The Shows Must Go On

Carl Mellor profiles a trio of exhibits by community artists at the Everson Museum, as the venue attempts to regain its financial footing

During 2014 the Everson Museum of Art has experienced drastic change and transition. During late January, the museum’s board of directors cited fiscal constraints as they voted to cancel two traveling exhibits scheduled for 2014. In turn, the scrubbing of African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond and Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Paintings from Glasgow Museums led to a revamped exhibition slate.

This weekend, however, the Everson is moving forward with shows featuring work by three Central New York artists: Mary Giehl, Daniel Buckingham and Sarah McCoubrey. Change is a factor in each exhibition.

Giehl, for example, has explored hunger, poverty and treatment of children in her artworks but does so through an ever-shifting visual idiom. Among other projects, she has created an installation of small desks and chairs to evoke an elementary school classroom and made crystals for a discussion of clean water’s importance.

In her current show, Rice Is Life, the artist has hung more than 100 vessels, each made from rice, from a gallery ceiling. Each bowl is suspended by thread, and the blood-red threads fall into piles on the floor. The exhibit builds on the notion of rice as a staple for many of the world’s people, on the idea of life’s fragility as suggested by thin threads, and on community at local and national levels.

The exhibition’s closing, scheduled for July 27, will feature a ceremony of exchange. Anyone who brings a food item for the Food Bank of Central New York will receive a rice bowl created by Giehl.

Mary Giehl, Rice is Life.

Mary Giehl, Rice is Life. Michael Davis Photo | Syracuse New Times

Buckingham, meanwhile, is a sculptor, teacher and traveler. He’s taken trips to 60 countries, typically moving by bicycle in nations along the old Silk Road. That 4,000-mile network of trade routes and trails extended from China to the Middle East and Europe.

While the Silk Road is often cited as a precursor to a global marketplace, Buckingham is most interested in the way it facilitated the exchange of ideas, cultures and religious perspectives. Such exchanges often happened in caravansaries, sanctuaries for travelers.

At the Everson, Buckingham is displaying Secret Invitation, a massive three-arched sculpture that invites viewers to consider present and past, to think about cultural interactions during the Silk Road’s heyday and during the time of the Internet. His other pieces include “Standing in the Dark,” a large medallion reworking the neon signs so familiar to us, and “Mirage,” which meditates on relationships between people and nature.

Daniel Buckingham, “Search/Exchange/Invite,” 2014. Michael Davis Photo | Syracuse New Times

Daniel Buckingham, “Search/Exchange/Invite,” 2014. Michael Davis Photo | Syracuse New Times

McCoubrey has created a substantial body of work, a series of paintings depicting landscapes with clarity and intensity. For her Everson exhibit, Works on Paper, she has turned to different media for artworks made up of ink drawings, digital prints and mixed media.

The 22 works speak to a phenomenon of environmental disaster and offer entrée into a world mixing reality and fantasy. In one piece, a potato sprouts wings and sails skyward. In another, a spud escapes the earth on a propeller. And in a third work, mounds of earth, uprooted, fly into the sky.

Clearly, the pieces have a flavor of absurdity. Yet they are firmly connected to McCoubrey’s concerns about environmental issues and possible solutions to serious problems.

Sarah Mccoubrey, “Map Of Wastebed,” 2014.

Sarah Mccoubrey, “Map Of Wastebed,” 2014. Michael Davis Photo | Syracuse New Times

The three exhibitions will anchor the Everson’s spring schedule but don’t serve as a prototype for the future. Indeed, Sarah Massett, the museum’s interim director, has discussed a fall schedule with its own identity. It includes a juried show presented in conjunction with the Syracuse Ceramic Guild; a selection of new-media works by artists connected to Signal Culture, an artist residency program in Owego; and Fernando Orellana’s sculptures, which feature a mix of artworks: robotic sculptures, interactive pieces and works contrasting traditional and post-modern art.

Pam and Sara. Everson Museum. Michael Davis Photo | Syracuse New Times

Pam McLaughlin (left), Curator of Education and Public Programs and Sara Massett (right), Interim Director. Everson Museum. Michael Davis Photo | Syracuse New Times

In addition, Massett points to specific interest in vehicles for reinterpreting the museum’s collections. During April, the Everson presented Down to Earth, an exhibition of photos and sculptures referencing nature. Images taken by Ansel Adams in California and Nathan Farb in the Adirondacks coexisted with an Arts and Crafts sculpture from Rockwood Pottery and a piece by sculptor Dorothy Staller. These, and other works, provided an avenue for viewing ceramics from a different perspective. (Massett is currently on a three-month maternity leave; director of development Samara Hannah will fill in during Massett’s absence.)

The Everson is also working to define itself as a community site, to make full use of space inside and outside the museum. There are activities such as yoga classes on Saturday mornings; the Urban Video Project, with its outdoor projection of videos on a façade at nighttime; and a beer garden event slated for May 15. The fifth annual “60/60,” a June 20 fundraiser with a twist, will feature 60 local artists striving to create original works of art within one hour. It will be staged at the Everson’s community plaza.

Lastly, one transition at the Everson is still in progress. After Steven Kern, the museum’s executive director, resigned in January for a director position at New Jersey’s Newark Museum, a search for a new director began. That search is still ongoing.

Returning to this weekend, the Everson will hold an opening night reception on Friday, May 9, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Advance tickets are required: $15 for non-members and $5 for members.

The Everson, 401 Harrison St., will run Giehl’s Rice Is Life through July 27, Buckingham’s Secret Invitation through Aug. 10 and McCoubrey’s Works on Paper until Aug. 24.

The museum is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.; Thursdays, noon to 8 p.m.; and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a suggested donation/admission fee of $5. For more information, call 474-6064.

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