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Art Review: Midyear artists find time to reflect

Saturday, August 02, 2003

By Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette Art Critic

The 67th National Midyear Exhibition at The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, is a strong show that doesn't evade contemporary social issues. Painters and fans of the medium in particular will find much to admire, but the breadth of the large exhibition holds appeal for a like range of interests.

"Chrysalis" by Wilson J. Ong of Sandy, Utah, was awarded the Midyear Prize in the 67th National Midyear Exhibition at The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. Attached to the wall above the man in the wheelchair, a small butterfly chrysalis suggests hope in the possibility of transformation.

This annual juried show of paintings by contemporary American artists has a solid national reputation, evidenced by the high quality of submissions from across the country. Juror John Alexander, a painter himself, selected 90 works by 72 artists, most of them realistic in nature. While Ohio has the largest representation (19 artists), with many of those from nearby Cleveland, other artists live as far away as New Hampshire, Florida and California.

Of the seven Pennsylvania artists exhibiting, three hail from Edinboro. The only Pittsburgher is Robert Bowden, whose handsome watercolor landscape "From Chop House, East Chop" is serene in subject and palette.

While most painting continues to occupy the outer rings of contemporary art circles, there are landscape, portraiture, still life and narrative works here that prove that artists continue to find new and relevant expression in this traditional medium and subject matter.

In the entry gallery, for example, are two gripping paintings that suspend the viewer in moments of reflection: Wilson J. Ong's oil "Chrysalis" and Herbert Turner's egg tempera "Generations."

The former, which was awarded the Midyear Prize, is of a bibbed man in a wheelchair who gazes off, his paralyzed form counterbalanced by a tiny jade green butterfly chrysalis that hangs from the wall above him, implying transformation and healing. "Generations" depicts an elderly woman lying in bed in the shadowed corner of a room, her eyes open, staring vacantly. On the wall hang four framed photographs from another era, and a chest holds a lamp, glasses and containers of medicine. A bedside heater chases the chill away even though it appears to be warm outside, where a young girl skipping rope is seen through the window.

Elsewhere Rachel Harper stares solemnly as her mother moves off with the help of a walker in "Mom-Me," while Richard Pantell's elderly nude "Couple" dangle their legs in a pond upon which autumn leaves float while an old cab waits nearby. Gabriela Dellosso's very different works -- "Swimmer," three views of the head of a matronly woman wearing a bright orange rubber swim cap, and a cryptic "Untitled" confetti-sprinkled dead clown -- are powerful.

Two young girls press noses against a window in Marilyn Szalay's "Contact." The artist is one of 19 who reside in Ohio among the 72 exhibiting from across the country at The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown.

Kenneth Cobb's enigmatic, beautifully realized narrative "Cosmopolitan," haunting and dramatic, suggests a multitude of interpretations through its contemporary figures and art historic compositional references.

Technical virtuosity abounds in still lifes such as David Herzig's overblown, opulent "Peonies," David Band's sensitively rendered "Nest II," Michael Molnar's trompe l'oeil "Door Knobs," and George Mauersberger's fastidiously built "White-1 (Bag)" and "-3 (Curtain)."

Portraiture is given a new twist by Leslie Adams, who overlaps antiquity and contemporary references in exquisitely rendered "Athena" and "Penelope." Paul Ching-Bor melds realism and abstract expressionism in his dynamic landscape "Echoes in Steel II."

But this is only a sampler of this impressive showing.

Painting reached a zenith in the latter part of the 19th century when artists challenged the traditional subject matter of the past and began to paint the modern world. The Midyear artists, using media that responds to a slowed and considered rhythm, find beauty and challenge in parts of the contemporary world often overlooked, including everyday objects and actions, but more pointedly the young, the old and the sick. As such, the best of them take the mundane and make it cutting-edge.

Also at the museum is Shu-Min Lin's "Glass Ceiling," exhibited at the 2001 Venice Biennale, a holographic installation that's alone worth the drive to Youngstown (through Aug. 15). For meatier abstraction than the Midyear contains, along with flashy contemporary painting and sculpture, see The Pilot Hill Collection of Contemporary Art, exhibited through Aug. 17.

The Midyear continues through Aug. 24. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m. Sundays and until 8 p.m. Wednesdays. Admission is free. For information call 330-743-1711 or visit the Web site

Directions: Take the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the Ohio Turnpike and Exit 234, Interstate 680N, toward Youngstown. Exit at Hubbard (6B), and then take the West Warren exit to Route 422. Shortly, take the exit for Wick Avenue, Elm Street and Youngstown State University. Turn left at the light onto Wick. The museum is two traffic lights down on the right at 524 Wick Ave.

Mary Thomas can be reached at or 412-263-1925.

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