Art Gallery Opening Event Provides a Closer Look at 'Alone Together'

April 4, 2012 Sarah Schwartz

Arcadia University Art Gallery hosted the opening event of A Closer Look 8 on March 28. The event featured a panel discussion between guest-curator Adelina Vlas, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the artists, Dechemia, Sebastien Leclercq, Josh Shaddock and Brent Wahl in the Castle.

A Closer Look 8 is latest iteration of an ongoing series of curated exhibitions that presents in greater depth the work of artists who have previously been juried into the Gallery’s Works on Paper shows. Vlas’ show, “Alone Together,” attempts to provide a venue for which the artists’ works are in dialogue with each other while at the same time maintaining their distinctive identities.

“It was very different,” says Vlas of the curatorial experience. “When I curate a show for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, usually I start with thinking of artists whose work I’m interested in and how I can contextualize it, how I can create an experience based on that or how I can present it in the museum in a context that will be interesting and reveal something to the public. And in this case, I started with a set number of artists that were presented to me as having participated on the Works on Paper shows. I reviewed that list, narrowed it down, so it was a different sort of selection process.”

Vlas notes that this process was also more time consuming. Richard Torchia, Director of the Arcadia University Art Gallery, originally approached Vlas about the exhibition at the end of 2009. The exhibition was approximately two years in the making.

“You work with givens rather than with artists you would have picked yourself in any other context,” says Vlas. “It was also extremely interesting because it allowed me go on many studio visits. I got to see how artists are developing their practices, questions they’re asking themselves in the studio, [and] what the things are that they’re interested in. Really, my selection was based on the quality and strength of the work. I felt that I wanted to allow those artists who I felt were at an interesting point in their practice, an opportunity to produce new work.”

The panel discussion revolved around the small directions Vlas had given the artists as they prepared each new exhibition piece, accounting for various fixed elements of the show, while using this opportunity to continue current investigations in their practices.

Dechemia (John Gibbons and Isobel Sollenberger), who crafted a wall relief and floor sculpture especially for this exhibition, addressed the joys and frustrations of working with unpredictable mediums, including hydrocal plaster, paper and ink. In their investigation of forms materials and iconography, they hope to uncover truths, within the “chapel-like space” of the Arcadia University Art Gallery.

Leclercq, who was also asked to respond to the space, discussed his seemingly commonplace subjects, such as binders and paper stock. Expert Collaborator, which appears to be made of superimposed, lined sheets of paper spilling out of four multi-colored binders is actually one single drawing connected to the four binders. “My work comes out of working,” he says. “It explores the space between perception and knowledge.”

Wahl spoke about the experience of moving forward with this photographic exploration using urban and domestic debris. Asked by Vlas to “push the staging” of his work, Wahl manipulated scale and density of his medium. He went on to explain that through his transformation of trash, engaging arrangements and multiple exposures, he hopes to bridge the binaries of time and documentation, image and void.

Shaddock, rounding out the discussion, lightened the mood with a few quick quips about his methodology, finding humor in language and the uncertainty it creates. “Language is nothing but code, but we use it so arbitrarily,” he says. Alone Together, which sets the tone for the dynamics of the exhibition, was conceived prior to his inclusion in the show but completed for the occasion.

It portrays two books by Norman Douglas, one titled Alone, photographed next to an identical copy, and the other titled Together, photographed alone. Alone and Together are travel accounts of Douglas’s trips through Italy and Austria in the early 1920s, but here Shaddock playfully uses them for the signifier value of their titles rather than that of their content.

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