EXHIBIT: "Women's Work: No Boundaries," a group exhibit in multiple media, Main and West galleries, through August 28; and box constructions by Jennifer Koch and pastel paintings by Marilyn Ruseckas, East Gallery, through July 10. Helen Day Art Center, Stowe. Additional works by the five finalists for the National Museum of Women in the Arts, McCarthy Arts Center Gallery, St. Michael's College, Colchester, through August 28.
ARTWORK: "Inside Out" by Kathleen Schneider
The current group of exhibitions at Stowe's Helen Day Art Center is highly diverse, except in one respect: All the art is by women. The aptly titled "Women's Work: No Boundaries" features eight females who create in a variety of media. Five of them are "finalists" designated by the Vermont Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. The museum proactively seeks out artists on a state-by-state basis in a brilliant, refreshing approach to presenting contemporary art. Even if none of the Vermonters ends up in NMWA's permanent collection, the vetting process demonstrates a respect for regionalism as well as "women's art."
Vermont's fab five finalists are, not surprisingly, among the Green Mountain State's most established and frequently exhibited artists: painter Gail Salzman, printmaker Claire Van Vliet, textile artist Deidre Scherer and sculptors Patricia Burleson and Kathleen Schneider. At the Helen Day, their works are grouped in the West Gallery. The other three, less-known artists in "Women's Work" are Arista Alanis, Rachel Moore and Ashley James; the trio is presented in the Main Gallery.
A Seattle artist, Moore has contributed three glass sculptures that seem to drip off the walls. "Surrender" -- the largest, at 7 feet long -- is a mixed-media piece in which six gobs of green glass are strung horizontally and connected by thin strings of glass, looped together like pieces of stretched chewing gum.
Johnson-based Alanis is represented by several monoprints and six impressive, large-scale oils on canvas. She has a distinctly Abstract Expressionist aesthetic yet pushes paint in a highly personal way. Large swaths of color arc over portions of each picture plane, while confetti-like scumbles and dabs of paint drift down other sections like sparkler trails. Alanis generally works with warm and well-tempered hues. Future NMWA panels ought to pick her up on the radar.
James' untitled ceramic sculptures seem like anthropomorphic abstractions focused on the curves of female torsos. Their vertical compositions on pedestals are large, upwards of 6 feet high. The works by this Brooklyn artist are exceedingly well crafted and the materials serve the forms.
The three nationally "emerging" artists make the NMWA finalists seem a little restrained by comparison. The two sculptors, for example, use materials that are easy to work with, and their pieces could easily sit on a coffee table. In Burleson's "Spring Melt" series, each sculpture is a nest of sticks and twigs interwoven with an array of found materials. The largest is about 20 inches in diameter.
Kathleen Schneider's curatorial statement indicates that her works "reference the Hellenistic sculpture 'Nike of Samo-thrace' but are nonobjective and intimate in scale." Less than 2 feet tall, the plaster-and-wood "Inside Out" has a profile akin to the 8-foot-tall original "Nike." Schneider does find engaging geometric details within her restatements of classical form.
Concurrent with these works, the Helen Day's East Gallery is hosting a separate -- but equal in quality -- exhibition of constructions by Jennifer Koch and pastels by Marilyn Ruseckas, both Vermonters.
Ruseckas has long held a justified reputation for mastery of her chosen medium, particularly her use of color. "Red Sky Reflections" is an expressive, rolling landscape with a bright crimson sky and translucent clusters of trees. "Warm Exposure" is more abstract, though still a landscape. Its river is bounded by wetlands, and the artist has adeptly added rich reflections to the smooth stream.
Koch's mixed-media constructions include colorful beetles and butterflies affixed to images from art history. In "Specimen #37 Stitched After Giorgione," a big bug is attached to a tapestry of that Venetian Renaissance painter's "Sleeping Venus," and spools of thread are lined up in the box that houses the piece. All of Koch's works are actually in boxes, but they are not simply imitations of the pioneering constructions by 20th-century American artist Joseph Cornell. For one thing, her boxes are less frontally oriented than are most of his. An example: "Specimen #48" is an elegant, bug-filled teacup inside a cube.
The Helen Day's summer show proves that "women's work" can be playful, too.