…a floorboard creaks in an empty house, a chilling draft sweeps in, a quiet terror starts to tingle your spine…
yes, that was the atmosphere of Bartholomew F. Bland’s latest show, Dark & Stormy Night (which we said goodbye to this weekend at Lehman Galley). It was a terrific exhibition – which I mean in fullest sense of the word – one that aptly set off your every childhood fear; whether it’s being lost in a haunted house, feeling the ghost of death at your heels, seeing insects creeping and crawling over abandoned bones, carnivals, fires, tombstones, monsters, and so much more of what makes nightmares come alive, you were sure to find it here.
Bartholomew Bland gathered 33 artists across a wide array of media to strike his impeccable balance of variety and continuity for his horrorshow. Be it the Donna Diamond paintings of disturbingly deranged carousel horses, a pack of wild dogs hungry for blood (Deborah Simon), or the salvaged sculpture that was beautifully charred in a mysterious studio fire (Heide Lau), it all perfectly fell under the lugubrious genre of his show: contemporary gothic art.
Dark and Stormy truly wasn’t the archetypical group show one might’ve anticipated. The art wasn’t necessarily there to please you. It took the idea of beauty and mutated it into new terms, or as Bland says:
BB: “I think that beauty is never pretty. I don’t think there’s anything in this show that someone would say: ooh that’s pretty! But I think all of these works are beautiful. They wouldn’t be in the show if I didn’t. What’s that French term we always use? Jolie laide.”
The show was a blunt reminder that high-quality art sometimes serves a greater function than the ability to nicely decorate the interiors of our apartments; rather, to provoke us into contemplation. Bland admits with a sneaky laugh that every piece in Dark and Stormy is in one way or another a memento mori, or in Latin, remember you must die, which forced us to think about it: death. In fact, it was almost too much for Bland himself:
BB: “I wonder about myself and why I chose this topic! Usually I will try to buy a work of art from an artist in the show to remember the exhibition by, but I don’t think I can live with anything in this show on a daily basis.”
That haunted backdoor which normally remains locked away in my mind has creaked open…and I like it! It is as if I was possessed by some magical force that invited these creepy curiosities in like old friends. Unlike other shows that I’ve attended recently, here was last is a trope that I am convinced we are all acquainted with, and one that shall never go out of fashion: dreadful terror. While the topic may not be my or your first fascination, it certainly works and continues to work in the same way it has always – by toying with these carnal fears of ours.
The chord Bland struck in the show was in flawless synch with many (if not all) our innermost anxieties without scaring us out the door; there was something in the show for everyone, from death of the body (Heide Hatry), to abandonment of the soul (Holly Sears); to haunted nightmares of desolation (Adrien Broom) and lovely patterns in our society response to death (Jeanne Heifetz). The aesthetic virtuosity of every artist featured and in conversation with next, I can firmly say, had no parallel to the dark delight we got from Dark and Stormy. What could have easily been a show that allowed for a whirlpool of panic-stricken conversation topics, was instead an opportunity that let us closely observe these grisly truths without the unnecessary emphasis on satire, or dogma, or tradition – which makes it truly fun.
It was an uncanny requiem of that odd curiosity which gnashes away in the darkest hours of the night as Bland pulled back the crimson curtain on almost everything keeps us awake. We confront our demons, we muse on our finality of our self, we stand up to our paranoias – that, was this show, whose every invisible detail had been perfectly orchestrated by Bland to transmit this unsettling rapture; from its opening on Nov.1st 2017, (also commonly known as The Day of the Dead) audiences, including myself, have felt its vexatious grip and have not since let it go.
We impatiently await what Bland has in store for us next with Tick-Tock, a new group show opening in late February.