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Hamptons Life

Apr 27, 2010 9:11 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Apt choices for awards in Guild Hall Artist Members exhibition

Apr 27, 2010 9:11 AM

While the annual Guild Hall Artist Members Exhibition is now in its 72nd incarnation as the region’s oldest non-juried show, this year it’s the number 22 that turns out to be more significant. This is because it was 1989 when the annual symbolic opening of the art season on the East End began to feature awards in various categories as determined by an accomplished judge drawn from the highest echelons of the area’s artistic elite and intelligentsia.

What makes the number 22 so significant is that, for the last 21 years, no matter how exalted or learned the chosen arbiter has been, there was always at least one award prompting an awkward “wait, what?” moment, a selection that made one think that maybe the juror’s medication needed adjusting, or that his or her lunch might have included one too many vodka martinis.

Given the recent unfortunate fiscal picture for many museums and public exhibition spaces, though, it’s possible that the stipend for this year’s judge, Benjamin Genocchio of The New York Times, simply didn’t include a per diem for lunch. Regardless, the choices he made within the context of the exhibition itself offer highlights that are refreshingly consistent and illustrate visual and technical priorities completely uncolored by an overtly personal stylistic or aesthetic agenda.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t at least one notable surprise in the awards section, notably Mr. Genocchio’s choice of William F. Negron as winner of the Best New Member Artist category for his work, “Sofrito.” Admittedly, the work is exemplary, delicately balancing line, shade and color and illustrating Mr. Negron’s assertive control over composition and structure while simultaneously establishing an atmosphere of painterly spontaneity through its expressive brushwork.

The surprise stems from the fact that I’ve known and appreciated Mr. Negron’s work for years and so can only assume he will be forever remembered as the world’s most mature recipient of a rookie of the year award. In point of fact, the award, new this year and sponsored by Golden Eagle Art in East Hampton, is presented by the Guild Hall Contemporaries to an artist who is new to the Artist Members Exhibition or has not entered in the past five years.

Significantly less surprising is Frank Wimberley’s selection as winner of the Best in Show award for “Straingere” (acrylic on canvas). Juxtaposing monochromatic streams of paint that flow horizontally across the surface against dark shapes darting mysteriously deep within the layers of pigment, the work illustrates Mr. Wimberley’s harmonically energetic amalgamation of textures, brush strokes, and rhythmic intensity.

There’s a similar approach, albeit with a more explicitly architectonic presence, in Dan Welden’s “Holly’s Emergence” (mixed media), winner of the Best Work on Paper award. Establishing definable planar space through the slashes of red that offer hints at physical perspective, the artist further accentuates this effect through his use of negative space and the introduction of painterly structure tying the lower and upper portions of the surface of the work together.

Interestingly, Mary Ellen Bartley’s “Four Blue Books” can also be described in painterly terms, in spite of its having been chosen as Best Photograph. Echoing the artist Ad Rheinhardt in its gently sensitive gradations of blues and blacks, the work is delicately mysterious and strangely evocative.

Darius Yektai’s “Feather Vase” (oil, charcoal, feather, and broken vase), by contrast, is wildly expressive in both its psychologically dramatic use of color and wildly emotive brushwork. Winner of Best Representational Work, the piece is interesting on a number of levels, not least its indication of this artist’s moving away from prior narrative influences drawn from Eric Fischl and more toward the more aggressive surface techniques associated with Julian Schnabel.

It might be a bit more difficult, on the other hand, to determine the stylistic influences at work in Monica Banks’s “Punctuation” (clay in shadow box, 2010) although I must confess that the work, which won the Best Sculpture award, immediately put me in mind of one of Fellini’s orgy scenes. Featuring a remarkably delicate and painstaking intertwining of tiny little bodies, the work is particularly effective for the way it contrasts the cacophony of interwoven figures with the clean geometric lines of the work’s rectangular configuration.

Also earning awards were Eunice Golden for Best Abstract, A.G. Duggan for Best Mixed Media, and Ty Stroudsburg for the Catherine and Theo Hios Best Landscape Award. Honorable Mentions went to Dorothy Frankel, Joy Goldkind, Grant Haffner, Penny Kaplan, and Jeanette Martone.

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