Visual Arts

'LAL Open' puts works in visual context; the rest is up to viewers

With LAL Open, the Lexington Art League invites artists and visitors to the galleries of Castlewood Park's LAL @ Loudoun House on a journey among works that are often beautiful, sometimes unsettling and always engaging.

Because this is an "open" show, there is no unifying theme. Some 110 artists working in all manner of media are represented. In less careful hands, the collection could have been a mishmash of unrelated paintings, sculptures and installations. Instead, each space has been skillfully assembled to create context. Color flows into color, dark into light, style into style in such a way that a walk through the gallery makes visual as well as intellectual sense.

The most impressive example of curator Mike Deetch's craft might be in the Upstairs Hallway space, where 13 pieces by female artists present a broad spectrum of feminine experience. These works touch on themes ranging from pets and animals to landscapes and Southern living. Two of the exhibition's most compelling works anchor either end of the hall.

As one enters the space, Angel Among Us, a photograph by Lois Poole, hangs at the top of the stairs. There is a mournful serenity to the piece. A long black veil hangs like a mist behind the print. Contrasting this shadowy setting, Poole has saturated the angel in her photo with colors that seem to vibrate off the paper. The blues and magentas create a kind of otherworldly energy, as if to say this is the face not of some kindly winged assistant, but of a creature of great presence and power.

At the opposite end of the hall is the strange and disturbing No Joking Matter by Tawsha Bone. The painting catches the eye with its unusual shape: The images are cut out to create space between. The color palate is cartoonish and tropical. From a distance, it could be mistaken for a pattern from a Hawaiian shirt. But once one confronts the piece, vivid and disturbing imagery emerges. A nude female lies shackled to a barren tree trunk across the bottom of the painting. A ghastly, disembodied phallus threatens from above. Jagged forms like torn zippers add to the menace. What might have appeared at first glance to be a Caribbean scene from a tourist brochure is a stark study of sexual violence. No Joking Matter is art that first entices and then demands attention.

Downstairs, in the Lillian Boyer Gallery, one is greeted by Metamorphosis, a large ceramic sculpture by Hunter Stamps. Its unfolding shape opens in soft petals, inviting closer observation without exposing the secrets hinted at within. Stamps' deep green glazes seem drawn from the lawns visible through gallery windows.

There are works of unapologetic didacticism, including THEE HOGGGS Field Communications Unit, an installation about mountaintop removal, created by the artistic team at Southern Evolution of Artistic Practices. The viewer encounters the organizing table for a protest march. There are signs to carry, petitions to sign, posters to read and a festive sparkle that seems to celebrate free speech even as it decries surface mining's footprint on Appalachia.

A more subtle statement is at the heart of Stacey R. Chinn's Hecho en China. A small American flag is adorned with a long beard reminiscent of traditional Chinese theatrical costumes. The artist's statement says materials used to create the piece were imported from around the world, a commentary on how globalization is changing America's face as well as our image of ourselves.

Collectors and art lovers will find this exhibition well worth the trip. The Art League says it is intended to "encourage a dialogue between artists and the general public." This intelligently crafted show, which runs through Aug. 29, makes it a dialogue worth having.

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