Local Artists Paul Mauren and Scott Brodie featured in Syracuse Exhibit

 Virtually here, in PR vs really there, in NY 
by Jan Galligan and Lillian Mulero, Santa Olaya, PR 

Art in the time of Covid-19
Functioning from our “virtual” reality here in rural Santa Olaya, PR,
we have been reduced to following events of the artworld here on the
island and there on the mainland by way of postings by people we
follow on Facebook. Unable to travel to Syracuse to see the exhibition
of sculpture by Paul Mauren and paintings by Scott Brodie, we used
all of our online resources and made the best of a difficult situation. 

Having come of age in the 70s, now nearing my mid-70s, means as an adult I experienced the full incursion of the computer into our everyday life. More recently I’ve watched as the computer has migrated onto our phones which today are far more powerful than those portable computers of the 1980s, which came to market around the same time we first met artists Scott Brodie and Paul Mauren, in Albany, NY. 

Scott Brodie (L) and Paul Mauren (R) – retirement photos, 2019

Both Brodie and Mauren had come to teach at the College of St. Rose and last year both entered their retirement after many productive years on the faculty. During their tenure each had numerous exhibitions of their art, but apparently they had never shown their work together except for an occasional group exhibition. Brian Cirmo, director of The Gallery at the Ann Felton Center at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, NY has now afforded them the opportunity to exhibit their cross connections in a show they titled “something.” Brodie is a painter who taught drawing and painting, Mauren, a sculptor, taught sculpture, and together they are presenting over sixty works in this show. Interestingly, Cirmo first met both Brodie and Mauren when he was a student attending the College of St. Rose over 20 years ago. 

Ten years ago, my wife Lillian and I moved from Albany to Puerto Rico. I retired after 33 years working in Albany. She closed her business and we relocated to a small town in the countryside about 20 minutes south of San Juan. Within a year we both resumed our practices, Lillian making her art and me photographing. Together we began writing about the vibrant local art scene, publishing our reviews in En Rojo, the cultural supplement to Claridad, the island’s Independista weekly newspaper. 

Most recently we took a ten-day trip to Mexico where we joined up with two artist friends from NYC, and while there we got notice of “something” which we were anxious to learn more about and see for ourselves. Taking out our phones, we followed the links, read the notices and looked at the exhibition via various photographs from the opening night, posted online. We didn’t find any videos or many close ups of the work, but we did get a good sense of the scope and scale of the exhibition, and we found the artist’s statement that each had submitted as explanation for their segment of the show. 

About his work, Paul Mauren says: “There is endless potential in assemblage and the creative process of inventing sculptures based on traditional fabrication methods. My sculptures are derived from a stockpile of found objects and raw materials that I have collected for decades. This selective inventory reflects my interest in the tension between natural phenomena, industry, and the effects of human intervention. Objects and parts consist of new materials and those with a previous history that evidence personal failures, insights, and moments of clarity. The finished constructions are the result of improvised and carefully considered strategies that become embedded in the visual language of the sculptures.” 

Brodie on the other hand is brief and to the point: “Dust before vacuuming.” 

We do not take exception with either of their opinions of their own work. A bit frustrated not being able to be in Syracuse to see the work firsthand, and not finding detailed photographs of the work, we contacted Cirmo asking him to send us what we were missing. 

We were originally aware of The Gallery when Abraham Ferraro, also of Albany showed his most recent incarnation of a long-term project of mailable sculptures, wherein he mails all the elements for his room-filling installation to the location for his exhibition, and the piece accumulates stamps, labels and markings from the US Mail system, which become part of the work. This was one dramatic example for us of Cirmo’s willingness to embrace unusual artistic activity. 

The latest Gallery show highlights the sculptures of Paul Maren and the paintings of Scott Brodie.

Cirmo responded to our request in spades. A complete video tour of the exhibition, stopping at every sculpture, and each painting – a true birds-eye-view, where we get to be the bird moving from one piece of art to the next, stopping as long as we like. The only thing we can’t do is actually touch any of the work, but then you’re not allowed to do that anyhow. 

Which begs the question, which we’ll try to answer here – can you really experience artwork in the second-hand manner afforded by the internet? When that’s your only option, you have no choice but to make the best of it, accepting the fact that being there in person is the ideal. The main premise behind most of our art reviews is to encourage people to go out and see for themselves: the work and the artists we talk about, and we hope that our readers do just that, but it’s not a perfect world by any means. These days a great deal of art is experienced and purchased on line, at the low and the very high end. Successful bidders on important art works sold at auction often never appear at those auctions. Some have agents working for them, others just phone it in without having “touched” the work they are buying at sometimes astronomical prices. So you would have to say, the system works. 

Does it work for us? Our small village is rather remote, located near the mountains south of Bayamon. The art events and exhibitions we attend in person almost all take place in and around San Juan and we drive into the city a few times every week, if not for art, then to see a movie. Of course we could just watch the film on Netflix or Amazon, but nothing beats sitting in the fifth row center in a darkened movie theatre and hearing the surround-sound track. An epic film, like Cuaron’s Roma pales on the TV screen, no matter how big yours is. 

Exhibit opening, Scott Brodie (left) and Paul Mauren (right) speaking to attendees.

I would profess that looking at art follows the same paradigm. You have to see it, in person, to really believe it. It’s sort of like buying clothes online, say, Gap for men and Nordstrom for women. You can go so far as to put the clothes on a virtual image of yourself and strut around in front of yourself, but it still doesn’t match the moment you open the actual package and put that sweater on. Oops, too tight, or too loose, or hey that’s not the color I thought I was ordering! Things still talk to you when you hold them in your hand, or inspect them up close and personal. Art is like that. In the virtual world you’ve got to have the courage of your convictions and be prepared to make mistakes. Still, the payoff can be worth it, and there’s always FedEx-Return if you don’t like what you see when you’re finally holding the thing in your hand – depending of course on the vendor’s return policy, which thankfully is usually “satisfaction guaranteed.” 

Which brings us back to our “virtual” reality here in Puerto Rico. When “something” opened, Lillian and I were traveling in Mexico but we were able to follow the events of the opening reception and artists’ talks by way of postings by people we follow on Facebook. (note: FB has proved to be the primary mode of communication for artists and people in the arts here on the island.) We carefully viewed all the photographs and comments regarding the exhibition. At that time, we posted this comment on FB: “Looks to us like that was –something– even from our distant vantage point(s) of CdMX & PR, say Jan & Lillian.” As we see it, Paul Mauren continues his long term project of quirky, metal-based assemblage-style free-standing sculptures, all made between 2019 and 2020. Scott Brodie, presents 39 paintings, also 2019 – 2020 (nearly one per week), all dead-pan images of ordinary household objects, a method and a subject that has occupied him for many years. In closing we can only add, if you live anywhere near Syracuse make a point of getting over to The Gallery before the exhibition closes on April 9.

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