Mesa Art League exhibit at ASU Gammage fails to impress

Gammage’s lobby is now adorned by nonprofit organization Mesa Art League’s fourth exhibit that will be on display
until Feb. 20.
The show features 55 multi-media pieces including oil, acrylics, watercolors and photographs from 30 different artists in in the Art League. Each piece was juried and selected by oil painters Sharon Sieben and Yvonne Thomas out of 90 submissions from Mesa artists.

While generally center-focused around its subject often an undomesticated animal, a woman looking woefully out of frame, or an indistinguishable object only made clear by its title the art in the exhibit displayed a wide range of subjects, technical skills, and mediums.

Many are painted with muted neutrals or overbearing secondary colors. Every mixed media piece looks and feels exactly the same as the one before it. And, more problematic, there seems to be no connection between any work at all. The absence of a theme leaves the viewer with more to be desired.

In each gallery, however, several similarities can be made. In the first floor lobby, the exhibit begins with four animal portraits on mixed media; an elephant, two lions, potentially a wolf and, lastly, a sea otter.

At first glance, the artists seem to be communicating a sense of power, as most depict either a predator or an overly large depiction of each creature. However, Paul Gutsch’s “Sea Otter” feels predictably innocuous, as though put on display strictly to pull at a viewer’s heartstrings.

The next grouping follows a series of urban street scenes, most notably “Morning Train” by Rosalie Vaccaro, which portrays a young woman texting on the subway. Whether this is an ironic sort of conceptual art piece or another animal portrait, one cannot be sure.

Musical instruments, or rather, the power of music also makes an appearance. Several acrylic and oil paintings are accompanied by mixed media works in an attempt to demonstrate the ability of music to absorb both artist and audience. This is seen in Warren Reed’s “Cuban Street Musicians” and Lyn Matthew’s “Dream Dancer I.”

Desert scenes and flowers lag behind. The nature scenes blend together; the flowers begin to lose vibrancy and the patience of the viewer begins wearing thin form the monotony.

Ultimately, this showcase reads as more of an introductory art course than an actual exhibition. Any museum-goer has seen several hundred still-life acrylics of flowers in a vase, 11 of which are present here.

Nothing in this exhibit is particularly new, but there are some visually appealing pieces. Given the location of the exhibit, most of the audience is not there solely for the art, but rather to view one of the many performances Gammage has to offer.

In short, the exhibit features works that are all vaguely familiar and not particularly exciting, leaving its viewers with a sense of both purposelessness and wasted time.

Best Piece: “African Elephant” by Star Mudersbach, painted on canvas with acrylics. What’s important to note about this painting is that it is the first on display. The excitement of visiting a gallery carries over the actual texture and soon to be exhausted color scheme — muted grays and a flash of orange. Mudersbach comes off as fantastic because there is nothing with which to compare her.

Worst Piece: “Peacemaker” by Reed Kempton, digital photography. Kempton must think himself very clever. This piece is a close-up of a gun in a holster, suggesting the artist’s acerbic notions toward peace. This photo failed to invite fresh or meaningful dialogue because of its relatively mundane use of firearm tropes.

Exhibit hours for ASU Gammage are Mondays 1 to 4 p.m. and by special appointment only. For Gammage ticket holders, it’s available for viewing before curtain and during intermission. The exhibit is free; charging would be cruel.

You can reach the reporter at ladrucke@asu.edu