Thursday, July 1, 2010

Two Gay Artists Show Sculptures at Berkshire Museum

"Sea Grass" one of the larger pieces by Susan Rodgers

The new sculpture show at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield is called Spatial Relationships but it might better be called Special Relationships. That's because it has a gay and lesbian connection...the two artists whose works are being featured just happen to be members of our LGBT community.

(While I understand there was a Facebook alert to the BSCC members, either I missed the LGBT connection or it was not specifically mentioned. My gaydar wasn't working in any case. Thanks to a dear colleague who alerted me to the LGBT element yesterday. So sorry for the late heads-up.)

Joe Wheaton's impressive "Shadows ope".

Joe Wheaton was on the Berkshire Stonewall board a ways back, and is married to the gay detective novelist Dick Lipez — in fact, they were the first male couple married in Becket, on the day gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. And here’s a choice snippet from the the catalog, about his use of materials.

Metal is his medium of choice because, Joe says, “it’s everything I’m not — if I weren’t gay I could work in feathers and Styrofoam.”

As if that were not interesting enough, turns out that Susan Rodgers is also more than just a famous artist, she is in a long term marriage with her gay partner as well. Some of her work is large scale as shown in the first picture, but it can also be surprisingly intimate enough to hang on your wall.

In any case, here is the safe, straight version of the event as presented to the mainstream press: Press releases continue to be the last place to learn about gay and lesbian people. When I ask pr writers why they never include the fact that an artist, show or exhibit has gay content, they answer it's not necessary because we live in a "post-gay" world. Maybe. But the artists themselves might not make the point, and they should.

Susan Rodgers: Silence.

Berkshire Museum will present the work of two local sculptors beginning Thursday.

"Joe Wheaton & Susan Rodgers: Spatial Relationships," an installation of new sculpture created specifically for this exhibition, runs through October 11. The installation brings together two Berkshire-based artists who worked extensively in other materials before gravitating toward metal. Coincidentally, both gained their affinity for working in metal after taking adult education welding classes at local high schools. Both artists will be present for the opening reception on Thursday, July 1 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The reception is open to the public.

Joe Wheaton's Kabuki Series #9

Wheaton, who lives in Becket, began working in ceramics at age 12; in the 1980s he attended Alfred University, where he studied ceramics, printmaking, photography, and sculpture. In 1990 he took a welding class at Pittsfield’s Taconic High School. "The minute I started welding," he told art critic Carol Diehl, author of the exhibition catalog, "I knew I had to do something that truly nurtured me," a revelation that prompted him to commit to the life of a full-time artist. Wheaton describes his work as "old-fashioned modern," although the new work he created for "Spatial Relationships" is distinctly contemporary.

Susan Rodgers: Night Sounds

New York native Rodgers had studied sculpture while working in theatrical set and prop design before moving to the Berkshires in the 1970s. She experienced an epiphany similar to Wheaton’s in a welding class at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington. The two sculptors share a love of working with found objects, as well as a mutual focus on line, form, balance, and shadow. But they diverge in matters of composition. As Rodgers told Carol Diehl, "… we both respond to the same art – David Smith and the usual – however I love the Mondrian grid, and I don’t think Joe’s as drawn to the grid as I am. In fact, I think he’s ‘anti-grid.’"

On view in Berkshire Museum’s Ellen Crane Memorial Room, the sculpture that comprises Spatial Relationships proves complementary and, at the same time, provides thought-provoking counterpoint. "This show is part of Berkshire Museum’s mission to support Berkshire artists and to demonstrate the innovation that has arisen in this special region," said Stuart A. Chase, the Museum’s executive director.

Joe Wheaton's Two Rocks

Chase describes Wheaton and Rodgers as mid-career sculptors who have both achieved recognition and whose work sells well. "Typically, a curator putting together an exhibition of contemporary art would go to the artists’ studio or gallery to select work,"” said Chase. "By giving Joe and Susan the freedom to create new work for Spatial Relationships, we gave them leeway to move beyond what they know is salable in a gallery situation."

Visitors can expect to see work from both artists that represents a departure from what has been successful in the marketplace.

"Spatial Relationships" will be on view in the Ellen Crane Memorial Room. Carol Diehl will lead a panel discussion with the artists on Thursday, September 23 at 7 p.m.

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