BRATTLEBORO — Six new exhibits open at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) on Saturday, Oct. 24, including an important survey of mid-20th century figurative painting, solo shows featuring Andy Yoder and Rachel Portesi, an exhibit about ice shanties organized by the Vermont Folklife Center and paired with Erik Hoffner's striking photographs of ice fishing holes, and an installation by Cynthia Parker-Houghton created as part of the Brattleboro Words Project.
An opening reception for the artists and a small number of invited guests will take place at 10 a.m., after which the new exhibits will open to the public at 1 p.m.
BMAC's galleries are open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with masks and social distancing required. Walk-ins are always welcome, or visitors can make a reservation at brattleboromuseum.org.
A celebration of mid-century figurative movement
“Figuration Never Died: New York Painterly Painting, 1950-1970” highlights a generation of New York artists who absorbed the lessons of abstract expressionism yet remained dedicated to figurative painting.
Curator Karen Wilkin, an author, art critic, and head of art history at the New York Studio School, selected 20 works by 10 artists who played a significant role in the mid-century figurative movement: Robert De Niro Sr., Lois Dodd, Jane Freilicher, Paul Georges, Grace Hartigan, Wolf Kahn, Alex Katz, Albert Kresch, Paul Resika, and Anne Tabachnick.
The exhibit is accompanied by a 120-page book of the same title, published by The Artist Book Foundation.
The concept for the exhibit sprang from a 2014 conversation between BMAC Director Danny Lichtenfeld and artist Stephen Hannock about the important place these artists occupy in the history of American painting.
“We felt like this was a story that needed to be told while at least some of these remarkable artists were still with us,” said Lichtenfeld in a news release.
Of the artists in the exhibit, Dodd, Katz, Kresch, and Resika are still alive. All four are in their 90s.
Wilkin will give a free livestreamed talk about the exhibit, “Resisting Abstract Expressionism,” on Thursday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m.
The iconic sneaker
The installation “Andy Yoder: Overboard” was inspired by “The Great Shoe Spill of 1990,” an incident in which five shipping containers containing 61,820 Nike Air Jordan 5 sneakers were lost at sea.
Introduced in the same year as the spill, the iconic sneaker became the template for Yoder's showroom of 240 Jordan 5 replicas, each one handmade by the artist from recycled packaging or promotional materials.
“I hope the installation will bring attention to the impact of consumer culture on the environment and, more specifically, the health of the oceans,” Yoder said.
“Overboard” was originally conceived and developed for the Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit CulturalDC's Mobile Art Gallery, where it was scheduled to open earlier this summer. Due to COVID-19, the exhibition will open there next spring.
Yoder will give a free online talk about his work on Thursday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m., and Elizabeth Semmelhack, creative director and senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum, will give a talk, “Unboxed: A Cultural History of Sneakers,” on Thursday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m.
Layers of meaning in Victorian hairwork
“Rachel Portesi: Hair Portraits” is a series of tintype photographs of women whose hair has been arranged in elaborate designs and pinned to walls or other surfaces. The work was inspired by Victorian hairwork as well as by Portesi's personal experiences, including accepting the increasing independence of her children.
“These images address fertility, sexuality, creativity, nurturing, harmony, and discord with nature,” Portesi said. “Above all, they are a record of metamorphosis from a past fractured self to an integrated, self-confident woman.”
Portesi will discuss her work in a talk on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m. and will present a tintype photography demonstration on Thursday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m.
Helen Sheumaker Ph.D., author of Love Entwined: The Curious History of Hairwork in America, will speak in conjunction with the exhibit on Thursday, Jan. 14, at 7 p.m.
Photographer documents ice shanties on the West River
“Ice Shanties: Fishing, People & Culture” features the work of Colombian-born photographer and part-time Vermont resident Federico Pardo, who in 2016 began documenting the shanties that appear on the West River in Brattleboro, known locally as the “The Meadows.”
Over the course of two winters, Pardo photographed the shanties using long-duration exposures, beginning his work after sunset and continuing long into the night. Curators describe the resulting images, lit by both sunset and moonlight, as carrying a surreal quality of blended night and day.
The exhibit is a production of the Vermont Folklife Center, and many of the photographs are paired with audio recordings of the ice shanties' owners, who were interviewed by Vermont Folklife Center researcher Ned Castle.
Pardo and Castle will present a free livestreamed talk about the exhibit on Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m.
Art in the ice
Complementing the ice shanties exhibit, “Erik Hoffner: Ice Visions” features photographs of ice patterns that form overnight atop the holes bored by ice fishermen. Hoffner has spent 20 years documenting these intricate designs on New England lakes and ponds.
“When fishing holes refreeze overnight, they create fertile ground for nature's wild artistic side,” Hoffner said, “and these perfectly augered circles become worlds at once interstellar and cellular, dreamlike and tactile.”
On Thursday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m., Hoffner will present “Seeing the Story,” a free online talk about approaches and strategies for visual storytelling through photography.
Visualizing the region's connection with words
“Our Storied Landscape: Revealing the Brattleboro Words Trail” consists of clay portraits, working drawings, and final drawings for a map created by Cynthia Parker-Houghton as a companion piece to the Brattleboro Words Trail, a series of audio-based tours of people and places significant to the history of words in the region.
The imagery for the map was created using sgraffito, a ceramic carving technique that creates a look similar to wood block or linoleum printing.
“Our Storied Landscape” is a production of The Brattleboro Words Project. “Jen Austin, Lissa Weinmann, and the Words Project leadership team brought together community partners, creative practitioners, and scholars to tell the story of Brattleboro's literary history,” said BMAC Exhibitions Manager Sarah Freeman.