What is it that makes for a great exhibition of Art? How do you quantify the requirements of an art show that will produce the feelings and sensations that lead one to conclude that one is looking at great art – or at least having a great art experience.
I'm asking these questions because unfortunately, it's an atypical experience to really feel deep in one's bones that contemporary art can be that accomplished. However, I've recently seen a great show and I think it's worth discussing. I think the following is required (in no particular order or relative quantity):
- There is something unexpected and jarring.
- It makes you question your previous assumptions and challenges you.
- It may not be immediate though something generally happens with the first look.
- It gets better and builds as you continue looking.
- You feel less alone.
- You want to share the experience with friends.
- You can't deny it though you may try to.
- You are happier.
If you have not seen the Chakaia Booker show at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey – located on Elm Street in Summit – and if the types of feelings I'm describing above appeal to you – you will want to head over to see Ms. Booker's show more than once. It's a show that really rewards repeated viewings (I've seen it three times if I include a sneak peek I took before it was fully installed) and I plan to go back since it's without doubt the best show of art I've seen at the Art Center in my 20 years of living in Summit.
Chakaia Booker is an unusual artist. She was born in Newark and raised in East Orange so she really is a local artist. Ms. Booker also has a reputation for getting what she wants from Art Institutions and for being demanding. Perhaps this is true perhaps not – I couldn't tell you and it really doesn't matter. In the two times I've seen her at an opening she has maintained a certain aloofness – maybe concealing a shyness? This also does not matter. Ms. Booker has succeeded only on the authoritativeness of her work and that is what counts. There is no need for any art-world double speak or hype about what she is doing. There is no need for her to smile and be friendly and ingratiate or sell herself. To look at her sculpture is to feel and intuit something new and that is what counts and that is the power of it.
What is also special for me in this show is that the curators and administrators took the risk of being willing to focus the show on two very accomplished pieces of giant scale and they deserve full credit for this. The show is not weakened by trying to include too much. For this, special thanks to Curator Carmen Ramos, Director of Programs Mari D'Allesandro, and Executive Director Marion Grzesiak. It's clear that it took a lot of teamwork to mount a show of this caliber and I doubt it was inexpensive. If ever there was a time to reward an institution with your hard earned dollars this is it as these are not easy times for the arts and for non-profits in general. We need more shows like this if we are truly to make Summit a destination for the Arts, and don't forget this is National Arts and Humanities Month.