Cows. Floral watercolors. Bucolic landscape scenes. These are the images that spring to mind in conjunction with the phrase “Vermont art is…” And they are images often dismissed by those who are out to prove that art from the Green Mountain State is so much more. In an exhibit and accompanying 40-page catalog, Ric Kasini Kadour splits the difference: “Hello From Vermont” does contain a few landscapes — one, an Eric Tobin oil, even includes cows — but the collection Kadour culled from the state he once called home indeed offers much more.
Now a Montréal resident, Kadour, 36, is the co-owner of a namesake gallery in that city — Galerie Maison Kasini — established following the closure of its Burlington precursor, Kasini House, on North Street in December 2008. Kadour and his partner, Christopher Byrne, are still active in Vermont’s art scene; for one thing, they produce the monthly Art Map Burlington — a guide to First Friday Art Walk — and occasional other art and culture publications.
Maison Kasini’s mission is to show contemporary art from around New England and Canada, and it has included Vermonters from the beginning. “Hello From Vermont” ups the ante with 19 handpicked artists; there are 35 in the catalog, and their work spans painting, sculpture, ceramics, assemblage, installation and photography. Tobin’s lush oil on canvas, “Beech Hill,” which wraps around the catalog’s cover, finds kindred artist spirits in five other landscapes in a variety of styles. There are cityscapes, too, from Wendy James’ electric realism in “Storefront” to Lynn Rupe’s “Expect Delays-Four Bears” from her Urban Habitat series. The dozen abstractionists here are strong and diverse. Nancy Taplin’s action painting “Standing Next to Night” practically exudes joy in the squishy elasticity of paint. Linda Jones’ earthy sensibility and palette are rendered in dense layers of pigment, beeswax and encaustic in “Bee Tree.”
The site-specific installation works of Alisa Dworsky find immortality only in photographs. For this collection Kadour chose four images from her 2007 project on the lawn of the Fleming Museum. Titled “A Time to Rend and a Time to Sew,” the work wrapped several trees in various lengths of bright-yellow crocheted polypropylene rope. (It’s a conceptual cousin to Dworsky’s current exhibit at the BCA Center.)
Speaking of photographs, the lone contributor in that genre here is art photographer Ciaran Brennan, whose styled, seemingly innocent images can be startling. “God & Country” is no exception: In a barren living room, the artist holds a rifle at arm’s length while his three children reach up for it, their little arms raised in a synchronized “Heil, Hitler” pose. A woman, presumably the wife/mother, looks on placidly from a rocking chair.
The title of Kadour’s introductory essay in Hello From Vermont is “Asking the Question, What Is Vermont Art?” While he doesn’t include more cutting-edge local work, such as that informed by hip-hop, street culture or digital media, the samples on the ensuing pages suggest that Vermont art is not restricted in style or content. But, while regionalism gradually gave way to a fierce individualism throughout the 20th century (and into this one), Kadour rightly notes that there are still questions worth asking about the import of “place” in artwork. Some of them might be: Is there a Vermont sensibility recognizable across various media? Is it possible to convey that aesthetic — or state of mind — while repudiating pigeonholes?
Kadour simply opens the door to the discussion. One has to wonder, though, whether Vermont artists might argue that “localvore” is better suited to the palate than the palette.
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