Abstract Artists Show Their 'Juice' In New NBMAA Exhibit

The new exhibit at New Britain Museum of American Art has work by 40 prominent contemporary abstract artists, their works all hung densely, salon-style, in the cozy Davis Gallery. The artists in "This One's Optimistic: Pincushion," approach their work from a wide variety of perspectives, but curator Cary Smith says they all have one thing in common: "the juice."

"I'm not interested in technical ability. I'm interested in the ability to get down to things that matter. It's originality. It's the life energy I look for. It's the juice," said Smith, an artist who lives in Farmington. "What can you invent that feels meaningful to me, that I can sit and chew on. ... What I am looking for is, are you someone who is adding to the overall equation?"

"The juice" comes in many forms. B. Wurtz brings it out with his quirky paintings on the bottoms of disposable aluminum cooking pans bought at the supermarket. "He blurs the line between painting and sculpture," Smith said. "I love the slightness of them. They seem effortless, but I really feel it when I look at it, a deep emotional energy while at the same time very intellectual."

In Keith Mayerson's art, Smith sees a "clumsy painterly quality. I love the humanity in that. It's not slick."

In the abstracted figurative works by Joshua Abelow, there is humor. "He makes fun of himself. There is absurdity there," Smith said. In the vivid color smear of Daniel Hesidence, Smith sees "an exquisite ugliness." In the hypnotically prismatic works by Xylor Jane, he sees "light glowing in her work." James Siena "sets up visual and math algorithms, then lets them evolve."

And in Joanne Greenbaum, he sees "a complete insanity that makes sense."

In the found-object wall-mounted sculptures of Tamara Zahaykevich, he sees "the courage to be willing to do anything that crosses her mind."

Zahaykevich, he said, is not alone in her artistic fearlessness. All the artists, Smith said, are unafraid to take chances. "Taking chances tends to pay off," he said. "Even if you fail, you tend to find stuff."

In addition to the "This One's Optimistic" exhibit, Smith has been given a wall in an upstairs gallery to showcase his own work.

Smith said the odd title of the exhibit comes from two sources. "A pincushion is a unit with a lot of sharp points entering it, pointing in a similar direction. These works are intense points, pointing in a direction I see," he said. "This one's optimistic is from the Radiohead song 'Optimistic.' 'If you try the best you can, if you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough.' ... Artists say what they believe with their lives. I see that as trying the best you can."

The exhibit, in addition to showcasing artists, is an homage to two people who have had an influence on Smith: the late New York gallerist Hudson — "He was not known for selling art, he was known for selecting artists," Smith said — and artist Jennifer Wynne Reeves, who has work in the show and who is now battling brain cancer.

Other artists in the exhibit are John Phillip Abbott, Lisa Beck, Trudy Benson, Timothy Bergstrom, Michael Berryhill, Ross Bleckner, Todd Chilton, Steve DiBenedetto, Amy Feldman, Michelle Grabner, Joanne Greenbaum, Clare Grill, Adam Henry, Bill Komoski, Joshua Marsh, Chris Martin, Andrew Masullo, Douglas Melini, Tom Nozkowski, Carl Ostendarp, Ann Pibal, Josh Podoll, Lisa Sanditz, Alexander Ross, Julie Ryan, Jackie Saccoccio, Russell Tyler, Dan Walsh, Chuck Webster, Garth Weiser, Stanley Whitney and Michael Williams

"THIS ONE'S OPTIMISTIC: PINCUSHION" will be at New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington St. in New Britain, until Sept. 14. Museum hours are Monday , Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Details and admission: www.nbmaa.org