Art Watch: The place for what’s new – The Delaware Contemporary

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By Lele Galer, Columnist, The Times

This week’s Art Watch is all about an important center for the arts that most of you have never been to. The Delaware Contemporary, or DCCA, is a fascinating art center with ever-changing art installations that is located just 24 minutes from Longwood Gardens, and is free to the public and open every day except Monday.

DCCA has a large parking lot, is easy to get to from I-95 or down Route 52, and offers a safe, light-filled, airy space full of new art to nudge the senses. Such a cool place, and most of us have never been there! Artists often sigh that there are not enough places that show contemporary art (that is, art that shows a new take on what’s going on in the world around us), but sigh no more because we have DCCA.

Contemporary art is not necessarily abstract, political or impossible to comprehend. The best contemporary art is challenging in some way because it makes us see, or think or feel something in a new way. Though contemporary art can be shocking, sexual, violent, political, irreverent or annoying, it can also be just incredibly fun and freeing. I visited DCCA last week and I had a blast. This coming week, The Delaware Contemporary opens a new exhibit “Spiral, Recoil” and now might be a great time to start checking out DCCA on a regular basis.

DCCA was founded in 1979 and is located in a modern, edgy building at 200 South Madison Street in Wilmington Delaware, in the “Riverfront” complex. It is easy to get to, easy to park, and as soon as you walk through the doors you take in the wide open clean spaces, the high ceilings and it is all a delightful surprise. Where some art spaces feel stuffy, this feels airy. The desk staff is immediately welcoming and cheery, and anyone working in the center is happy to share information about a particular artist or art piece with such pride and enthusiasm that it cannot help but be contagious. This is a fun art place. Even though the space feels large, there are really only three or four exhibits going on at one time. The entire visit, which is always free, can take ten minutes to an hour. This is a great place to get a quick creativity infusion!

The new exhibition at DCCA is “Spiral, Recoil”, which is the vision of curator Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell, who is a social justice specialist at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington DC. Visually it offers very exciting sculptural constructions and images that are both colorful and engaging.

Amber Robles-Gordon’s “Beyond the Visible Rainbow”

The fabric hanging sculpture by Amber Robles-Gordon “Beyond the Visible Rainbow” is made of hundreds of brightly colored torn fabrics tied onto wire mesh. The construction is simple, the materials are everyday, and the colors and textures are pleasing to the senses. One of the things that is cool about DCCA is that the viewer can just enjoy a piece visually, and move on, or choose to go deeper and start asking questions like: why did the artist chose those materials? What does the sculpture mean in context with the theme of the exhibition? Do the torn fabrics represent something? Where are the fabrics from? Why use chicken wire? The more questions you ask, the more you get out of viewing art.

The title “Spiral, Recoil” harks back to an art show from 1965 where a group of African American artists exhibited art with the theme of “What does it mean to be a black artist?” Today, 50 years later, “Spiral, Recoil” shows 9 artists who respond to how far we have come along since 1965. Artists include Holly Bass, Allana Clarke, Wesley Clark, Billy Colbert, Larry Cook, Jamea Richmond Edwards, Amber Robels-Gordon, Stanley Squirewell, and Stephanie Williams. Each was chosen by curator Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwall to reflect on that question through the eyes of an African-American artist in America today.

Wood work by Wesley Clark

Besides the fabric and chicken wire sculpture, I also enjoyed the wood wall piece by Wesley Clark. It looks like a well worn, oiled and waxed piece of wood that was used for something, but you can’t tell what. This artist likes to construct new objects that appear to have a history that opens up questions to the viewer’s imagination. He writes that he isn’t interested in deceiving the viewer, but rather he is interested in the idea of one’s imagination creating a history to something that never existed. Cool idea! And, even if you don’t really respond to any underlying meaning to the piece, it is visually very pleasing and even as a rather minimal piece, it looks like it took time and thought to make.

Petitionary Prayers by Stephanie Williams

The rather bizarre soft fabric explosions of form, color and texture by artist Stephanie Williams is the most eye-catching piece in the exhibit. This is the sort of art you might expect or hope to see in a contemporary show. The sculptural forms flow all over the floor and up into the walls. Hand-sewn fabric tubes swell and twist randomly like intestines, with attached semblances of poorly sutured organs. The colors are mostly fleshy pinks, peppered with black and white stripes, bright yellows and deep red. My description might make this all sound a bit disgusting, but it isn’t. The sculpture is titled “Petitionary Prayers (For Absent Grace)” and is much more intriguing and more delightful than disgusting. How does this piece reflect the theme of “Spiral, Recoil”? and what is the artist getting at?

In her own words, artist Stephanie Williams talks about her interest in the insides of things and how she thought when she grew up that she would be a butcher rather than an artist. She writes, “I liked that food was a raw material that when turned into a prepared meal, could be transformed into almost anything. I would prepare meals with my mother, the jobs that my sister thought too gross to touch. Working together, I learned how to remove a turkey gizzard, how to prepare liver, how to clean a squid, about shrimp paste and fish sauce. This stuff is honest even in its pieces.  These pieces, even when dissected from the whole, connote something too important to be politely omitted. ” Knowing her history and point of view, makes the viewer look again at the construction of the piece, noticing that it is lovingly hand-sewn, left free to tumble to the ground without manipulation, and there is that sense of rather childlike exploratory fun that brings a smile.

“Spiral, Recoil” is on exhibit at DCCA through October 1, and while you are there also checkout the ceramic show “Jarring” and a very cool one-artist sculpture show “Improbable Suspension” with metal and fabric sculpture by Susan Ferrari Rowley. DCCA also has a neat gift shop with local contemporary artist and artisan works including metal jewelry by Ellen Durkan. I bought two necklaces!

Of note, if you are familiar with DCCA you might be a bit confused by the name. DCCA was formerly always called The Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, but now it is referred to as The Delaware Contemporary. Also, after a very long search, DCCA has finally hired a new Executive Director, Joseph Gonzales. Dr. Gonzales was previously a program director at University for the Arts in Philadelphia, as well as an art educator and expert in community engagement and audience building. He sounds perfect for DCCA!

I am excited that Dr. Gonzales will be my guest on Art Watch Radio this Wednesday August 16th, where I will interview him and learn about his plans for the future of DCCA. Art Watch Radio is every Wednesday on WCHE FM Radio 1520 from 1-1:30.

Start your weekend off at the Oxford Arts Alliance Friday August 18 from 5-8pm with the opening for the Member’s show. Eighty artworks by 30 of the Oxford Art Alliance members are all on exhibit in every medium. If you don’t know much about OxAA and want to play a role in the Oxford arts, show up at the August 23 meeting at 7pm for an art brainstorm session. August 25 is the last date to accept artworks for the huge Oxford Juried Show, juried by Brandywine River Museum of Art Executive Director Tom Padon. There are big prizes and works are accepted from all over the country; check out the website www.oxfordart.org for details!

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