By Lindsey Davis
Newton, MA – It’s like walking into the mind of an eccentric New Orleans witchdoctor. Thick paint is coarsely hurled onto canvases in rough outlines of people, and cow skull and plaster form ritualistic-looking tikis that resemble overdone voodoo dolls. The New Art Center in Newton’s new exhibition, “Upsodown,” features work by 10 different artists, all created with a kind of raw, free expression — a boldness that reflects a reinvention, the kind of freeing liberty that accompanies the spirit of Carnival.
The gallery is intended as a reflection of all the different forms this holiday takes in each culture, and the carnality that comes with absolute freedom manifests as a powerful barbarism in these artworks. Tara Sellios’ dual photographs “Lessons of Impermanence” feature the arranged remains of a seafood meal — an image of orange lobster shells strewn beside empty wine glasses hangs to the left of a scene of empty oysters, seen from an aerial view atop a blue tablecloth.
Summer Wheat’s “Party Girl” is an oil and acrylic work featuring the abstracted face of a girl screaming, her face painted in pale contrasting greens, pinks, blues, blacks and browns. A strip of roughly applied yellow runs down her nose. The paint is thick on the canvas, chaotically scratched across and in some places amassed into little colored clumps.
The gallery is comprised of everything: oil paintings, sculpture, video projects, photography and even performance art at upcoming events. Marcus Kenney’s “Vache Rouge” face is made of cow skull, wood, fabric, feathers and placed behind “Lumber and Lust” by Eli Kessler, a metal pair of prosthetic legs that lead down to matching metal high-heel shoes. All of these works were arranged and collected by curators AJ Liberto and Kate True, who were selected for the New Art Center’s Curatorial Opportunity Program, an annual public call for proposals, determining the Main Gallery’s exhibitions for the upcoming year.
The program is intended to showcase the role of the curator and allow for more cross-media displays, created and presented to the viewer as a synthesis of individual minds since only group show proposals are accepted. “The group shows are an incredible tool for learning,” said exhibition director Kathleen Smith. “The curators create that lens for the viewer.”
“Upsodown’s” diversity of media and style gave a wide visual perspective on Carnival, and all the different ways restrictions can be turned on their head to release a kind of celebratory mayhem. The New Art Center’s application process is still open for next year’s exhibition proposals, so anyone with an idea has until April 1 to propose the next “Upsodown.”
(“Upsodown” continues through February 22 at the New Art Center in Newton, 61 Washington Park, Newtonville, Mass. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. For more information, call (617) 964-3424.)