reviews of exhibitions at two new Savannah art galleries

When was the last time a local art piece or exhibition stopped you in your tracks, demanding that it be given your attention?

It’s happened only a handful of times for me over the last few years: Walking into the main gallery at Suzanne Jackson’s retrospective at the Jepson Center; seeing Jerome Meadows’ sculptural installation “Of Communities and the Land and the Trees that Bear Witness to Them” at Enmarket Arena for the first time; Katherine Sandoz’s “Katniss,” also at the Jepson Center. 

In December, I wrote about Samantha Mack’s “Things Removed” project at Studio Capilla, and how it completely took me off guard. And just last month Will Penny’s “Nothing To Fear” at Laney Contemporary didn’t exactly stop me in my tracks, so much as invade my thoughts for about a week afterwards. I’ll count that exhibition as well.

That isn’t to say that there haven’t been many, many, many great shows in Savannah since I’ve been writing about art in this space. Just that for each of us, as art viewers, there are going to be times when something is so impactful that it literally forces us to momentarily hold our breath, causes our mouths to drop open, and we can’t help but trail off from whatever conversation we may have been having.

Last week, when I visited Gallery 2424 to review its (spoiler alert!) excellent group show “One By One,” it happened again, when I stepped in front of Jordan Fitch Mooney’s “Thoughts Invasive.”

As is the case with any piece with the power to truly move us, it’s difficult to recreate said experience in mere words on a page. One could say it portrays, in black and white charcoal, acrylic, pen, and ink, two bunches of long, criss-crossing DNA-like strands, one coming from the top of each corner of the paper, which are connected by fibrous lines, atop a semi-geometric gridded background, negative space that the artist has blurred and distorted. I can’t imagine that run-on sentence, however, has moved you too much, unless you’re a fan of hifalutin art lingo designed to sound smart. 

More plainly, the work perfectly represents the title, at least to me. I look at it and see into my own head. Even as I’m writing this very article (and while I’m writing anything, to be honest), invasive thoughts are a constant plague, the product of my adult ADHD. I have no idea if Fitch Mooney contends with the same challenges I do in that department, but when being impacted by art, does that even matter? Yes, I like to know the artist’s “point,” but I usually like to delve into those details after the fact, so as to allow myself an unspoiled first viewing.

In the case of “Thoughts Invasive,” I’m curious what the artist thinks. But I’m almost tempted to never ask him about it, just so I can keep the piece as it is forever in my head and heart.

Fitch Mooney’s isn’t the only great piece in the neophyte gallery’s first group exhibition: Maria Garces’ “Querida Fugaz No. 1” and “Sopresitas” by Marcel Sinnett are other highlights. If I’m being honest, however, “Thoughts Invasive” is what I’m hoping to find every time I go see art: Something after which I’ve seen it I’m forever changed. If there’s a chance that either his or another piece in “One By One” might have that impact on you, do you really want to skip seeing the show?

Gallery 2424 is located at 2424 Drayton St. in Savannah. Open Saturday and Sunday, 1-4 p.m. and by appointment. through April 5.

“HeartStryngs” group exhibition at the new ArtStryngs Gallery and Studio

The newly-opened ArtStryngs Gallery and Studio is half of a larger independent art and music complex (the other half being Suntone Recording Studio), and is comprised of several upstairs multi-use workspaces, along with a contemporary art gallery on the ground floor. It’s a passion project of Rebecca Wyatt and her artist/musician son Adam Wyatt, a SCAD graduate.

The gallery itself is akin to the type you’d see in most major cities, the so-called “white box” with high walls and lots of lighting, plus a few pieces of tasteful designer furniture. Big windows face Liberty Street, although the gallery has smartly installed electronic blinds to contend with Savannah blistering summer sun.

For their first exhibition, they’ve wisely chosen to go the way of the group show, which was organized and co-curated by the elder Wyatt along with Gallery and Studio Coordinator Victoria Paterno. Paterno is a recent SCAD grad and this is her first gallery position, having previously worked primarily as a freelance photographer.

“HeartStryngs” shows the promise of what the space might be, exhibiting a wide variety of local art in what immediately becomes, structurally, one of the best designed galleries in the city. Through the exhibition, I can imagine what someone like graffiti artist and muralist Alfredo Martinez might do if given free range in ArtStryngs, or how incredible a show of works by any or all of the talented women at Dreamhouse Studios could look in the space.

This exhibition doesn’t reach those imaginary heights, of course, nor should that be the expectation. But it does showcase a nice mix of beloved local artists like Peter Roberts and Jazz Howington, alongside talented folks who were new to me, including Caleb Williamson and Grayson Harris. 

Paterno told me that Williamson has a background in designing band posters, which makes sense given that he’s showing a series of psychedelic “Moon Garden” drawings. He’s one who I hope the duo at ArtStryngs consider bringing back to do something more, because the thought of seeing his world come to life on a massive scale in that particular space is tantalizing. 

In talking with Paterno and Victoria Wyatt, it’s not clear that my highest hopes for the gallery will ever materialize: Wyatt specifically mentioned that part of the reason they created the space was to cater to SCAD students needing a place for their thesis shows, meaning at least some of the work to be shown there will be “pay to play,” so to speak. This is, after all, a commercial enterprise, and the Wyatt’s have clearly invested a lot of money to make the place special.

ArtStryngs is special, and I’ve seen some pretty great pay-for shows, so I’m fairly confident this will end up being a place I’ll want to visit fairly often, regardless. But my hope is that the pair takes some chances too, and lets some Savannah artists loose on the space.

ArtStryngs Gallery and Studio, 530 East Liberty St., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday; extended hours for special events. “HeartStryngs” goes through April 6.

An artist and author, Rob Hessler is a regular contributor to DO Savannah and Savannah Morning News’ arts and culture pages.

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