ART REVIEW | Abstract art exhibited in office building

It’s 5 o’clock on a Monday afternoon and the light is fading over the city. In the lobby of the fourth floor of the New Alliance Bank building at 195 Church Street, Sue Hardy crosses a corridor, casting an eye over the 13 paintings and sculptural pieces hung on the walls.

Hardy works in the office in which a morsel of the New Haven art world can be found, once you get past the security downstairs (all visitors are required to register at the reception). Gallery 195, an initiative by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, is currently showing the works of Jonathan Waters and Joy Wulke in an exhibition entitled “Smoke and Mirrors” that examines ephemerality in art and the abstract.

A piece from the exhibition,
Jeanne Snow
A piece from the exhibition, "Smoke and Mirrors."

Hardy said she and her coworkers enjoyed the presence of the art in the workplace.

“We do enjoy looking at them,” she said. “We talk about them a lot – it keeps us talking.”

The artworks tend towards the abstract, though Wulke’s work is generally composed of images of houses, winds and landscapes as well as large glass frames, glue, wood and bone.

Particularly innovative is Wulke’s use of wishbones in her piece “Shapes of the Wind,” which, placed behind strokes of glue on glass, represents air currents emanating from a house.

Wulke’s artwork tends to emphasize vast and lonely spaces placed in the context of house shapes like the outline of a dwelling with a pitch roof. In some pieces, the buildings are portrayed visually such as in “From the Storm,” where a house stands on a cliff overlooking a tumultuous sea stricken by multiple lightening bolts all made out of glass shards behind a glass screen. But Wulke’s other works are more conceptual — she exhibits her other pieces in house-shaped frames, as she does in “Where the Sea Meets the Sky,” a drawing of a wavy seascape meeting a dark horizon.

Her pieces are also informed by poetry. In “Where the Sea Meets the Sky,” Wulke quotes verses from Algernon Charles Swinburne. With the lines “We live in an age / Of rising seas,” the dark horizon of the sky takes on a sinister tone. In “The Way Home,” a black and white print of a little house on a vast plain approached by a dark gust of wind, Wulke composes her own lines. She writes, “Valued moments of solitude allow for long views.”

For a moment, the viewer is jarred out of the corporate surroundings of the office building into a world of dark, lonely abodes, not dissimilar to the effect summoned by the drawings of Alfred Kubin, the Austrian artist and illustrator whose works are currently on view at the Neue Gallerie in New York.

The other artist on display is Jonathan Waters. His angled wooden shapes are necessarily abstract and feature four rubber panels on their surface. As the exhibit proceeds, the shapes become increasingly distorted from the original four-sided polygon “Vertical Shift,” which echoes Wulke’s rooftops.

The final piece by Waters, another wooden polygon called “Shadow,” has no rubber panels, but rather has painted panels. In this piece, Waters demonstrates the skill of connecting to an attentive viewer through subversion of medium. This shows a refreshing sense of humor and proves that Waters is less concerned with these shapes being taken seriously than with an appreciation of the materiality and the abritrariness of construction.

“It’s different, isn’t it?” said an officer worker who passed by with a smile on his face.

But despite the abstract title and artworks, “Smoke and Mirrors” is still a commercial venture, grounded in reality. One can be the owner of a Wulke or Waters original for $400-$3,300.

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