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This article by F.R. Rivera was prepared for the April 7, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

At Mercer, an Artful Shell Game

The sculptors have it. They present the strongest work in this year’s Mercer County Artists (MCA) show. I use the term sculpture broadly, to mean any work which even so much as encroaches on 3-D, including some wall pieces.

Such a piece is Jules Schaeffer’s "John" (as in John Lennon), a rectangular assemblage of metal plates. Schaeffer is included in a group of "established artists." They came out for this show, speculates MCCC Gallery Curator Tricia Fagan, "because of the reputation of Juror Margaret O’Reilly," assistant curator of fine arts at the New Jersey State Museum.

The show is adeptly installed, considering the pluralism of its exhibitors. Schaeffer’s work, for example, is handsomely complemented by Bruce Rigby’s "Wall Series: Ten" of roughly the same size, which is placed beside it. Both works consist of squares and rectangles. Rigby’s, flat and 2-D, give the illusion of an abstract 3-D piece. These two pieces – together with the work of painters Mircea Popescu, Jean Burdick, and Randall Greenbaum – bump up the level of this show, making it one of the better MCA shows in recent memory.

These painters are abstract and non-objective. Their strength derives not from abandoning realistic subject matter, but rather from neutralizing it, thus inviting the viewer to decode their meaning. The sculptors go even a step farther. There is, for instance, Bob Justin’s "Bones," an unruly branching of rusted wrenches. Is it begging to be pruned? Florence Moonan’s "Domino Theory," a length of black plastic tubing with queer red patches sulks in the corner like a punished child. Janis Purcell’s banana-shaped "Dancing Spirit" is all gussied up with ruffles gilded in gold and silver. Is it a dildo, a totem, or a Jack out of the box?

These are playful works that call for interpretation in a way that landscapes, figures, and still-lifes do not. It is not that subject matter necessarily inhibits interpretation. In fact, just the opposite is true in the hyper-realism of Jesse Thompson ("Larry’s Having Dreams").

Thompson presents something like a scaled-down version of work by the late internationally-known assemblage artist Edward Keinholz. In a 3-D replication of the Bronx subway, a wandering man stripped to his jockey shorts is about to descend into the nether world. The tableau is so palpable that we can smell the fumes and feel the vacuum suction as the train pulls in below. All the grungy details are present and finely crafted, yet it is the viewer who connects the dots.

Connecting the dots is what keeps us coming back to art. Playing a shell-game with content engages all our powers of concentration, opening the dialogue between artist and viewer, which makes art an instrument of communication. This tilt toward ideas and communication, which so saturates the contemporary art world is a welcome new development in the annual Mercer County Artists show.

For those who like their subject matter free of ambiguity, however, not to worry. There are 19 landscapes, plus a dozen still-lifes and figures. Their presence underscores the fact that the similarities between this and past MCA shows are far greater than the differences. Many of these latter works are agreeable and the execution and technique is, on the whole, competent. O’Reilly noted that even with an increase in submissions (a total of 260, about 25 percent more than last year), she found the works "more professional and less amateurish, if a bit eclectic."

O’Reilly both selected the work for the show and bestowed Juror’s Choice Awards on Jean Burdick, Peggy J. Rose, Siri Om Singh and Jesse Thompson. She gave the Juror’s Distinction Award to Paula Swisher, new this year to the fine arts faculty at Mercer County College. The Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission granted Purchase Awards to Sue Chiu and Robert Kausch. Dan Fernandez won the West Windsor Arts Council Prize.

O’Reilly sums up the serendipity of this exercise when in her Juror’s Notes, she encourages artists to enter future exhibitions by observing that "the judgment of a juror is only one person’s opinion on a particular day."

Whenever an artist is represented in a show by a single work – and most participants in this show have only one – the chances of grabbing the attention of a juror or viewer are not overwhelming. Certain single works of art, however, do succeed. It is almost as though these works make eye contact where others merely flutter past.

Good single works whet the appetite for more; and the "more" rarely disappoints, proving that a good single work is not just a lucky shot, but is more likely representative of a larger body that includes many good works. One of my own picks is the work of Lauren Kalman, a young sculptor who studied at the Art Institute of Boston, where she acquired foundry skills. Her contribution to this show, entitled "Polonium Specimen" consists of two angled masses. Except for their bulk they could be mistaken for medieval shields dropped on the field of battle.

"The Kneeler" by the Guldsveinen couple may be the first collaborative piece ever shown in MCA. He (Andrew, English) does the "woodworking" and she (Monica, Polish) does the "sewing." As non-Americans, they have come to the same conclusions as other non-Americans: Ritual and tradition have been so completely absorbed into pop culture that the freaky hybrid that results looks neither freaky nor hybrid.

"The Kneeler," is a free-standing unit in the spirit of conceptual artists such as Scott Burton (chairs) or R. M. Fischer (lamps). It is the outermost end of an altar piece and looks as normal as its first cousin, the long undifferentiated public pews found in every American house of worship. This kneeler, however, is private and is complete with a violet cushion emblazoned with "Guldsveinen" in gold letters. Rising about the cushion are two lovely arches unmistakably co-opted from those of the world famous burger palace. Just below the elbow rest, which displays the Nike logo, are three ketchup squeeze bags. The piece seems to take the piety of Sunday morning churchgoers and graft it to the frenetic consumerism of the rest of the week. This is another think piece that gambles that the viewer will figure out its true meaning.

The apparently normal vitreous china bowl by Debbie Reichard – no freaky hybrid here – is at first glance all pristine functionality, lacking perhaps only the soup and ladle. Then one notices the advisory, scarcely hidden, melded into the rim of the bowl as if into a cake of hand soap. It reads: "Caution, Look Both Ways," inviting the viewer to be an active partner in interpretation.

Is it merely a bowl or is it something more?

-F. R. Rivera

Gallery at Mercer County College, Communications Center, West Windsor, 609-586-4800, ext. 3589. "Mercer County Artists 2004," annual juried exhibition open to all artists living, working, or studying in Mercer County, who are 18 years old or above. Juror is Margaret O’Reilly, assistant fine arts curator, New Jersey State Museum. Gallery hours are Mondays, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fridays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Saturdays, 1 to 3 p.m. Evening hours are Thursdays, 7 to 9 p.m. To April 10.

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Art in Town

Dar Hosta, Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-8777. "With Pixels and Paper: Picture Book Illustrations of Dar Hosta." Hosta, a children’s book author, illustrator, and teacher, new book, "I Love the Alphabet," will be published next fall. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends by appointment. To April 23.

Marsha Child Contemporary, 220 Alexander Street, 609-497-7330. "Lasting Impressions: Works on Paper," a spring show featuring fine prints, photographs, drawings, and mixed-media compositions by an international stable of artists from Canada, Cuba, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, and the U.S. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Thursday, noon to 8 p.m. To April 19.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "Lost Princeton," an exhibit that explores lost businesses and houses. The historic house also houses a long-term exhibition about Princeton history highlighting the Native American occupation, the Revolutionary War, and Princeton in the 19th and 20th centuries. Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Free admission.

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Area Galleries

The Artful Deposit Gallery, 201 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown, 609-298-6970. "The Private World of Joseph Dawley." Gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday. Show runs to April 25.

April Fools, Artsbridge Gallery, 243 North Union Street, Lambertville, 609-773-0881. "April Fools: Clever and Humorous Works," a group show by some of the organization’s 550 members. Included in the show will be Artsbridge founder Elaine Restivo, a Tyler graduate and area resident since 1964. Free.

"My paintings, if I am patient with them, will tell me what they need," says Restivo, now retired from 24 years teaching art for the Central Bucks School District. "Some paintings are clear and loud in their demands and others sulk. The magic occurs when the brush moves by itself and had nothing to do with cognition. The empty spaces are dream spaces which allow input from the viewer." Gallery is open Thursday to Sunday, from noon to 6 p.m. Show continues to May 2.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, 609-333-8511. Photography shows featuring "99 Berlin" by Harald Schrader and "A Journey" by Heinz Gartlgruber. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment. To April 25.

Hopewell Frame Shop, 24 West Broad Street, Hopewell, 609-466-0817. Solo show by noted watercolorist Gail Bracegirdle. Open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To April 30.

"I prefer to work from life or from sketches made on location in order to observe and capture the effects of direct and reflected light and shadow on the subject," says Bracegirdle, whose representational works are filled with light and bold color. "My goal is to capture the illusion of movement and sound, a quiet moment, a momentary pleasure, or sometimes a quirky juxtaposition of images, color, light, and shadow."

Montgomery Center for the Arts, 124 Montgomery Road, Skillman, 609-921-3272. Invitational show featuring fiber arts by Pamela Becker, Katherine Crone, Kerr Grabowski, Nancy Koenigsberg, Lore Lindenfeld, and Betty Vera. These artists’ media include yarn, fabric, stitching, inkjet printing, steel, and wire. The center is open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. To May 9.

"Contemporary fiber artists are exploring new artistic expressions in their chosen medium, often crossing over into other techniques and art forms while still considering the tradition of fabric," says the show’s curator, Princeton fiber artist Lore Lindenfeld. "Their inventions and diversity reflect the liberating spirit of today’s textile art."

Nonesuch Framing & Fine Art, 1378 Route 206 South, Skillman, 609-252-0020. "Wish you were here," an exhibit of travel photography by David J. Simchock. Open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To April 10.

Printmaking Council of New Jersey, 440 River Road, North Branch Station, 908-725-2110. "Emanent Formations," an invitational exhibit featuring four New Jersey printmakers. Works by Diana Gonzalez-Gandolfi, Karen Guancione, Margaret Kennard Johnson, and Stephen McKenzie are featured. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. To May 8.

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Campus Arts

Walt Marz, Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike, 609-924-7206. Exhibit of wildlife and nature photographs by Walt Marz, part of the school’s Earth Day celebrations. Marz has been an avid fisherman, camper, birder, and hunter since his teens. Retiring after 20 years of electronic research engineering with RCA, and 10 years of management consulting with Johnson & Johnson, he became a professional photographer. Now all his hunting is done with a camera. Free.

"Two basic things in the outdoor world turn me on most," says Marz, "wildlife behavior and nature’s breathtaking beauty. What I try to do with my photography is capture moments and views so that I can share the essence of nature – spirit and in feeling." Gallery is open by appointment during school hours. To April 30.

Princeton University Art Museum, McCosh 50, 609-258-3788. "The Book of Kings: Art, War, and the Morgan Library’s Medieval Picture Bible," an exhibition of the Picture Bible, one of the greatest illuminated manuscripts of the 13th century, commissioned by Louis IX of France. The manuscript has been unbound for conservation and study with many individual pages on exhibit. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Highlights tours every Saturday at 2 p.m. Free admission. To June 6.

Also on view: "Songs, Psalms, and Praises: An 18th-century Ethiopian Manuscript," on exhibit to June 5, 2005. "Robert Adams: From the Missouri West" presents a recently acquired collection of 28 landscape photographs by Robert Adams taken between 1975 and 1978; to June 6. "Imperial Portraits by Van Meytens the Younger and Roslin" features newly acquired portraits of Tsarovich Paul, Maria Feodorovna, and empress Maria Theresa of the Holy Roman Empire, on view to July 11.

Also: "Useful Forms: Furniture by Charlotte Perriand," an exhibit featuring six pieces of the French designer’s furniture from the 1940s to the 1960s. Free.

French designer Charlotte Perriand is frequently named as one of the most important but overlooked modernist designers of the 20th century. The show offers a rare opportunity to view a selection of Perriand’s mid-century furniture designs. Although Perriand has been the subject of major exhibitions in both France and England, she has received virtually no exposure in American museums, and remains underrepresented in American museum collections. The Princeton exhibition will be only the second in the United States to focus on her work, and the first to concentrate exclusively on Perriand’s mid-century designs created during the two decades following her employment in the studio of the architect Le Corbusier. To July 11.

Bernstein Gallery, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School, 609-258-5566. The Crisis Ministry of Princeton and Trenton is featured in an exhibition of 35 photographs by Nancy Hodges and Chrissie Knight that tells the story of the organization’s work to prevent hunger and homelessness in Mercer County. Show is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. To April 9.

Lawrenceville School, Gruss Center of Visual Arts, Lawrenceville, 609-620-6026. "Romance and Superheroes: Original comic book art from the collection of Charles Viera." Gallery open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m.; Open Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. To April 20.

Contemporary Directions in New Media, Peddie School, Mariboe Gallery, Peddie School, Hightstown, 609-490-7550. Show of works by up-and-coming artists working in new media. Heather Freeman, Eric Hadley, and Therese Stowell are featured in the show. Free. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To April 18.

Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Hall Gallery, 20 Library Place, 609-497-7990. "From Here On Out: Paintings by June McCoy Ball." Ball is a landscape and seascape artist who works primarily in oil on canvas. She says her paintings arise "from my feelings about certain contexts and times as well as from my deep love of color. I try to share with the viewer the images of serenity I find in the natural world." Open Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. To April 30.

Rider University Art Gallery, Student Center, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, 609-895-5588. "Two Views: Paintings, Process and Ideas," an exhibition of paintings by Dan Finaldi and Linda Pochesci. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. To April 25.

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Art in the Workplace

Capital Health System, Mercer Campus, 446 Bellevue Avenue, Trenton, 609-394-4023. In the Lobby Gallery, an exhibition of surreal paintings by William B. Hogan. A member of the Trenton Artists Workshop Association, Hogan and his wife Susan Hogan and recent transplants to Lower Makefield. Bill Hogan worked for 25 years as an editorial illustrator and cartoonist for the Hackensack Record newspaper. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. To April 9.

Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Route 206, Lawrenceville, 609-252-6275. "Hearing Voices: Personal Narratives," a group exhibition highlighting art as a unifying communications vehicle that transcends cultural difference. Show features works by 16 artists of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Participants include Peter Stanhope Arakawa, Siona Benjamin, Ela Shah, Jorge Gomez, Reinaldo D’Jesus Perez, Colin Chase, Julia Cowing, Simon Gaon, and Ming Fay. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends, 1 to 5 p.m. To April 11.

Bristol-Myers Squibb, Hopewell Campus, 609-252-5120. Outdoor sculpture show features works by seven prominent East Coast artists: Hope Carter of Hopewell, Kate Dodd, Richard Heinrich, John Isherwood, Joel Perlman, John Van Alstine, and Jay Wholley. Exhibition is on view during business hours and will remain in its location for two years.

The artists were selected by a panel composed of Alejandro Anreus, veteran curator and scholar, Jeffrey Nathanson of the International Sculpture Center, and visual artist Sheba Sharrow, working under the guidance of Kate Somers, curator of the company’s corporate gallery in Lawrenceville.

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Art by the River

Story of a River Town, Atelier Gallery, 108 Harrison Street, Frenchtown, 908-996-9992. "Story of a River Town," a solo show of paintings by Bucks County native John Schmidtberger. Free. Gallery is open Thursday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Show runs to May 3.

Annual Spring Show, Coryell Gallery, 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville, 609-397-0804. Opening reception for the annual spring exhibition featuring pastels by Nancy Silvia and watercolors by Charles Ross. Nancy Silvia, who now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from Yale. She has studied art in Rome and calligraphy in Tokyo. Charles Ross is a native of Philadelphia trained at the Fleisher Art Memorial and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To May 30.

E.M. Adams Gallery, 440 Union Square Drive, New Hope, 215-862-5667. New paintings by owner Ed Adams. Adams is also a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Somerville and leads a support group called Men Mentoring Men.

Tom Chesar & Katharine Steele Renninger, Gallery of Fine Art, 201 South State Street, Newtown, 215-579-0050. Opening reception for "The Compelling Image, Paintings by Tom Chesar and Katharine Steele Renninger." The accomplished and popular figurative painters and friends are exhibiting together for the first time. The two-person show contains 45 paintings in casein, egg-tempera, gouache, and acrylic. Free.

Open Wednesday & Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To May 9.

New Hope Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, New Hope, 215-862-3396. The New Hope Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition continues with works by sculptors Christoph Spath, Kate Brockman, Rob Ressler, Dana Stewart, Dan Kainz, and Bob Emser. Host sites include George E. Michael Inc., Union Square, New Hope Solebury Library, the Wedgwood Inn, New Hope Historical Society, Golden Door Gallery, and New Hope Mule Barge. To April 30.

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Art In Trenton

Ellarslie, Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park, 609-989-3632. Joan Giordano and Khalilah Sabree, "Arrested Light and Texture Captured in Two and Three Dimensions." Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. To April 11.

Grounds for Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-586-0616. Outdoors, the Fall/Winter Exhibition. In the Domestic Arts Building, "Amazing Animal Exposition" features works by Botero, Butterfield, Grausman, Otterness, Petersen, and Woytuk; Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Awards Exhibition. Also, "Focus on Sculpture 2004," an annual juried exhibition of photographs by amateur photographers. Juror Karen Chigounis selected 33 works for exhibit from 233 submitted for the show. Also, new additions outdoors by Seymour Ikenson, Wendy Lehman, Linda M. Ogden, Dorothy Ruddick, and Autin Wright. Shows on view to April 18.

Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., April to October. Adult admission is $5 Tuesday to Thursday; $8 Friday and Saturday; with discounts for students, seniors, and children. Admission $12 per person on Sundays. Individual memberships start at $70.

The Old Barracks Museum, Barrack Street, Trenton, 609-396-1776. "Furniture, Curios and Pictures: 100 Years of Collecting by the Old Barracks," a new display in the exhibit gallery is included in the tour admission fee. Open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; the last tour is at 3:50 p.m.

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Area Museums

American Hungarian Foundation Museum, 300 Somerset Street, New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "Everywhere a Foreigner and Yet Nowhere a Stranger," an exhibition of 19th-century Hungarian Art from the Salgo Trust for Education. Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $5 donation. To April 25.

Hunterdon Museum of Art, 7 Lower Center Street, Clinton, 908-735-8415. "The Apparent Intersection of Near and Far: International Perspectives in Contemporary Art from New Jersey." One of 18 shows in the "Transcultural New Jersey" project, the exhibit focuses on artists of Asian, Latino, and African heritage who make New Jersey their home. Featured artists include Zhiguan Cong, Richmond Garrick, Ludvic Saleh, William A. Ortega, Mayumi Sarai, Ela Shah, Armando Sosa, and Young Cheol Yoon. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To May 16.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, 609-292-6464. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays and state holidays.

James A. Michener Art Museum, Union Square Complex, Bridge Street, New Hope, 215-340-9800. New Hope satellite facility opens with the relocation of the popular, interactive multi-media show, "Creative Bucks County: A Celebration of Art and Artists," featuring 19th and 20th century painters, writers, composers, and playwrights. Also on exhibit, "Pennsylvania Impressionists of the New Hope School." Museum admission $6 adults; $2 youth. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays.

James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, 215-340-9800. "Rock On! The Art of the Music Poster from the ’60s and ’70s." Exhibition features more than 100 iconic posters, images that are recognizable to anyone who ever hung a poster under a black light – The Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, Santana, Grateful Dead, et al. Curated by Graziella Marchicelli of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art. Extra admission charge, $4. Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Museum admission $6.50 adults; $4 students. May 23.

Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, George and Hamilton streets, New Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "Soviet Propaganda Posters," to July 6. "Beyond the Botanical: Organic Imagery in Print," to July 27. Also: Recent Acquisitions from the Dodge Collection and Transcultural New Jersey: Crosscurrents in the Mainstream, The show is part of the state-wide and year-long project. Show features works by Emma Amos, Peter Arakawa, Siona Benjamin, Melvin Edwards, Benedict Fernandez, Ming Fay, William J. Grant, Mija Kim, Raphael Montanez Ortiz, Ludvic Saleh, and Kay Walkingstick. Both shows run to July 31. Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Spotlight tours every Sunday at 2 and 3 p.m. Admission $3 adults; under 18 free. Free admission on the first Sunday of each month.

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