Ephemera and Opulence: Gallery Visiting in DUMBO

Ephemera and Opulence: Gallery Visiting in DUMBO

This week was a bit more of an independent venture, yet fulfilling nonetheless.

Having missed the initial trip with our class to visit the resident artists at the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, I opted to visit the galleries in which the class had visited later in their day. Smack Mellon and Art in General are quite the same in their mission and relationship to their community, which was something I appreciated when visiting. Both claiming on their websites to be a vessel for artists of all creeds to realize their potential, Smack Mellon and Art in General made good on a such a claim. At least, I believe so. The exhibitions I saw were diverse, as were the people who crafted them. All of the artists I encountered were female, something I found as intriguing as it was refreshing. There was no sense of repetition or conventionality and I appreciate the intimacy with which the artists tackled contemporary issues.

Like the exhibitions of Viviane Rimbaldi Seppey and Esperanza Cortez, which thematically handled the topic of immigration. They did so in separate ways, Seppey’s being a bit more personal and relating to her family’s experience, while Cortez seemed to address a larger audience, conveying her message on more of a global scale. The mediums in which they executed their works could not be any more different. Seppey embroiders the narrative of her family’s experience with sentimental ephemera, as well as everyday-ephemera that prompts familiarity with the viewer and allows a more organic dialogue to occur. There is also the inclusion of perhaps the most ephemeral medium, which is sound. I would have like to have spent more time with the audio section of her exhibition, but I got too wrapped up in her other works beforehand. A particular work that stood out to me was Sometimes I dream in French, sometimes in English. The work comprised of 26 phonebook pages that had been ripped out of their original binding, chosen each to represent one letter of the alphabet. How it represents that later is due to the fact that all the other letters and numbers on the page are blacked out. This work blew me away aesthetically and contextually, and stayed with me for the remainder of my trip. In its appearance, it almost looks like a star-filled sky, the untouched letters almost twinkling out from a background of straight black. It made me think about the infinite qualities of language, of words themselves, and how they too are endless like the stars in the sky, especially when I move my perspective from the limited scope of just the English language. I personally enjoy the use of ephemeral media in art, because I find that the transient nature of a work’s composition makes the work’s message all the more powerful.

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, View of exhibition, 2019. Photo courtesy of Smack Mellon.

 Cortez goes in the opposite in terms of material, shooting right out of the realm of ordinary objects. She still implements found objects just as Seppey does, but does so in a more ornate way. Through her exhibition, Canté Jondo, Cortez creates these monuments to the destruction of past colonized nations, facilitated through gem-mining. They are gorgeous, and have a great symbolic weight through their bejeweling of grim and disturbing objects, many human based. One of the works, a group of ornate skulls entitled Emerald Tears caught my attention while I was walking through. It reminds me heavily of Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, mainly for its opulence and its evocation of the grim memory of death. There’s a great deal of symbolism in the materials used on the skulls, green glass beads and crystals that harken back to the diverse cultural history of the Americas. Other works by Cortez were just as stunning, spanning from lush thrones to black clay masks that spit strings of precious beads. One that also left a great impression on me was Colonial Blues, an almost altar like installation whose materials represent the resources that colonized peoples had to suffer and die for. The way it inserts itself into the gallery’s environment was jarring, which I appreciated, as it further prioritized the work’s message. The fact that it does not take up the entirety of the wall was also intriguing. To me, it seemed to allow the work to incorporate the already present gallery space, alluding to this issue bleeding into (and still occurring in) the modern day.

Esperanza Cortez, “Colonial Blues,” 2019. Installation, oil and encaustic on wood panels, metal chains on clay sculpture, wood, candles. Photo courtesy of Smack Mellon.

Of all the galleries I saw that day, including the Caitlin Bernigan show at Art in General, I felt that Seppey and Cortez’s shows stood out the most in my memory, because of their shared subject matter and the distinct ways they each handled it. Having such a current theme to go off of, I feel that I was able to relate more with the work, reading it through the lens of this era. Though I did not get to spend this trip with the class, it was still an incredible experience.

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