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Art Review: 'Textured' at Vermont Metro Gallery

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Curators often look for a unifying theme when titling a group show. It gives viewers a conceptual frame for seeing an assortment of pieces as a cohesive, comprehensible whole rather than as an arbitrary array of artworks with little stylistically in common.

“Textured,” however, doesn’t fit comfortably as the billing for the current show at the Vermont Metro Gallery. The term, which suggests works that evoke a desire to touch, definitely does apply to some of the 40 or so watercolors, sculptures, prints, silhouettes and fabric assemblages on view on the fourth floor of the BCA Center. It’s too far a stretch, however, to describe many of the others that way.

BCA didn’t need to herd this diverse aggregation into a narrow notional corral. “Four Vermont Women Artists” might not be as pithy a title, but it would avoid tendentious categorization while implicitly acknowledging differences among both media and methods that visitors will notice more than the similarities.

That plain-Jane alternative title would also highlight a species of show that remains rare, even in an art world that’s becoming less male dominated. Plus, it’s consistent with the gallery’s stated mission: to “present and sell the artwork of Vermont artists working in a wide variety of contemporary media.”

That said, texture is the defining element of Karen Henderson’s fabric creations. She combines handwoven linen with cottons and silks to produce subdued, moody images that evoke Vermont landscapes. They also allude to the poetic paintings of American tonalists such as Thomas Wilmer Dewing and John Henry Twachtman.

Henderson achieves literal depth in a couple of these mostly smallish pieces through the recessing of a rectangular shape that looks as though it could be a secret compartment or an entryway into another dimension.

The artist’s practice of bisecting her planes by means of contrasts in color or material leads us to see horizon lines in her semirepresentational works. That perception is reinforced in “Await” by triangular shapes on the top part of the composition that locals will read as Adirondack peaks and by a bluish, watery foreground suggestive of a large lake. The vertical stitching that the artist includes in some of her weavings is angled in “Await” like streaks of rain.

Texture is also a primary attribute of Gowri Savoor’s wall projections. Scores of foot-long wire strands — as straight and nearly as thin as needles — protrude in compact formation from a background board. Each is crowned with a seed — sunflower in the case of “Blackbird,” pumpkin in “Seed-bank.” There’s also “Ash-Maple Cube,” which consists of a small wooden frame suspended from the ceiling, its six sides pasted all over with the type of seeds kids call “helicopters.”

These dynamic pieces look like they’re about to vibrate. The torqued form of “Blackbird” seethes with as much coiled energy as a Richard Serra steel construction 1,000 times its size and one million times its weight.

Just as Henderson works in the traditionally female medium of needlepoint, so can Savoor’s minimalist “seedscapes” be seen as a feminine counterpoint to the hypermasculine erections of a Serra or a Mark di Suvero.

And there’s more of Savoor to savor in this show. She’s also represented by watercolors that can’t be said to offer much in the way of texture, but do possess plenty of visual power. A palette of yellow, orange and magenta produces welcome warmth in a couple of these works on paper; others are cool combinations of blue, green and gray. All consist of ribbon-like tendrils looping and swooping into intertwined, circular patterns that, if they could speak, would make a joyful whoop.

Savoor, a Montpelier resident of Anglo-Indian descent, is an artist of great verve and versatility.

Photographer Mary Zompetti achieves a streaky, layered effect of colors and shadows in her series of “scanner experiments” that straddle the divide between digital and analog. A spectrum-like arrangement is produced in “Prisms” by thin vertical lines of subtly varied hues, while a specter appears in the form of what might be a couple of curled, translucent fingers. Black smudges and hair’s-width flecks also punctuate the piece.

Kodak-retro film strips and camera parts appear in other Zompetti prints, such as “Spiraled,” which also includes human forms and hints of vegetation. There is something textural about these large-scale apparitions, but their eeriness makes the strongest impression.

Time for something a little lighthearted? Vermont Metro Gallery delivers it in this exhibit via an 18-part set of “scissor drawings” by Jennifer Koch.

She pastes black paper cutouts onto pages sliced from a dictionary. The artist’s interventions sometimes relate to an original drawing on the page that accompanies a word’s definition. Koch’s forms include birds, fish, tools, knives, a ladder and a gun. There’s also something that resembles a molecular chain, as well as the sort of finger and hand positions used in sign language. In one especially droll work, a bull stands on its hind legs, balanced on a fish and holding a pair of scissors.

Art hounds may guess at the influence of Kara Walker on this part of Koch’s portfolio. That African American artist puts black cutouts of women and Aphroditic figures on white backgrounds to pose questions and present critiques related to race and gender. Koch isn’t aiming for political profundity in her less thematically laden creations. Her scissor drawings are simply juxtapositions of words and images. And that’s enough.

“Textured” at Vermont Metro Gallery, BCA Center in Burlington. Through March 22. burlingtoncityarts.org

The original print version of this article was headlined "Female Foursome"

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