No doubt you remember the state marketing slogan “New Jersey and You – Perfect Together.” In many ways, I think that is an apt description of the partnering of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Rowan University Art Gallery for the 2018 Arts Annual Exhibition “Navigating Elements,” on view at the Art Gallery through July 28.
A program of the State Arts Council, the Arts Annual series features artists who work or live in New Jersey and alternates year-to-year between craft and fine arts.
“This year the exhibition showcases visual art,” said Mary Salvante, Rowan Gallery’s Curator, Gallery and Exhibitions Director, “and we are co-presenters with the Arts Council.”
It is with no small amount of pride and delight that Salvante tells me this.
“Prospective venues are invited to submit a proposal to the council,” she said. “It is by invitation only.”
And it is somewhat rare for a gallery to host this exhibition, she explained. “They often choose a museum for the Arts Annual, and frequently in a location that is further north in the state. – They don’t usually have it in South Jersey.”
“Ours is a juried exhibition,” said Salvante, “and we had two outstanding jurors, Ysable Pinyol, from MANA Contemporary in Jersey City and Jodi Throckmorton from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.”
“We chose an environmental theme, and we were given the freedom to structure the exhibition in any way that worked for us.”
According to its mission statement on the website, Rowan Gallery aims to “provide a platform for discourse on best practices in contemporary art,” and “Navigating Elements” is a “perfect together” model for this goal.
“The exhibition showcases a very strong group of artists – 21 chosen from more than 100 who submitted work,” Salvante said, “and we’re pleased to have such a good sampling from across the state.”
The artists are a diverse group, in age (20-somethings to seniors), background, gender, and heritage, and the submissions are also exceptionally varied.
In addition to the better established art forms – drawing, painting, photography and sculpture, for example – the exhibition includes effective examples of new media such as video and sound.
And because “Navigating Elements” is structured around a broad yet specific theme, the jurors were able to evaluate the submissions not by who or what was best, but by how strongly the works aligned with the theme.
“They all dig deep into concepts and look at the theme from lots of different perspectives,” Salvante said.
After seeing the exhibition, I completely agree with Salvante’s assessment. The theme is the common thread, and each artist chose a personal and unique way to express it.
One artist created multiple pieces created using wheatgrass and flax seeds on handmade paper. There are several video works that expand on the medium in unexpected ways: “Mojave Desert Spring Squeakers” – which does, in fact, include squeaking from an unlikely source – is paired with “Rockscape,” a charcoal on paper component. There’s an intimate work titled “Clavicular Forest,” and “Horizon Lines” is a single-channel installation projected onto an epoxy clay form flanked by lustered ceramic objects. And a pair of works, “Ortler Kettles #2” and “Ortler Kettles Soundscape,” which uses large, handmade paper panels by one artist and an audio loop by another to represent research done in and around the Ortler Mountain Range in Italy.
There are sculptures – as dissimilar from each other as they can be. One of found Styrofoam and coffee cups (which I guarantee will surprise you); one carved from lava stone; one of cast beeswax inspired by a seed pod; a hanging piece constructed from yarn, heirloom clothing, and fabric; a mixed-media piece that incorporates spoons(!); two that use suitcase parts (the artist explains that his focus is on “manipulating everyday objects into art material”); and “Time Machine,” a work that combines wood, sand dust, glass, stone, Paper Mache, acrylic paint and symbols.
A pair of striking archival photographs explore the concept of light pollution. Two works use image transfer and acrylic on canvas to convey the “cultural significance and human interaction with the landscape.” Two digital collages made from “thousands of individual screen grabs” (including an image of Jersey’s own beloved Lucy the Elephant) provide a complex vision. And there’s “The Unanswered Questions,” a handmade needlework and paper piece that I can’t hope to adequately describe.
“Lexicon A” and “Lexicon B” are gouache and graphite works that create what the artist calls a “fictional language” to represent the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Google this if you don’t know what it is – it will shock you!). “Matrix IV” and “Matrix VII” are two charcoal on paper pieces of remarkable detail done by an artist who states that drawing allows him to “meditate on the fundamental nature of things.” In two smaller but equally noteworthy pieces, the artist paints in acrylic onto existing images on recycled aluminum printing press plates, which she often trash-picks. And, center-stage in the space is “Astrolabe,” a five-foot-tall mobile-esque piece made from brass carvings, a plumb bob, semi-precious stones and found objects.
“We selected what I think is a good number,” said Salvante about the works in the show. And the restructured space at the gallery served the exhibition well. There were originally two 10’ x 12’ walls in the gallery and recently two additional 10’ x 10’ walls were added.
“With those four moveable walls, we can break up the space to suit what we’re creating,” she said. “For ‘Navigating Elements,’ we were able to design smaller pockets in which the works relate better together. If they were all installed on a running wall, we wouldn’t have those relational spaces.”
While the individual works are widely diverse, Salvante feels that there are similarities in the way each artist came at the challenge.
“There is no real difference in the way they approached the theme,” she said. “They drew on the physical elements around them – the aesthetics of natural art – and that’s what the works are speaking about.”
This sentiment neatly sums up why the Rowan University Art Gallery was the “perfect together” venue for an exhibition such as this.
“We didn’t want “Navigating Elements” to be just about any one thing,” Salvante said of the bold and exciting exhibition. “We are a contemporary art gallery. Our content is much more than just visual.”
Katrina Bello (Montclair), Gregory Brellochs (Camden), Michele Brody (Jersey City), Jeffrey Campbell (Wanaque), gwen charles (Montclair), Angeles Cossio (Jersey City), Wendy Gordon (Lambertville), Kay Kenny (South Orange), Dong Kyu Kim (Fort Lee), Joy Kreves (Ewing), Robert Lach (West Orange), Elizabeth Mackie (Frenchtown), Donald Moore (Sicklerville), Julie Nagle (Jersey City), Aimee Odum (Jersey City), Kaitlyn Paston (Frenchtown), Dolores Poacelli (Collingswood), Amanda Thackray (Newark), Rachel Udell (Collingswood), Lennox Warner (Atlantic City), Mauro Zamora (Ewing)
The exhibition is on view at the Rowan University Art Gallery until July 28, 2018.