ARTBEAT/OPINION: Art interrupted: Covid disrupts exhibitions – Arkansas Online - Freelance Rack

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Sunday, July 26, 2020

ARTBEAT/OPINION: Art interrupted: Covid disrupts exhibitions – Arkansas Online

Two of Arkansas’ biggest art shows were exhibitions interrupted, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the interruption came in the midst of the run of its “State of the Art 2020” at the Bentonville museum and its then just-opened affiliate, The Momentary. The museums closed March 16 and reopened June 10. “State of the Art” closed July 13, though some works will remain on view as parts of the exhibition are taken down.

The Arkansas Arts Center, which is undergoing expansion and remodeling, closed its temporary Riverdale location March 13. Its plan to hold the “62nd Annual Delta Exhibition” in four Little Rock and North Little Rock locations came to an end April 21 when the museum announced the Delta would be online only. The exhibition opened on the Arts Center’s website (arkansasartscenter.org) June 19.

The Delta Exhibition was scheduled to close Aug. 23, but Arts Center communications director Maria Davison says it will be online “for a while longer than that.”

“State of the Art 2020” is also being presented online in two virtual reality tours — one self-guided, one with guidance and narration — on the Crystal Bridges website (crystalbridges.org). Public relations director Beth Bobbitt says the tour will be on-site “indefinitely.”

Most of you know this, but let’s remind ourselves: A digital presentation does not give the viewer a fully authentic experience of a work of art. Our computers, tablets and cellular phones present colors differently, colors that are not always true to the artwork. We also might not see the textures or, if an artist works with layers or blending colors, we can miss the subtlety of that technique or medium (pastels, for instance). The artist’s color palette may be diluted or inaccurately enhanced. Then there’s the matter of scale. A work that is, say, 48-by-20 inches, doesn’t translate so well on a device’s screen, regardless of its size.

Sculpture, ceramics, fabric or other 3D work usually don’t translate so well either. A 360-degree video of the object might open some possibilities.

“Bodhi’s Mom” by Ray Allen Parker of Fayetteville is an oil on canvas. It can be viewed at the Arkansas Arts Center’s Delta Exhibition website.
“Bodhi’s Mom” by Ray Allen Parker of Fayetteville is an oil on canvas. It can be viewed at the Arkansas Arts Center’s Delta Exhibition website.

Then there’s the matter of our device’s memory — some online presentations (such as the virtual reality tours of the “State of the Art 2020” exhibition at Crystal Bridges) will take a lot of computer memory to run smoothly. How much your device has will affect the quality and pace of the experience. Also, some online presentations will not work on a mobile device.

And then there’s us. Or, rather, the absence of us.

To fully engage with art, you and your eyes and your heart need to be in the presence of the work to see how, or if, it works its magic on you. Nothing will replace that. Art should generate a response — emotionally, physically, intellectually, spiritually — depending on your experiences and background. Some art “speaks” to us because its story or narrative may reflect our own or someone’s we know; it might arouse a sense of nostalgia, our appreciation of beauty or outrage us because of social commentary that stirs us one way or another.

Art only fully reveals itself to you in person. Once we’ve seen or experienced a work we feel a connection to, seeing it in a book or online can reawaken that experience.

That said, we should also give digital exhibitions their due: many more people can see art or an art show because of the online presence. We can discover and experience artists from anywhere in the world.

Accessibility to world-class art is enhanced, something that is especially important in rural areas and small towns. I grew up on a farm near a town of just under 300 people. The art I saw for many years was in books — or maybe in an occasional film that was shown in high school or my first year of college. When I saw artworks in person that I had only seen in books, I almost didn’t believe it was

real. Overwhelmed, sometimes. Even now, when I encounter a work I’ve never seen in person, it is still a real thrill I feel to the depths of my bones and spirit.

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With the construction of a new building underway and not due to open until 2022, the Arkansas Arts Center’s “62nd Annual Delta Exhibition” was already going to be a different experience. The museum planned to split the exhibition among four facilities: Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock and the THEA Foundation, the Argenta Branch of the William F. Laman Library and the Acansa Gallery in North Little Rock.

Then came the pandemic. The museum’s plan had to change again.

Instead of a leisurely stroll through the galleries, it’s fingers on a mouse or device.

So let’s give the Arts Center its due. Given the reality of the situation and, especially, the short time frame, the online Delta is a better, more engaging experience than you might expect.

The site could direct traffic a little better, it would be easy to overlook some

real jewels. When you arrive at the exhibition’s first page (arkansasartscenter.org/delta), don’t click on the purple “Visit 62nd Delta Exhibition” button right away. Scroll down to “Programming Preview” where you’ll find links to some interesting videos and future virtual events.

On one video, ceramicist/potter Barbara Satterfield offers a charming tour of her Conway studio.

This is the home page of the “State of the Art 2020” exhibition on the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art website’s virtual reality tour. Viewers can take a guided tour with narration.
This is the home page of the “State of the Art 2020” exhibition on the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art website’s virtual reality tour. Viewers can take a guided tour with narration.

Little Rock native and Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Ajamu Kojo talks about his work, “Wakanda Don’t Cry,” a powerful reimagining of the iconic Will Counts photo of Elizabeth Eckford taken during the Central High School desegregation crisis as filtered through the film “Black Panther.” Joining him is Toni Phinisey-Webber from the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

There also is a link to a discussion of the exhibition’s art by juror Stefanie Fedor, executive director of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, and the Arts Center’s Brian Lang, chief curator and Windgate Foundation curator of contemporary craft. This was a pre-opening discussion for museum members when award winners were announced. Surprisingly, especially after hearing some of the juror’s comments, no honorable mentions were awarded.

Now you’re ready to click on that purple button.

The Delta Exhibition home page displays the show’s award winners — Aaron Calvert, Grand Award, for his stoneware clay work “Rocket Rabbit”; Leah Grant, Delta Award, for “Notice,” a cyanotype and screenprint; Anton Hoeger, Delta Award, for the oil on canvas “Woman with Red Shoes” and Chris Hynes, Contemporaries’ Award, for his clay and found object sculpture “Spirit.”

The exhibition gallery is fairly straightforward. Click on an image, an enlarged version appears with details on the work and the artist. Some have additional photos or links to videos.

A screenshot from the Arkansas Arts Center’s website shows the Delta Exhibition gallery. (Courtesy the Arkansas Arts Center)
A screenshot from the Arkansas Arts Center’s website shows the Delta Exhibition gallery. (Courtesy the Arkansas Arts Center)

I found these of particular interest:

• The aforementioned “Wakanda Don’t Cry” by Ajamu Kojo, a Mischtechnik and gold leaf on linen canvas, 34-by-44 inches. Powerful.

• Cynthia Buob, “Filter,” a charcoal on paper, 26-by-20 inches. This is a wonderful portrait of somewhat subtle intensity by the Columbus, Miss., artist that confronts the viewer with a hint of “don’t mess with me” attitude.

• Cabot resident Tessa Davidson’s “With You Always” is a time-based image; click on the link to the full 5-plus minute video. Two people write letters to each other, both go to a stream and string up a hammock and read. The water rises and falls, mirroring the emotion generated by the letters. There’s an element of danger — in one scene the woman seems in danger of drowning in the water (emotion). Lots to think about here.

• William Goodman, “Shine,” an image transfer, polymer paint, aerosol and charcoal on wooden panel. The 36-by- 48-by-2 inches work by the Jackson, Miss., artist has layered historical images with the feeling of an edgy, not all warm and fuzzy memories.

• Fayetteville resident Leah Grant’s “Notice” is a cyanotype and screenprint on BFK printmaking paper. The 30-by- 22 inches work is layered, reflective and thoughtful. It won a Delta Award.

• Wade Hampton’s glowing oil on wood “The Family” is a radiant portrait. The Little Rock native lives in Las Vegas.

• Clarksville resident Dawn Holder, a 2017 Grand Award winner for her porcelain work, has a very timely and compelling photography work, “Fallen Monuments.” It is a digital color print on panel and is 24-by-48 inches.

• Fayetteville artist Ray Allen Parker’s portrait, “Bodhi’s Mom,” is an oil on canvas. The 48-by-36-by-3 inches work presents a woman with eyes wide open, a woman who clearly has stories to tell.

• Elizabeth Weber’s “Social Distancing” is made from leaf skeletons, honey locust thorns, wool roving and dandelion wishes. A second photo gives an inside view of the sphere so we can see the dandelion wishes and wool roving inside. It is 9 ½-by-12-by-12 inches in size.

• Donaldson resident Chassidy Siratt’s “Untitled” is a fascinating tea toned cyanotype on watercolor paper. The 49-by-18 inches work appears to have an intriguing story to tell, but the photograph doesn’t seem to do it justice. Still, I’m captivated.

• Russellville artist Calvert’s “Rocket Rabbit” is whimsical and cool. It won the Grand Award.

After you’ve seen the main exhibition, return to the main Delta page and click on the “About the Delta” button and scroll down to “Delta Partners,” you’ll see the organizations’ four logos. The text block doesn’t tell you this, but if you click on each logo you’ll be taken to a specific exhibit of works from the Delta that reflect that organization’s mission.

At some point, it would be wonderful to gather as many of these works as possible for a post-pandemic show.

When Delta 63 comes along, hopefully nothing will keep us away from an upclose and personal encounter with the art.

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We’ll explore the two virtual reality tours at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art another time.

It takes a lot of memory for the tours to run smoothly. Even with that, several times (over a few visits) the self-guided tour kicked me back to the beginning or froze. Crystal Bridges’ public relations director Beth Bobbitt says the museum is working on a newer version that will take less memory to run.

Also, the self-guided tour needs clear directions at the beginning to help users understand how to navigate the experience.

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