Housatonic Museum re-empowers the flower in Bridgeport

Phyllis A.S. Boros, Staff Writer, CT Post
June 13, 2010

For centuries, flowers have been a favorite subject of painters and sculptors, so can there really be anything new for contemporary artists to say about the rose, tulip or daisy?

You bet, says Terri C. Smith, a museum curator who is responsible for "Flower (Re)Power," a juried exhibition designed to "re-empower the flower" at Housatonic Community College's Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport. The exhibit, which features pieces from about two dozen professional artists from throughout the United States, opens Thursday with a free reception from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Burt Chernow Galleries, where it will remain on view through July 23.

Just as great poets have always searched for new ways to write about love, contemporary artists continually work on ways to reinvent the flower, to bring a freshness to the subject that reflects their own sensibilities and concerns of their time, she said.

And to prove her point, Smith suggested to HMA Director Robbin Zella that the museum's annual summer juried competition be thematic this year. And Zella agreed.

"When you couple the art class exercise/classic art staple of the still life with the flower -- sumptuous siren of subject matter for painters big and small-- the result is a brigade of flower art that ranges from straight representation to a kinetic sculpture where sunflowers turn circles in a wooden box," Smith wrote to prospective entrants a few months ago.

"Like trying to write a love song, it is challenging to revamp the exhausted visual of the flower, bringing it into a contemporary art dialogue and finding new ways to approach it as formal element, subject, symbol ... With `Flower (Re)Power,' the Housatonic Museum of Art is asking artists, whether you love or hate flowers in art, to share works influenced by or that address the flower in any way."

Entry was open to any artist willing to submit works with a floral theme in any medium, provided the pieces were created within the last two years. Each artist could submit up to eight works for consideration. As of the competition deadline of June 1, Smith said she had received 500 images from 55 artists. From that pool, she choose 52 works from 23 artists.

A $500 Best in Show award will be presented at the opening reception.

Smith, who is now working at the HMA on a part-time basis funded through a grant from a private donor, said she was pleased by the quality and "variety of approaches" that were submitted. Works in the show include ink on paper, paintings, jewelry, computer-generated imagery, sculptures, photography, video, mixed-media -- and even a crocheted bra. Also featured will be an installation created especially for "Flower (Re)Power."

A Nashville, Tenn., native, Smith said the exhibition is a celebration of "fresh faces and fresh works from familiar faces."

Participating artists, chosen by Smith (who acted as the sole juror) are: Carolyn Applegate of Los Angeles, Calif.; Bill Bahmermann of Philadelphia, Pa.; Alicia Beach of Knoxville, Tenn.; Charla Boteler and Alison Boteler, of Black Rock; Janine Brown of Westport; Alberta Cifolelli of Westport; Elisabeth Condon of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Christina Czap of New Haven; Katherine Draper of Norwalk; Nancy Eisenfeld of North Haven; Joan Fitzsimmons of Hamden; Debbie Hesse of Branford; Arpie Gennetian Najarian of Woodcliff Lake, N.J.; Peter Konsterlie of Bridgeport; Ron Lambert of Nashville, Tenn.; Mary Jo Lombardo of Westport; Barbara Marks of the Stony Creek section of Branford; Jane Rainwater of Andover, Conn.; Gina Randazzo of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.; Jill Vasileff of Stockton, Calif.; Lydia Viscardi of Bridgeport; Joan Wheeler of Easton; and Ruth Zelanski of Nashville, Tenn.

With approximately 15 years of curatorial experience to her credit, Smith said that she has created more than 70 exhibitions and a variety of related programming for museums and other not-for-profit arts institutions. She received a bachelor of arts degree in photo journalism from the University of Texas, followed by master's degree from Bard College's Center for Curatorial Studies. A recipient of an Andy Warhol Foundation Grant in 2005, Smith joined Zella at the HMA in December (responsible for reorganizing the college's multi-million dollar permanent art collection throughout the campus).

Smith said that her goal for the exhibition was to make the exhibition's subject matter exciting for the participating artists -- and ultimately for viewers -- noting that it can be challenging and fascinating "to take what is familiar and find new ways to look at it."

KAHN'S OPENING NIGHT WELCOME

As part of Thursday's opening night festivities, Kenneth R. Kahn, the executive director of the newly formed Bridgeport Arts & Cultural Council, will be introduced to the community. Kahn, of Hartford, who has a national reputation for successfully developing and expanding arts organizations, recently accepted the part-time position and is working out of donated office space at Housatonic Community College. The post pays $30,000.

The HMA's Zella is one of the community activists instrumental in the formation of the Council, which is seen by many as an essential element to Bridgeport's continued economic rebirth.

WHEN YOU GO

Housatonic Museum of Art is at Housatonic Community College, 900 Lafayette Boulevard in downtown Bridgeport (exit 27 off Interstate 95). Hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., Thursdays until 7 p.m. It is closed on all state and national holidays. Free parking in the HCC garage. Gallery admission is free. Information: http://flowerrepower.blogspot.com