On9 Welcomes CWOS

Lucy Gellman PhotoFor one rainy night, the forlorn shell at the corner of Orange and Center Streets, once home to Bentara and now a display of stacked tables and chairs and a tiki bar collecting dust, was no longer so conspicuously vacant.

Neither was the storefront just down the street, where bartenders from the 9th Note doled out steaming hot toddies to cold visitors just a year ago as a jazz band wailed away in the background. 9th Note closed this past year, although a new arcade-bar is on its way to fill the space. In the meantime, artists Mark Williams and Aude Jomani had some temporary contributions on display.

Timed to coincide with and celebrate Artspace’s annual kickoff of City Wide Open Studios, Illuminate On9 took over Orange Street on Friday night, with one-shot displays like Old Bags’ provocative Untitled, a video display of women’s’ bodies with paper bags over their heads and scrolling text about body image, at the old Bentara. The work was joined by Jomani’s Flicker and Spin, a “portrait of a ghost,” and other works by the artist’s light-oriented contemporaries — Michael Barton-Sweeney, Teto Elsiddique, Joshua Graver, Susan Rogol, and Williams. 

These bright designs led wet and rain-weary walkers straight to Artspace’s front door at Orange and Crown, where they shook off the fall dampness and joined a 300-some-person celebration happening inside. While other businesses down the block participated despite the gloomy weather, the night belonged to Artspace — or rather, the network of artists it supports throughout the month of October — and its endless search for new and creative ways to present Elm City creatives.

This fall didn’t disappoint. Inside the small building, a madhouse of epic and wonderful proportions was well underway. In the main room, Helen Kauder, Artspace’s director, was attempting to corral over 350 artists, urging those in the first two rows to squat while a small press militia fiddled with their lenses and f-stops in the low light.

A little farther back, Evie Lindemann and a friend floated between rooms, stopping to muse over Colin Burke’s evocative All But June and Amie Ziner‘s Bird’s Nest Basket, fashioned with different species of invasive plants. Printmaker Allan Greenier joined her and then floated between rooms, explaining the color scheme of his piece to anyone who asked. Local artist Daniel Eugene sipped a glass of wine as he described his, a bright gold and blue geometric design that many saw as a new chapter in his work, and he saw as a logical progression. For them, the fun was just getting started. 

For Kauder and a small army of Artspace staff and volunteers, it is too. ”It’s a lot of small details to put together, but it’s so wonderful when the artists are here and all their work is on the walls, this variety of expressions, projects and ideas,” she said, taking a quiet moment in her back office as she spoke about the kickoff exhibitions and the artists involved in CWOS’ three jam-packed weekends this year.

And it worked. As they took in one work from each of CWOS’ 383 artists, viewers got a sort of visual amuse bouche, a preview of three glorious weekends — and works — that champion New Haven’s growing artistic community.

Like Silas Finch’s mixed media Shaking Out the Literal, a bible undulating violently with the press of a button.

... or Molly Gambardella’s whimsical Color Blend, a technical tour de force that didn’t forget to have a sense of humor.

Mohamad Hafez’ Call Upon Me drew on Syria past and present in a moving way, juxtaposing painstaking, gorgeous script and prison-like bars around the object.

... and Graham Honaker’s Adam & Eve Meet Cupid was an explosion of joy and intrigue that drew viewers with its form and Dada-lite aesthetic.

In addition to 120 new artists, viewers will have a chance to engage with these unconventional, sometimes sculptural objects, making this year’s CWOS the best yet, said Kauder.

“I’m so excited,” she added.

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