like red but not quite: Pretty Portia Munson’s All
Place Like Home
Gallery, through Dec. 4
As a visually oriented child, one of my most formative experiences
was going to the movies to see The Wizard of Oz. The
astonishing moment when Dorothy crosses the threshold separating
a world of grays from one of eye-popping color is indelibly
etched in my memory bank. The tantalizing sensation of somehow
having entered a dazzling parallel universe was recently re-created
for me at the opening of No Place Like Home
at the shiny-new spacious BRIK Gallery in Catskill. My metaphor
is sustained by the nature of the exhibition there, and is
reinforced by the very presence of BRIK and its impact on
Catskill’s Main Street itself.
To start experiencing the exhibit, one enters the first of
three rooms to the moonlit, beam-shifting photograms of Jared
Handelsman, a mysterious gray nightworld of 42-by-56-inch
silver-gelatin prints. These were done sans camera by exposing
photosensitive paper to the passing phenomena of night lights
on a country road. Painterly events documented without witness
are precisely recorded with titles logging the date and time,
gathering the data of night rather than wasting it while sleeping.
Handelsman’s light-triggered time-lapse prints are deceptively
simple and mesmerizing.
Stepping through a narrow hallway, one is blasted by the full-throttle
color environment created by Portia Munson, Handelsman’s wife.
Piles of green-on-green plastic detritus (gathered from a
local Wal-Mart, perhaps?) are mounded up on the floor (the
Emerald City?) and drop-dead-gorgeous 44-by-60 inch giclee
prints of flower mandalas line the walls. The floor installation,
Green Piece, is luridly beautiful in this hyperenvironment.
Munson’s installation celebrates how the human ability to
perceive beauty transcends the most mundane facts, assisted
in this case by color power.
Munson’s oversized direct scans of lovely specimen flowers
from her garden grip the moment of perfect beauty tightly,
in contrast to her husband’s laissez-faire process. Arranged
in a concentric circular pattern, they create icons of evanescence.
Her arrangements initially appear ecstatic—almost psychedelic—then
take on a slightly morbid aspect of nature. The black grounds
beneath the flowers (in actuality, above them), rather than
flattening space, contain a hovering atmospheric of darkness,
giving the feeling of a chamber. Munson began the flower mandalas
after the death of her aunt.
The narrow corridor connecting these two rooms displays photographs
by Sue Daley and Steve Gross (working collaboratively), Shelby
Lee Adams, and Fawn Potash, which provide us with an unusual
opportunity to get inside the life of Handelsman and Munson,
a behind-the-scenes narration, if you will. The photos document
the domestic and natural surroundings of the couple’s two-child
household in Round Top, N.Y. Adams’ and Potash’s landscapes
of Kaaterskill Falls present an enchanted fairy-tale vision
of the area; Daley and Gross’ interiors have the theatricality
and the color intensity to do justice to their subjects. The
bright, zappy primary juxtapositions and eye-catching clutter
recall photos of Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. The photos by Gross
and Daley, hung salon-style and displayed in unconventional
and funky framing devices, depict a neoromantic lifestyle
of city sophisticates in a rural setting, reminiscent of the
Bloomsbury group’s Vanessa Bell and her brood.
The wizard who is largely responsible for turning Catskill’s
Main Street into the Land of Oz is BRIK Gallery owner Frank
Cuthbert. Through self-proclaimed bravura, gambler’s nerves
and political savvy, Cuthbert encouraged the revitalization
of downtown Catskill by investing in and renovating 12 properties
on Main Street over the past five years, initially with very
little in the way of capital. After priming the pump, he guided
and assisted other like-minded pioneers to put their sweat
equity into a street whose intensity has been rather desaturated,
at least on the surface.
Cuthbert has built bridges to the community on all levels,
confabbing with local government offices, and arts and cultural
organizations on both sides of the Hudson, such as the Thomas
Cole House, Olana and the Green County Council on the Arts.
He intends to continue to use BRIK to host musical events
and readings as well as the visual arts.
While the art in this exhibition is world-class, I suspect
that the numbers of enthusiastic supporters who have turned
up are a direct result of Frank Cuthbert’s business smarts
and outgoing personality. The burgeoning of galleries and
shops on Main Street to keep the erstwhile Greene County Council
on the Arts company, such as M gallery and no-frills Wilder
Gallery, point out that, to paraphrase Judy Garland, “we’re
not in Kansas anymore.”
peripheral vision this week-