Is there a difference between the art that’s on the walls of Broad Street galleries and art that hangs in a coffee shop? If a masterpiece was taken from the walls of a museum and hung inside a diner, would anyone recognize its value? Is art defined by the price and the place, or does it simply depend on the way it makes you feel?
The Shibboleth show at Muddy Waters raised these questions with the curators’ decision to include 18 local artists, some more established than others, with artwork priced from $25 to $400. In the cramped but cozy coffee shop, viewers leaned over one another to get a closer look at the art. Seth Corts and Lisa Abernathy curated the show with the intention of bringing people together in support of local art. Mediums range from mixed media to photography to 3-D found art installations. Most artists were showing more than one piece, and their collections were spread throughout the space in a haphazard manner. The lack of organization enhanced the community feel but also made for a less cohesive show.
Lisa Shimko is known for her paintings of delicate birds, which peeked out from the walls of Muddy Waters. Using postcards from past shows at Redux, Shimko says she likes to incorporate what’s on the card into her painting. She calls these hand-held pieces “up-cycled art.” Another strong showing came from Conrad Guevara. Using vivid paper scraps in expressive shapes, the emotions of his pieces were tactile. “The First Five Seconds of Being Angry” was created with simple strokes of deep reds and oranges in a dripping motion, reminiscent of Matisse’s cutouts.
One collection that was hung together was Hirona Matsuda’s small assortment of items like a butterfly wing, a grouping of nails, a leaf, and a nest. This series of 10 pieces was captured behind a circle of glass, as if you were looking under a microscope. The pieces are delicate and interesting, making you lean in closer. Christina Bailey’s black-and-white photos were also arranged as a unit; however, they were behind the counter and difficult to see.
Abernathy’s mixed media works included pieces of fabric, dried flowers, photos, and buttons. Her pieces were aesthetically pleasing, and upon closer examination, stories emerged. “They Took the Farm” had a Wizard of Oz vibe, with an image of a farm house being swept in a fabric tornado while a black-and-white photo of a child stands below, looking up at her home in the sky.
The downside of a collaborative show is that it can feel overwhelming and crowded, especially if it’s in a small space. Many of the works were strong and may have been stronger if they were hung together. Others, like Joanna Jackson’s painted puzzle pieces and a dalmatian painting by Spike were less inspired. The roster also included Nick Jenkins, Scott Debus, Julio Cotto, John Pundt, Dorothy Netherland, Trever Webster, Phillip Hyman, Shannon Di, Angela Chvarak, and Tim Showers.
Shibboleth succeeded in its approachability. Events like Shibboleth invite curiosity about the subjectivity of art, opening up dialogue and making viewers think. Taking art patrons out of their comfort zone and freeing them from the assumptions of traditional galleries, viewers must depend on their own taste. Art is “good” if it speaks to you, if it makes you want to keep looking, and the more opportunities we have to look at art, the better.