Art and the City, May 2005

As I walked through downtown Reading on Penn Street today, I thought about the current movement to lure citizens back toward an urban renaissance here and I considered the titular line uttered by Jack Nicholson in Melvin Udall’s 1997 film. It occurred to me that on this spectacular day in late May, surrounded by a varied group of residents intermingling with the lunchtime commuter crowd – with me on my way to an art gallery – this is “as good as it gets.”It’s really time now for good folks to do what only they can do: find a reason or three to explore the downtown area again and populate the place. One good reason to do this would be to visit Anne Heimann’s retrospective exhibit at the Albright Community Cultural Center.First, if you haven’t availed yourself of the chance to view a show at the Albright downtown art venue, let this be a reminder to do so. There’s no better context to experience an art exhibit anywhere, really. The expansive space is quite conducive to aesthetic experience and the setting itself – a first-floor tree-lined entranceway just beyond Robinson Fredenthal’s once-controversial “Gate” – is a calming escape from the Penn Street bustle.Heimann’s multi-media assemblages of common folk in common settings greet viewers first here. They offer a gradual transition from one’s experience of the actual city street one leaves upon entering the gallery and art space. The piece “Benches, New York City,” 1980, presents three groups of cutout and painted figures among actual and pictorial benches in a complex composition straddling the space between the gallery floor and wall. Similarly, “Taverna,” 1972, presents a quintet of world-weary, wise-looking, and wizened inhabitants of a funky tavern along with their furniture and drinking and smoking accessories.Deeper into the exhibition one finds more of the soulful human essence this artist portrays intermingled with evidence of her fascination with the essential aspects of animal life and consciousness. The series, “Confrontations” is all about this union of human and animal awareness. Accompanying the series is a large and varied selection of drawings and paintings of animal skins. Here, it is the strikingly beautiful physical presence of animal life that is invoked.The last piece I encountered struck me as the most significant of the animal-related pieces. Entitled, “Huaca” the skinscape here is broken by the abrupt intrusion of the animal’s eye. In this piece we are brought face-to-face and eye-to-eye, as it were, with the personal confrontation implied by the other works in the gallery. We’re made to reconsider our own existence in relationship to what we are viewing. It is not detached or removed from our participation. The act of observing is in fact an act of relationship with what is viewed – animate or inanimate. After my visit, the trip back through downtown carried echoes of what I had just experienced. The realities of urban, human, and animal life that intertwine in art and in our experience speak precisely to our condition in the world, in the environment, and inside ourselves.*“Ann Heimann In Retrospect” is on view from through July 30 and also from September 7 through October 1 at the Albright Community Cultural Center, 645 Penn Street, Reading, PA. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, noon – 4 p.m.*Images: First Image: Ann Heimannn, “Benches, New York City,” 1980, mixed media.Second Image: Ann Heimann, “Huaca,” 1976, acrylic on canvas.*

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