Editor’s Note: This exhibit closes March 31, 2019.
After arriving at Bennington campus through wrought iron gates, you ascend a meandering road until you reach the crest of a hill. Before you is a behemoth of a building—a 1000,000 square foot cathedral of wooden high beams and glass, dedicated to creating something from nothing in visual art, dance, and performance. This is VAPA (visual and performing arts) Center, situated on a summit against the surrounding vistas of the Green Mountains. Visitors enter by climbing the industrial stairs to the Usdan Gallery. It was modeled on the 3rd floor of the Whitney Museum when the museum was on the Upper East Side of New York, now the Met Breuer. Like the building, the gallery is mammoth. Constructed 40 years ago with the spirit of mid-century large scale color field paintings and minimalist sculptors such as Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitzki, and Anthony Caro, who were students and faculty at the college.
This is a difficult space to curate an intimate exhibit of small works. Somehow the curators, Anne Thompson, director of the Usdan Gallery, and faculty member, Josh Blackwell have successfully surmounted this challenge. Two long tables anchor the center of the gallery and a shelf at one end support the two bodies of work, which are vastly different, but generated from the same premise. The pieces are not displayed by artist, but weave between each other stressing their commonality and discrete characteristics. This is an exhibit for looking. There are no labels (there is a list at the desk if you are interested), and no distractions.
Five years ago, sculptors Keiko Narahashi and Sarah Peters started a dialogue about sculptural representations of bodies, particularly heads and faces. They didn’t stop. As an experiment they photographed arrangements of Peter’s black-patina bronze figurines and Narahashi’s ceramics resembling face jugs and silhouettes. The Body Stops Here is a visual realization of that 2014 photo shoot, but updated to include recent works. The result is what could be described as a call and response that addresses everything from formal relationships about color, texture, and form to historical and contemporary influences that include global, folk, and pop culture. In addition, Narahashi and Peters perused objects that were both spiritual and functional such as totems, masks, and today, humanoids that mirror the human body. In a smaller space in the rear of the gallery, as part of the exhibit, many of their references are available for viewers to browse. The outcome includes sculptures that are hilarious while others speak to the power of sexuality embodied in characters ranging from Medusa to Princess Leia.