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Town Hall pays tribute to LIC artists

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Starting Feb. 17, and running through April 3, both the history and some of the most interesting representatives of the current Long Island City art community will be on display at Flushing Town Hall, with two parallel exhibits: "Long Island City: Where Artists and Artisans Cross Paths," an overview of the neighborhood's artistic evolution curated by the Greater Astoria Historical Society, and "Long Island City: The Creative Path," a showcase of the work of three local artists curated by Marcia G. Yerman.Yerman, a writer and painter herself, organized the exhibit for the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts, choosing painter Lucy Fradkin, steel sculptor Eliot Lable and photographer Mary Teresa Giancoli to represent the contemporary Long Island City arts community. All three artists live or work in the neighborhood, and Yerman sees a common theme in the work of each as addressing the relationship between the individual and society.In Lucy Fradkin's work, this is played out in her female portraits, which are painted on paper with oil and goache and incorporate elements of collage with cut-outs of old magazine pictures and illustrations from bird field guides. The catalogues and magazines Fradkin uses for her collage work typify the simple elegance and beauty of older sign painting and commercial illustration that Fradkin finds lacking from modern advertising. Likewise, the portraits themselves are inspired by drawings Fradkin made as a child, as well as her wide travels, and have a straightforward, illustration-like quality."I really care about people," said Fradkin, who grew up in Queens and Port Washington and who has worked in Long Island City since 1982, "so there's a quiet social message to showing diverse people on this simple level. We're moving into a very sterile time, and so like the beauty there used to be in simple things like a gelatin mold or bird catalog, I'd like to record it."Interspersed with Fradkin's paintings are the photographs of Mary Teresa Giancoli, a California native of Mexican descent who moved to Long Island City five years ago. Giancoli's photographs document modern young Mexican women preparing for a Mexican festival of artistic expression, capturing a ritual that is simultaneously deeply rooted in tradition and changeable, as it is transported from one society to another. Giancoli likens the mutability of this festival tradition to cultural foods that are changed by being prepared in new cities with the different ingredients available there. Similarly, her subjects dress in the formal white ballgowns of another era, but Giancoli's photographs catch deeply personal moments, instances of candid emotion and playfulness, showing an individuality that transcends the costumes and suggests a culture that grows and adapts as it travels. Yerman said it is this respectfulness and lack of voyeurism that she appreciates especially about Giancoli's work.Eliot Lable's work is a stark contrast to the portraits of Giancoli and Fradkin. His steel sculptures feature individuals in pain, suffering emotionally or physically from loneliness or torture, and striving to show man's inhumanity to his fellow man, and the place of religious faith in a world capable of such cruelty. Lable was born and raised in Brooklyn and has worked in Long Island City for the past three years.Though Lable's work has gained more recognition in the past several years, and is currently seen as very relevant to the political and human rights questions raised by the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, in fact he has been creating sculptures that deal with torture for years. Welding steel into the shape of crosses, gallows, stick-like human figures and the faces of animals and demons, Lable says he doesn't intend to glorify evil or pain, but to show it as a constant of human civilization, and the barbarity mankind is capable of. "That's just what we humans do," said Lable, "and we'll always do it. I think people should know about it."Yerman said she sees a more optimistic side to Lable's work, noting that several of his sculptures have outstretched hands containing astral-like spheres, indicating hope. She also said she sees loose connections between all three artists' work in terms of a social message, whether it be bringing underrepresented women's work and experiences to light, showing the durability and humanity of culture or more overtly political messages like Label's. Part of this, Yerman admits, is her own sensibility. "When I curate, it's like I'm creating or painting myself: I can't separate my vision from the content of the show. There's always a point of view."From Yerman's own description, her goal might be more general: to make people realize how current and relevant visual art can be. "I think that's what I feel is important, how the work does impact people. We're all used to being impacted by MTV, but I'm hoping people can be impacted by art again enough to stop and say, 'Woah, that's saying something.'"

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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