When the A Gallery, the Vineyard’s hot new space for contemporary art, presents a photography group show starting this weekend, you can be pretty sure that there won’t be a single picture of a lighthouse. Like all of the work shown at the temporary gallery during its all too brief existence, the work of the six photographers (and three sculptors) is cutting edge, unique, and absolutely fascinating.
Among the photographers featured are one documentary photographer, two conceptual artists, and a mathematician turned photographer who creates abstract art by manipulating close-up shots of boats.
Ed Grazda, the most accomplished of the group, spent 20 years shooting in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was one of the last photographers to leave Afghanistan before the ban on photography, music, and television by The Taliban. Work by Mr. Grazda is included in the collections of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art as well as the New York Public Library, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. Mr. Grazda’s stunning black-and-white images from his book “Afghanistan Diary 1992-2000” will be for sale at the upcoming show along with the book itself.
The show also includes work from two series by emerging artist Kathryn Osgood of Maine. The Sleepwalker photos feature sepia-toned landscapes with a model depicting typical dream scenarios like flying and public nudity — capturing the surreal and freeing nature of such dream iconography. Ms. Osgood’s series Vanitas encompasses still life allegories that, like the work of some of the Dutch old masters, feature symbols of mortality. The shots are elaborately staged, remarkably lit images that emulate paintings not only in their subjects, but in their mix of vibrant color and shadow.
Two of the featured photographers specialize in installation shots — creating temporary constructions for the purpose of capturing their images photographically.
Newcomer Elissa Turnbull creates and then shoots amazing sculptural constructs from candy and other edibles like cheese puffs and squiggles of Cheez Whiz. Her playful temporary sculptures are impressive acts of engineering that are also, when shot against colorful backdrops, beautiful works of art. A closeup shot of cheese puffs connected by straws has the look of a molecular model. A grouping of jelly beans connected by wire looks a little like the famed Watts Towers in technicolor. Other constructs resemble underwater scenes or flowers but are highly imaginative, fantastical creations.
David Welch also creates temporary models intended solely as subjects for his camera lens. However, he works in a much larger scale, constructing what he calls totems from everyday objects. What look like precariously balanced stacks of things like television sets, plastic containers in a pristine natural landscape, and a multitude of boxes towering atop a shopping cart, are actually painstakingly arranged constructs joined together to appear like the haphazard detritus of a consumption-driven society. Mr. Welch’s collection, titled Material World is, according to his website, “a response to our contemporary consumer milieu.”
Mr. Welch is known here primarily for his work as a wedding and portrait photographer, but his art photos have been shown in London, Detroit, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere. Shots from his award-winning totem collection will also be on display as part of a premier traveling collection of art later this year. The A Gallery show will mark one of the few times Mr. Welch has shown his work on the Vineyard. “It means breaking away from what people know me as — a commercial photographer,” says Mr. Welch. “I’m excited to be back on Martha’s Vineyard.”
Emily Drazen’s gorgeous moody landscapes shot on film during her travels all over the world are perhaps the most traditional in subject matter, but they reveal an original eye and outlook. At the other extreme, Edwina Rissland’s series, Abstracts and Marines, features purely abstract work created by manipulating pictures shot in and around Vineyard boatyards. Ms. Rissland, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, has a PhD from MIT and is a past president of the International Association for Artificial Intelligence and Law. A world leader in fields relating to modern technology and mathematics, Ms. Rissland only recently turned her eye to photography, and her work reflects a very different approach to the medium.
Like the gallery itself, the upcoming show came together in a wholly organic fashion. The co-founders, Tanya Augoustinos and Maria Westby, were contemplating hosting an all photography show when, suddenly, a number of photographers approached them with portfolios reflecting very innovative work.
Commenting on the artists represented by the “pop-up” gallery since it opened in July, Ms. Augostinos says, “We didn’t have a very specific agenda. We just went with what came our way and what appealed to us. We wanted to have a very contemporary feel and not necessarily Island representative but, as it turned out, we found a lot of artists who don’t normally show their work here.”
Along with the photography, the upcoming show will feature sculpture by Rick Lazes and Paul Lazes, fiber art by Rhonda Hershey, mixed media pieces combining photography and digital art by Daniel Johnson, and the paintings of Cuban-born artist Alejandro Carreno. Like everything seen at the gallery so far, all these works are edgy and original.
Photography and Sculpture will run from September 16 to September 30. From September 22 through October 8, the A Gallery will host a final show featuring affordable art from artists who have shown at the gallery this summer.
Up until it closes its doors for good mid October, the A gallery will also offer weekly screenings of films relating to community, and a final bash on Columbus Day weekend featuring performance artists and music.
Stay tuned: the A Gallery may just pop up at another Island location in the near future.