[Sidebar] The Worcester Phoenix
March 29 - April 4, 2001

[Art Reviews]

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The Cantor Art Gallery returns with a first-rate show

by Leon Nigrosh

at the Cantor Art Gallery, College of the Holy Cross, 1 College Street, through April 14.

After an extended fallow period, the Cantor Art Gallery at Holy Cross has rejoined the art scene with a significant exhibition. Under the guidance of its new director, Robin Reisenfeld,

the gallery has produced a show that exudes a quality of professionalism and an air of sophistication -- starting right from the invitation and the exhibition brochure -- that hasn't been seen around here for quite some time.

Reisenfeld called upon two of her colleagues to present works in clay and photography that challenge our traditional understanding of each medium. Pennsylvania clay sculptor Barbara Diduk was formally trained in the art of pottery making and for many years produced a variety of utilitarian objects for daily use. She wanted these earlier works to have social relevance and resonate in a living space as part of everyday life. As time passed, Diduk became more involved in clay sculpture, and her latest works -- including the 18 arrangements currently on display -- are more about the notions of use, rather than use itself.

Inspired by 19th century farm implements, her large Metal Still Life has four tall, narrow, cylindrical luster-glazed objects reminiscent of watering cans perched on a 3-foot tall steel table. The nearby Dispenser, an arrangement of nine small containers fashioned from press-molded hemispheres and tiny wheel-thrown spouts, implies a useful purpose, but really has none beyond the important act of making the viewer think. Other arrangements like Beacon -- five bright red spheres with skinny black necks -- bring to mind bioengineered tomatoes, all somewhat similar in concept but individual in execution. Her free-standing arrangement of six 4 to 5-foot tall extruded clay cylinders, Keistamper, might be thought of as a group of steel-gray jackhammers holding a silent conversation. By hand-forming these mechanical objects, Diduk elevates them from mere tools to icons of utility to be viewed and pondered over, more as extensions of our brains rather than of our hands.

Holy Cross teacher Robert ParkeHarrison produces photographic tableaux that also force us to use our brains. Along with his uncredited, but equally involved wife Shana, ParkeHarrison delivers us into a bleak and barren world with all of nature seemingly on the verge of demise. Yet in the midst of all this post-apocalyptic dreariness, a solitary figure in an ill-fitting suit vainly attempts to coax nature back to life. In Mending the Earth, our everyman is on his knees with a large needle and thread trying to sew up a large crack in the Earth's surface. For this image ParkeHarrison merged a well-known 19th century picture taken by Civil War photographer Timothy O'Sullivan with a staged set-up including hand made props made specifically for this tableau.

The same collaborative care goes into the making of each mixed-media image. Contrived in an apparently endless foreground, the atmospheric photograph Night Garden eavesdrops on our hapless protagonist in a sunless world as he hopelessly attempts to sow plants in between rows of electric lights. In Cloud Catcher we watch as our quixotic gentleman carefully lifts clouds from a crater and tenderly puts them in glass jars. The most poignant image of the group currently on display is The Exchange wherein the ill-starred hero offers up his very blood to a half-dozen withered tree stalks.

All of ParkeHarrison's images are fraught with meanings and associations that belie easy solutions. The works are made even more mysterious because of his complex production techniques. The mere size of these photographic images -- all nearly four feet square -- envelops viewers, making them part of the scene. The staging and darkroom magic is so seamless that the images at first appear to be single snapshots. But we soon begin to wonder how and where the images were taken. The additional layering of paints, gels, and varnishes give the objects an old-world, and yet timeless, look.

Although the intent of each artist may be different, the two bodies of work complement each other well. Diduk's search for the minimal in form provides a cogent framework for ParkeHarrison's allegorical illusions, and his visual and psychological darkness makes her work all the more colorful.

The Cantor Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. Call 508-793-3356.


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