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This review by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on August 11, 1999. All rights reserved.

Pat Summers: New Jersey Arts Annual

She looks anguished, chagrined; disgusted with herself.

Her eye has the blank, staring-but-not-seeing look of someone who

has slipped up, again. We see her from the side, crouched, on one

knee, with her head down and partly hidden by one arm wrapped across

and around herself. She is recollecting, and regretting, again. She

is naked.

The half-moon of her thumbnail is visible, while her hair is an indistinct

dark tousle. Her shoulder and hip are highlighted, though much of

her is in shadow — beautiful shadow. The space around her is greenish-gray,

her flesh tones are subdued, figure and setting blend. The surface

is mellowly glossy. Despite her nakedness, and bared breast, the effect

is asexual. Despair prevails.

Not the aggressor at all, perhaps, but victim, she remembers, despairingly,

the latest outburst against her. She has been here before; she is

helpless to change things; she will be here again. She cowers in regret

and apprehension.

Fascinating — how so-called "representational" art can

stand for such a range of divergent possibilities. Nancy Depew’s "Memory

of Anger" is a riveting standout of the "New Jersey Arts Annual:

Fine Art Exhibition," on exhibit at the New Jersey State Museum

through August 29. Depew’s oil on panel painting is one of 33 works

juried into the show, along with 22 works by invited artists. These

include sculpture of all sorts and sizes, mixed-media pieces, pastel,

acrylic, digital, and watercolor images, handmade paper, and photographs

— besides a mix of figurative and non-objective works, ranging

from the frankly ambiguous through narrative and pointedly political,

to simply beautiful. Emma Amos and Robert Mahon are among the invited

artists who have contributed outstanding works to the show. In a burst

of understatement, assistant curator Margaret O’Reilly calls this

"a good time to see good art."

O’Reilly knows of what she speaks. In preparation for the exhibition,

she reviewed more than 1,400 slides submitted by 284 artists, each

of whom could send up to five entries. She extols the diversity of

what she saw — both the artists and their work.

"One Moment," Francesca Azzara’s horizontal, marble-like encaustic

on board, shows wiry ink lines or scratches emanating from an off-center

tangle. Only about six inches high, and three times that in width,

this work tempts the viewer to touch it — Are those lines incised

or embedded or drawn? we ask. Other works are similarly tempting,

starting with "Beyond," a coral-hued sculpture of wax, vines,

steel, and plaster longer than a big man lying on his side. With twisted

and wrapped elements and a carved-out opening on one side, it resembles

from different perspectives a shell, a flower, a surgical scene. An

artist’s statement by Elaine Lorenz may or may not dispel the mystery,

and that may or may not be desirable anyway.

William Stewart’s "Studio View," an oil on canvas, is one

of the largest paintings in the exhibition, as well as interesting

in a big way. It comprises about two-thirds sky above an appealing,

sunlit cityscape featuring rooftops, a few chimneys and windows, and

blurry shapes of distant tall buildings. Here and there, leafy trees

soften the vista, as they do in actual city settings. Mel Leipzig’s

acrylic painting, "The Rehearsal," presents another sizable

image, this one in a theater whose details are captured right down

to the wood grain of the railings and carpet pattern. The overall

tones of pink to purple are cut by orange upholstered seats in green

frames, and shadows. Two people work on stage while a third stands

in a doorway, beyond which we see exterior red brick walls.

Ellen Eagle’s "Mei-Chiao" is an elegant — and sad —

pastel portrait of an Asian girl with closed eyes and a pink scarf

around her head. A yellow camisole covers most of a white undergarment,

and a lilac wrap curls around her arms. A muted gray background contrasts

with the girl’s image, placed in the lower half of the picture, and

gray-toned mat and frame complete the girl’s soft surroundings. Leslie

Montana’s watercolor, "White Iris," looks from a little distance

like a delicate graphite drawing with hand-coloring, it’s so soft

and yet precise. This meticulous flower study makes purple irises

look too easy.

Bisa Washington’s dramatic and somewhat ominous "X Shrine"

is one of three "mixed media" works in the exhibition. Black

feathers and leather, both woven and smooth, combine with beads and

still other fabrics, knotted and twisted, to make the ground for four

big white-stenciled X’s. A few white shells, some stones, and a key

are attached to the hanging, which has a bottom fringe of long, dark

grasses. Does this piece memorialize Malcolm X — or, more broadly,

all people named "X," either in reality or in effect?

"Reflections," an oil on paper, demonstrates that David Ahlsted

knows what women at the seashore do with their arms. A few swing them

as they walk through shallow water, others stand with hands on hips

or link them behind their backs. But, walking away from us, a woman

in a striped bikini has the most familiarly realistic beach posture:

her body language says she’s enjoying her wading, while watching for

anything captivating that may happen by. Contrasting with the laid-back

bathing scene, a string of tall buildings that line the waterside

is reflected in the shallow water.

For another recognizable scene, "Quinzel, Cornelius and Hasan,"

a gelatin silver print by Helen M. Stummer, shows three young black

men wearing hooded sweatshirts, sitting on a stoop in a decayed urban

area. The one on the left smokes; on the right, he frowns; and the

center man looks off, thoughtfully, unhappily, or both. None looks

toward the camera. Around them are boarded-up windows, litter. On

the wall behind them, a white cross has been painted.

Walk into one of the two rooms off the longest exhibition area and

prepare for a surprise: 50 small watercolor sketches pinned to the

wall. Marguerite Doernbach’s "Calligraphy of Nature" shows

mostly trees and branches in soft shades, except for each piece’s

dominant lines, or calligraphic strokes. "She was working on these

the week works were due here," curator O’Reilly recalls. At first,

she tried arranging them in some patterned way, finally deciding,

"It’s far more like being in the woods when they’re randomly arranged."

So, random — and refreshing — they are.

Another multiple work in the Arts Annual exhibition is Michael Welliver’s

"Narrative," with nine separate but related pieces in stoneware,

glaze, and gold leaf, that occupy a wall shelf in another room. Both

his figures, and titles, invite speculation. Betsy Regan’s "Sheep"

does the same. Is it really a fresco, or painted to look that way,

or something in between? No matter. It’s a small, appealing portrait

of a soft-eyed sheep. Finally in the ambiguity department, there’s

"Endocrine," by Debra Weier, a vividly-colored and cratered,

oil-on-board image that could be a man or volcano-like pustules —

"internal workings" of some eruptive sort. It’s very lively,

although, thankfully, not alive.

Co-sponsored by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and six museums

in the state, the two Arts Annual exhibitions showcase works by the

state’s visual artists and craftspeople, changing venue each time.

This fall’s crafts exhibition will be at the Jersey City Museum. Next

spring the Newark Museum hosts the fine art section.

With this year’s fine art show based in nearby Trenton, it’s particularly

accessible. Just get to the West State Street site, then follow the

dino prints into the building and up to the second floor. Dinosaurs

never had it so good.

New Jersey Arts Annual, New Jersey State Museum,

205 West State Street, Trenton, 609-292-6464. Show continues through

August 29. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.;

Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Free.


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