Julia Schwartz tenderly cradled and lavishly flung
Visitor Welcome Center
Through August 11th
By Lorraine Heitzman
It is a well-known axiom that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The same may be said for our emotions. Such is the experience of seeing Julia Schwartz’s poignant show at Visitor Welcome Center. What the viewer brings to the work and whether or not you have read the accompanying text will determine how you respond to the Rorschach test of her work. But however one is armed going into “tenderly cradled and lavishly flung” the viewer is guaranteed to leave moved by a powerful experience. The energy and the authenticity are felt even when not entirely understood.
In the small funky project room that is tucked away in the back of the gallery, the artist has covered the largest wall with 2,000 crudely painted playing cards in an installation entitled, continuous web. Each card is held in place with a single T-pin to form an orderly grid from floor to ceiling that contrasts with child-like imagery. Disrupting the symmetry are a few small canvases mounted atop the grid, and a horizontal niche filled with paper vessels. If you squinted at the wall from across the room, it has the quality of a giant, low-resolution digital image. The cards are in essence pixels, rendered mainly in a palette of pinks, greens and lavenders, but they never coalesce into a single image. Step closer and the individual cards transform into a child’s game, like tic-tac-toe; images of girls and cats come into focus, alternating with dots, diamonds and squares. In the center of the wall, the niche holds several handmade white paper vases, giving the whole tableau the feeling of a shrine with humble offerings. Other aspects of a memorial are here, reminiscent of the spontaneous public memorials of Post-It notes or stuffed animals.
The remainder of paintings and sculptures in the show, though not as impactful as continuous web, subtly reinforce and unify each other in the imperfect space. Another earth and nostalgia are wistful and melancholy paintings with ghost-like apparitions and some of the same imagery from the cards. I dreamt I was driving in a field of beads and butterflies are less successful, perhaps relying more on stereotypical metaphors.
Surely this obsessive art making has its roots in a drive to make sense of something, to fill something up. This is not the result of discipline. What is the compulsion that has motivated the artist? The answer is grief. As explained in the accompanying text, “Tragedy transforms the quotidian into a quest for meaning making; ordinary things once belonging to someone irradiate into coveted and sacred assets.”
Is it necessary to know the artist’s intent to find meaning and appreciate Schwartz’s show? Art may be impactful without any wall text guiding our response, but often the artist’s intention can add to our experience, just as titles give context to work. In the case of this exhibit, awareness of the artist’s intent supplies a layer of meaning that is not entirely accessible otherwise. But Continuous web remains a potent installation either way. In this instance, the subject is not simply the tragedy itself; it is instead the determined process of coming to terms with it.
Visitor Welcome Center
Gallery Hours | Wednesday — Saturday | 12 — 6pm and by appointment.