17th Annual WAH Salon Show: Bringing Out the Experimental and the Ambitious

Comprised of a large and extensive sampling of works from WAH Center Salon members, the 17th Annual WAH Salon Art Club Show at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center invites the viewer to a panoply of formal and conceptual experimentations. Curated by the Founder and Artistic Director of the WAH Center, Yuko Nii, the show has a tripartite structure that flows from pure formal abstraction to figurative work, assemblages, and, finally, to hallucinatory fantasy. The Salon Show at the WAH Center brings in new artists every year as well as presenting the existing artists that have been a core part of the WAH Center’s community for years. With close to 150 pieces of artwork on display, the show includes artists from all backgrounds, presenting a truly diverse set; artists working in traditional oil on canvas are situated beside multi-media work and likewise experimental detritus sculpture gets to hold court with hand-crafted glass works.

In speaking of the hallucinatory and fantastical in the Salon Show, Bienviedo Bonez Banez’s work, in the form of a large scale canvas, sits at the center of it all. Here, in this canvas one sees a coursing, rhythmic collision where historical figure meets with the symbolic and apocryphal, revolving around a triangular apex that encases a bestial apocalyptic siege on human achievement. Visionary and glittering, Banez seems to be capturing a schizophrenic historical field, where past and present collude and are laid out before the viewer, as the oracle laying out Oedipus’s tragic fate. Banez, as many of the artists on display, takes much from the Surrealist legacy but also go beyond this to incorporate contemporary social and ecological issues, but this belies the fact that the work on display cannot be easily categorized because of the sheer range. It is a salon exhibition through and through, a treat for the senses but also an injunction to reflect and critique.

Thinking along an ecological and ethical through-line, appearing in a broad range of the work, across media differences, and forming a conceptual frame, one can view the collection of works in this way. Yasuaki Okamato, an artist exhibiting work on the left wall of the main exhibition hall, works in a polished hyper-real style that calls to mind the work of both Dali and Magritte. In the oil painting Wild Life in the Concrete Jungle, Okamato does something particularly provocative and particularly political, the artist produces a cubic container that holds a vision of lush verdure and resplendent natural beauty in bloom, and however, this is only the view from one particular angle. From a frontal view, one becomes aware that the other possibility within this container is that of modernity, the urban gridlock that has produced ecological catastrophe. A timely piece indeed, exhibited on the eve of the global negotiations held in the “Paris Talks,” this work arguably portends the universal issue of climate change that is so relevant to today’s society.

Across the room from Okamato’s work is the found object assemblage display produced by artist Cornelia Jensen. Comprised of multiple found objects, Jensen transforms these sculptural art objects into multi-media creation, dealing directly with the detritus that is regularly pushed aside and the perpetual contaminate accumulation that the one represses or ignores. In drawing parallels to modernist virtuosos like Kurt Schwitters or Dadaist Hans Arp, the work invokes the incorporation of found and external materials, transforming them into art objects. Similar to the way in which Okamoto’s work resonates on multiple dimensions, Jensen’s work also speaks to the growing artificiality to which our once natural environments give way. The Styrofoam diorama of a resort pool butts up against an abstract and idealized landscape, while the mimetic image of a dried up mountain gorge hangs, suspended, over it all. Once again, when read with discerning eyes, an ecological and provocative statement arises that really challenges the viewer to critically engage. Drawing out the statement’s subtlety, entomological specimens haunt the other objects in their somber rigamortis.  

Abstract work dominates the left corner of the main exhibition hall and it is a great selection that builds on and visibly takes its cues from the mid-century masters: Pollack and DeKooning with their swooshing gestures, but also Krasner and Gorky with their more lyrical abstract figuration. Cedric Michael Cox with his large canvas Talking Blues creates a beautiful lyrical dance with blues, pinks and golden ochres. An abstract language seems to parade through the scene tempting the viewer with meaning only to be lost in the motion of the dance. Talking Blues can refer to many cultural or even personal/idiosyncratic meanings, but the realm of popular consciousness, one can recall Woody Guthrie’s folk anthem by the same name or Bob Marley’s reggae chant with that title, or perhaps the unique style and genre of bluegrass folk that the title designates. Kayo Albert’s work also produces a dramatic effect on the viewer, especially her Fluid Obscure 2. This piece captures a chaotic and ephemeral movement through space, all is fluid and fleeting, powerful swaths of acrylic paint executed on the unique Mylar surface, its transparent edges give tension to the painted core.

On the whole, the broad range of artworks on display resembles the comingling of relatives at a family reunion. The wild diversity is a welcome bit of stimulation and, on the whole, a challenge, as the viewer and discerning critic define their own through-lines and themes, putting together a puzzle piece assemblage. Significantly, shows like this allow certain artists with enough gumption and guile to display works that exhibit real experimental force. Ilana Dodelson’s Summertime Cut immediately jumps out; the material list itself speaks and beckons the curious observer: oil, acrylic, stuffed fabric, resin and buttons on paper. Collage connects with a tangible materiality that expresses the mood and emotion of a feverish memory. The scene seems to be enigmatic yet familiar, a towel and a bared breast, arms groping in the heat of a summer day, color and sensation overlapping in a blurred vision from seasons past.

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