Superlatives abound when one describes the South End Art Hop. It’s easily the largest, liveliest and most important visual-arts event in Vermont. This year’s nearly 100 exhibit locations showcased works in all media by 500 artists across Burlington’s vibrantly humming South End. In a logistical tour de force, 2010’s Art Hop staff, under new director Roy Feldman and event coordinator Bob Bolyard, pulled off the 19th annual festival without a major hitch. And artworks of impressive caliber seemed to be everywhere you looked, from Main Street to Flynn Avenue and all the nooks and crannies in between.
The nexus of such crowded creativity is what presenters — the South End Arts and Business Association — calls the “original juried show,” though it’s essentially a noncompetitive exhibit that takes all comers. Each year a juror from out of town whittles the entries down into a competitive exhibition from which award selections are made.
This year, juror Caitlin Clancy from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston did an admirable job of conferring awards, although, as always, the pros and cons of the winning selections could be endlessly debated. Every year’s top-tier juried show has a unique texture informed by the juror’s biases and sensibilities, and Clancy seemed to have a particular interest in drawings.
First prize was awarded to Ida Ludlow’s “Papier Mâché Hat.” The colored drawing portrays a wizened woman wearing a strange chapeau that seems to have three antennae projecting from it. Ludlow’s semiabstract oil pastel “Valves” contains biomorphic forms, including a thin baby, and is arguably the stronger of her pieces. At third place, another drawing, Sophie Eisner’s charcoal on brown butcher paper, is the rendering of a wise and wrinkly face called “Grandpa, Narlai, India.” Some viewers may think it’s nothing special, while others may be delighted by it, but such is the nature of all juried shows.
James Riviello’s cast-glass sculpture “To the Future” received second prize. It’s easy to agree with Clancy’s praise of his “theme, material use, craftsmanship, design, aesthetic and execution.” Riviello’s other piece, “Smoke Means Problems,” is equally strong. The exploration of gears and machine elements seems influenced by art deco, and by early-20th-century visions of modernism.
Among the other highlights at the Soda Plant is John Douglas’ black-and-white photograph “Bobcat.” The image, which presents an apparently dead bobcat lying on long grass, is rich in visual textures and wonderfully balanced tonalities. The cat’s fur and the dense grasses seem to intermingle as a harbinger of the animal’s impending decay.
Several panoramic painting triptychs are also of interest: “Fetch the Whisper” by Roger Coleman; “Orange and Blue Display” by Kate Bright; and “Winter Village” by Ethan Azarian. Each looms large — about 10 feet long — engulfing the viewer’s eye by virtue of its scale.
Bright’s piece consists of fractured shapes and various weights of line demarcating flat hues of pale blue and complementary orange; black voids deepen the space. Coleman’s piece is more closely related to formal abstract expressionism than to contemporary design. His hues are luminous and overlapped. Earth tones and silvery white dominate the two left-hand panels, accented by patches of red and Prussian blue. In the rightmost panel, a large area of emerald green anchors the composition. Azarian’s triptych is a jumble of 15 simplified house forms in black, white and gray, but he astutely varies values between warm and cool among the houses.
In the Outdoor Sculpture and Public Art category, James Irving Westermann had a double win of first prize for his metal and stone sculptures “Meteor (and) Comet,” and second prize for chopper-esque “Trike,” all sited along Pine Street. Azarian also created a piece of public art, which won third in the hybrid category: His playful mural “Balance” brightens an exterior wall at Upstairs Antiques on Flynn Avenue. At about 18 feet high, the mural is certainly the biggest painting of this year’s Hop.