Visual Arts Reviews for the IC: People Places Power at Van Every/Smith Gallery

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Arts In View: Visual Art Reviews from Island Ford Art

Brad Thomas, curator
Van Every/ Smith Gallery Davidson College
Exhibit through Feb. 25, weekdays 10 a.m.–5 p.m., weekends 12 p.m.–4 p.m

Culturally, one of the more interesting things about photography in our age is how we take it for granted. Anyone with a cell phone can record an image. We’ve grown up with every mundane instance of our lives and every major cultural event defined, captured, and frozen in time. The still image provides clarity in a world in constant motion; revealing the “truth” of experience we miss as events unfold.

Photography also provides the opportunity to witness events and locales we may never be able to visit or experience. Many of the photos in the People Places Power provide the opportunity to appreciate the contrasts, beauty, minutia, and grandeur characterizing 21st century America.

This show of large format color photography at Davidson College re-examines tableaus and environments that we would not give a second glance as we passed in the safety of our vehicular cocoons. Some of the subjects lie sleepily far from the paths we travel while others were once thriving with activity at the center of commerce. These forgotten places, abandoned buildings, and people from the neighborhood have been captured in candid, unguarded moments.

Notable among these are images chronicling the deterioration of the former automobile powerhouse known as Detroit by Andrew Moore. Mr. Moore has undertaken an in depth survey of sites in and around Detroit. The photos in this exhibition focus on the defunct Ford Plant at River Rouge. Few images can convey the decline of US industry as sublimely as these photographs.

Victoria Sambunaris’ western landscapes are arresting from a formal perspective. The lack of strong directed light creates a flattened, compressed space and stacks the layers of the open landscape vertically. This gives the viewer a sense of viewing wall-hung tapestries, rather than a deep, expansive plane or geo-thermal features nestled in a Utah landscape. Ms. Sambunaris’ work along with David Taylor’s harkens back to large format images of exotic places exhibited for paid admission in the late 19th century. These are scenes of the contemporary frontier on a scale with nature.

Alex Prager’s image of a young woman illuminated by an open fire on a parking deck is striking for its juxtaposition of this single figure against an inner city nightscape. Another figurative work, by Richard Rinaldi, offers a nicely tonal black and white portrait of “Craig” a young man, shirtless with tattoos.

There are a couple of definite drawbacks to this show. First and foremost is the lack of gallery space. Any one of these artists could hold their own in a solo show of 30 or more works. Here, we are only offered appetizers; one or two works from each artist. And frankly, this is not quite as satisfying as catching the unique visual rhythms of one particular artist. As a viewer, one misses the subtle narrative that begins to develop in the course of a visual series. Clearly the emphasis is on the landscapes which are dynamic and required the largest spaces within the gallery. The more psychological images of people were relegated to the back room and their impact suffered as a result.

The curator must’ve understood the “sampling” aspect would be problematic, offering a table full of large format photography books featuring each of the show’s artists. Having access to the books provided the opportunity of seeing a broader survey of each artist.

The second problem also lay in the curator’s hands. Sometimes a curator will feel the need to shoehorn the images in order to have them fit into the “theme”. Unfortunately, this was evident in one or two instances; creating somewhat jarring visual and thematic interruptions within an otherwise cohesive exhibition.

As a side note, we would also like to direct you to the exhibition by student studio senior Alanna Ford (Jan. 12-19). Her work is clever, well considered and well crafted. It’s nice to see such mature work coming from someone in the earliest stages of their art-making career.

If you need more information on the artists or the shows at Davidson College, please go to our website, Piedmont Foothill Venues

We’ll see you there!

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