Light Work Gallery celebrates four decades with 40 Artists/40 Years, a wide-open group exhibition featuring artworks representing every year the venue has been open. It displays images from a roster of artists whose work reflects varied influences. Most of all, the show explains and emphasizes the rationale for Light Work’s birth in 1973: supporting artists in creating their images.
Light Work has accomplished that mission through exhibits, publications, and a long-running, artist-in-residence program. Dozens of photographers have used a 30-day residency to focus solely on their work; some completed a significant project during that time.
A list of those artists includes individuals who have exhibited their works at museums and galleries across the United States and abroad. Yet, the exhibit isn’t about name dropping. Carrie Mae Weems and Cindy Sherman, two nationally known artists, don’t receive special attention in the show. Each has one image on display and so do 38 other photographers.
Beyond the notion of artists’ access, the exhibition develops other themes. For example, it demonstrates that Light Work long ago adopted a broadbased approach to presenting photos.
The show has a slice of documentary photography: Marilyn Nance’s image portraying an anti-apartheid rally; Tony Gleaton’s fine photo depicting a Mexican fisherman, his wife and child; a shot from Jim Goldberg’s “Rich & Poor” series.
As part of that project, Goldberg photographed and interviewed people living in run-down housing in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. After processing prints, he invited subjects to write comments on them.
Other photographers followed a very different creative direction. Willie Middlebrooks played with the development process, giving his images a painterly touch. Renee Cox reinterpreted Michelangelo’s famous “Pieta” sculpture. And the exhibit encompasses portraits, images of rural areas in upstate New York and Louisiana, photos based on an artist’s personal experience, and other genres.
The show does a fine job of communicating the diversity inherent in Light Work’s collection. At the same time, displaying just one image by each photographer poses limitations. A viewer looking at Chan Chao’s sole photo will find it difficult to get a sense of his work; he documented armed rebels living in Burma’s countryside. That problem is unavoidable. A 40-image exhibit can’t begin to explain 40 photographers’ work. It can only sample a collection consisting of thousands of photos.
In addition, 40 Artists/40 Years, in conjunction with other exhibitions, discusses how Light Work has positioned itself in two camps, one national and one local. The show alludes to relationships with artists who live around the country. It first opened on the road, in a gallery at Syracuse University’s Lubin House in New York City. Beyond that, there are ties with galleries in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and other cities.
Local connections stretch well beyond Light Work’s status as an independent arts organization based on the SU campus. Each year, Light Work awards grants to three photographers living in the Central New York region. A current exhibition presents images created by the 2013 grant recipients: Laura Heyman, Jared Landberg and Janice Levy.
A third exhibit, Imperfect Memories, features Syracuse photographer Marna Bell’s recent work. She sets up everyday scenes, positions her camera before a flickering screen and creates photos dominated by blurred people or blurred shapes. An image of several people standing in close proximity to each other comes off as a rumble, a dangerous situation. Other photos seem confused, eerie, even nightmarish.
In creating these images, Bell isn’t trying to foster a climate of paranoia. Instead, she’s dealing with how we comprehend events, how much we remember, and the impact of memory on our lives. It’s an ambitious, highly individualized project, one that fits in nicely with the principal themes of 40 Artists/40 Years.
All three exhibits will be on display through Oct. 25 at Light Work, 316 Waverly Ave. A reception will be held on Sept. 26 from 5 to 7 p.m. In addition, the gallery is open Sundays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6p.m. For more information, call 443-1300.