Fueled by the convictions of the women's movement, a number of all-female, artist-run galleries emerged in the United States during the 1970's. One cooperative formed on Long Island, the Central Hall Gallery, earned a solid reputation for its effective management and its high standards. So much so, in fact, that it attracted many other galleries to its Port Washington neighborhood.
Wisely focusing on the seven years after Central Hall's 1973 innaugural, this sensitively organized overview delivers a perspective on the creative interests of the time along with its smart presentation of work by 48 of Central Hall's exhibiting artists. Extensive text material does not seem too much in this instance, for the background labels both humanize and add insight.
Also to the point are the themes and categories that Constance Koppelman, the guest curator, has used to structure the show. It is good to see the issue of feminist imagery put forward in a way that respects the ideas of both believers and dissenters, and it is good to see the persistence of memory examined as a characterizing theme.
In one piece examining the innuendoes of memory, Lois Polansky's book-shaped paper object manipulates recollections triggered by an old family portrait album -- a surface that evokes fossilized stone implies weight and age.
The grid, with its schematic repetitions and regularity, is another telling category, and there are good examples by Arlene Absatz, Rachel bas-Cohain, Sandra Lerner, Shirley Toran and Mary Tressler. Interpreting life in the context of a "Tic Tac Toe" game, Rachel Maurer interrupts her grid segments with beautifully textured pencil drawings of faces, some vibrant, some dissolving in pain or decay, and some with the appearance of death masks.
Inevitably, the passage of two decades reveals both the lasting and the contemporary power of certain works. A few seem now to have been at the edge of new developments in the avant-garde. Wendy Ward's grid of plastic box frames containing laundry lint offers lyrically handsome abstract designs that comment on household chores, and Monique Recant's monumental sequence of squared, open wooden columns stuffed with steel wool is one of the show's most impressive and dynamic pieces.
There is a different kind of assertiveness in Barbarie Rothstein's softly organic, sensuous, yet disturbingly aggressive polyurethane foam sculpture that questions the playful innocence of its toylike material. Irregularity, fragility and uncertainty are part of the edge in Gisele Fischer's absorbing creation with milkweed seeds, and in Jane Lutnick's unravelling string constructions. There is also a wonderful conceptual work by Branda Price that deals with the structural and cognative qualities of words, a successful bull's-eye canvas by Lorie Alexander and effective pieces by Shirley Gorelick, Marilyn Hochhauser and Susan Zises.
Questions about the current interests of those who participated in Central Hall's exhibition program during the 70's are answered, in part, by this smaller, more selective concentration on recent work. There are no formal categories here, and pieces seem to have been chosen for their ability to stand on their own artisic merits and possibly for they way they can make stylistic range part of the message.
The range makes it fairly easy to see parallels with many contemporary art world concerns. Irony, aggression, appropriation, social awareness and emblematic forms are all here, along with comments on environmental problems, a free and daring use of body parts, more recycling and some fine explorations of the potential of photographic processes. Artists who revealed considerable talent in the 70's now seem to be largely on target today too.
Rachel Maurer's recent drawings have a specific ironic twist, for example. In "Motherhood," images in multiple vignettes attack sterotyped behavior and a nude pinup serves as the featured female icon. Bernice Cutler and Linda Cohen also touch on irony in compelling manipulated photographs, while Katie Seiden provides a strong comment on aggresssion and society in her sculpture "Colin Ferguson Recalls the Long Island Train Massacre."
Noteworthy, too, are high-impact abstractions by Arlene Absatz, Rita Katz and Susan Zises, and three-dimensional symbolic pieces by Barbarie Rothstein and Barbara Roux.
The harmony here lies in the way all four photographers achieve clever, often sly disorientations. These are strong efforts by mid-career artists with major exhibition records, and their work together makes a convincing case for the invented photograph that delivers sensations having little to do with real appearances.
Michiko Kon's black and white images of common forms she has temporarily fashioned from food and flowers are the most consistently engaging. Extreme dark contrasts exaggerate the disconcerting blends of repulsion and sensual attraction in quietly shocking depictions like a glass holding both a toothbrush and a goldfish or a cluster of olives forming a nest fastened by a dozen protruding bird feet.
Lush, misty color tonalities are an important part of the appeal in JoAnn Verburg's large, carefully composed scenes that underscore a tense, troubled figurative content with erratic blurring and a number of irrational touches.
It is the chemical emulsions, mixed with paint and collage, that are basic to Susan Rankaitis's approach. Undulating, luminous metallic surface reflections result. These effects function best in examples that have no intrusion of landscape suggestions.
The show has a certain self-consciousness, which is more pronounced in the staged autobiographical content present in Lois Guarino's multiple negative photographs. Her best pieces are not the views of a woman mystically affected by cosmic space but those that show silhouette shapes of a shroud or a family of four scorched into the earth.