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Shockoe Bottom Art Center's monthly All Media Show offers a virtual department store of art.

All Media, All the Time


Week after week, month after month, as art reviews churn out on the various exhibitions around town — their themes, their provenance, their method of presentation — one thing is as constant and proverbial as tea in China: The All Media Juried Show at the Shockoe Bottom Art Center.

This venerable exhibition — longstanding as the Center itself — offers its wholly democratic opportunity once a month. Rusty Davis, SBAC director, invites an individual from the art community to serve as the show's juror. The juror for the current show is Reni Gower, a professor of painting and printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University and an actively exhibiting professional artist herself.

But no matter who the juror is, the show basically absorbs his or her selections (culled from about 200 submissions) in the cavernous industrial margins of the gallery where the victors gyre and gimble. It secures the effect of always seeming a bit like the same show, moved around some.

The times I have visited it (and they are not often enough), I have never gotten a sense of the definitive. This show has no thesis, it just is, and then it is again. Different art, different artists, different juror — but it is still its unalterable self. A great colorful cup of Darjeeling amongst a tempest of purposeful change.

None of this is to say there isn't often wonderful and exceedingly worthwhile art within the exhibition. There always is, mixed in with some other items of dubious aesthetic achievement and craftsmanship. This phenomenon is one that all jurors meander around as though they had left the map of their own brain at home and are being seduced by that "pushed envelope" thing. And the great thing about the process is that the juror is forced to relax or reconfigure his or her standards, a deed done on behalf of a small honorarium, a sense of lethal curiosity and the basic challenge the opportunity offers. To make matters worse, each juror has to deliver a gallery talk about his or her thinking.

In this particular show, the top award is appropriately given to "Step into my Boudoir,"a small square painting by Amanda Blackmon. Displaying true theatrical fascination and gentle nightmarish wit, it is painted lightly, breathlessly well.

Observing that she had another work in the exhibit I went searching for her label. Yikes! Her other work "There are many ways..." was one of those au courant alienesque depictions of human mudskippers, here a pair with some unfortunate wrist wounds at large in an excess of empty, flesh-colored atmosphere. It seemed to be painted with the last-minute passion and vision of a fudged term paper. Of course, we all have our mudskipper moments, whether driving on the interstate or making or picking art. It's simply too bad that this one is so billboard big and central, helping to further that wonky "Juried Exhibition" look, while Blackmon's really great work is tucked into a small corner of the gallery's side room.

There are many other works here to solicit one's attention after departing from the regulation rocking- chairs-on-the-front-porch painting. Some fine figurative work is included, principally by Cynthia Erdahl, Carol Meese and John Johnson. Lawrence Altafer, Barbara Jones and Eric Wightman offer lyrical forestscapes of slender moody trees in the warm sun, in the hot glare, in the icy wind — painted as though they were portraits of varying temperatures and their incumbent sensations. Elizabeth Flynn-Chapman is represented with two of her elegant, mystical architectural photographs that confound the viewer's orientation. David Narum gives us three interesting, animated abstracts (especially "Can't Figure It") in a unique painting technique and a convenient carry-home size. And there is ever-delightful Emma Lou Martin doing a cheery nouveau version of Georgia O'Keefe wallpaper.

One of the more captivating works in the exhibit is a monotonal etching on handmade paper by Rachael Sawan White, "Come To." Presented somewhat in the format of a Japanese ink painting, serenity and anxiety issue equally from her brushstrokes and other cryptic markings. It has the breeding of principled abstraction, the discretion of a Zen riddle.

Whether or not its All Media show has the qualities of a good exhibition, the Shockoe Bottom Art Center truly is a cultural treasure. It offers artists the chance to debut their work, build their resumes, get some feedback. It offers art patrons a fully equipped department store of art. It's fun to mill around and look at it all. Plus, the prices are great, thanks to the gallery's low, 30 percent commission. Everyone should go... in fact, everyone

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