It was an image of a bathroom that first caught the attention of art historian, Greer Pagano. It was 2016 and she was browsing at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City.
“It looked like the bathrooms I grew up in with green tile and it felt very personal,” remembers Pagano, who’s been following the work of Philadelphia-based artist Becky Suss ever since.
Pagano, who spent 17 years in Columbus and served as the curator of the amazing Pizzuti Collection for five years, says Suss paints worlds that are both magical and familiar. “She paints interior scenes of spaces from her grandparents’ home that are both imagined and fictional,” she says. “They are monumental in scale, almost life size, and there’s a flattened perspective that’s a bit off. Her colors are realistic but not photo-realistic, they’re figurative.”
See for yourself at The Contemporary Dayton where Pagano served as the guest curator for the new exhibit entitled “Becky Suss: Home.” It’s the first Midwest exhibit of the artist’s work; most of the paintings are on loan from private collections.
The largest gallery is filled with vivid images of “home” that a lot of visitors will find familiar. Many of the paintings capture Suss’ childhood bedroom over the years and the layers of memories that room evokes.
In addition to a number of rooms on view, there’s also a section of the exhibit devoted to paintings of well-known books including “The Runaway Bunny,” “Salvation” and “The New Moosewood Cookbook.” The books sometimes appear in the larger paintings as well.
Suss says she sees the books as part of an index of small things that shape memory and, by proxy, consciousness and identity – both familial and individual.
Because the theme of the show is “home,” the exhibit is designed to give gallery visitors the experience of walking through a home from another perspective. In an artist statement, Suss has said domestic interiors have long been at the center of her practice, spaces that have historically been understood as belonging to women and children, and have subsequently been undervalued and deemed unimportant.
“Equally relevant to my practice is the notion that there’s no such thing as an inaccurate memory, only recollections that encompass a broader and more revealing story,” she says.
Meet Becky Suss
Suss says art was never not a presence in her home. “My parents loved art,” she says. “My mother ran a volunteer program called ‘Art Goes to School’ where she’d bring poster boards and talk about color and composition and teach kids how to look at art and ask them what they saw. She’d want them to understand warm or cool colors and feel like art is approachable.”
Another important influence was a family friend and neighbor, Frank Bramblett, a conceptual painter and beloved art professor who taught in the Painting and Drawing department at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture for almost 40 years. “He was always looking over my shoulder,” remembers Suss. A third influence was her Uncle Sid, an artist who did painting, sculptures and also tumbled rocks. “He lived to 100 and was making colored pencil drawings until he was in his 90s.” says his niece.
By the time she was in high school, Suss was saying: “I want to be an artist!” In 2010, after studying art in college and grad school and experimenting with various artistic styles, she created a painting that was to change her life.
“I was living in California but feeling homesick,” she says. ”I decided I was going to make a very direct painting of a specific place I miss and am homesick for.” That decision and the resulting painting, “Quarry, Dorset,” altered the course of her career. It was a picture of a quarry in Vermont where she once went swimming. “I loved the feeling of something specific and personal and representational,” she says now.
When her grandfather died she made her first interior. “His mid-century modern home was sold and demolished and we were left with a shelf that had been his,” she says. “We were surrounded by objects but the people and places were gone. Since that time, the interiors are all I do.”
The objects you’ll see in the home paintings are often taken from photos, from memory and from observation. Although there are no people pictured in the rooms, you can feel their presence – the flowers in a vase, a rotary telephone, a shower curtain, a crowded bookshelf.
Pagano says this exhibit is a way to think about the magic of childhood and the wonder of internal spaces. “It will help you recall the details of your own family spaces,” she concludes.
Other exhibits now at The Co
The second gallery at The Co showcases the work of artist Carmen Winant, the Roy Lichtenstein Endowed Chair of Studio Art at The Ohio State University and a 2019 Guggenheim Fellow in Photography. The installation you’ll see was originally created for a group show in Denmark.
Winant, a feminist artist and writer, uses found images to explore women’s sexuality, describing her collages as a “source of power against violence.”
Her work, which began years ago when she moved from studio to studio and carried with her a full-double image from an old Playboy magazine, consists of 30 found, double-sided images illuminated on lightboards and displayed in a darkened gallery.
The video gallery features an hour-long film by Israeli artist Yael Bartana who says her films and installations explore the imagery of identity and the politics of memory. Her starting point is the national consciousness of her native country and meanings implied by terms such as “Homeland”, “Return” and “Belonging.”
This film is especially meaningful during this time because Jan. 27 was Holocaust Memorial Day, the day to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution. Bartana’s “The Undertaker” was filmed in Philadelphia and shows a leader and her followers during a choreographed procession and burial of weapons. The gestures are grounded in the movements of Israeli dance composer Noa Eshkol, particularly her 1953 ceremonial performance in remembrance of the Holocaust.
HOW TO GO:
What: Three exhibits including “Home” by Becky Suss, “The neighbor, the friend, the lover” by Carmen Winant and “The Undertaker” by Yael Bartana. Note that Winant’s art contains nudity.
Where: The Contemporary Dayton, 25 W. Fourth Street, Dayton
When: Through March 26. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Extended hours on First Fridays until 8 p.m.
Admission: Always free.
- There will be a free artist talk by Carmen Winant at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 6 at The Co. An exhibition viewing will be held at 6 p.m. before the talk.
- Talks by the other artists have been previously recorded and are available on the gallery website. (www.codayton.org)
For more information: Call (937) 224-3822.
The Co announces new lecture series
The Contemporary Dayton will host a new lecture series called “Conversations.”
The idea is to feature a variety of creative folks who will share ideas and engage with the audience. The sessions will take place in The Tank at the Dayton Arcade, 35 W 4th St., downtown Dayton. A reception will be held from 6-7 p.m., the lectures begin at 7 and the galleries will be open until 9 p.m. The readings are free but you must register in advance on The Co website. A Q&A will follow each session.
Here’s the initial lineup:
Hanif Abdurraqib - March 2: Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. He will read an excerpt from one of his newest books and participate in a book signing .
Saeed Jones - April 13: Saeed Jones is an essential author as well as a powerful voice in the world of literary activism, and his writing often engages the questions and nuances of identity. He will read from “Alive At The End Of The World” — a poetry collection published in fall 2022.
Debbie Blunden-Diggs - May 11: Debbie Blunden-Diggs, artistic director of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC), will participate in a group discussion with members of the company including choreographer Countess Winfrey and former artistic director and current Dance Affinity Group manager Kevin Ward.
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