“Shuffle & Shake” Dances With Time

Allan Appel PhotoThis Dr. Seussian hat is not in “Shuffle & Shake,” the playful new show that combines painting, photography, mixed media, and a literary installation at the Arts Council’s Sumner McKnight Crosby Jr. Gallery on Audubon Street.

Yet all the nine artists in the show owe the lucky hat a debt of gratitude as their names, written on small slips of white paper, were randomly chosen out of more than 600 fellow members of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven.

Gallery PhotoThe quirky idea of randomly selecting artists belongs to Debbie Hesse, the council’s longtime programming maven. She wanted to experiment with new ideas and formats that also might involve artists who don’t usually show at the council or participate in its programs.

“Often the same artists participate in our annual members’ show, yet there are so many artists in the region who we just don’t know,” she wrote in an email to explain her curatorial approach.

Gallery PhotoThe random selection was so much fun that Hesse and the council are doing it twice. The first batch of randomly selected artists show their stuff through Aug. 4. Part 2 of “Shuffle & Shake” begins on Aug. 11 and runs through Sept. 8., with a closing reception on that date at 5 p.m.

Allan Appel PhotoAmong the lucky selectees are artists who have never participated before, though they are members of the council. They include Jen Payne, a poet who has contributed a literary installation of three poems about evanescence set off by an upside-down stopped clock.

The show is a lot of fun. For those of us obsessed with randomness, it’s especially interesting that so many of the artists whose names and works turned up seem to deal with time, time travel, and evanescence, whether it’s Payne and her poems, Hank Paper and his large photographs, Eileen Eder and her fuzzy, mesmerizing, dream-like oil paintings, or Tony Falcone and his space-time astronomical phantasmagorias.

While most of the annual member shows feature lots of artists who are able to show only one or two works in the gallery’s limited space, “Shuffle & Shake” offers the selected artists a whole wall or portion of a wall to show a solid sampling of their works, not just a smidgen. When Payne, a graphic designer, discovered she had a whole section of wall assigned to her, she added the stopped and broken clock as a unifying visual element for her three poems, all of which strive to use language to lasso time as it relentless gallops away from us.

Once the idea of randomness begins to sit on your shoulder as you tour the space, all kinds of odd coincidences emerge.

The larger formatted works that greet you as you enter the gallery’s main corridor —  Paper’s oversized color photographs and Eder’s Cezanne-influenced oil paintings — are both contemplations of Italy. Paper’s are large images of the streets of Venice. Eder’s are landscapes, with a focus on mountain views of the Italian countryside.

Cindy Clair, the council’s executive director, guessed that the organization has about 600 members. Some 80 percent are visual artists. The rest are musicians, playwrights, or other kinds of writers, like the Branford-based Payne. What are the odds that two of the nine artists selected randomly from Hesse’s hat would submit views of Italy?

And what are the chances of a randomly selected show turning up so many artists who seem to be addressing the subject of randomness in its various disguises?

I refuse to believe that randomness and fleetingness are simply, like love and death, big subjects of art. No, there must be something more.

Has some of the eerie luck or other element percolating through this show rubbed off on yours truly? Should I go out and buy a lottery ticket? When I win, how should I split my new millions with the artists?

Stay tuned.

Other artists in the first round of “Shuffle & Shake” not mentioned above include Kathy Conway, Maris Fiondella, Alice Merlone, and Regina Thomas. The exhibition’s second round includes John Arabolos, Jennifer Davies, Kathleen DeMeo, Katie Henderson, Suzan Shutan, Marcela Staudenmaier, and Mary Wolfe.

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