Artists and aficionados gathered Friday evening at Artspace to kick off this month’s City-Wide Open Studios event, an annual festival meant to highlight the work of local artists.
At the kickoff, guests viewed a sampling of more than 470 pieces by New Haven area artists as the sounds of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Shins floated through the crowded venue. Now in its ninth year, City-Wide Open Studios is a three-weekend opportunity for prospective buyers to visit artists at the spaces in which they create their work. Each year, the program utilizes Erector Square — the site of the former A.C. Gilbert toy company that manufactured Erector Sets — and personal studios throughout the city as venues for two of the weekend exhibitions. A closed Hamden middle school slated for redevelopment was chosen for the third “alternative space” venue, which varies from year to year.
The purpose of the kickoff exhibition was to provide the public with a sampling from each of the participating artists, Artspace employee and former open studios coordinator Hanni Bresnick said.
“The real action is in the studios,” she said. “[The exhibition] is like thumbnails.”
Pieces at the main exhibition included a wide variety of art, ranging from masks to etchings, mobiles and portraits.
The artists, identified by green stickers, mingled freely with onlookers at Friday’s reception. Despite the range of materials and subject matter, a decidedly local motif ran throughout the display — New Haven landmarks appeared in numerous works, and attendees walked over an enlarged aerial photo of New Haven as they entered the exhibition.
New Haven’s show is the only Open Studios program in the country to provide alternative studio space, allowing artists without their own studio space and those from other parts of Connecticut to participate, according to program literature.
Photographer Matthew Garret, an Open Studios veteran, said that the program provides a unique outlet for artists to share their work with the greater New Haven community.
“It’s great … to see [large] sports-event crowds come out to see art,” Garrett said. “You see the whole city coming through.”
Bresnick, who was involved in this year’s main exhibition, said one of the unique aspects of the project is its “democratic edge.”
Unlike many art shows, Bresnick said, this event is geared towards including artists with varying levels of experience. There is no selection committee that determines which pieces will be included, she said.
“Because it’s non-juried, anyone can participate,” she said. “There’s really no barrier except the entry fee. It’s something outside of the traditional gallery experience.”
Despite an abundance of art centered around the Elm City, a number of pieces addressed more global themes.
Insook Hwang, a newcomer to Open Studios, said she looked to current events to develop the theme her of piece, titled “Searching.” In the piece, a stamped robot brandishes a pair of scissors at a three-dimensional, sewn teddy bear.
“It’s about being conscious of the violence. I try to add some humor to it; it’s a cartoon-like world,” she said. “It’s an odd world.”
Throughout Hwang’s work, traditional symbols of violence, such as guns and grenades, are used as basic building blocks to create larger images, such as keys, flowers and human heads.
Bresnick said that she hopes that by bringing artists like Hwang into contact with other local artists, the program will stimulate more artistic creativity.
“It acts like an incubator for further projects,” she said. “People who share similar aesthetics are able to find each other.”
Following the Friday night kickoff, participating artists showed their work on Saturday and Sunday in Erector Square. Individual studios throughout New Haven will be open on Oct. 21 and 22, and the alternative space at the closed Hamden middle school will be open on Oct. 28 and 29. In past years, Artspace has adapted a former smoothie company and the Olin Metals Research Laboratory for its alternative space.