For the civilian community on the East End (i.e. non-artists) the usual harbingers of spring include such phenomena as the disappearance of parking spaces, the reappearance of lines at restaurants, or suffering the first pulled muscle playing softball (if it didn’t already happen gardening).
For artists, on the other hand, who await the arrival of the gallery season with the agitated trepidation and anticipation of randy adolescents before a school dance, the first sign of spring tends to be the Guild Hall Annual Members Exhibition at the museum in East Hampton.
Now divided into two parts while Guild Hall is being renovated (this half being members whose last names range from M to Z), the exhibition features pretty much anyone who wishes to wear the mantle of “Hamptons artist.” Now in its 70th year, the exhibit is nevertheless significantly more than a mere assemblage of artworks by local artists. Instead, while it certainly represents the kickoff to the traditional summer whirlwind of art openings, from a less cynical perspective it also personifies the community as a whole in its talent, diversity, and remarkable communal cohesiveness.
This isn’t to imply that one won’t come across works that bring on involuntary spasms of aesthetic agony in their sometimes literal explosions of artistic incompetence, what Ingres described as “a bazaar where mediocrity spreads itself out with impudence.” Nevertheless, this year these lapses seem significantly fewer than in the past, and in some cases actually provide an occasional measure of comic relief as one moves through the gallery in search of more fulfilling material.
Of particular interest in the exhibition is Pat Moran’s “On the Third Day, Things Didn’t Go So Well” (ink on glass) which illustrates this artist’s control of materials and his ability to create atmospheric effects that are, by turns, gentle and filled with portent. While small in scale, this piece evokes the sense of great depth within, and the use of light—in moving the eye from the roiled skies to the twisted and surrealistically anthropomorphized foliage in the center of the composition—is singularly effective.
The effective use of both scale and illumination are also important components in Elizabeth Sloan Tyler’s “August Heat” (oil on canvas). Conjuring a much greater expanse of inner space than its relatively diminutive size might otherwise imply, through the juxtaposition of tint and line, this effect is enhanced by the subtle bands of color that peek through the work’s rough surface, with a small distant sun accentuating the sense of implied perspective.
Dan Weldon’s “Antarctic Wonder” (mixed media), by contrast, is constantly flattening the surface, pulling the eye forward while using negative space to create the mirage of depth behind the lumbering shape that fills the central portion of the composition.
Also of note is Michael Yurick’s “Shadow Play Series: Times Square” (photographic construction), which fractures and rearranges the structure of the image itself, creating the sense of an urban cacophony that is, despite its jarring surface organization, deceptively melodic in its rhythmic dissonance.
Jane Martin’s “Second Nature” (acrylic, pigment print, charcoal, resin) is of interest for the manner in which the artist seems to be working back toward some of her earlier painterly roots. Reminiscent of her previous abstract works, in their use of pictorial structure, spatial illusion and color relationships, the work further expands upon Ms. Martin’s pursuit of conjuring an atmosphere of order arising from the chaos of our own internal confusions and contradictions.
Jeff Muhs, on the other hand, offers in his sculpture, “Things that Steve gave me: The Clamp” (mixed media/concrete), a completely different approach from the more spiritual atmospherics of his paintings. Consisting of a large wooden carpenter’s clamp partially embedded in concrete, the work offers a plethora of imaginative narratives ?in its Dada-like simplicity, allowing spirituality, I guess, to be at least one of them.
Also of interest, among too many to name, are works by Ann Sager, Chaim Mizrahi, Karryn Mannix, Harriet Sawyer, Nan Orshevsky, Nick Tarr, David Slater, Linda Stein, Mark Seidenfeld and Sibylle-Maria Pfaffenbichler.
The first half of Guild Hall’s 70th Annual Members Exhibition (M-Z) continues through April 26.