It was not lost on Andrea Fisher what was going to be happening in the country when she opened her first exhibit of the season at Transylvania University’s Morlan Gallery.
“This is a heightened political season, where we’re all thinking about a variety of political issues,” Fisher says.
It just happened that artists Melissa Vandenberg and Becky Alley were thinking the same thing. Mind you, this was a year ago, when Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination and Bernie Sanders being a legititimate contender in the Democratic race seemed far-fetched.
But as they talked with Fisher, they knew that politics would be at a fever pitch come fall, and they had something to say. So they planed a duo exhibition, “American Mortal,” which opens Friday night with Gallery Hop and runs through Oct. 14.
“Knowing this would exist in the context of a presidential election, it made sense for this to be on a university campus, where there would be students and faculty engaged in the election, and potential for conversation around it,” Alley said.
From the gallery director’s point of view, Fisher saw key similarities and differences in the artists’ work that would make a joint exhibit engaging.
“Becky’s pieces are really meditative and quiet and elegant; very monotone and very kind of serious,” Fisher says. “The juxtaposition is Melissa Vandenberg’s work that is bright and poppy and kind of satirical, using the American flag a lot. You have this wonderfully patriotic image and then she sort of turns it into cartoons to make points.
“So the juxtaposition of the work is really beautiful and makes a lot of sense.”
Alley’s works concentrate on war, both its use in political conversation and its outcomes, a key piece being a sculpture made up of 112,000 burned matches, representing each of the Iraqi citizens killed in the Iraq War. Alley was working to demonstrate the impact of war in real ways; in numbers. They stand in stark contrast to Vandenberg’s bright creations draping symbols such as buildings and creatures in the stars and stripes.
“Melissa’s work kind of starts to address ... really questioning patriotism, what it means to love your country, the gender roles of that, who has power,” Fisher says.
The exhibit comes at interesting points in both artists’ careers.
It is Alley’s first time exhibiting as an artist in years. Between starting a family and serving as the curator at the Lexington Art League, she says her own work had been set aside. A post-LAL residency at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church got her back in touch with her role as an artist, even as she took on a new job as director of the Bolivar Gallery in the new home of the University of Kentucky’s School of Art and Visual Studies.
Vandenberg, an associate professor of art at Eastern Kentucky University, has been named one of 10 finalists from five continents for the Luxembourg Art Prize, a prestigious honor for emerging artists. The winner of the prize will be named Saturday. Fisher says that gives the gallery a boost to have an exhibit of Vandenberg’s work, although it means she’ll have to miss Friday’s opening.
“As excuses for missing an opening go, that’s a good one,” Fisher says.
And, she says, Vandenberg will be back later in the show’s run for events including a Sept. 29 kitchen table talk — literally political conversations around kitchen tables in the gallery — and an artists talk Oct. 6.
If you go
What: Exhibit by Melissa Vandenberg and Becky Alley
When: Through Oct. 14
Gallery hours: Noon-5 p.m. weekdays; evening hours 5-8 p.m. Sept. 20 and Oct. 11.
Opening reception: 5-8 p.m. Friday
Kitchen Table talk: Small group political discussions around kitchen tables in gallery. 6:30 p.m. Sept. 29
Art Talk with the artists: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 6
Where: Transylvania University’s Morlan Gallery, inside the Mitchell Fine Arts Center along Fourth Street, between Broadway and North Upper Street.