Set amid the quaint taverns and curio shops that line lower Thames Street, Coastal Contemporary Gallery is an anomaly in the tourist town of Newport. When Shari Weschler opened her gallery in May 2018, she also opened the door to a world of art that was a distinct departure from the usual seascapes and souvenirs. Today, Coastal Contemporary is forging a link between the traditional and the avant-garde, with works that have questions to ask and stories to tell.
The March show, “Masc.,” features a multi-faceted mix of six national and international artists who question the ways in which people make space. “Masc.” explores the power dynamics of gender-driven domination. Co-curator and artist Mike White liked the idea of the term masculinity being abbreviated. “It does not necessarily center on men, per se, but rather on a way of inhabiting space, society and one’s own head.” White’s “Leg Waxing,” a photo still from a video performance, is a surreal voyeuristic view: two figures frozen in time, in a power dynamic that defies definition. His free standing duo, “Under Pressure: Self Portrait and Portrait of Julia,” is a play on the force of weight in gender. The original sculptures were made from a 100-year-old wooden beam; they’ve been re-created with stone and bronze for this show.
There is a monumental weight to the memories and impressions that fuel all of the artists. The imagery can be stark, sometimes chilling on impact; a sense of personal history permeates “Masc.” The naked white plaster of Hillel O’Leary’s ___ is where the ___ is, looks eerily like skin draped over a spare wooden frame, a home inhabited by ghosts that hide their truth. It is a reflection of O’Leary’s childhood, a Jewish family in an American White Neighborhood: “When my parents bought our first house in the suburbs, there was a swastika scrawled inside of it.”
This show is presented in honor of Women’s Month, which is ironic given that Rose Keefe’s painting, “My Favorite Wife,” presents a cozy picture in which men casually chat by a fire while only fractured remnants of women can be seen. One gentleman’s shoulder is stroked from behind by a disembodied hand, while behind another, a Rubenesque model is flattened against the wall in a frozen vignette of force and rape. The conflict between women’s natural functions and the shame and secrecy that male perception brings to them is seen clearly in Laura Jaramillo’s “First Blood” It has a visual impact that will hit every woman right between the legs.
PeiXin Liu’s Chinese/Canadian multicultural identity is a source of inspiration for many of her works; “Invisible Empowerment Chair” displays a disconnect between co-existing values. “My empowerment is not a constant, but it is something that I constantly have to work for.” A graceful bronze stalk exudes a solemn sadness in Renee Yulin’s work “Renee and the Sea of Flowers.” The isolation of women and of “other” in our society is something that is felt more than seen.
Weschler takes risks at Coastal Contemporary. She shows art that speaks beyond the concept/goal of the sale. She also makes a point of providing a launching-point for artists at every level of career. Contemporary, conceptual, traditional, old school, graffiti and installation all come together at CCG.
Weschler arrived at the role of gallery owner and director after years of experience in art and exhibition. She understands the ins and outs of both talent and representation. As a figural narrative painter, she exhibits nationally and internationally. Her curatorial experience began in the 1990s and carried through to becoming partner and director at Coastal Living Gallery in Wickford and Warren, RI. Today, Weschler represents over 30 national and regional artists, with a growing list of guest artists. She directs 12 shows a year, rotating exhibitions on a 3 week schedule until the summer salons, during which up to 30 artists exhibit.
“Masc.” runs thru March 30 with an opening event on Friday, March 13, from 5:00 – 8:00 PM, with guest DJ Eli Backer. An after party is planned at Top Of The Pelham in Newport, from 9pm-1am. DJ Eli and Mike White will also be projecting their videos on a loop at the venue.
Visit Coastal Contemporary Gallery at 491 Thames Street in Newport. For more information, go to coastalcontemporarygallery.com