The Rapidian

What do you see: Amass by Margery Amdur and Art Fitness

ArtPrize season has begun, and with it our chance to view, contemplate, question and ultimately vote on art. Today I see work by Margery Amdur.
Amass by Margery Amdur is showing at 106 Gallery, 106 S Division

Amass by Margery Amdur is showing at 106 Gallery, 106 S Division /Holly Bechiri

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What I'm seeing at ArtPrize

This article is part of a series of windows into what I'm seeing during ArtPrize. 

Before my life as the managing editor of The Rapidian, I was (and still am) an artist and curator. The first year of ArtPrize, I spent my time curating and managing a venue called "45 Ottawa," one of the 10 largest venues in the event. During the second year, I joined the ArtPrize team and assisted artists, venues and volunteers alike. The third year, I maintained a "blog curation" of my personal ArtPrize experience. This year, I'm helping our citizen journalists talk about the event and the work within it. While I'm at it, I'll be adding my own snippets of what I'm seeing along the way.

You can join me.

Amelea Pegman (l) and Kevin Buist (r) walk us through the Art Fitness exercise program

Amelea Pegman (l) and Kevin Buist (r) walk us through the Art Fitness exercise program /Holly Bechiri

Margery Amdur's work at (106) Gallery (Calvin College's downtown gallery at 106 S. Division) looks, at a distance, like children's toy blocks.

Up close, however, if the viewer takes a bit of time to investigate it they'll discover that it's made up of makeup sponges.

Yes, makeup sponges. Saturated with... pastels? Really bad eyeshadow from the 80's?

It was here that I started my ArtPrize 2012 entry investigation, with the guidance of artist/cultural relations director Kevin Buist and community/volunteer director Amelea Rose Pegman. Buist and Pegman were giving us a taste of Art Fitness, a program designed by museum director Adam Lerner and the Museum of Contemporary Art-Denver. Art Fitness teaches us to "get art fit, and lose the art fat," says Buist.

With questions like "what do I see" encouraged and references to what we think of as the art world and its history discouraged, Art Fitness hooked me in quickly by making me see the work instead of letting others tell me what the work was about. I was encouraged to ignore outside influences and trust my own ability to understand the work, without an artist statement or title, without an art historical perspective determining what the work means and without considering the artist's intentions. 

This may sound like it's ignoring a lot of important ways of talking about art, and of course it is. But it just may be a brilliant avenue for understanding the success of a work. After all, regardless of who an artist is referencing or what he or she is intending, the true test of the work's success is what the viewer sees. If the viewers don't get it, without the artist having to tell them, then honestly, he or she hasn't quite gotten the work to where it should be yet.

This first layer, the "what do I see" layer, may just get us further into the other layers of the work.

With the work we were analyzing, Amdur's "Amass," we were able to really see. We started to inspect the gorgeous colors and start talking about why it works. The layers and building-up of the structure, along with the colors throughout the work, created a palpable movement in the piece. Sure, it's "just" a pile of over-used makeup sponges on the floor. But those sponges were glowing with life.

106 Gallery holds seven pieces, all worth seeing in the Art Fitness sense of the word. 

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