The rooms were buzzing with conversation and congratulations on opening night as the artists mingled with the public, answering questions and contributing to an atmosphere thickly laden with energy and enthusiasm.
“Sincerely Yours” officially opened April 18th and will run through May 26th. The Ackland exhibit is composed of art by the eight 2013 Master of Fine Arts candidates from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The works presented in the exhibit investigate the idea of sincerity and the ways in which this concept may be employed as a powerful—even revolutionary—tool.
The exhibit attempts to combat certain negative associations that often accompany—and encumber—ideas of the sincere. Sincerity, after all, isn’t cool. Oscar Wilde said it was dangerous—even fatal—and general suspicion toward the concept has certainly not dissipated since then.
When it’s done all wrong, sincerity is saccharine. When it’s overdone or slightly off key, all that earnestness reads as merely trite. Sincerity, more often than not, is fantastically difficult to define and even more arduous to conjure. Strike a cord, and you might just scare people away; swing and miss, and you’ll only get laughs.
The works in “Sincerely Yours” somehow manage to walk this difficult tightrope, facing thorny and complex issues head on. Layers of irony and facetiousness are traded for candor and intimacy. There are unselfconscious, boldly asserted sentiments and messages without the cloying claustrophobia and ring of falseness that accompanies the sentimental. The earnestness often engenders a level of discomfort that may serve to draw the viewer in and provoke further thought—further revelation or complication—of the subject matter addressed.
The exhibit is also lovely in its eclecticism. Pieces vary widely in terms of both themes addressed and mediums employed. Some of the works are largely personal—exploring issues of nostalgia, memory, and the ways in which identity is shaped. Other pieces investigate societal issues such as racial stereotypes, commodity fetishism, sexual entrapment, and alienation from nature.
Ali Halperin is one of the artists. She has coated various clothing items in a thick layer of tar. Particularly disturbing are tank tops that have received the treatment. Halperin invokes these items’ colloquial name, “wife beater,” in the work’s title. One of the tar-coated tank tops hangs flaccidly while its neighbor bears a substantial baby bump. Seeing the word “wife beater” becomes somehow even more repulsive when it accompanies an image of pregnancy. It makes one question, more intensely, the term itself as well as the very real issues of abuse and misogyny facing our society. The tar highlights the commoditization rampant in our culture.
The pregnant belly under one of the pieces of clothing seems to suggest that our society’s cultivation of commodity or object-driven existence may be in part responsible for the objectification or dehumanization often perpetuated against ourselves and each other. Halperin appears to assert a blurred relationship between the tar-encrusted clothing pieces and their consumers.
Many other artists also utilize objects with specific connotations and associations—playing off of the expectations they engender. Lauren Salazar, for example, created a site-specific work for the exhibit—a huge weaving piece whose threads expand all the way to the ceiling. “I love the restrictions that come with working within a specific space. I like to make weavings that exploit the space they’re in,” she said.
Salazar has been focusing on weaving, as an artistic medium of choice, for some time. “I was always interested in geometric abstraction. Weaving was a way to continue to work within a grid system,” she said. Salazar added that she appreciates weaving’s strong association with the domestic and female spheres. Her monumental piece, which presents itself as infinitely expandable, seems to subvert and complicate ideas of weaving as something mundane and humble.
“Weaving and the products of weaving are often seen as very basic and ordinary. I want to show them from my perspective. I want to show the grid within them and demonstrate how these items can explode and be very expansive—very powerful,” said Salazar.
The weaving piece is an example of the ways in which the shows’ co-curators, Kim Bobier and Russell Gullette, effectively responded to the space they were given. “We really put a good deal of thought into how we could fill up the space, since the ceilings are quite high,” said Bobier. The weaving artwork by Salazar, along with a fascinating and arresting installation of a domestic scene by Nicole Bauguss, make beautiful use of vertical space.
Artist William Thomas, like Salazar and Bauguss, also utilizes domestic objects in some of his featured works. These pieces by Thomas examine commoditization as well as the relationship between consumers and their commodities. Thomas, researching and working on another project that ended up morphing into this one, stumbled across a very interesting Walmart.com service. He discovered that one could have an image blown up and printed upon a blanket. Intrigued by the idea, he had some of his miniature paintings mounted upon fleece covers.
“I was very surprised that they didn’t emerge completely pixilated,” commented Thomas. Enlarging his small paintings onto large fleece blankets also highlighted some aspects of the artworks that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. “You might not be struck by all the texture and dimensionality of the paint when the work exists on such a small scale, but when it is blown up suddenly the brushwork becomes very apparent,” said Thomas.
Using a Walmart service to mount paintings onto mass-produced fleece blankets opens up interesting questions about art’s relationship to utilitarian objects, reproduction, and consumerism.
“The figures represented are images of myself in a way—zoomed in or zoomed out,” said Thomas. Thus, the works are also provocative in that they represent a translation of something personal—an image of the self—onto and into a reproducible good or product. The images also play off of racial stereotypes, creating further room for analysis and involvement.
Damian Stamer’s work is personal as well—though in a somewhat different way. The series of oil paintings on panel depicts landscapes of places that Stamer used to visit as a child. The North Carolina scenes explore the concept of memory, amongst other things.
“They’re also about time and how you can compress time,” said Stamer. I wanted to experiment with making something look very old yet somehow contemporary at the same time. I used more modern-looking paints to try to achieve that balance.”
Stamer mentioned that he doesn’t sketch the images first but works from photographs and then immediately starts painting. “I like chance, and not knowing where the painting is going to end up. I think I’d lose some of the energy inherent to the process if I sketched the image first,” he said.
“Sincerely Yours” also includes several video works. George Jenne has two videos in the exhibit. Each is an exploration of narrative and the process of storytelling—though they are executed very differently. The videos create an incredible sense of intimacy and close quarters between the viewers, the story, and the characters captured on tape.
Throughout one of his video artworks, Jenne confronts viewers with intense close ups of skin and other materials. He uses the body and face as landscapes, exploring their topography and experimenting with perspective. “To me, photography is about the material—its appearance and texture. It’s about getting so close that the materials you’re seeing become almost unrecognizable,” he said.
Nature, and man’s relationship with it, are also major themes of “Sincerely Yours.” Julia Gootzeit has created sculptures that are stunning and singular. They appear so organic and fluid—both examining our distance from the natural world and reasserting a connectedness.
Michael Lauch’s videos also deal with nature. One piece in particular is quite captivating and involves the artist standing in a stream, using a bucket to remove and replace water from the current’s general flow. All the while he makes observations about the process and the feeling of standing amidst the moving water. Watching the video is a beautiful and somewhat hypnotic experience.
The artists featured in “Sincerely Yours” all pursue different approaches and explore widely varying themes. However, the exhibit feels unified. Each artists’ works seem to form part of a dialogue. The co-curators are largely responsible for the synergy and fluidity of the exhibit. Bobier and Gullette, themselves Art History graduate students, worked diligently to create a cohesive show. They aimed to find a theme and way of combining the different artists’ pieces that would showcase the relationships and the conversations between vastly differing works.
“We wanted to represent the communication and critique, between the artists in this small group, that goes on in a two-year program,” said Bobier.
Before choosing the theme and the individual pieces, the co-curators did their homework—going to the artists’ critiques, for example, to see what was being discussed. “Kim and I also spent about a month doing studio visits. We went to everyone’s studio and talked to them about their process—as well as the ways in which their work has evolved.”
“Sincerely Yours” is an exciting, engaging exhibit, filled with very unique visions and explorations. The show is expansive—offering up much room for interpretation, analysis, further questions, and maybe even revelation. As always, the Ackland is free to the public (though donations are also accepted).
1. George Jenne, Spooky Understands, 2013
2. Lauren Salazar, Untitled, 2013
3. William Paul Thomas, She Bad, 2012
4. Damian Stamer, Per Se, 2012