“Fire in the Belly,” an exhibition about female identity opening at the Burnette Gallery in Woodstock on October 11, is an embarrassment of riches. Artworks by 26 artists – all women – collectively represent a range of materials: paint, steel mesh, discarded clothing woven into tapestrylike pieces, digital photography, ink, porcelain, embroidery and found objects, which variously form sculptures, flat wall pieces, installations and assemblages. The show, curated by artists Carole Kunstadt and Laura Gurton, each of whom have contributed a piece, includes work by some of the region’s most distinguished artists: Portia Munson, Susan Spencer Crowe, Coldspring-based Orly Cogan, Judy Sigunick and Sky Kim, to mention a few, all of whom have shown outside the area. The work is visually stunning, technically accomplished and conceptually evocative. Many of the pieces pack a powerful emotional punch as well.
“People are doing really significant work, and we could have filled a museum,” said Kunstadt, noting that she and Gurton expanded on their own extensive list of artist contacts through word-of-mouth and recommendations from local art institutions. Sky Kim, whose untitled large pen-pencil-and-red-ink drawing depicts a round biomorphic form partially filled with intricately patterned, delicate concentric curving lines, simultaneously suggesting a head, breast and egg, was discovered by Gurton a decade ago on Pinterest. “We e-mailed once or twice a year,” said Gurton, noting that Kim recently landed a big gallery in the City. “I contacted her and she’s delighted to be in the show.”
Another artist in the exhibition, Simone Kestelman, who was born in Brazil and lives in White Plains, was recommended to Kunstadt by the curator at the Hudson Valley Contemporary Art Museum in Peekskill. Kestelman’s surrealistic piece, titled Identity, consists of a white porcelain female head positioned in a metal birdcage through which flutter red porcelain butterflies, clustering on the head.
At least two pieces incorporate an audio or video component. Debra Priestly arranged a soup tureen on a stand in which she placed an audio loop of a recording of her grandmother praying; “It’s almost like an invocation,” said Kunstadt. Beacon-based Jayoung Yoon is displaying a sculpture woven from her own hair, as well as two videos exploring the notion of identity and presence stemming from her practice of shaving her head in order to harvest her hair for artworks.
Kunstadt and Gurton have long been friends, but the owner of the Burnette Galley, Tia Burnette, didn’t know that when she met each artist at the first opening of her gallery back in July and subsequently invited each to show there. Discovering that they knew each other, she instantly invited them to curate the next upcoming show together. Both had previously curated shows – Kunstadt most recently at a gallery in Connecticut of artworks utilizing books, a medium that is one of her own specialties, and Gurton at Wired Gallery and the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts – but never together, or on this scale. It turned out to be a meeting of the minds: “Every time we visited a studio or looked at someone’s work, nine times out of ten we agreed” about its merits, Kunstadt said.
After deciding that they wanted to show work by women, they took a broad approach to the show’s theme, taking their cues from the work, which turned out to explore a variety of topics. The show is “humorous, serious and spiritual. It deals with mythology, sensuality, female identity and relationships,” said Kunstadt.
“We got so inspired by the work that we both did new pieces for the show,” she added. Her piece consists of a sculpture, titled Aphrodite’s Purse, in which hand-blown glass eggs are placed in an antique metal egg basket that sprouts a hairlike thicket of white monofilament, to which are attached pearls and crystal beads. “I’ve used eggs throughout my career as a metaphor of rebirth and procreation and hope,” said Kunstadt. “They represent the transformative power of love.”
Gurton contributed a triptych of paintings on paint-covered clayboard, in which abstract shapes, suggesting nipples, vaginas and other sexual body parts, are scratched out of the surface of dark paint in white and pale-colored crosshatched lines: tribal, primitive-looking forms floating mysteriously in a black cosmos. The artist said that she began making pieces consisting of concentric circles in 1980, when she was pregnant with her first child and discovered in her readings on childbirth that “when a baby is born, it will be instinctually drawn to a target shape, because nipples mean survival. The idea of shapes being instinctual has fascinated me ever since.”
“Fire in the Belly,” features work by Undine Brod, Amy Cheng, Tricia Cline, Orly Cogan, Susan Spencer Crowe, Penny Dell, Kara Eletto, Carla Goldberg, Laura Gurton, Kay Kenny, Simone Kestelman, Sky Kim, Carole Kunstadt, Janice La Motta, Alise Loebelsohn, Portia Munson, Debra Priestly, Ann Provan, Arlene Rush, Linda Friedman Schmidt, Jicky Schnee, Judy Sigunick, Louise P. Sloane, Julia Santos Solomon, Terry Ann Tomlinson and Jayoung Yoon.
“Fire in the Belly” opening reception, Saturday, October 13, 6-9 p.m., through November 25, Burnette Gallery, 31 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock; (845) 679-6023, email@example.com.