Art is meant to be innovative, thought-provoking, and transformative. These words only begin to describe the three new exhibits that opened last Friday at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield. On view through April 22, the exhibits offer a reflection of how the artists see the world as they delve deeper into their respective subjects.

The line between art and life blur in the unconventional Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley: Your Turn as the Aldrich becomes an architectural environment. Collaborators for over a decade, Schweder and Shelley physically have taken up residence since Sept. 30 (and plan to continue through Oct. 8) and to be followed by additional residencies in December, in a 23x23-foot construction they built for the museum to perform life’s daily routines in public view.

“I was always fascinated by their work, particularly the performance aspect. Also, the idea that the artist will be living on the structure for extended periods and interacting with the public really reinforces our mission of presenting the work of living artists,” curator Richard Klein said.

Two ancillary pieces include a video and Mylar paintings of the artists’ past projects.

The powerful exhibit introduces performance architecture, a genre formulated by Schweder and Shelley. They fuse the boundaries between architecture, sculpture, design and performance to explore social space and how architecture influences human behavior. Occupying opposing sides of a monolith, the artists become living art. As they partake in daily tasks and engage visitors in conversation, Schweder and Shelley comment on partnership and maintaining social balance while sharing resources in a confined space.

Klein said the exhibit is based on cooperation: “Also, the structure in many ways is a wall. The parties on either side of it have to interact and respect each other.”

Anissa Mack: Junk Kaleidoscope celebrates the 20th anniversary of The Fair, a multifaceted project realized in 1996 and 2006, and reimagined at the Aldrich through all new objects,  exposing the relationship between the history of art-making and culture of collecting.

“Conceived as a commemorative portrait, the exhibition adopts the framework of the fair, a favorite American entertainment,” curator Amy Smith-Stewart said.

A native of Guilford, Mack produces a complex, multi-layered exhibit incorporating collage, painting, sculpture, curation and social practice. Her evolution as an artist is viewed through arts and crafts categories from county fairs, including the Durham Fair, the largest agricultural fair in Connecticut, in addition to her own categories. Mack said, fairs “serve as fascinatingly complex archives that mirror both America and the art world.”   

Smith-Stewart explains the title, Junk Kaleidoscope, is a metaphor of the exhibition’s significance.

“Mack’s approach to art-making is unabashedly diverse and her adventurous installation feels as though the artworks could be endlessly rearranged, mirroring the journeys traveled by small-scale objects within our homes,” Smith-Stewart said. The artist re-works the ‘junk of the world’ into a fascinating installation supported by hobby traditions. “By embedding herself within the fair experience, its prismatic subculture, its clichéd strangeness, and spectacular absurdity, Mack absorbed its system of classification for her own reinvention."  

A committee of voluntary participants will collaborate with Mack, selectively re-hanging work halfway through the show.

“The collaborative effort poses a valuable educational reveal and an opportunity to make transparent a behind-the-scenes process that rarely involves members of the audience,” Smith-Stewart said. “Mack moves fluidly between artist and maker, curator and educator, in order to interrogate how, with the circulation of objects from the fair to the marketplace, from the institution to the home, they become reincarnated as new meanings surface with dramatic swings in context.”

A third exhibit, Shared Space: A New Era, is an insightful presentation of photographs and videos from 1987 through 2010, highlighting the world’s social, economic, and political climate. Contemporary artists from twelve countries comment on the world post-Cold War and the new age of globalization.

“It reveals that artists all over the world are looking at the same issues: globalization, the environment, urbanization, economic growth, technological change, etc.,” Klein said.

The exhibition was curated by Lillian Lambrechts from the Bank of America Collection. It’s on loan from its Art in our Communities program.  

To expose their meaning, the artists capture a variety of sites, including urban and rural landscapes, homes and backyards, city streets and plazas, ports and terminals showing the  interconnectedness of the world and the way international communication has reached new heights during that time span.

“In the past thirty years, photography is the leading medium in presenting the reality of globalism,” Klein said. He adds the exhibit highlights how photography has changed over the same period, moving into the mainstream as an art form and competing with painting as a way of describing the world.

The impact of a global economy is reflected in Sze Tsung Leong’s cityscapes, the rapid transformation and subsequent disintegration of modern architecture is felt in Thomas Ruff’s and Günther Förg’s photographs. Even though technology bonds humanity, Ben Gest’s Jessica & Samantha reveals the psychological disconnect between family members. The show invokes viewers to see the division that still exists in the new world as well as understand how each individual has an effect on this shared space.

“I think it will leave the viewer with a sense of how we do indeed need to share the world," Klein said. "Particularly as the world’s population grows and we have to deal with shrinking resources and the potential for conflict.”

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