Out of the closet: Mary Giehl’s crystal vest and crystal skirt provide a shimmering aura to her OCC exhibit.
Mary Giehl’s one-woman exhibit at
Onondaga Community College moves on two fronts. The show clearly has
its own identity and also connects to a larger body of work.
For quite a few years, Giehl has
created installations and sculptures that discuss children and
childhood but do so without straight-on depictions of a child. One
previous installation, for example, presented small chairs with no one
sitting in them, prompting viewers to consider two questions: Where are
the children? How do we treat children? Another work centered on a
bathtub, usually thought of as an enjoyable space with splashing water
and rubber toys, and gave the tub a radical twist. The installations
linked visually and thematically, as they sought to jot viewers out of
The OCC show, now on display in the Gallery at the Ann
Felton Multicultural Center, presents 23 figures and objects, some
quite small. Most of them suggest some aspect of childhood. An object
decorated with straps could be an Easter basket. Another object with a
protruding muzzle seems to suggest a furry animal, a child’s toy. And
there are pieces communicating some notion of tiny socks, a child’s
shirt or sweater, or a necklace. Beyond that, the exhibition presents
some figures with childlike features.
Every piece is made from a crystal substance, and the
decision to use that material is significant. For one thing, each piece
is quite hard. A caption next to one work invites viewers to gently
touch it, and it’s easy to confirm that hardness. That quality
contrasts with the usual perceptions of children as soft creatures
needing affection and hugging. For another, the pieces aren’t rock
solid: A hammer blow would shatter each of them. Here, the show seems
to reference the idea of children’s utter vulnerability.
In the middle of the gallery, Giehl has
positioned five stand-up pieces on a pedestal, with each piece
straddling a glass surface right above a light bulb. Thus, each piece
is illuminated, with light shining within it and then outward. In
viewing the pieces, it’s easy to think of children as the light of the
world, to consider each child as beautiful in her or his own right.
The show affirms that view while also
alluding to the fact that life is far from ideal for every child.
Indeed, far too many children’s ability to shine is compromised by
inadequate medical care or nutrition, or even physical or emotional
abuse. The exhibition doesn’t offer this as an A-B-C statement; Giehl’s
shows communicate subtly and indirectly. However, they do confront
Like past shows featuring Giehl’s work, the OCC
exhibition isn’t intended for easy or casual viewing. It challenges
viewers to fully consider the pieces, even when some of them don’t fit
into a straightforward pattern. It asks viewers to engage with matters
that aren’t easy to discuss.
At the same time, the show reflects
Giehl’s inventive approach to design and choice of materials. It again
demonstrates it’s possible to keep working in a specific artistic area
without growing stale or repetitive.
This exhibition, both visually and
emotionally compelling, runs through Nov. 12. The Gallery at the Ann
Felton Multicultural Center is located on the lower level of OCC’s
Storer Auditorium. The gallery is open Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m.
to 4 p.m. For more information, call 498-2787.