Art magazine: ‘Bubblegum Pop’, Center BCA | Art review | Seven days

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  • Courtesy of Sam Simon
  • “Where the sun shines everyday” by Pip & Pop

During a recent visit to BCA Center, a girl under 6 looked out the window and exclaimed, “Don’t you just want to live there?” She was referring to Pip & Pop’s “Where the Sun Shines Every Day”, an installation in the downtown Burlington gallery’s new group show, “Bubblegum Pop”.

Pip & Pop is the working name of Australian artist Tanya Schultz, who finds inspiration in Heaven, the fulfillment of wishes and their forms embodied in myths and fairy tales. In his contribution to “Bubblegum Pop”, an apparent childhood utopia is created in stunning detail and cotton candy colors; mysterious creatures nestle among sugar blossoms under a sparkling curtain of colorful pearls and tassels.

This piece, which took over four weeks to install in the middle of BCA’s first-floor space facing Church Street – with virtual direction from Schultz – uses sugar, glitter, crystals, gems, foam and pearls for a dazzling and bewitching effect.

Parents may need to hurry young children out of the gallery after too many attempts to touch “Where the Sun Shines Every Day”. The work looks edible, although it sure wouldn’t taste very good. And despite the glitter, darker themes appear. Schultz overturns the sweet nature of art; viewers are urged to recognize the consequences of tasteless and endless consumption.

In the installation, some heads of creatures seem to grow among the flowers; others seem to blend into the ground. All have no other characteristics than the eyes; some don’t have eyes at all. The bead curtain that hangs above does not touch or connect to any of the creatures below.

The duality of “Where the sun shines every day” illustrates the themes set forth by the gallery of “Bubblegum Pop”: “nostalgia, youth, optimism and material abundance both as a celebration and an oblique criticism of contemporary society ”.

The simultaneous euphoria and subversive nightmare of Schultz’s installation echoed in two paintings by the New Jersey artist Jon rappleye. Part of his latest collection, titled “Pink Elephants”, these works explore the confusion and mixed emotions of simply existing in a strange reality. Rappleye uses a cartoon character with doe eyes and clown shoes to serve as the central conduit for this experiment.

Rappleye writes of his inspiration: “Old masters, decorative pastiches and cartoons are all treated with equal consideration.” This mishmash of classical realism and graphic and abstract art improbably speaks of innocence and its absence.

In Rappleye’s “Pocket Full of Posies,” the androgynous figure gazes over his shoulder at a mirror reflecting a meditative sunset (and strikingly resembles the view of Lake Champlain from Burlington). While the flowers from a vase fall to the ground, the character’s three eyes remain fixed on the mirror; small tears appear on her face. Of all the artwork in this exhibition, “Pocket Full of Posies” most vividly captures the emotional pinch of nostalgia.

Rappleye’s painting “Loss of Innocence” depicts a character in a static state of competing movements. Marked by the brushstrokes, his face appears to melt and fracture, with three eyes looking in different directions and two gaping mouths. A frolic lamb with rosy cheeks, tears streaming from its eyes, holds in its mouth a basket full of flowers.

The contrast of emotions here is startling; Rappleye associates childish joy with grief and uncertainty. The latter is evident in the main character’s feet, which appear to be moving but are pointing in different directions – and nowhere. The character appears to be in an almost painful state of metamorphosis, from naivety to worldly understanding.

In the back porch facing City Hall Park, visitors will immediately be drawn to the sounds of “Wanna Go Dancin (So Far Away)”, a song by the indie-pop group from Vermont / New York City the Smitten. The sextet’s ballad is playful and light, reminiscent of the sparkling sound of the Monkees of the 60s.

The languid feeling of missed connection and time wasted on the chewing gum chorus presents another duality. This soundtrack accompanies a graphic work, essentially a group poster, by member David Zacharis; each player appears in a pink bubble. Drawn in cartoon form, some members are accompanied by furry friends. The illustration is softly personal, encompassing the desire of a group, formed in 2002, to return to live performance.

In the same room, large-scale works of art from Vermonters Matt Neckers and Catherine wiegers face to face from opposite walls. These artists evoke nostalgia in surprisingly different ways to comment on the modern world.

Neckers’ multifaceted installation, titled “Perfect World: Familiar Robots and Their Animal Kindred”, is striking in both size and materials. Essentially, the piece is an assemblage of found metal and wood fragments, painted in bright primary colors. Small cut-out shapes – dinosaurs, trains, planes, a unicorn – suggest a child’s art project. And, indeed, the piece has an inviting and playful element: supported by magnets, all the figures are movable.

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"Perfect World: Familiar robots and their animal species" by Matt Neckers - COURTESY OF SAM SIMON

  • Courtesy of Sam Simon
  • “Perfect World: Familiar Robots and Their Animal Species” by Matt Neckers

Ironically titled, “Perfect World” also conveys the concept of lost innocence. Neckers’ roles as a teaching artist and father are clearly influential in his work. If his installation suggests at first glance a childish game, its overall message is sinister; most of the characters interact violently with each other. The lone unicorn, bright white, appears to have an expression of deep sadness.

Neckers writes that this sculpture evolved from “themes of chaos and helplessness [that he] felt in response to the pandemic and social unrest of the past year. His use of juvenile imagery is a powerful tool.

The theme of rapid and unstoppable change, especially environmental, informs about the magnificent five-panel mural by Wiegers “Fantastic Forest”. The self-taught painter from Vermont draws both stylistic and thematic inspiration from childhood stories in her depiction of an enchanting forest scene. The fantastic nature of this sunny forest is exemplified by a seven foot tall unicorn with an iridescent mane.

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"Fantastic forest" by Kathryn Wiegers - COURTESY OF SAM SIMON

  • Courtesy of Sam Simon
  • “Fantastic Forest” by Kathryn Wiegers

Other fairy-tale creatures also populate the wall painting: a red-crowned gnome, a floating fairy, a frog prince with a golden crown. But they inhabit this forest alongside endangered Vermont species in the real world. Without human intervention – soon – these forest dwellers can become mythical creatures themselves.

Wiegers uses the sun’s rays as a visual metaphor to convey this message. Shifting, light beams cross the canopy of trees, bathing the creatures to the left of the painting but stopping before the unicorn on the right. Creatures exposed to the sun still have a chance to recover through habitat restoration and restocking, but the light, Wiegers suggests, is fading.

At first glance, “Bubblegum Pop” looks like sparkling fun. But the exhibition questions and challenges our cultural perspectives in a troubling and trying time. Even as pandemic protocols lift, we reenter a world that remains full of uncertainty and anxiety – and that continues to pursue a lifestyle with costly environmental, economic and social repercussions. This exhibit invites us to look under the veneer and re-evaluate.