Artists collaborate on works for show at the Morean Arts Center

BY LENNIE BENNETT

Times Art Critic

ST. PETERSBURG

Collaborations between artists are always interesting, though successful collaborations are never guaranteed. They depend on a genuine connection with both ideas and methods, not copycatting or emulating, but reflecting an intuitive empathy.

Thus, there are mixed results in "Visual Unity: A Collaboration" at the Morean Arts Center. Rocky Bridges, a distinguished and nationally recognized artist who lives in our area, gathered 17 other artists who were paired off to riff on each other. Some of the results reminded me of the inharmonious plates sent out on Top Chef when two cooks can't seem to agree on their dish. A couple of them seemed to bypass the collaboration altogether with individual works that share a gallery wall and are fine on their own but don't, as far as I could see, share any commonality.

The pair that might have been the most disparate, Bridges and Duncan McClellan, seem perfectly simpatico in their joint efforts, especially Spiraling and Spinning. McClellan makes elegant glass vessels deeply etched and worked with elaborate color and imagery. Bridges combines found objects for mixed media "paintings" full of rough edges and wondrously eccentric combinations. McClellan's violet vessel, swirled with lines from a poem, borrows from Bridges' vocabulary in replacing the expected glass finial as a topper with a shard of metal twisted into a graceful arc. Bridges picks up McClellan's colors in his work, which is placed almost touching the glass. The installation works as a whole being more than the sum of its parts.

Richard Currier and Tony Eitharong are consummate painters and their three contributions are stunning. A joint piece is bracketed by two portraits they made of each other. The wall label for the central mixed media work refers to the famous incident in which Robert Rauschenberg erased a drawing given to him by Willem de Kooning and titled it Erased de Kooning, causing a big uproar. (The work's now in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.) Currier and Eitharong's Untitled looks to be an Eitharong makeover of an earlier Currier painting titled Suspended Ammunition. You have to wonder if Currier was as upset as de Kooning by the gesture.

No one here seems intent on advancing art history as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque did in the early 20th century with their breakthrough collaboration in cubism. The best way to approach this show is to take most of the individual art on its own terms.

• • •

Also at the Morean Arts Center is "Allison Massari: Pyrotechnic Luminescence." Massari is an immensely talented artist whose career — not to mention her life — was nearly destroyed in 1998 by a horrific car accident that left her with severe burns. Over a decade, she has recovered her health so that her talent, which never left her, has continued to blossom.

Eight of her collages are in the show, virtuoso turns in which she replaces paint with small pieces of paper arranged in elaborate mosaics. Massari has always favored a representational style, especially portraiture, and here she has created a gallery of beautiful, partly clothed women surrounded by aureoles in dense, bright patterns.

After what she has been through and continues to achieve, Massari deserves to create in whatever manner brings her inspiration. As a longtime admirer of her prodigious gifts, I wish for more emotional complexity.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lenniesptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

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Visual Unity: A Collaboration

The exhibit is at the Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, through Dec. 31. "Allison Massari: Pyrotechnic Luminescence" continues through Nov. 14. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday . Admission is $8 adults, $6 seniors and $5 students. moreanartscenter.org or (727) 822-7872.

Artists collaborate on works for show at the Morean Arts Center 10/21/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 22, 2009 3:09pm]

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