“Real or Imagined” at the Attleboro Arts Museum has something for everyone — paintings, sculptures, even 3D printed artwork.
The 95 pieces in the show were selected by guest juror Clare Bell, exhibition director at the Guggenheim Museum. She narrowed down the selection from 756 pieces submitted by 416 artists from across the country. Of those 95, she selected six favorites which won jurors choice awards.
The sheer variety in “Real or Imagined” is striking and is evident from the moment one enters the gallery. Immediately, the eye is drawn in different directions. Left are two large black herons sculpted from found objects, right is a bronze-colored 3D printed sculpture of a man emerging from a foot, and on all the surrounding walls are paintings and photographs – some abstract canvases of bright engaging colors and others that play upon childhood memories of toys and Halloween adventures. However, all that variety is connected together though a common theme of the surreal, the out-there, and, of course, the beautiful.
One piece that stood out was “Enchanted” by Carrie Lederer. This tiny cigar box painted with acrylic stands against white museum walls like a portal into another world. The intricate painted landscape inside the box is a collage of new life that emerges come springtime. Shades of green and white mingle to represent commonly known plants and more fantastical nature scenes. In front of the painting stands a small sculpture that looks like a seedpod or plant-borne fruit. This is a glimpse of the real, natural world in a way that feels imagined.
The concept of “Real or Imagined” is best represented in Ashley Goodwin’s “Phonebook,” a juror’s award winner. In this kinetic piece, a phone book – already hard to imagine in 2021 — sits on a pedestal behind a dusting of marshmallow packing peanuts. Nearby is a rotating fan that blows back the pages of the phonebook while leaving the peanuts in place.
“Everything about this piece has questions,” said Executive Director and Chief Curator at the Attleboro Arts Museum, Mim Brooks Fawcett. “What’s going to happen when it stops moving? Why are the peanuts not moving? Why is there a fan in here to begin with?”
She continued, “Someone came in and questioned, ‘is that art?’ and I said, ‘of all of these pieces here, this is the one we’re talking about. Yes, this is art.’”
Interestingly, across the gallery is another juror’s award winner that also uses fans as a primary component. “Moonment,” by Sizhu Li is a site-specific installation where four Arduino controlled fans create waves on four long, draped sheets of aluminum. Nearby, a heart-shaped aluminum ring is rhythmically beaten by a soft mallet to create the sound of a throbbing heartbeat.
For Li, this piece offers a chance for visitors to reconnect and decompress. “The pandemic has caused many different pains,” said Li in a virtual artist talk. “No matter what they have been through, this work provides mental medicines, reminding people that they are not alone.”
According to Fawcett, “Moonment” was placed deliberately, near the museum’s large street-facing windows to capture the reflection of the outside world on the aluminum sheets of the piece. In a way, this connects the imagined world of “Moonment” with the reality of downtown Attleboro outside.
Although not on display for much longer, “Real or Imagined” is a sight to see when travelling the Attleboro area. “Real or Imagined” lets you step away from the usual and into a space that offers escape and respite from the past year of uncertainty.
(“Real or Imagined” is on display until July 15 at the Attleboro Arts Museum, 86 Park St., Attleboro Massachusetts. The Attleboro Arts Museum is free and open to the public, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum welcomes masked visitors. For more information visit attleboroartsmuseum.org or call (508) 222-2644.)