GHENT, NY — At the sprawling Art Omi sculpture and architecture park, not all the artwork is found in the rolling fields and lakeside woods.
Inside the Benenson Center’s Newmark Gallery, a 15-foot-wide blue pool is filled, not with water, but with thousands of found plastic artifacts, organized by graduated shades of blue. The centerpiece of “Flood,” a new exhibition by artist Portia Munson, “Reflecting Pool” (2013) shows the detritus of the plastic age.
“It’s all stuff I find by the side of the road, free piles after yard sales, thrift stores, places like that,” Munson said by phone from his home in Catskill, NY. “I always collect the rejects of culture, I’m fascinated by what it says about who we all are.”
“So many blue objects refer to boys and men, but its strongest connection is water,” she said. “Just the sinister of making so many water-related plastic things, [yet have] a devastating effect on our water in different ways.
She has created numerous installations using the colors pink, blue and green. “Part of what I do is research what the color means in terms of marketing, what they’re trying to sell.”
With three sculptural installations and a dozen small water-related paintings, “Flood” spans 30 years of the 61-year-old Munson’s remarkable international career.
“I love painting because it mediates. But I’m not able to say everything I want to say with a painting. Larger facilities are a true social commentary on our waste and consumption. Sometimes I need to do these big immersive installations to express what I observe and feel. It’s harder to convey that in a painting, they’re calmer and more mysterious. With “Reflecting Pool”, it would be hard not to come away with some kind of environmental understanding.”
“I like to imagine that one day there will be an end to plastic and we won’t be making any more of it,” she added hopefully.
Munson will unveil a new installation at Art Omi. Tentatively titled “Blue Altar,” an old bedroom vanity becomes a triptych-like icon, a sanctuary standing in a puddle of blue plastic objects.
“It’s a brand new piece,” she said. “I used to collect female forms and there are quite a few Mary and mermaid and Southern Belle types. These three stereotypes in blue figure strongly. You will see the Virgin Mary in this arched form, and there are hanging shelves with small figurines on them.
“I really like to dive into this color in a feminine world, because my exploration of blue first thought of boys, then water, and now how women are portrayed in blue.”
Another installation on display, “Nude” (2021), is unusually nearly devoid of color. Ceramic female figures cover a life-size mannequin on a pedestal, most wearing old-fashioned clothing and each tied up in tights.
“These are all found objects,” Munson said. “In a way, they are instructive. In your grandmother’s house, in a store, you see these somewhat narrow representations of what it means to be a woman. I put them in tights which, for our generation, represented some type of norm or expectation.
“It’s very toned down,” she added. “The model has a white and Caucasian skin tone. A lot of the figures wear a dress that has a bit of color, but when you put them in tights, they become more monochromatic.
A dozen oil works represent his first love, painting. “I’ve always been a painter, even before high school,” she says. “I set up a still life, then I paint the object at its actual size. I think, how can I better watch and talk about this incredible object? »
His paintings tell complex stories. A baseball cap on a floral background features an image of a mermaid. Another mermaid sits on a ceramic dish surrounded by potatoes. A string attaches a pink girl to a container of water, under the gaze of a pink rabbit.
“A lot of my work right now is binding, binding, and binding figurines. It’s a much older painting where I was doing that too. I think about how we are bound by cultural expectations and ideas about who we are and who we should be.
At Cooper Union School of Art, she was encouraged to take classes in a variety of media.
“It broadened my idea of what I could do. I started working in any medium that matched the idea I wanted to convey.
“My installations definitely get a lot of attention compared to my paintings, [which] are smaller and quieter. I’m about to open a show in Hudson [N.Y.], then Art Omi, then a personal exhibition in my New York gallery PPOW. I’m excited [to have] my paintings are more visible.
The “Flood” opening reception on June 25 also celebrates two recent outdoor installations at Art Omi. “Orange Functional” by Cuban sculptor Alexandre Arrechea is a tree shape with two dozen bare branches, each culminating in a functional basketball hoop. Visitors can bring basketballs or borrow them on site and invent ways to engage with the sculpture.
“A lot of [Arrechea’s] work focused on public spaces where [people] meet and come together, like a basketball court,” said Sara O’Keeffe, senior curator of Sculpture & Architecture Park, in a phone interview. “He thought of the trees that grow in basketball hoops, often to very unconventional heights. This has hoops up to 20 feet high, looming above you.
“By taking very familiar shapes and changing them in unexpected ways, he forces us to rethink the rules of engagement.”
When basketballs fall on the grass, they start to look like oranges, she noted.
“We tried it out,” she added, “and I’m happy to report that it’s quite a fun game.”
“This Land Is Your Land” (2014) by Chilean artist Ivan Navarro consists of three unassuming water towers so ubiquitous in New York. Close to the Benenson Center, they seem functional at first sight.
“We all think about ecology, the importance of water, who has access to it and who protects it,” O’Keeffe explained.
Walk below, however, and look up to see mirrored repeating neon lights inside each structure that evoke immigrant struggle and hope.
“It’s like looking at infinity,” O’Keeffe said. “In one there is a neon ladder, perhaps the notion of upward mobility or access. In another, the word “WE” is reversed and oscillates with “ME”, the individual and the collective. On the third floor there is a bed [and] rest or respite.
Taken from Woody Guthrie’s iconic 1940 anthem, the title refers to troubled historic ties between Chile and the United States Under the CIA-backed Pinochet dictatorship, O’Keeffe said, many Chilean folk singers were inspired by Guthrie, whose music was not allowed there. The violence that followed spurred a wave of migration.
O’Keeffe joined Art Omi in February 2022. [previously] are Art Omi Artist Residency alumni,” she said. “There are lectures, performances, music, and pathways to work in many different disciplines. And a constant rotation of what’s on display.