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  • Caroline Groff

Myths and Mixed Media in Gallery 210’s Newest Exhibition

One of several altarpieces in artist Julia Curran's collection from "Exposure 21: Three Myths".

The opening of Gallery 210’s fall season came in with less of a bang and more of a gentle click of a keyboard. The launch of the latest exhibit, “Exposure 21: Three Myths”, was christened with an unorthodox, virtual celebration. An artist’s panel was held on Zoom and has since been uploaded to the gallery’s website and YouTube. The three artists behind these crafted myths, Julia Curran, Lola Ogbara, and Emma Vidal, were in virtual attendance and spoke about the inspiration for their work and the process of actually getting it done. “Exposure 21” was born from the curiosity in understanding the way myths structure our society and how artists themselves play the role of mythmakers. For these artists, myths regarding sexuality, race, and gender are captured through the political, cultural, and spiritual ideology that molded their pieces. 

“These are like little altarpieces to human nature. Altarpieces to our bodies and our experience,” said artist Julia Curran, during the artist’s panel. Through her printmaking and layered compositions, Curran’s work focuses on the grandiose nature of the spiritual and religious with vibrant colors and complex patterns. This creates a stark contrast with the work of Emma Vidal across from it, whose paintings and sculptures are bathed in black and white.  

What appears so prevalently in the exhibit is the cohesiveness of the artists’ messages intertwined with the individuality in how they present them. It feels as if the viewer is taking a journey through the past, present, and future of human nature. Separated into their respective sections, each part of the installation feels connected in their oneness. The display of Vidal’s neutral and intricately stippled sculptures shift into the electric pink and blue caricatures in Curran's work. From video and prints to ceramics and shadow boxes, the showcase highlights the collaboration and diversity of the artists and work alike.  

One of the most interesting pieces in the exhibit is the contribution of Lola Ogbara’s, "Devouring Binds". Ogbara’s take on the topic of myths led her to study the sexualization and femininity of black women. In this piece, through materials of clay and rope, she found a medium that encapsulated her narrative. During the artist’s panel, Ogbara explained, “I had to go into something that fit the conversation. Because of this fragility in clay and how it can be manipulated, many facets of clay speak to my subject matter.” Tangled rope weaves and wraps around the molded, earthy entity, tying together that intimate nature of strength and vulnerability.

Ogbara's "Devouring Binds" creates a physical representation of the struggle between societal perception and identity.

The creation of this art was only part of the process and one already difficult stage of the operation was made more stressful with the arrival of the pandemic: the set-up. 

Work on the exhibit started about 18 months ago, leaving a lot of the work to be done in the middle of quarantine. While this project was already scheduled long before anybody had their mind on COVID-19, the turn of events still hit the gallery with a hard blow. The limitations of the pandemic left Terry Suhre, Director of Gallery 210 and Research Professor at UMSL, with less than a month to have everything completed by the scheduled opening.“ The entire summer for preparation was just gone,” said Suhre. “That we’re even opening on time is one thing, but we aren’t getting any of the promotional materials out in time. I just can’t seem to get caught up,” said Suhre. With months wasted, staff at a bare minimum, and budgets cut, the workload of preparing the space and installing the exhibit was left solely to Suhre and the artists themselves. Regardless of the circumstance, the excitement outweighs the burdens and showcases the idea of taking matters and paintings into your own hands. 

Besides this new climate of distanced togetherness, the current situation also brought about serious updates for the gallery. The most significant being the technological leap into virtual presentations of each exhibit in full on the Gallery 210 website. “It was something we probably should have done a long time ago, but are finally getting around to,” said Suhre. For those who still want the in-person experience, the space will allow a maximum of 10 visitors at a time with appointments made and masks required.  

Excitement for these current exhibitions is joined with anticipation for upcoming projects. On September 12, Gallery 210 presents “Maggie Meiners: Revisiting Rockwell”. Chicago artist Maggie Meiners’ work showcases modern photographed recreations of classic Norman Rockwell illustrations. With the seasons and schedule planned out, Gallery 210 keeps in high spirits with the eternal truth that art won’t stop. You’ll always be able to indulge in the experience, even if only from a distance. 


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