This fall, Syracuse sculptor Arlene Abend’s work is receiving a double dose of exposure. The Edgewood Gallery is hosting a retrospective exhibit, The Sculpture of Arlene Abend: Representing Over 30 Years of Creating in Resin, Bronze and Steel. Complementing that exhibition is Stretching Boundaries—The Life Work of Sculptor Arlene Abend, an hour-long video premiering Dec. 4 at the Everson Museum of Art.
The Edgewood exhibit liberally samples Abend’s sculptures, presenting works ranging from a piece which depicts a male-female duo and references Adam and Eve to “Spinoff,” whose elements—steel, wood and copper—play off each other. “Remnants,” a series of three objects that have deteriorated, is on display, and so is “Illusion,” in which a quite long female figure is encased or confined by a box-like exterior, made from resin, a form of wax. There’s a full display of metal and castresin artworks.
In addition, the exhibition fully discusses and documents the artist’s approach to narrative.
Abend has emphatically stated that she doesn’t “own” the narratives for her works. Once she finishes a piece and it’s on display, it’s up to viewers to draw their own conclusions.
And so, “The Sentinel” isn’t a figurative piece. The metal figure doesn’t wear a uniform or swing a sword. Yet he evokes a soldier, possibly a member of a palace guard or ancient Rome’s Praetorian Guard. A second work, “The Tourists,” presents two small figures representing humans standing by a structure easily seen as a tall building. Where they are and what they’re doing is open to discussion and speculation. A third piece, “Hidden,” sets up a façade with small, blunt objects within. It’s possible to interpret them as warheads or bullets or other objects.
The notion of narrative is particularly relevant in several small, cast-resin works. Here tiny stick figures, made of steel and clearly human-like, inhabit a space and create minirealities. “Playland” conveys an exuberant mood as the figures dance and enjoy a party. “Emerging,” meanwhile, presents several figures that have climbed up from primordial ooze; other figures observe them. The piece seems to touch on evolution.
And “If They Knew” definitely has an open-ended narrative. On one hand, the artwork shows figures being deceived and destroyed. On the other, the viewer has to consider larger implications. What is the piece saying about human nature?
This exhibit continues a long artistic career, one extending more than 30 years. Abend has shown her work at various local venues: at the Limestone Gallery in Fayetteville, at the Everson Museum as part of a Ceramics National exhibit, at the now-defunct Delavan Art Gallery. She’s ventured outside Central New York by having pieces hung in galleries in Rochester and New York City.
She’s also done a bunch of commissioned pieces; she has work in the town of DeWitt’s 9/11 Memorial, at Carousel Center, One Park Place downtown, Auburn Memorial Hospital and at other sites. For her, doing commissioned artworks hasn’t led to a compromise of artistic quality. It’s been a positive experience.
“I’ve been very fortunate with my commissions,” she says. “In general, I’ve had a great deal of freedom in doing this work. I find it to be stimulating. It stretches me, pushes me in directions where I don’t usually go.”
Rounding up commissioned works and trucking them over to the gallery wasn’t possible.
However, Courtney Rile and Mike Barletta of Daylight Blue Media Group shot video of some of those pieces and incorporated it into their documentary. That project also includes excerpts from interviews with Abend and other subjects, footage of her working in her studio, and video of the opening reception at Edgewood. The documentary discusses her artistic career at length and tries to put it into perspective.
In addition, Stretching Boundaries reflects the video artists’ affection for their subject. Years ago Barletta met Abend when he was active in The Institution of a Now Culture (ThINC), a group that promoted local art and staged exhibitions at various sites. “We were a bunch of kids, but she was willing to work with us,” he says. “When we talked to her about displaying her work, she said yes. She trusted us to handle her sculptures. I see the documentary as a way of giving back to her.”
Rile, in turn, met the artist during receptions at the Delavan Art Gallery. “I’m impressed by her honesty, by her integrity of character,” she says. “I’m happy we’re involved in helping to tell her story.”
Rile and Barletta will screen Stretching Boundaries at the Everson Museum, 401 Harrison St., on Saturday, Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. Abend’s solo exhibition at Edgewood continues on display through Dec. 31. The gallery, located at 216 Tecumseh Road, is open Tuesdays through Fridays, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call 445-8111.