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Go Erie - Paintings from permanent collection on display at Art Museum

New Freedom


Despite the perception that a museum is primarily a stagnant repository for art and artifacts, it is in fact an always changing and growing organism as pieces are bought, donated, traded or sold.
The pity is that any museum with a sizable collection hasn't the space to exhibit it all. For example, the Erie Art Museum is steward of more than 8,000 objects, only a tiny fraction of which are displayed in any given year.
So, when nearly 40 of the some 700 paintings in the EAM's collection are hung for a special exhibition, it's appointment viewing. Be sure to make that appointment before May 24, however; that's when "Paintings from the Collection" in the Bacon Gallery will close.
Museum Executive Director John Vanco served as curator. All of the works he selected were donated to the EAM either by patrons or the artists themselves, and all were acquired within the past 15 years. In addition most of the paintings, with few exceptions, have not been exhibited at the museum before.
What a treasure trove that storeroom must be, if this is just the tip of the iceberg. It seems there was a concerted effort to include many different styles -- photorealism, abstraction, landscapes, portraits, and so much more -- in any medium that can be categorized as paint.
It is a particular pleasure to see some of our local artists represented. John Bavaro is represented by one of his piscine portraits, a rainbow trout in oil. There are two Lee Steadman avian watercolors, and a dusky oil on linen landscape by Warren's Thomas Paquette.
Other pieces with local interest are the two Hammermill-themed gouaches from the 1950s by an unknown artist, and Guy Johnson's 2001 oil "Dad and Grandma, Erie PA, 1932," in which the featured pair are posed in front of Veteran's Stadium and the former Academy High.
The EAM had an entire exhibit of works by Chris Mars in 2010; it's great to see two of his pieces here in his signature nightmarish style, scenes packed with layers of imagery and texture that exploit elements of grotesquerie and distortion. For all their eeriness they're strangely fascinating.
Other standouts include the pointed commentary on gender roles and opportunities in Lauren Bergman's "New Freedom;" the haunted eyes and expressive urgency in Audrey Flack's untitled oil on linen portrait; a piece each by twins Moses and Raphael Soyer, Russian-born American realist painters who studied figures and the human condition; and Peter Saari's creations in casein (often called "milk paint") and plaster that recall mosaic artifacts pulled from an architectural installation.
It's unfortunate that so many of the EAM's riches can't be displayed on a more regular or even permanent basis. On the bright side, that means when they are taken from storage it's a momentous occasion, so don't let this singular opportunity pass you by.
 

Lilli Weisz