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Remorse, 2000
Arts fellows show off their creativity By DAN BISCHOFF

Excerpt:
The NEA stopped giving grants to individuals because the institution could be held politically responsible for just about anything that artist did after he/she got the grant money, and you can see the risk. Artists survive on press notices, and often the best way to get attention, as we saw with last year's "Sensation" at the Brooklyn Museum, is to outrage. But there is none of that here, even in the entries from Martin Beck, an illusionistic realist who paints with flair and often a social conscience. Beck caused a stir in Jersey City last fall with a show that depicted often deeply offensive sexual and family situations, but curator Accola has chosen two fairly benign works, one a fantasy of bodies floating in midair and the other a gracefully sketched mother and child titled "Remorse." However Beck feels about things, confrontation just doesn't seem to be in the air lately. The State Council on the Arts Fellowship Exhibition reflects that perfectly, laying its stress more on wit than conflict.

Full article:
For almost 30 years, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts has been doing something the National Endowment for the Arts gave up years ago under pressure from conservatives - that is, giving direct grants to individual visual artists. Even bolder, every two years the council joins with one of the state's art museums and sponsors a biannual exhibition of the work by winners of the state fellowships. This year's New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship Exhibition has been curated by Kristin Accola of the Hunterdon Museum in Clinton, and contains two works each by some 35 artists in many different media. And, just as the council says it hopes to do, the exhibition underlines the depth of creative talent in New Jersey. It is a show of extraordinarily high quality, over a really large range of artistic intents and styles. The standout among the many familiar names in this year's exhibition checklist has to be Grace Groupe- Pillard, a painter who first gained attention during the heyday of the expressionist New Image painters of the 1980s. (Groupe-Pillard won her individual grant from the old NEA in 1986). Combining both paint and collage in large, graphically arresting compositions like "Manipulations/Red Dust," Groupe-Pillard seems a pitch above everyone else in the show, the suavity and saturated color of her pictures projecting like a movie poster among postage stamps. But differences of scale are part of what makes a show like this fun, and there is plenty to linger over among the other entries. Hanging across the room from Groupe-Pillard, for example, is one of the gigantic paper drawings by Ben Polsky, which could not be more different in spirit. Polsky has taken a sheet of paper bigger than a king-size bedsheet - some 6 by 15 feet - and stained it with gouache and bleach to a near-uniform ash-purple. Just left of the center of this sea of half-color, he has drawn a single tree about the size of a fist, its foliage rising off the surface in a dune of dry ink powder ("Tree," 1998). The fellowships are actually awarded in seven categories: painting, works on paper, as well as crafts, emerging genres, media, photography and sculpture. The media entries, videos by Maplewood animator Emily Hubley and Veena Sud, are particularly strong. Hubley, here showing two of her short, semi-autobiographical films that combine photography and her Klee-like drawings, is increasingly familiar to art audiences here and in New York. (She has been recently commissioned to do animation for the film version of Downtown rock opera "Hedwig and the Angry Inch.") Works like "The Pigeon Within" showcase her rapid shifts from animal to abstract symbolism and back again, not to mention the mordant bite that is such a large part of her charm. Veena Sud's short film, "One Night," is more like the sketch of a movie, about an elderly shut-in and a young, hysterical neighbor pursued to her door by the offstage shouts of an angry man. Once inside, the two actresses trade the roles of captor/captive, all with very little, in fact no real dialogue (what lines there are remain unanswered and ejaculatory). Sud evokes real narrative power with very little. The crafts category is the largest, with 11 artists represented, and you often can't quite tell why something is a craft and not an art (a case in point is Hollie Heller Ramsay's "Ladies 2000," which for all its stitching and fabrics looks like a serial painting in small squares). Several other familiar artists, like Clinton's Donna Lish, who makes beaded, knitted pieces , round out the group. Among these craftspeople are the woodworkers John D. Richie, whose exquisitely intricate wall cabinets are frequently seen in the region, and Gary Beard and Mark C. Wilkins, who both specialize in witty, art-referential tables. But certainly the simplest yet most unusual crafts entries are the strangely beautiful stoneware vessels made by Skeffington N. Thomas. A pupil of one-time Princeton ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu, Thomas is showing two elegantly shaped objects, a tureen and a pitcher, whose dark surfaces have been stippled with evenly spaced white dots of glaze. They are lovely. Sculptor Jonathan Shahn shows two of his trademark simplified heads, "Wood Head in Box I and II," cutting easily the most impressive figure in his category. Both these odd heads, somewhere between idealized representation and hat-store dummy, are placed in boxes made from wedge-cut wood held together with wooden pegs. They're either crated ancestors or wittily carved furniture knobs. Shahn's heads are among those rare art objects whose sublimity flickers like a candle. Two other fine graphic artists, Caroline Burton and Robert Birmelin, demand mention. Burton makes dark, atavistic drawings in mixed media that seem sort of like a cross between Philip Guston and "Hellraiser: II." They are much better than that sounds. And Birmelin is well known, winner of a Fulbright and three NEA grants, and a frequent exhibitor. Here he is showing three different, hand-retouched etchings called "The Tyrant Child/Parents," each version highlighting a different element in the reversible print, a neat way of suggesting that everyone can claim victimization in a family dynamic. The NEA stopped giving grants to individuals because the institution could be held politically responsible for just about anything that artist did after he/she got the grant money, and you can see the risk. Artists survive on press notices, and often the best way to get attention, as we saw with last year's "Sensation" at the Brooklyn Museum, is to outrage. But there is none of that here, even in the entries from Martin Beck, an illusionistic realist who paints with flair and often a social conscience. Beck caused a stir in Jersey City last fall with a show that depicted often deeply offensive sexual and family situations, but curator Accola has chosen two fairly benign works, one a fantasy of bodies floating in midair and the other a gracefully sketched mother and child titled "Remorse." However Beck feels about things, confrontation just doesn't seem to be in the air lately. The State Council on the Arts Fellowship Exhibition reflects that perfectly, laying its stress more on wit than conflict.