Samek Art Gallery Unveils New Exhibit: It’s Literally Just Words
While the art world is often filled with strange, often unusual, images to ponder, few compare to Samek’s downtown exhibition, ‘You Never Know’, which ended last Sunday. .
Originally designed by Cliff Hengst (and advertised on all campus cork boards), this exhibit has a “the use of scrap materials and do-it-yourself techniques makes even busy political topics seem human and approachable.
Keep these descriptors in mind, they will be important later. This curative description is taken from the gallery‘s page on the exhibition, which mentions that Mr. Hengst came down to Lewisburg for a dance party in June. This gallery page also has some photos from the exhibition, if you would like to see it as well.
Now, while Mr. Hengst surely put a lot of thought and effort into his best work, it’s hard to say that this is his best. As an unlicensed art critic myself, I took a short walk to the gallery to check it out, and the results didn’t quite “pop” to me. They felt a little “flat”, in fact. You understood? Yeah, those are paper puns, because that’s all there was. When the museum described its visual style as a “thrift store aesthetic,” they were really talking about the “thrift store” part. They were homemade protest signs – and that’s an insult to protest signs! People have found it much more creative, really.
Now, it may seem like I’m being too hard on this. People might say yes, these artworks might be basic, but they’re not. this wrong. Maybe someone could claim that I’m “going down” because of my reviews. Of course, I can admit that a few of these designs aren’t too bad – i.e. the actual designs, not the billboard cut out with “BLEEFS” (don’t look for that, I thought it was the word “beliefs” and I was wrong) and “UM AHH UMM” written on it. I’m going to be blunt here, if someone is using a “thrift store aesthetic” I assume that means the artist is actually Do something with that. Make a diorama, do a project with glued-together paintbrushes, or make origami from the Florida Man reports. There are a million ways to go about it outside of protest signs. If I wanted to see them I would take a day trip to the Supreme Court.
However, not everything is bad. The aforementioned drawings are relatively few among the protest signs, but for me they were the most appealing part of the exhibit. In fact, they were the best part of the gallery because I could actively get something meaningful out of them. The subjects are rainbows or humanoid figures dressed in rainbow colors. The downtown gallery’s website says “Cliff’s work echoes the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic, queer activism and absurd theatre”, and I see those first two elements in these drawings (while absurd theater is everything else on the walls).
Of course, Mr. Hengst has exhibited his work at the Tang Museum in New York, Gallery 16 in San Francisco, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, so that being said, he is far more successful in his job that I will never do. — so it wouldn’t technically be a punch anyway.
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