NEW JERSEY ARTS ANNUAL INCLUDES SOMA ARTISTS By Tia Swanson
One of the most moving exhibits at the Newark Museum of Art is its 2021 New Jersey Arts Annual. The 50 works on display – chosen from more than 1,800 submissions from 485 artists living and working in the state – are suitably reflective of a painful and difficult year.
As Vice President Deborah Kasindorf notes, COVID was not the only sickness the country was dealing with last year: there was the social unrest created by the murder of George Floyd, and then by the presidential election. There was also the growing realization of the harm we were doing to our planet with our consumption and our waste.
Most of the works reflect the pain of one or more of these events, and yet each does so in a way that feels unique, and as diverse as the artists and the regions of New Jersey from which they come. The exhibit feels remarkably fresh.
Museums, long considered bastions of European civilization and white men, were not immune from criticism during last year’s long, hot, troubled summer: “The public has been much more vocal in analyzing and criticizing museums,” is how Kasindorf puts it. This exhibit attempts to respond to that criticism with a selection of art that is current, provocative and diverse.
SOMA is represented by two artists: longtime local art teacher Ellen Weisbord, who wove her own basket and placed on it rocks from the South Mountain Reservation she picked up on one of her daily walks there. As she writes in her introduction to the piece: “This work symbolizes the weight of the pandemic, the political anxiety of the 2020 election, and the protests over racial injustice. The rocks bound to the lid represent the weight of sheltering in place. I maintained perspective and hope for the future through inspiration from nature.”
Joan Diamond, a self-taught fiber artist from Maplewood, is represented by a quilt called “Enduring.” The majority of the quilt is stitched from plastic New York Times’ bags, although the piece also incorporates traditional quilting fabric. “Are we mindful of what we hold dear?” Diamond asks in her notes. “The momentary utility of plastic bags (which take 500 years to degrade) and the (often) lifetime love of a quilt are combined here to question our perspective about preciousness.”
The exhibit runs through August 22.