Annual Members Exhibit at Guild Hall

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It gets harder and harder each year to properly critique Guild Hall’s Annual Members Exhibition. Does this mean the quality of work goes down with each passing day? Of course not. In fact, the art continues to get better. The real problem is this: the increasing number of entries and the growing limitations of newspaper space establish a disappointing dilemma. How can we art critics give credit to all the works that truly deserve attention? The answer is simple. We can’t, unless we just consider the prize-winners (selected this year by Lilly Wei).

So some writers (including this critic) often pick a particular focus as a way of narrowing down what we consider.  This year the theme, “Connection and Disconnection,” demonstrates a dynamic that spontaneously occurred as the show was viewed. In fact, such a theme may account for the potency of specific works, the reason that some pieces stand out.

First there’s the idea of “connection,” where compositional elements, like symmetry and balance, play a large part in the work’s formal aesthetics. Here are some noteworthy examples. Marilyn Weiss’ (no relation) collection of tiny dresses hanging in a closet (“Second Hand Rose”) is an imaginative ode to nostalgia and the artist’s stylistic signature. Michelle Cooke’s “Tilted Square 36” (Best Sculpture) enhances the balance created by a circle. Mary Ellen Bartley’s “A Road Divided” (Top Honors) is a photograph featuring a series of papers arranged like files, although a few stand somewhat alone. A glimpse of landscape imagery appears on two of the papers, making the object an ambiguous one. Not only are the muted colors wondrous, but the suggested narrative is exciting.

Several abstracts are also “connected” in a formal way, their forms and movement creating a kind of choreography: Carol Hunt’s “Spring Suite 03,” Marie Rosso’s “Jeweled Dream” and Faith-dorian Wright’s “The Map.”

Yet, more works seem disconnected, starting with Roseann Schwab’s abstract monotype coincidentally called “Disconnected.” Elongated stripes of paint appear next to one another, but they are still isolated. So are the separated shapes of Eunice Golden’s “Metamorphosis.” Conversely, several abstract pieces are geometrical where diverse configurations are arranged in irregular positions and seem particularly (and inadvertently) disconnected: Eric Ernst’s archival print, “Study From Diagrams from the Sky” and Diana Plitt’s digital print “Showtime.”

Another disconnection occurs, perhaps based on metaphor. Consider Kyla Zoe Rafert’s “Lady Like Behavior” (Best New Artist) which has a feminist theme. Jennifer Cross’ oil and encaustic “Everyone is Going to Heaven” features an asymmetrically-placed chair which gets our attention. Diane Tepper’s photograph, showing a woman in a wheelchair with her husband sitting next to her, is more literal. It’s a heartbreaker.

The most powerful “disconnected” work, however, is a small sculptural piece by Monica Banks. It has tiny figures lying on the ground, perhaps recalling open graves from concentration camps. It is a harrowing image, with discombobulated bodies flung here and there. Contrast that with a photograph by Renee Dahl, “Esthereal,” celebrating Barbie dolls swimming in perfect “connected” harmony. Those are images that really stick with us.

The Annual Members Exhibit at East Hampton’s Guild Hall (158 Main Street) is curated by Christina Strassfield and Michelle Klein and on view until June 9. Call 631-324-0806.

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