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Myron Helfgott at Gallery A

We just returned from the opening of Myron Helfgott’s exhibition at Richmond’s new Gallery A. I think this show is a really good one!

I’m no art critic, I’m just a guy with an undergraduate degree in sculpture who thinks about art a lot. And, after thinking about art for several decades, I’m not much closer to understanding it than I was when I started out, in fact, I may know less now than I did 40 years ago.

The thing is, I’ve been thinking that understanding it is not all that important.

Whether you’re talking about old or new art, a connection between the art and the audience seems as important as it is difficult to achieve. Art doesn’t always speak in an understandable language, and maybe the audience isn’t always very good at listening.

But even though experiencing art can sometimes seem like trying to understand an inside joke, I would not argue for art to have the goal of being knowable and obvious to everyone. If that were the case, we’d see a lot more Norman Rockwells, paintings in Benjamin Moore colors and big eye paintings on velvet (some of that doesn’t sound so bad, actually).

One thing that is appealing to me about Myron Helfgott’s work in this show is that it seems to me that this work will be accessible to a wide spectrum of people, without resorting to communication by a low common denominator of  visual language. The work contains some popular cultural imagery but skewers normal context in the way things are conceived, assembled and presented.

It is also quite personal without explaining too much. There are a lot of ways “into” the work. And once you’re there, maybe you don’t really know any more than you did before, but you are having fun not knowing. You notice that people in the gallery are paying more attention to the work than to the wine at times, and a lot of them are laughing, right along with the artist.

It helps that the work looks very, very casual and transitory on the surface – wrinkled paper prints attached loosely to wooden structures. But then, you notice that the underlying structures are very tightly mitered, purposeful things. And then, just as you think the “meaning” of these craftsman-like structures has been handed to you by the artist, you realize they are made of cheap plywood and you laugh because this time the joke’s on you.

The exhibit includes a wide range of things – On the first floor level, there are large freestanding structures, rectangular hung pictures, and looping audio tracks played from small audio players mounted very obviously as part of some of the objects. On the lower level of the gallery there is another experience altogether.

On the lower level, Myron has strewn obituaries he collected between 1992 – 2012 across the floor, leaving just enough room between them so that visitors can walk between them. This room also has a looping audio track playing music and dialogue. I didn’t have time to look at many of these, but they mostly seemed to be obits of artists, some famous, some locally famous. The arrangement of the rooms is ironic, almost like the upstairs is the cathedral and the basement is the crypt. Wonder if he thought about it that way? Nah – it’s probably just my imagination.

I’m looking forward to going back to this show again when I have time. I’d like to read more of these obituaries.

If you want to go, I can’t seem to find a website for the gallery, but here is all the info via VCU Arts: http://vcusculpturealumninews.tumblr.com/post/15907648963/myron-helfgott-prof-emeritus

Also, I’ll apologize for the image quality in this post. I didn’t take my real camera to the show with me and all these pics were shot with the I-Phone.

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