It Takes a Village: A World of Art
through April 22
Lancaster Museum of Art and History, Lancaster
By Genie Davis
“It Takes a Village” at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH) through April 22nd, is the world in a microcosm, truly wonderful exhibitions that address essential and universal elements of community in subjects ranging from family to race, gender, home, and age.
In the Main Gallery, beautifully curated by Betty Brown, the works of assemblage artist Betye Saar and her daughters are showcased in “Memory & Identity: The Marvelous Art of Betye, Lezley & Alison Saar”. The Saars have astonishing work here, mixed media that towers literally and figuratively through the gallery. The dimensional assemblages use photos, fabric, painting and found objects to create thoughtful, compelling assemblages that reveal identity, history, and a pull of emotion so raw and real that it stops viewers in their tracks.
Take Alison Saar’s Smokin Papa Chaud, wood, ceiling tin, and found objects in a sculptural piece that bears witness to what appears to be the literal weight of the world and its expectations on the head of a man. Betye Saar’s serigraph on rice paper, Passe Blanc is haunting, a creased and textured image of a woman as ghostly as she is eternal. Betye Saar’s mixed media assemblages, Record for Hattie and Liberation, each use vintage materials to create startling images that smack issues of race on the head. The figure in Liberation wears an apron with an American flag and totes a shotgun in one hand, a broom in the other. She is no one’s servant. The cast bronze of Alison Saar’s Travelin’ Light also pulls no punches in its depiction of a man hung from his feet like a rack of meat. Lezley Saar’s gorgeous acrylic and digital photograph on fabric, Lady Calantha ruminates on dark family roots. Her Interacial Cha-Cha is an insightful take on both gender and race; on freedom, the past, and how the past itself is a keepsake, even a past we may not want to keep.
Using recycled materials, textiles, and discarded objects as mediums, serving as collectors, historians, and above all, creators, the Saars offer works that collectively and individually pulsate with power, passion, and the inescapable yet transformative past.
Moving upstairs, the documentary photography of Lancaster resident Wyatt Kenneth Coleman, a freelance photojournalist whose career spans more than fifty years, takes us “Beyond the Village” with beautifully defined work that focuses on social issues and humanitarian contributions, from the legacy of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement to acts of kindness in the community. These are perfectly framed, evocative images, as fascinating for their precise style as for their subjects.
Richard Chow’s “Distant Memories”, is a lovely black and white series that takes us from the village to the sea. Capturing elegiac images of a childhood he could’ve experienced on Southern California beaches, but as an immigrant, did not; he’s collected a beautiful series of images into wall installations. Viewed at a remove through pier telescopes and long lenses, Chow lets us view just glimpses of wonder, a personal window into community, family, and love. Subjects from the Manhattan Beach Pier to body-boarders in the surf framed by the shade of a beach umbrella cumulatively shape and recreate an ephemeral time and place that never quite was, but always will be.
With her series “Family Matters”, Jane Szabo offers still-life images burnished with light and surrounded by shadows; images that glow both physically and psychically. Here is a history that remains so strong and sharp and real that it has embodied itself in physical objects. Using memory as a jumping off place to explore the artist’s role as a daughter, a historian, and a caretaker to her own parents, she takes objects from her childhood home to express family relationships and the uncertainty of change, even as the inanimate objects she depicts remain the same. One of the most fascinating things about Szabo’s work here is that these objects seem to embody feelings and emotion in their juxtapositions and repose.
MOAH also presents the site-specific work of Scott Yoell with his brilliant wave of minute businessmen figures – three thousand of the 4” figures ready to take over the world in “Tsunami”, as playful as it is somehow ominous. Cast in plastic using a single mold, because the mold deteriorates over time, each figure is an individual, unique; but together, they are a mass of suited, armored humanity.
Lisa Bartleon’s “Kindred” could be waiting for those figures to arrive: her small, slip-cast porcelain houses could withstand the onslaught – perhaps they’ve withstood worse. Now they are healing: referencing the Japanese tradition of kintsugi, a technique used to restore broken pottery with gold lacquer. The vicissitudes of life are to be celebrated.
And don’t miss the life-size sculptural installations of Rebecca Campbell in “A Thousand Times. Everywhere. Elsewhere.” The artist’s twisted chairs and cast chromed bronze cake are, the artist says “the seam between ideas and their performance…artifacts of ideas being processed through experiences and the inevitable distortion.”
Ideas. Experience. Family, community, history, sex, gender, race, time. It takes more than a village to process these – it takes love. And art.