The words “modern love” evoke a variety of emotions, so an art show devoted to the phrase is bound to be complicated. In Modern Love, up at the Gutstein Gallery until August 20, there’s a lot going on, and the theme doesn’t seem to fit the majority of the works in the exhibition.
Modern Love is a juried exhibition with over a hundred works by SCAD faculty, alumni, student and staff. The show synopsis notes that the artwork is inspired by David Bowie’s song “Modern Love.” However, there are just three pieces in the show that directly reference Bowie: Marv Graf’s mannequin, “Ziggy Stardust;” Bernie Thompson’s bracelet “Starman: Flight of the F1-11;” and Jamie Zerillo’s Polaroid photos, “Young Americans.”
Searching for Bowie references in the rest of the work feels akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. I found myself analyzing each piece harder than usual, looking with an overly critical eye but finding nothing. I felt as though I was at the wrong show. I made it through half of the gallery before I realized that Bowie was not the focal point.
In the absence of Bowie, the theme turns to the actual words “modern love.” That includes more of the work, like Audra Canestrari’s photographs “Last Picture Together Love” and “Stage 4 Sister Love.” There are several works that address the idea of love beyond romance, which feels like a modern thought and fits the theme.
However, a lot of the work doesn’t fit the theme in the slightest, and if it does, it’s more in the artists’ personal interpretation than in what a viewer could see. For instance, Tim Kent’s painting “Pink Blue Chroma” uses both pink and blue, which could be seen as an attempt to explore gender dynamics in love. The work itself doesn’t support that idea, though—it simply presents two different colors and leaves the rest of the interpretation to the viewer.
So much of the work in this show follows this pattern that it begs the question: Why place a constraining theme on such a diverse show?
I had to do a lot of mental gymnastics to figure out this show, and when I realized that the work didn’t all revolve around modern love, I felt confused. For instance, one of the most captivating pieces in the show is Caitlin Albritton’s “Raw Scrape,” an acrylic and mixed media piece that is literally a raw scrape. The layers of paint peel away to reveal the panel underneath in a visceral, realistic way. The pale pink top layer resembles skin, so the scrape feels authentic. But is it a remark on how love is painful, or does it mean something else, or anything at all?
Perhaps the issue with the theme for this show is that all the buzzwords mean very different things to the artists—they were left to their own interpretations and the work became too personal and subjective to apply to the theme.
I can’t emphasize enough that all the work in this show is incredible, thought-provoking and very well done. It’s a remarkable body of work that deserves to be seen. However, it’s a disservice to the art and the artists that the theme doesn’t support the work.