Bristol Art Museum opens a different kind of show

Museum hopes ‘Dead Ringer’ will inspire thoughtful dialogue about polarizing issues

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 6/7/19

In the handful of years since it debuted in its new, permanent space, the Bristol Art Museum has presented a number of wonderful exhibitions on a range of themes. This Friday, it will be hosting the …

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Bristol Art Museum opens a different kind of show

Museum hopes ‘Dead Ringer’ will inspire thoughtful dialogue about polarizing issues

Posted

In the handful of years since it debuted in its new, permanent space, the Bristol Art Museum has presented a number of wonderful exhibitions on a range of themes. This Friday, it will be hosting the opening of “Dead Ringer” — and it’s a little different from their usual fare.

The anonymous street artist Bansky famously said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” He’s the same artist who seriously disturbed a roomful of very comfortable art collectors at Sotheby’s in London last October when his spray-painted work “Girl With a Balloon” shredded itself in in its frame shortly after selling for $1.4 million.

It would be an unfair overstatement to suggest that “Dead Ringer” is disturbing — it’s not. But it’s not the kind of art you pass by easily. Most of these pieces confront you and make you stop and look, again and again.

The show is curated by Elizabeth Duffy, a visual arts professor at Roger Williams University. She was approached by the museum’s board about guest-curating after giving an artist’s talk last year. The concept came to her as an outgrowth of her own work, which “deals with the idea of bringing discomfort” when a work reveals a deeper truth.

“The concept of Dead Ringer is that things at first glance appear to be one thing, but when you look a little more closely there’s something else going on,” said Ms. Duffy. From there, it was a matter of reaching out to artists whose work is similarly multidimensional.

The result is a collection of nine artists working in textiles, sculpture, prints and photographs. Of Joy Barnett’s paintings, large format explosions or color, Ms. Duffy said, “While they look celebratory and they are, they are based on explosions from military test sites or science experiments gone wrong. The source material is violent.”

Likewise, Cheryl Yun creates stylish bags and bikinis, and when you look closely, you see each one depicts a mass shooting.

Of local artist Bradley Wester, Ms. Duffy said, “He took these found photographs, of British soldiers goofing around and taking pictures of themselves during hazing rituals, and digitally collaged disco balls onto the images … these all-encompassing spheres that mirror everything around it. The whole idea is that they are connecting everyone, breaking down binaries.

“The soldiers were goofing around, having fun, but also making misogynist statements and pretending to be gay.”

Another artist, Anna McNeary, has created garments that interconnect, and are printed with social tropes that reflect the many things women say to deflect the burden of emotional labor, phrases like “It’s nothing,” “my pleasure” and “don’t worry.”

“Anna’s interested in the way that women take on a lot of emotional labor in ways that we don’t always appreciate or acknowledge,” said Ms. Duffy. Another artist, Shari Mendelson, creates sculpture that looks like ancient glass, until closer inspection reveals expiration dates, recycling stamps, and other indications that she is actually working in repurposed plastic trash. “Shari’s work, it’s really beautiful,” said Ms. Duffy. “But what does it make you think of? The way our oceans are being filled with plastic.

“Everyone in this exhibit is making use of source material … There’s no right or wrong here.”

Alison DeKleine, a graphic designer and marketing consultant who sits on the museum’s board of directors, points to the recent controversy at Rogers Free Library as an example of why it’s important for us to think about the issues presented by the art works in this show.

“It (the cancellation and reinstatement of Drag Queen Story Hour) really illuminated how community pressure or pressure from trustees or within a board can play out,” she said. “They (the library board) bowed to that pressure, and I am very personally feeling those same pressures within our community.

“We are working very hard to make sure the show sees the light of day and has a voice in the community to talk about all these socio-political topics that are very polarizing. Our community is speaking loudly, in both directions.”

Ms. DeKleine says this show is a prompter to engage in the issues of our time. “Whether it be climate change, misogyny, or violence in the media, whatever topic, you’re going to be on one side or the other,” she said.

“On closer inspection, every piece in this show is going to polarize public opinion one way or another, and hopefully engage viewers in a healthy conversation about these issues.”

Dead Ringer will be on display June 7 through July 14 at The Bristol Art Museum, 10 Wardwell St. An opening reception will be held June 7 from 6 to 8 p.m.; admission is $5 (free for members).

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