A.P.E. Gallery will showcase new work behind its front windows

  • “Interactive Aimless Pilgrimage” by Danielle Klebes. Oil and spray paint on cut panel with variable, life-size cutouts. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • “Unbidden” by Galen Cheney. Acrylic, oil and oil pastel on collaged canvas. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • ​“Still life with antler” by Roberley Bell. Wood, steel, resin cast, plaster, antler and clay. Photo by Tom Loonan

  • “There and back again” by Zoe Sasson. Oil paint, fabric, sculptamold and plastic on canvas. Submitted photo

  • “Women are from Venus” by Alicia Renadette. Mixed media installation including mannequin head, hobby horse head, sponges, rubber gloves and other items.  Submitted photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2020 7:50:15 AM

NORTHAMPTON — With galleries shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most art viewing in the past two and half months has occurred in the same place so much other art has been seen: on the internet.

But with a new series of exhibits that opens June 8, Northampton’s A.P.E. Gallery will be bringing art to viewers by displaying it behind the gallery’s extensive front windows at 126 Main St.

The “normal pop-up” series offers five exhibits, all of two weeks’ duration, that have been curated by Zoe Sasson, a 2007 graduate of Northampton High School who last year earned an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. A painter and mixed-media artist, Sasson moved back to the region last year and had an artist residency at Mass MoCA in North Adams last fall.

Sasson explained that she had been putting together a show for this summer at A.P.E. that would have featured art from 30-plus artists who graduated from Northampton High School. With that exhibit now postponed until summer 2021 because of the pandemic, she and gallery director Lisa Thompson were looking for some alternative — and not just an online exhibit, though A.P.E. has been featuring online content over the past few months.

“We have all this window space, and we thought we could take advantage of it,” said Thompson. “If we can’t have people inside the gallery right now, we can at least let them look inside” at artwork.

A.P.E. has created temporary walls, some 7 feet high and 14 feet wide, close behind their windows to display the art, with a three-foot wide shelf that can also hold sculptures.

Sasson, who has taught art and held residencies in North Carolina and a number of other places, said the title of the new series reflects the ambiguity and strangeness that has come to surround the word “normal,” with phrases such as “the new normal” and “return to normal” being bandied about on an almost daily basis.

“It seems like that’s become a very fragile word today,” she said. “People are finding their own definitions of what ‘normal’ means.”

Sasson, whose work is also part of the new series, said she selected the four other artists to be featured based in part on how their work was already “pushing boundaries” and addressing issues of disconnection and dysfunction before COVID-19 — but also because the artists have “shown great resiliency during this strange time we’re in.”

 The first exhibit in “normal pop-up,” running June 8-21, is by Danielle Klebes, a Vermont painter who also makes colorful life-size cutouts; she’ll sometimes combine these with background paintings to create small, theatrical tableaus.

And Klebes’ artist statement seems tailor-made for COVID-19 era: “The main subjects for my artwork are people who are in a state of flux ... There is a sense of the in-between without a clear narrative regarding what comes next.”

Work from painter Galen Cheney, a Mount Holyoke College graduate who lives in North Adams, will be on tap from June 22-July 5; she’s currently creating abstract, collage-like paintings for which she combines paper, bits of old paintings and other materials to form the texture of her new canvases.

Sculptor Alicia Renadette, from Rhode Island, is next, offering “unruly” constructions — her materials can include holiday decorations, party favors, artificial flowers and scavenged items — that she says are designed to reexamine the excesses of an “excessively materialistic world and the traumas it inscribes on bodies and minds.”

Sasson’s paintings, which will be exhibited July 20-August 3, combine different types of paint with fabric and other materials such as crayon, creating highly textured and abstract canvases. She writes that her current work offers “imagined spaces wherein characters strive for balance but stumble” and also channels “awkwardness and unrestricted displays of joy.”

Rounding out “normal pop-up” from August 3-17 will be the work of sculptor Roberley Bell of New York state, who has worked in Turkey, Sweden and Austria, among other places; her public installations are inspired by both nature and “the art historical tradition of organic abstraction,” she writes.

Thompson says she hopes that foot traffic in downtown Northampton will pick up with warmer weather returning and that people will enjoy the public art being offered via the gallery’s windows (other work has already been on display there over the past few weeks). “We haven’t been able to offer our usual summer programming, so this is our best alternative,” she said.

A.P.E. hopes to reopen to visitors in September, Thompson added, though it’s not yet clear exactly how that will be handled — how many people will be let in at a time, how work should be displayed — to maintain safety protocols. Shows that have postponed, such as work from artists associated with Zea Mays printing in Florence, will hopefully be added back to the lineup, she said.

“Everyone’s anxious to be get back together and have work up again for view, but we have to be cautious,” she said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com. More information about “normal pop-up” can be found at apearts.org.

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