By Alan Bisbort
10:40 AM EST, January 24, 2013
When was the last time you went to an art exhibition where the curators said, "Leave the driving to us"? Well, that's the ticket for Ten Narratives, a fascinating and fun (yes, art can be fun) take on the storytelling element in the visual arts, co-curated by two longtime New Haven area arts facilitators, Johnes Ruta and Christine "Chris" Butler.
The exhibition features the work of 10 artists, seven of whom are from the New Haven area; the eighth (Moira Fain) is originally from Hartford but now lives in California. This exhibition is "traveling" in the sense that, although it is mostly by Connecticut-based artists, it's installed at the Umbrella Arts Gallery in Manhattan (opening Jan. 26 and up through March 3). Not only do Ruta and Butler offer ten different tours through the territory of visual narrative, they provide a bus to take you to see the show for the Jan. 26 opening.
Many of the artists' names will be familiar to area aficionados. Like all good narratives, no two stories, or artistic styles, are alike in Ten Narratives. The artists span six decades in age from their 30s upward and their styles range all over the visual map, from what Ruta characterizes as "maximalist artists like Gordon Skinner, Elisa Vegliante and Nick Grossmann" to the more surrealist, Dubuffet-inspired work of Claudine Burns-Smith and the "magic realism" of Bob Cuneo. And then there's 94-year-old Cherie Tredanari.
"She's amazing, a real 1930s bohemian who does these large sculpture installations," says Ruta. "She's still on her feet and still working."
Butler once ran one of Connecticut's hippest galleries, at Bittersweet Farm in Branford. "It was such a cool place, with little tea houses on the property," recalls Ruta, with a bittersweet sigh. "The owner of the farm sold the property to a biotech company in the 1990s and that was the end of that. The company never ended up even building their headquarters."
Butler had taken a long hiatus from the art scene before contacting Ruta last year, and the idea for this exhibition came together. Enter yet another longtime New Haven area arts figure, Margaret Bodell.
"I've known Margaret since the 1980s when she had a nice gallery in New Haven called Art in Heaven," says Ruta, who was for years curator of art shows at York Square Cinema and is now curator of monthly exhibitions at the New Haven Free Public Library's AzothGallery. Yet again, outside forces played a dastardly hand in the demise of a much-loved art gallery when the city took over the area where Art in Heaven was located to make room for the Ninth Square Gallery. Bodell relocated to New York where she now runs Umbrella Arts with Maryann Fahey.
Ruta wrote brief catalog entries for each artist, and an essay in which he explains the connection between visual and verbal and literary narrative. "In visual narrative," Ruta writes, "stories emerge from constellations of dots and strokes of paint, points of reference, shadows and overlays, forms and images, figures and objects. It often requires a new vocabulary to describe patterns, motifs, moods, and emotions."
The bus trip aspect of Ten Narratives is back by popular demand. In 1998, when still based in New Haven, Butler organized a show of area artists in downtown New York, and the excursion to visit it has since become legend, somewhere between The Who's Magic Bus and the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour.
This time, the bus will leave New Haven at 11 a.m. on Jan. 26, taking passengers to the Metro Art Fair at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea, which includes galleries and booths filled with contemporary fine arts and outsider art. At 5 p.m., the bus will take passengers on to Umbrella Arts Gallery for the opening of Ten Narratives, which runs from 6 to 9 p.m. A day filled with art, a designated driver, friends and kindred spirits. What could possibly be better than this?
"Ten Narratives" will be on view through March 3 at Umbrella Arts, 317 East 9th St. (between First and Second avenues), (212) 505-7196 http://www.umbrellaarts.com
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