'Material Matters' and Lighting, Too, in Southampton

Monica Banks’s “Clouds” amass new and old bibelots and tchotchkes between delicate wire joinery. Jennifer Landes Photos

The Southampton Cultural Center has a lot going for it: new risers in the theater, which offers an array of plays and concerts, and Arlene Bujese as the house curator for visual art. But oh, how I wish they would put in decent gallery lighting.

The large open room adjacent to the theater has recessed fluorescent lights. Their generalized glow bathes some work in too much light and others not enough. The glare off of Plexiglas on some works can be assaulting. Ms. Bujese does her best to choose and place objects with this in mind, but the overall effect is clinical and off-putting.

“Material Matters” is the latest exhibition that culls an unusual and thoughtful assemblage of artists and genres. Here, she delves into artistic practice beyond the search for subject, examining how artists choose and develop relationships to mediums and how those mediums can dictate the form and spirit of the work.

Ms. Bujese has obviously been paying attention to the working practices of the dozen artists she includes here. Clearly, she also has noted how they have managed to bring fresh takes to either the choice or use of their prevalent mediums. The artists have much to say, but with space limits here, I can only suggest a visit to the show to develop your own conclusions of the works by Patricia Feiwel, David Geiser, Carol Hunt, Setha Low, Jeff Muhs, Pamela Topham, and Sarah Jaffe Turnbull.

The single piece by Alice Hope is from her “Tab” series, but it serves as a proper introduction to the obsessive nature of her approach to materials. She fixated on soda and beer can pop-tops during a visit to a recycling facility, overwhelmed by the sheer number of them and what they signify in terms of consumption and reuse. Since then, she has collected thousands, some colored but the majority in the more familiar gray tones of aluminum, and set about making work that includes or references them. Here, she has attached hundreds of silver-toned tabs to fishermen’s netting, embedding her material into the rich fabric of this region’s history. Would it help to see more to understand the artist’s commitment? Probably, but the suggestion is there.

Monica Banks is represented by four pieces: “Cloud Obscure,” “Cloud Management,” “Cloud Light,” and “Cloud Nest.” She began the series several years ago upon receipt of several boxes of trinkets and toys from her childhood. She attached the bits and pieces to wire and connecting them to more recent finds. Eventually, each became a representation of her past and present, life and love, motherhood and marriage. The delicate constructions, which grew to include natural objects such as feathers and fingernail clippings, are made to hang from the ceiling or on branches in outdoor settings, offering an ethereal, fleeting feeling of real clouds and memories.

Barry McCallion’s series of artist books are set within a vitrine, an understandable but unfortunate precaution. While each book is open to colorful and complicated spreads, it would be delightful to handle the books themselves and see what other surprises and delights they offer. The papers he uses, such as Richard de Bas wove or St. Armand Caribou, alone show a rich appreciation of materials. He binds them into volumes that share a theme or story, and applies inks, stamps, paint, and collage to the pages to create illustrations or designs. Sometimes he merely weaves in other strips of paper to form an abstracted grid interpretation of more naturalistic images on the same or neighboring pages. These objects could easily slide into the realm of twee, but they are too rich and powerful for that to happen.

For the past decade, needlework has been a constant in the creative output of Christa Maiwald. In various series, she has explored hierarchies in society and the art world — international politics and power struggles, the players in our country’s economic crisis, and other charged subjects. Ms. Bujese has included several works from her “Born to Serve” series, where cats stand in for or support humans and their activities. The compositions, which she creates herself, gather the stitches in a blocky kind of shading that has a visual kinship with Cezanne’s chunky brushstrokes. Yet individual facial features on both humans and animals are refined with precise linear stitches. She has tamed the medium to her needs as an artist, and the amount of variety in her subject matter attests to a satisfaction with it in conveying her ideas.

Gregory Thorpe’s dense metal squares in black patinated metal appear in a grouping of four, just enough to understand the artist’s practice within the medium. All from this year, they demonstrate his play with surface, controlling the black pigment and allowing copper tones to peek through in random or painterly ways. An upside-down alphanumeric code appears in one, alluding to a convention from Minimalism that used numeric sequences, in particular, to suggest a false mathematical or scientific significance. Jonathan Borofsky immediately came to mind when viewing that work.

The exhibition will be on view through Nov. 17.

Christa Maiwald’s embroidered “Family Portrait”
David Geiser’s botanical hangings loom formidably along the glass entrance wall of the Southampton Cultural Center behind Sarah Jaffe Turnbull’s ceramic sculptures.
A vitrine in the gallery displays a variety of artist books made by Barry McCallion, most on handmade paper with a variety of themes and designs.