Interlinking bronze wires twist and turn in a spidery mesh statue, building the form of a regally upstanding deer with tall ears and a long head cocked back to see its onlookers. On a nearby wall, two starch-white canvases with elegant embossed flowers hang in glorious simplicity. Different media. Different themes — all in one exhibition.
The 2010 Faculty Art Show at the Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College is a collection of 10 professors’ chosen works done with a contemporary voice and medium. The exhibit is meant to display the modern techniques taught to students at the college. With a mix of sculpture, paintings, photographs, drawings and video, the gallery houses a variety of pieces to tempt onlookers but loses some of its continuity because of the intense differences among artists’ styles and points of view.
The pieces in the first section of the gallery hold particular weight, as they explore complex and political themes. For example, the works by Carla Stetson, assistant professor of art, immediately steal the attention of visitors with a mix of vibrant color and almost touchable texturing. Her mixed-media digital print called “Storytellers” seems chaotic and scattered upon first glance. The canvas holds a jumble of twigs and trees centered around a young black woman dressed in golden clothing covered in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Mixed among the trees and twigs is a Christian statue of Mary in the bottom left corner and a cutout of a Buddhist statue in the top right corner. After closer inspection of these elements, the true skill of the artist is revealed.
While the pieces throughout the gallery beautifully explore modern styles, some of the more innovative techniques become distracting. In particular, the video of street musicians made by Mara Alper, associate professor of television and radio, called “Street Beats New Orleans” has consistently shaky camerawork and fails to establish a continuous subject throughout the film. As the video begins, it focuses too long on a female group that lacks the musical talent to hold the onlooker’s attention. There are quick moments when the artist captures an eye-catching angle of the city, but the wobbling camera distracts the viewer from the beauty of the images.
The varying media allow visitors to see the possibilities for modern techniques. In the center of the first room, a shining metal sculpture of a cascading cloud made by Bill Hastings, lecturer of art, called “Cloud,” stands on black pegs. The sculpture cleverly blends floating whimsy with severe industrialism as the artist uses brutal materials to create a normally light and fluffy subject. This brings to life the idea that modern sculpture can have a dreamlike quality to it, instead of the harsh element metal materials often suggest.
Though it may seem contradictory, the fact that the exhibit offers such a variety of pieces — its greatest asset — is also its greatest weakness. With two sculptures, abstract paintings and the mixed media pieces, there is no doubt the exhibition has a modern air to its pieces, but this influence isn’t enough to pull the entire exhibit together. Throughout the gallery, pieces with stark differences are displayed side by side. A haunting black and white photograph of an empty shopping center hangs next to a painting in warm neutrals of an old farmer standing next to his horse. These works become difficult to interpret as they explore opposing themes through differing media.
Combining a video of street musicians with an up-close photograph of a deep brown piece of wood, the 2010 Faculty Art Show displays a wide variety of contemporary perspectives. Visitors sacrifice a piece of continuity with this show, but they gain a chance to see glimpses of a multitude of modern artistic techniques.
2010 Faculty Art Show will show at the Handwerker Gallery until Feb. 21. The exhibition was curated by Cheryl Kramer.