OPENING RECEPTION: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2017, 6 – 9 PM
“Americana” is commonly associated with nostalgia, optimism, and a rose-tinted view of the past. Images of baseball, stars, and stripes, or apple pie may come to mind. But what does Americana look like in 2017, especially in today’s turbulent political times? Curated across two broad spectrums – people and land/architecture – Americana offers a complex vision of diversity, resilience, and distinctiveness as seen through the eyes of 26 contemporary artists from across the United States. Juror: Darren Ching, Director, and Co-Owner of Klompching Gallery (New York).
David Bowman, Frederick Brashear Jr., Derrick Burbul, Annette LeMay Burke, Chelsea Darter, Virgil DiBiase, Steven Duede, Brian Emery, Shawna Gibbs, Ruth Grimes, Linda Guenther, Joseph Heathcott, Ethan Jones, Michael Joseph, R. J. Kern, Chae Kihn, Eric Kunsman, Andy Mattern, Bruce Morton, Kathryn Mussallem, Mark Neumann, Ernest Nitka, Project Barbatype (Scott Hilton and Bryan Wing), Parker Reinecker, Jeffrey Stockbridge, & Andrea Wenglowskyj.
ABOUT DARREN CHING, DIRECTOR + CO-OWNER OF KLOMPCHING GALLERY
Darren Ching is the owner of Klompching Gallery, established with Debra Klomp Ching in New York City. The gallery specializes in the sale and exhibition of contemporary fine art photography, representing an international roster of artists—placing artworks into numerous private, corporate and public collections. Mr. Ching’s involvement in photography spans nearly two decades and includes, panel presentations, jurying of competitions, consulting, design, and contributing to both online and print publications on the subject. Formerly the Creative Director of Photo District News (PDN), where for sixteen years he established the design direction of the magazine and was a perennial judge for its annual PDN’s 30 Emerging Photographers issue. He is an Adjunct Faculty member at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York, and an External Examiner for the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Recently, Mr. Ching served as a Guest Critic for the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) MFA Photography Final Projects and at Parsons School of Design in New York, critiquing BFA Editorial Design projects. Additionally, Mr. Ching works as a freelance designer specializing in photography-based projects, and as a consultant offering advice and career strategies to all levels of photographers.
Americana, in its broadest sense, can be defined as a means by which to encapsulate the essence of America—as a place, a people, a time, a culture and an ideal. It’s commonly associated with a pervasive nostalgia, filled with optimism, innocence, and a rose-tinted view of the past. What often comes to mind for me are ephemera—baseball, stars and stripes, vintage Coca-Cola signage, postcards of shriners parades—illustrated memories used as an idealistic signpost, to guide the aggregate psyche of the country.
This photographic exhibition, in many ways, evidence and solidifies this very broad viewpoint. However, considering the very complex political context in which we find ourselves in 2017, the selection of photographs goes some way to question, what could be viewed as a veneer of America. Time and the dominant values of the country will ultimately decide if the messages in these photographs will prevail. The exhibition is curated across two broad spectrums: people, and land and architecture.
The people—portraits are capable of expressing the current collective condition of America. Sheer patriotism is expressed through Kathryn Mussallem’s The Ladies’ Auxiliary, showing a group of women proudly brandishing the flag, and Chae Kihn’s photograph from a Veteran’s Day Parade in New York City—a reminder of how coveted being an American is to many. Unbridled love of country can also take an uncompromising turn, as seen in an image from Bruce Morton’s Forgottonia—The Audience, where a young man can be seen donning a shirt which reads “Stomp My Flag I’ll Stomp Your Ass.” With any semblance of political allegiance stripped away, but no less emblematic of America, are photographs that capture a simplicity of just being, as through the lyrical portrait of a girl and her goat in R. J. Kern’s Kenzi and Hootie, Anoka County Fair, Minnesota. A truthful Americana would be incomplete without empathy, Jeffrey Stockbridge’s Tic Tac and Tootsie, an engrossing portrait of two sisters, living on the streets, gazing piercingly at the viewer, for example. Across the show, there is a diversity of vision evident in the portraits, illustrating both faith in and disaffection from this thing called Americana.
The land and architecture—the structures and spaces reflect a distinctly American sense of place. Grandness, boldness, and occasionally the absurd, confront the viewer through David Bowman’s ethereal Rushmore #2, and in the super-sized cow overlooking Interstate 94 in Derrick Burbul’s photograph. Happy childhood memories are perhaps summed up in Steven Duede’s Old Orchard 8, of a vibrantly colored carnival ride. Despite a constitutional separation of church and state, Annette LeMay Burke’s Fauxliage—East Valley Church, powerfully shows a hegemony of faith. Of the more fascinating photographs of the land, is Chelsea Darter’s Coyotes, depicting dead coyotes displayed on a pickup truck, with a flag-painted wooden pallet. Frederick Brashear Jr.’s Six Shooter Door Knob resonated with me personally, being from a state with strict gun control laws. For many Americans, the economy has been challenging and harsh in recent decades, this economic desperation is suggested through blunt signage in Joseph Heathcott’s Buy, sell, Tryon Rd., Charlotte, as well as in Parker Reinecker’s Store Front, Tucumcari, New Mexico.
What is interesting about selecting this collective view of Americana, by contemporary artists engaged with photography, is how historical context and the current political climate greatly affected, both my curating and reading of the photographs. For the cohesion of this exhibit, I’ve decided not to select images that were too fixated on the past—but rather to focus on the now. Two pieces of text, indelibly etched in my mind, informed my personal viewpoint toward what I wanted to say about Americana through this exhibit—“We the People…” from the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, and the enduring lyrics of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land. Though the exhibit is laced with a number of photographs which could be interpreted as a cynical view of America—my intention was to present a country that is diverse, resilient and distinct. Perhaps the allure and benefit of Americana—as a concept—is its potential to serve as an important ethical and moral compass, or a feel-good keepsake from a perceived “better times.” However, since its founding, the beauty of America, a country arguably still in its youth—and Americana by default—is that we are a diverse people inhabiting a land in a state of continuous flux.
—Darren Ching, Klompching Gallery