Public Hanging Art Exhibition at Gallery X in New Bedford

In 1990, long before Gallery X moved to its current location in a historic church on William Street in New Bedford, it was located in a storefront on Spring Street. The gallery was founded by a small group of former students (including this reviewer) of the Swain School of Design and close associates and allies in the community. It was driven primarily by the devotion and unbridled enthusiasm of sculptor Chuck Hauck, who remains the heart and soul of X to this day.

It was called Gallery X because of its proximity to the YWCA (since moved) and to the Zeiterion Theater (now called the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center.)

In the years that followed, many original members left, but many more joined, some for brief stints and others for decades. Hundreds more (as guests at the Gallery’s invitation or as non-members submitting works for a nominal fee) have exhibited in the original space and in the current space.

In an online solicitation seeking new members, Gallery X states that it recognizes that “everyone is an artist with their own talents, skills and interpretations of their medium”. He further notes that the membership is made up of formally trained artists, self-taught artists, students, and hobbyists of all ages and skill levels.

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Nothing provides better evidence of this broad and inclusive philosophy than the annual exhibition known as Public Hanging, an unjured celebration of community creativity. Everyone who submits work for a fee (and pays the fee) is included.

The 33rd incarnation of the public hanging is currently on display and, as with all previous episodes, it is gleefully and unapologetically “all over”. And that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. More than fifty artists exhibit nearly 200 salon-style works of art on the two floors of the gallery.

The exhibition includes traditional still lifes of flowers and fruits, nautical scenes, more than a few non-objective paintings, landscapes and a splash of nudes. And there are whale cutouts decorated with buttons, keys and other accessories, ceramic critters including a merman and an oversized wasp, multiple visual references to ancient Egypt, a charcoal drawing of a woman attacked by an angry bunny, blue doll heads under glass or in a birdcage and at least one fake superhero comic book cover.

Public hanging effectively democratizes the display of artwork by exercising something one might call “non-conservation,” allowing everything to stand on its own merits, without judgment.

That said, it is the duty and folly of an art critic to pass judgment. And in this particular case, I will do so by honoring the tradition of public hanging and giving a nod to all the artists who participated and the gallery which welcomes all with a warm and wide embrace.

Notable works include Daniel da Silva’s “Madonna Litta”, a copy of a 15th century painting traditionally attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, although it may have been one of his pupils, such as Giovanni Antonio Boltrafino or Marco d’Oggiono. Taking some liberties with color and style, da Silva’s interpretation is valid.

As in the original, a plump Christ child nurses from the Virgin Mary, with a symbolic goldfinch in her left hand, and gazes at the viewer with as much self-awareness as any contemporary toddler who understands that a user of iPhone takes his picture.

Dee Geller’s small painting “Millicent Burning” doesn’t actually depict Fairhaven’s iconic library in flames but rather as illuminated by an orange sunset. “Truro” by Kate Doyle-Gallant is a classic and charming Hopperesque Cape Cod painting of a yellow cottage at night.

Rylan Brenner’s ‘Prints’ and Avelino de Costa’s ‘Shock’ are both charming and garish portraits that manage to disturb even if tempered with a bit of wit.

Alexandra Jordankova’s ‘Dreaming of Basquiat’ pays homage to the New York-based neo-expressionist painter, who died in 1988, using some of the elements common to his work: pointed crowns, big-eyed cartoon faces and scratch-off text from chicken.

Jordankova’s “So I Wish You Were Pink” shows her strength as a multimedia artist. Working with a fairly limited palette of dirty pink, gray and murky black, the work is text-heavy. “‘Wish You Were Here’ is scribbled in red, and the block-shaped letters that spell out ‘ROSE’ will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has walked past a Victoria’s Secret in a shopping mall.

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Chloe Bachstein presents several paintings that all seem to represent the same man, lying on a bench in a garden in one, sitting in an automobile with an open door in another. She is a powerful and inventive painter, using elaborate designs and not afraid to take risks with unexpected elements, including a lavender ghost dog.

But it is her chimerical “Safe With You” that is perhaps the highlight, not only of the work she presents, but of the entire exhibition. Lovingly rendered is a bearded, bespectacled young man in a citric green t-shirt reclining on the ground of a not-quite-real landscape. But his empty arm and his moving gaze speak volumes.

The 33rd annual Public Hanging art exhibition is on view at Gallery X, 169 William St., New Bedford, through August 28.

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