Against a loud backdrop of the Talking Heads’ pulsating “Road to Nowhere” and Teresa Fortsch’s “Brought it Out,” local artists Robert Greenberg and Katro Storm (pictured) picked up right where they had left off the last time they had seen each other.
Midway across the office space-turned-gallery, featured artist Andres Madariaga and Valerie Robalino grinned widely, poring over a checklist of the exhibition.
Other visitors prowled the small space eagerly, their mouths slightly open as if to say ... “Well, how did I get here?”
The lure Thursday night was twofold: one part new wave music or “art rock,” one part visual art that explored the farthest and funkiest reaches of pop culture while bringing New Haven’s creative minds together.
Uniting it was one title: Once in a Lifetime, conjuring a steady, sure beat in its name alone.
The occasion was an opening Thursday evening at the Arts Council’s Audubon Street offices for a new exhibition of local art that channels the spirit of musician David Byrne.
The brainchild of Stephen Grant (pictured above), Once in a Lifetime was enough to melt the February chill as artists, art lovers and old friends rubbed shoulders (quite literally) and banded together to explore the exhibition.
The new exhibition was Inspired by Byrne’s How Music Works – a book that Grant, a first-time curator as well as director of communications at The Arts Council of Greater New Haven, describes as a “textbook,” but may be more of a holy tome. For the exhibit, he paired seven emerging artists with the Talking Heads’ still-celebrated song, producing something that is surprisingly conceptually tight.
That tightness comes from the most unlikely of places: a nonsensical looseness and unpredictability characteristic of Byrne’s lyrics and flinty yet playful musical stylings.
Carefully hung in The Arts Council’s intimate offices, the 28 works (four by each artist) create an experience not unlike the song and accompanying video.
“Byrne put together cultural dance movements that would never traditionally be paired,” Grant explained, referencing his choice to cover mixed media, abstract art, painting, photography and collage.
The artists took the same sort of cue. With one look at Lisa Daly’s “Same As It Ever Was” beside André Eamiello’s “Static Scape,” a viewer can imagine the two discussing processes, comparing notes and learning from each other side by side in a smoothly running if not unlikely studio. Daly, whose works in the exhibition are framed entirely around the song, explained: “I found that working within a structure, having an idea to focus on and artists to work with ... that allowed for more creativity. It was a great way to dive in.”
The exhibition urged artists – and their viewers – to think across media and meaning. Painter Teresa Fortsch considered it an opportunity to celebrate one of her favorite bands while exploring a delicious melding of techniques, explaining: “I’m considered an abstract expressionist, but I also consider myself a collage artist. Some of these pieces are multi-layered between gel mediums [sic], acrylic paint, charcoal, ink, vintage papers.”
Andres Madariaga (pictured) saw the show as a chance to consider music’s impact on visual art more broadly, explaining of his “My Eternal Heart of Glass”: “Looking at the video [for “Once in a Lifetime”], I wanted to know how to represent more ideas through music. My work is about finding symbolism. Each person will come out with a totally different meaning, and I wanted to focus on that ... the connection and inspiration people get.” His “Linger on, You Pale Blue Eyes,” paying homage to the Velvet Underground, suggests that the exhibition may have spurred a theme.
So did Grant succeed in his mission “to create a show that embodied Byrne’s desire to make music never sound the same”?
Yes. Perhaps because in the words of Byrne, “The world isn’t logical, it’s a song.”
“It’s been a while since I had contemporary art in my life,” Christian Roden, a visiting graduate student, said of the show. “But it’s a very good thing. Its nice to be reminded of the more complex side of art…and of human nature.” New Havener Andrew Gullins added: “It’s downright groovy, how they’ve opened the offices up to the community for art.”
It is a strong curatorial debut, doubly impressive since Grant conceived of the exhibition in late November. He was able to do so, he explained with an infectious excitement, because of The Art Council’s support and enthusiasm for the project, and for New Haven. “I am blessed to have artists using the idea of art inspired by music,” he said, referring to Lisa Daly, Andrzej Dutkanicz, Andre Eamiello, Teresa Fortsch, Andres Madariaga, Nick Robinson and Alexandra Shaheen, who make the exhibition sing just as loudly as Byrne would have intended. He added: “We are celebrating art, and celebrating each other. It is a dream come true ... to show what New Haven is all about.”
That vision – to make the interplay of visual art and music part of what New Haven is continually all about – lived on after the opening, at New Haven’s Ordinary on Chapel Street. There, co-owner Timothy Cabral mixed Byrne-inspired drinks like the bubbly, smooth “Water Flowing Underground” and sweet, smoky “Under the Rocks and Stones” as patrons swayed to the dulcet tones of Brian Kiss.
The venture is one of many to increase participation in Arts Council events, which will soon include a revamped Artspot, a seasonal art-themed happy hour intended to bring together artists and art enthusiasts from around the greater New Haven Area.
While the show may have been a once in a lifetime experience, Grant is far from finished with his mission to bring New Haveners together in the name of art. “I’ve been bit by the curatorial bug and would love to keep going.” He added gleefully: “It’s not a coincidence that this show ends on the first day of spring. It’s just a beginning.”
Once in a Lifetime will run at Sumner McKnight Crosby Jr. Gallery until March 21, 2014. You can read more on Grant’s exhibition blog.