By Michael Loderstedt
Art Made in the Shutdown, a large, salon-style exhibition at the Yards Project in the Worthington Yards apartment building in downtown Cleveland, began as a public call for entries to capture artists’ responses to the pandemic and soon garnered more than 120 responses.
Liz Maugans, Yards Project gallery director, describes the intentions of the exhibition as being inclusive of younger artists and displaying what artists are thinking about and making right now.
“It’s a beautiful fabric of … artists’ personal experiences with Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests,” she says. “Everything has a certain poignancy and freshness that was captured.”
Maugans says the exhibition showcases many artists fresh out of school, more than a third of which were unknown to her. A drive-by drop-off was organized to ensure safety. Viewings are by appointment, but a discussion with the artists was recently organized on Zoom.
Elaine Hullihen is one of the artists whose work is included. She has a two-paneled construction on paper titled We’ve Built Unstable Towers, And Ignored Lessons of Mountains, respectively. Hullihen, who graduated from Kent State School of Art in 2007 with a BFA in sculpture, has a very diverse practice that includes performance, installation, murals and objects that “try to touch the vibrating energy that is the essence of life.”
To Hullihen, the pandemic revealed the fragility of the American society and showed that our health, economic and social services have all proven to be inadequate. She depends on the gig economy of teaching art workshops and yoga through organizations like Fostering Hope and FrontLine. Having less work has been an unexpected boon to her studio practice, temporarily relieving some of the burnout from such a nomadic existence.
Antwoine Washington has a large, striking painting of two figures in the exhibition, one white and the other black, drinking simultaneously from water fountains, entitled For Social Distancing Only. He explains how the time spent at home has deepened his connection to black history as research for his art (he has a Black Studies minor and a BFA from Southern University A&M College/Baton Rouge).
Washington draws comparisons between the historical photographs of protests against segregation to largely white protests against mandated shut-downs that are happening now. He runs a small nonprofit teaching graphic design and art classes through the Stella Walsh Recreation Center in Slavic Village, so like many artists especially ones with small children, he’s constantly busy.
“We don’t get a chance to tell our story,” he says, which is why he appreciates the opportunity to be part of the exhibition.
Daniel Levin’s work, aptly titled COVID Day 68, June 3, 2020, haunts the viewer with its juxtaposition of a seemingly innocent image with provocative text. He tells me, “I don’t like to be preachy, but in this work, I’m pointing a finger.” The work shows neighborhood kids playing together at night in the driveway of a home, and seems an almost normal, joyous and idyllic summer evening. His added textual inscription gives additional context to the image, with statistics on infections and deaths seeming to ask, can’t we do better?
With most art galleries and exhibition spaces shut down, the pandemic has quieted the reach of artists. Yet it clearly hasn’t stopped them from making new work. They’re addressing topics in their work they never have before, and quietly using this time to imagine new systems of support for artists.
Maugans, who has sold more than 20 works during the show, says that she’s gained a lot from the experience. “I think we need to figure out more ways to make this happen in this city,” she says. “I’ve also been learning a lot more about my own commitment and faith to broadening and expanding the arts to more people, going from aspiration to action and policy.”
Art Made in the Shutdown
Worthington Yards, 725 Johnson Court
June 24th – August 15th
Exhibition is free and open by appointment
Contact Liz Maugans at [email protected]