Sunday, July 28, 2019
By Austin Rese
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The dog days of summer are the ideal time to take in a museum. Not only is the air conditioning a welcome sensation to combat the drenching humidity, but the experience can be a vacation for one’s mind.


On a recent Sunday afternoon, I did just that.


The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) is dedicated to bringing contemporary art and community together. Since 1956, the gallery has been a welcome venue for southeastern artists to show their work. In the many years since its founding, success has allowed it to grow in scale and global representation.


Being a home furnishings enthusiast, I was most intrigued to experience the current exhibition, FURNISHED.  This collection of 50 works, by 15 artists, explores the relationships between furniture and sculpture.

The exhibit was juried by a team of 4 practicing professionals from the fields of art, design, and education. A colleague and friend of mine, Dr. Rosa Otero (Chair of the Art, Art History and Design Department of Salem College, and Director/Curator of SIDE Chair Library), was among them. I contacted Dr. Otero and asked her to share what this event meant to her.


“From the beginning I supported the vision of SECCA’s curator (and juror) Wendy Earle, to showcase the most recent creative work in the Southeast in the areas of functional sculpture and furniture. I also considered the exhibit a snapshot instead of a comprehensive survey so we had a lot of freedom in the process of selection,” shared Dr. Otero.


As a professional designer and instructor, rules and standards are an integral part of life’s menu. This was a refreshing buffet of thought for her. Her criteria of judgement included five aspects: 1) Originality, 2) Material exploration, 3) Content, 4) Quality craftsmanship, and 5) Composition. --The last two characteristics being the most significant to her selection process.


With this framework in mind, I was well-equipped to review the creative work before me.

Slowly, I strolled from creation-to-creation. While some pieces exhibited a bit of whimsy, a second look and gleaning of the curator’s notes revealed the in-depth thought process behind each piece. This wasn’t just an “art installation”; but rather, a cultural collective. Many artists drew upon historical events which had sustained impact on today’s lifestyle and environment.


Soon, I felt the same breath of creative freedom that Dr. Otero must have felt. I took off my “hat of rules and regulations” and began to see materials, form, and composition in a new light. One artist had disassembled chairs, reassembling their parts into sculptures. Another took vinyl chair caning and made lighting sculptures. Yet another had skillfully turned a tub chair into an haute couture gown of Dupioni silk.--- The bondage of design restrictions was unlocked and the mind was free.


My eyes began to dance as if I was standing in a candy shop. I wanted to see every part of each piece. I sat on the floor. I stood on my toes. I walked around each creation. I wanted to touch this gallimaufry of materials, but kept my hands securely locked behind my back. 


Life’s normal agenda of rushing had been slowed to a crawl. My mind had been given a vacation. Even more so, I had gained a greater appreciation for creative thought.


Maybe that is what museums are really about.

This was A Moment in America.

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