsula continues at the PG Art Center through Dec. 21.