Now in its 10th year, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s “Juried Biennial” becomes larger and more diverse with each iteration.
And that’s a good thing, says the museum’s curator Barbara Jones. “There are a lot of new artists, a lot of new names,” she says of the current exhibit. “And it’s always interesting to see work by artists I am not familiar with.”
The juror for the 2012 Biennial — Kerry Oliver-Smith, curator of contemporary art at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville — gave the exhibit “a fresh set of eyes,” Jones says. It was Oliver-Smith’s job to select the 113 works on display by 101 artists from within a 150-mile radius of the Greensburg museum.
“This exhibition provides a rich opportunity to see the world in a different and refreshing way,” she wrote in her statement.
There are works in every imaginable medium, as well as encompassing a variety of subject matter. But even so, many pieces fall into familiar categories. For, as Oliver-Smith puts it, “Landscape provides the subject for an impressive body of work in the exhibition.”
Canonsburg artist Lynn Deppen’s “Grove of Trees” is a real standout. An imaginary landscape featuring a forest path winding around a grove of trees, it is painted in vibrant swirls of blue, orange and green. Deppen says the painting was inspired by her memories of “the shade and manicured area under the big old trees of a picnic grove as a kid.”
Portraiture is another subject that is the show’s strong suit. With its vibrant colors and splashy painting technique, the larger-than-life portrait “Robert McClendon” by Export artist Dan Bolick is a real eye-catcher.
The painting is of a man sentenced to life in prison for rape, from a series of 26 portraits of 13 different individuals Bolick created called “Resurrected: The Innocence Portraits.”
“These unfortunate people have served a total of 203 years in prison — 71 on death row — for crimes they did not commit,” Bolick says.
Another portrait on display represents many people in one face. “Anders” by Kenneth Nicholson of Norvelt is from his series “Brouhaha,” which consists of paintings of people from his community, especially those that frequent the local bar scene.
Nicholson says the portrait is actually “a composite of faces.” It’s an idea he says that came from “the idea of satire, where the main character becomes unimportant next to the underlying theme of the story.”
“Anders is smirking with a fat lip, unapologetic, he’s not hiding his black eye, yet, he’s dressed as if he came to impress everyone around him,” Nicholson says. “I would go to bars and see these false airs people had on in an attempt to cover up their insecurities and, at the same time, they put them on display for everyone.”
Nicholson says Anders represents the crowd “at their best and worst at the same time.”
Not a portrait per se, but the painting “In Memory of Larry Desmedt” by Robin Grass of Everett is a homage to “Indian Larry,” who was a biker, motorcycle builder and sculptor from New York who made elaborate sculptures from steel, brass and chrome.
“His work created classic iconic images of the American iron horse,” Grass says. “He adopted as his signature a question mark, which he felt was emblematic of both his life and his philosophy. His sculpture conveys both his sense of aesthetics and his philosophy into an image of raw power coupled with a sense of freedom. He died Aug. 30, 2004, and the world is diminished by his passing.”
There’s also a great deal of abstract work, especially in regard to painting. The nonobjective abstract painting “Odds and Ends” by Darryl Audia Jr. is of note for its strong composition.
Audia, who has been an art teacher at Greensburg Salem Middle School for the past eight years (right across the street from the museum), says of the piece, “I attempted to give the work both spatial calmness and internal tension. I also wanted the geometric parts to appear as though they belong together, even though they are separate and dispersed throughout the piece.”
Finally, photography is another medium well represented. Many are of the landscape variety, abstract or otherwise. One piece is unique for its incorporation of object and landscape. “The Door” by Biff Rendar of Hempfield is unique in that it looks like a Photoshopped composite image of a door superimposed on a field, but was literally made by propping up an old door in a field on the artist’s farm.
Also interesting to note, like many artists in this exhibit, this is Rendar’s first foray into exhibiting his work in a large group show like this.
“Other than my wife and a few friends, no one had ever really seen anything that I’ve done until October of last year,” Rendar says. “This is the first juried show that I have ever entered.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].