Walking into the actual, ever-inviting art haven of the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art recently to behold Untold: Westmont Graduate Exhibition — my first step into a museum in a year and a month — was akin to visiting a friend after a lengthy illness: a warm sense of homecoming uneasily mixed with innate wariness.
Reminders of pandemic nervousness entered the picture quickly through fine realist portraits by Madeline Lush that chronicle ostensibly “normal” student life on campus — but with masks attached, natch. Deeper into the museum, amid a healthy diversity of voices and media, Daniel Staples’s graphic comic-style narrative deals with the historical mythology of the “Plague Doctor,” renewed and retooled for current COVID-19 realities.
Last year’s student show had to go virtual, whereas this year’s event, though limited, enjoys living in the material world. That “real space” factor makes a difference, especially with sculpture. Corban Bañez’s canny, money-themed blend of ceramics, plaster, and found objects and Caroline Wyckoff’s installation of sculpted hands, from open to clenched, embedded in plants and nails both benefited from being seen in person.
Emily Bark’s “Daily Rites” screen prints celebrate surfing, as culture and as meditative practice, while Evelyn Thoen’s screen prints cross-stitch memories and impressions of her time spent in Cairo. Sophia Gutierrez’s mixed-media collages nod to the influence of graffiti, but with subtle washes and poetic vapor intact.
Imagery varies greatly in the show, from Rachel Elliott’s mystical, hermetic oil portraits of endangered species to Charlotte Westburg’s Prismacolor odes to everyday tools. Valerie Angulo’s “And Then It Was Good” offers a metaphorical tableau in seven panels dealing with her trauma following a rape in Bali.
Other works capitalize on the museum space. Elisabeth Lee’s digitally printed banners allude to “spiritual warfare imagery” in the Hebrew Bible, and Sharon Ko’s “The Undoing” fills a wall with video, photography, objects, and personae. Jared Clarke’s gentle tune “Footsteps” wafts through the museum as the soundtrack to Ceci Amboy’s simple tale of self-searching, rendered in painstaking stop-motion animation.
Great to be back, in an actual, art-packed “somewhere.”