You know how dams and highways are busting apart because the built environment wasn’t built for current climate extremes? Or how some economic forecasts are off because nobody anticipated a global pandemic knocking out some sectors for months and months? Or how all those dolphins were suddenly swimming around in Venice because they could?
Whatever unifying theory accounts for all that, there’s some version of it happening right now at the Arts Center in the form of a sudden lack of gallery space relative to the volume of art our members produced for the current exhibition. And like all of the above, it’s quite the spectacle.
New Work by Members of the Arts Center of Saint Peter is an annual summer tradition, and in some past years, it’s full enough that we’ve needed to hang a wall or two salon-style (clusters of art spanning a wall top to bottom, versus a horizontal row of single pieces with plenty of blank space in between). This is the first time multiple walls are hung like that. This is the first time our member exhibition follows a long shared stretch of lockdown plus private soul-searching plus voracious buying of art supplies. The good news is that our gallery installation team loves a challenge and did not run screaming when more than 120 pieces came through the door. They dove in and hammered nails and seized the opportunity to create a reflection of this collective creative burst. The even better news is that the place looks amazing.
And it’s not just the quantity that speaks to a new level of art making. It’s the pieces themselves — it’s Eva Hendrickson’s bigger-than-a-basketball Covid Heart, constructed entirely of burrs collected on walks near her house, suspended in a box made of scrap from a home renovation project. It’s Rob Foster’s Hoarder and Butterfly Crime Scene, colored pencil on live edge wood in the style of the body art he creates as an artist at Cactus Tattoo, except when the shop shuts down due to a pandemic, in which case Rob turns to wood as a next-best surface and discovers that he likes how these works of art “don’t walk away and I never see them again,” the way tattoos do. It’s Randy Harmes’ self-portrait on a shovel, a response to one of many challenges put forth by his weekly virtual drawing group. It’s Whitney Dirks’ Ruth Bader Homonculus and Friends, because nothing says introspection and artistic growth and time-on-my-hands like a collection of single-eyed fiber dolls with Ginsberg-style collars.
My unscientific understanding of critical mass is that it’s the minimum amount of something in order for it to become a new, next thing. That’s what it looks like right now, to me, in our full-to-bursting salon-style gallery of work by Arts Center members. I don’t think our creative community’s next thing is disastrous like a bridge implosion, or as obvious a shift as dolphins in the Venice canals, but I do think new ideas are taking new shapes in newly bold hands, and it’s gape-worthy. The show runs through Aug. 28, and the gallery is open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Come gape.