Here we are-one month into class. Our assignment this week was to visit an exhibition at a gallery or a museum and write a short critique. During class, we all shared our experiences in various art institutions throughout DC.
My critique was on the Fears & Phobias exhibit at the Target Gallery in Alexandria, VA. Target Gallery is a small room in the left wing of the Torpedo Factory. It is hidden behind a spiral staircase ornamented with sculptures and paintings. The gallery’s Fears and Phobias exhibit features twenty-two different artists and a wide variety of mediums; graphite on paper, oil on linen, silver on gelatin, paper construction, clay sculpture, charcoal, etc. Target Gallery successfully incorporated a mixture of mediums and styles into the exhibit while maintaining the purpose of the show to “feature work that is introspective and personal as well as work that expresses larger issues in a social context” (gallery postcard). Sleep without Dreams by Casey Callendar and Wet Behind the Ears by Michelle Steen were two works that I found particularly striking. I was forced to stop and contemplate my emotional reaction to the works because both artists channeled some of my fears. As I watched visitors browse the gallery, it was evident that they were also drawn to certain works more than others. One woman lingered quietly near Flytrap by Ann Piper while another guest asked the gallerist if she knew more about the motivations of Laurel Garcia Colvin for her work, Pattern #2 The New American Toile series. Fears and Phobias is a unique show because it functions under the umbrella of one theme, but each work is a show in itself that caters to a specific fearful viewer. Visitors to the gallery may understand the show as a whole, but they will leave the room deeply impacted by a few works that really channel their own fears.
Unfortunately, the setup of the room is not conducive to the special individual experience of the viewer. First, the room is very small. The woman lingered by the Flytrap was repeatedly asked to step forward or back to allow visitors to exit. These interruptions hindered her experience with the work and the personal introspection that the show is meant to foster. Second, the lighting in the room is outdated track-lighting. Each work is illuminated with the same level of lighting which severely lessens the impact of some of the pieces. For example, Ayumi Tanaka’s archival pigment print called, Are You There?, needs gentle lighting to showcase the unique movement of the painting. Instead, the work was given the same lighting as the oil paintings and watercolor. Third, important details were overlooked such as labeling, framing and noise. The labels are small paper printouts taped to the wall. It is possible that the gallery budget does not allow for more professional wall labels, however the labels are not firmly adhered to the wall and not much attention is paid to font. Certain artists prefer less information about their piece, however, some of the titles are essential to the work and the labels serve as an important representation of the artist’s message. Frames also seem to be an afterthought. I would consider framing some of the works in a similar manner in order to unite the show. Lastly, the gallerist’s desk is located in the gallery. She was playing a video and discussing work with her colleague during my visit. The noise is distracting to the viewers and is another interruption to personal introspection.
While I would change many aspects of the show, I am impressed by the ability of the gallery to join twenty-two artists into a show that functions under a common theme that is provocative and thought-provoking. It is very difficult to define fears and phobias and rather than impose a definition on the viewer, the show successfully requests that the viewer create their own definition. The main curatorial lesson that I will take from my visit to Target Gallery is that a successful curator generates a conversation between the artist and the viewer which then sparks a conversation with oneself. As I left the gallery, I pondered my fears and their importance. My experience with the theme continued outside of the gallery doors.