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What’s on Your Shelf?

Portrait Society examines lives through the objects we keep

Jun. 4, 2014
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Portrait Society Gallery is not a big space but it tends to happily sprawl. Its current configuration reaches out with tentacle arms into hallways and before you know it, you are standing in the exhibition “Shelfie: A Portrait Society project of self via shelf.” Photographs of people’s shelves run like endless trains in two parallel streams along the walls, contributed by friends, artists, neighbors and strangers. Gallery Director Debra Brehmer explains, “What we save, collect, organize, display, dust or water (our material concerns) sit close to the art world’s busy, shifting, interpreting and heightened sense of display.”

The joyous hubbub of “Shelfie” is a warm up for the three shows in the gallery proper. Keith Nelson takes a solo with his installations in “Arrangements. His pieces might appear simple, but they are not easy. Nelson’s career as an art preparator prompted his interest in remnants left over from shipping crates, exhibition displays and the like. He organizes found objects such as cardboard boxes, Formica tabletop bits, toilet tank lids, and occasionally adds the odd blank canvas into austere nuanced compositions. Sometimes they are like minimalist relief sculptures, other times like somber geometric paintings inflated to three dimensions. In a whisper, Nelson asks for meditation on beauty and balance that can be pulled out of even the third-rate objects in our lives.

“Guest Composers” joins Nelson with nearly a dozen other artists, each of whom were given or made a shelf. They then produced arrangements or curated another artist’s work, so think of these as exhibitions that occupy gallery spaces of mere square inches. Some are primarily about visual relationships, while other installations are overtly autobiographical, revealing a willingness to share a sense of the world through the symbolism of objects.

On the note of autobiography, the delightful, alluring “Rural Utopia” series from J. Shimon’s Blotchy Blobs Blog is also on view. Dozens of small watercolors open up a dreamy fantasyland of fields, trees and cows inhabited by characters of sophisticated wit, subtle eroticism and creative pleasure.


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