By Tara Bennett
For art lovers, Pop art and its iconic images—Campbell’s soup, anyone?—have become the classicism of the 21st century, and Baton Rouge is about to get a good taste of it with the upcoming exhibition Smash!
Organized by the Healthcare Gallery, this exhibition is a survey of contemporary Pop artists in the region and is presented with the intent to grow the show internationally in the coming year. Emerging in reaction to the rise of a new consumerist and media age, Pop art is among the most broadly recognized post-war art phenomena primarily identified with Britain and the U.S.
“Researching what our local artists are passionate about, I found Pop art to be ever-present,” said Rodneyna Hart, curator of the show. “Some say that Pop art is decorative and lacks content and depth. I wanted an exhibition that would challenge that notion, and delve deeper into this movement, giving the viewer a rich understanding of the popular culture our artists are synthesizing.”
“Our community has really rallied around this style of work,” said Hart. “It is not new to the community, but has grown prolifically in recent years. I am sure that our lives being overrun by screens since childhood has lured us into attention deficient magpies chasing glimpses of bright and shiny objects while appealing to our outpaced connection to irony and nostalgia. We are products of our world and its influences. Whether it is a commentary on society at large or an individual expression born from a desire to display alternative cultural norms, art is the best, and often most productive way of processing that.”
According to Hart, it is the gallery’s hope that the success of this year’s offering leads to growth in participation next year and helps in the expansion of the exhibition to an international level.
“We will be inviting artists all around the world to take part in the exhibition, possibly doing an artist’s exchange with other galleries and traveling the works,” said Hart.
The show currently features Lily Betancourt, Blaine Breaux, sarah g., Damian Georgiev, Ashley Eyerratic Hall, Brent Houzenga, Amanda James, Chris King, Nathaniel A. Landry, Pat Phillips and Gabriel Saint. Each artist was invited to submit up to 20 works for the exhibition, with the artwork ranging from acrylic on canvas to digital prints in light boxes. Most of the works are two-dimensional wall hanging paintings and drawings. According to Hart, she did not want to feature any one artist so in a deviation from previous exhibitions, this show is hung salon style with emphasis on the flow of the room and how the works relate to each other by subject and color.
“Some works are intimate, detail-heavy labored works of art where others are bold, clean contours with flat color applications,” said Hart. “Every work is special.”
Each piece in the show has its appeal, and while difficult to select just one, there is one piece that spoke about the importance of Pop art. The front gallery space hosts a stylized painting of Paula Dean by Alexandria artist Pat Phillips. Reminiscent of depictions of Aunt Jemima as a cookie jar filled with cookies, the cream colored background is broken by a repetition of the word butter in brown. The bottom of the jar has a racial slur, which was said by Dean in 2013.
“To me, this is exactly why this genre is so relevant,” said Hart. “It has the ability through simple imagery to feature popular culture’s issues and tackle them in a straightforward way, creating a greater discussion. It is visually appealing while still being provocative. If art does propel culture forward, I want these kinds of socially conscious arts leading the way.”
The Healthcare Gallery has a history of being a venue of opportunity both for emerging and professional artists. In the past, the gallery has hosted art HAS A HOME, which gave young artists a chance to celebrate the arts and creativity.
“We love nurturing the next generation of artists, curators, professionals and being an active presence in our cultural community,” said Hart.
For Hart to develop an exhibition, she has multiple goals in mind. First, she must find the show is something she is passionate about, and secondly, it must be worth the audience’s time and not alienate them. Hart wants to wow her audience.
“It is an amazing feeling to facilitate a viewer being moved by a work of art,” said Hart. “Does not matter if they love it or hate it as long as there is something of substance in the work that reaches them on a visceral level, it is doing its job.”
Hart wishes to pass on the gift of art and create new advocates for it, whether it is as simple as googling an artist, or taking a selfie with a piece of art and posting it on Instagram. Hart is a strong believer that art propels culture forward, and artists serve the community.
“In this, I display works that may nudge the comfort levels of the viewer to expand their experiences and understanding, to really get to the root of what appeals to them and why,” said Hart.
For Hart, the future of this series is bright. While museums and larger institutions offer insight on how Louisiana is connected to the historical world, or getting to know artists in depth, Hart feels that the Healthcare Gallery has the flexibility to make immediate connectivity with Baton Rouge.
“As it grows we will find that thread of contemporary creation,” said Hart. “Answering what artists are doing now, what is next, and how does Louisiana fit into this larger dialogue of artistic relevance.”
Smash! opens to the public July 25 and runs until October 7 with a reception on August 29.