Art Commentary: Box Art for East End Hospice


David Porter was a great storyteller, artist and friend. And of all his achievements, perhaps the one that is most appreciated today is his involvement with establishing East End Hospice. His idea of auctioning off art from local artists to help the Hospice is still going strong. But we’re not talking about the ordinary kind of art we usually find at charity events; rather, it’s cigar boxes that are transformed into extraordinary shapes, sizes and textures: we simply won’t find anything like them on the entire planet.
Box art has a unique place in contemporary times. Consider works by Joseph Cornell who created boxed assemblages from found objects. Local artists like Nick Tarr and Maria Pessino are well known for their box art. Both individuals also using found objects. Tarr, particularly, evokes an interactive experience between the spectator and his work.
Artists who produce the Hospice art from cigar boxes are known for other media, yet they often employ materials that mirror their signature pieces.  For example, sculptor Dennis Leri has taken a cigar box apart, using the cardboard as material for an abstract sculpture. Somehow, this critic is reminded of Leri’s metal configurations, which were a homage to September 11; the theme of fragmentation and deconstruction is the same in his box art. Margaret Kerr’s miniature Stonehenge is not only imaginative, but also authentic (especially for those of us who have visited the place), representing Kerr’s  employment of bricks in her own work.
Other artists recreate familiar styles, like Stephanie BrodyLederman’s familiar images and words in unusual combinations; viewers, no doubt, like to interpret the meaning. Then there’s Stan Goldberg’s Three Stooges, colorful and playful drawings that recall his famous Archie comic books.
Some artists conjure up signature themes or subjects, including Janet Culbertson’s environmental contradiction: her glitter makes images beautiful, but inside the box, a frog with a snake in its mouth is not so pretty. Eric Ernest’s chess set reminds us of one he did with David Gamble several years ago. April Gornik’s seascape and David Slater’s assemblage also bring to mind their subject matter.
There are some boxes, of course, which do not conform to a particular artist’s style, theme or technique, like Anne Sager’s satire on “The Scream.” Walter Schwab’s collage of Mexican icons recalls his Mexican photographs, but these images convey a less subjective viewpoint. Hans Van de Bovenkamp’s box does not look at all like his sculptures, but no matter. It’s still unique.
So are the works that use the inside of a box to bring forth a surprise, like Melissa Elliott’s hand-made jeweled belt, Abby Abrams’ wire figure and Jeff Dell’s alphabet pieces. We never know what some artists will come up with.
Curator and Benefit Committee Chairperson Arlene Bujese always seems surprised by the diversity and creativity of the boxes, even if she has invited 90 artists to participate this year. It’s as if each work is special, Bujese watching over each and every one of them with a sharp eye.

The Box Art Auction to benefit East End Hospice will be held on Saturday, September 8, at the Ross School Center for Well Being (18 Good Friend Drive, East Hampton) starting at 4:30 p.m. Call 631-288-7080 for details.

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