No matter how divided the country is, just about everyone agrees that 2020 has been a tough year. But in an arena where times always seem to be tough — art exhibitions and sales — it’s been especially difficult.
Forcibly shuttered for much of the year, many art museums and other nonprofit art-exhibition spaces are in dire straits financially. Like other nonprofits, these institutions are normally focused on fundraising at the end of a calendar year. This time, though, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Prominent among such efforts in our region is GreenHill’s annual “Winter Show,” a seasonal staple that usually comes and goes by the beginning of the new year. This year’s show opened on Dec. 6, but for the first time it has been extended through January and into early February. Buyers will have to wait until the show closes to take possession of their purchases — another change from previous years.
The Winter Show has always been about selling art to benefit the artists and the organization, and that is certainly the case this year. The complicated logistics required by the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a smaller exhibition, with 63 artists represented, compared to 110 in last year’s Winter Show.
Still, the exhibition includes about 400 individual pieces, so there’s plenty to see and to buy, at prices ranging from $15 to $8,000. Half of each sale goes to the artist, and the other 50 percent is GreenHill’s commission.
GreenHill’s share of the proceeds is particularly crucial this year because of an income shortage resulting from the pandemic. The organization is operating at a reduced staff level and had to indefinitely postpone its spring fundraiser.
Although there’s no overriding theme for the Winter Show, several themes emerge from the selection. Not surprisingly, landscapes and floral images are especially prominent, and several artists have focused their attention on the common sunflower — an apt symbol of survival and endurance.
Calvin Brett takes an unusual approach to this image in his wall-mounted relief sculpture straightforwardly titled “Sunflower,” which anchors the show on the gallery’s rear wall. The oddly rectangular-shaped, gold-painted blossom is studded with gold-painted screws representing seeds. Otherwise the flower and its green-painted stem are made entirely from corrugated cardboard. With its imposing scale — about 8 feet tall — it commands attention.
A real sunflower in profile, looking windblown but hearty, occupies the foreground in a view of the French countryside that John Rosenthal captured in his striking color photograph “Loire Valley, France.” Bold yellow sunflowers are also the subject of a landscape painting by Kiristan Five.
The show’s most distinctive treatment of the landscape is found in Katie Collier’s panoramic woodcut prints “Floribunda I” and Floribunda II,” in which stylized plants, mountains and other outdoor imagery form repeating patterns reminiscent of wallpaper. Likewise of special interest are David Davenport’s reductive paintings of farm outbuildings in rural settings. He employs these architectural silhouettes as occasions for chromatic experimentation.
Nature themes figure prominently in the show. Examples include Hattie Rose Padgett’s paintings of wild flora and fauna; Mary Beth Boone’s miniature relief prints of birds; Roy Nydorf’s wood-relief carvings of whales; and the botanical images on Christine Henninger’s glazed stoneware dishes.
Also of special interest among the show’s ceramic works are Nikki Blair’s strikingly glazed, quirkily shaped vases and her stylistically related piece titled “Lemonhead,” which also appears to be a container of some kind. In a more traditional vein are two large ceramic vessels by Ben Owens III, which are rendered especially striking by their vivid glazes.
Highlights among examples of blown-glass art are vessels by Elijah Kells and Joe Grant III — and especially two organically referenced, transparently milky forms by Carolyn Spears.
Junghoon Han combines woodcraft, metal sculpture and electronics in his sleek interior-design accessories, whose titles indicate a satirical view of authority and obsessions about productivity in the business world. One piece labeled as an “Executive Office Stamp” incorporates a set of brass knuckles.
These paragraphs merely skim the surface of a show that includes many other exceptional works, such as Sydney Lee’s quilted abstract wall pieces, Adele Wayman’s circular-format paintings, and portrait paintings by Pete Sack and Lakeshia T. Reid.