By REBECCA JONES
For Montclair Local

Despite the hurdles posed by COVID-19, Studio Montclair has pulled through and is now running one of its largest exhibits — “ViewPoints 2021.”

“We’ve all been through quite a year,” Studio Montclair’s executive director, Susanna Baker, said. “COVID presented many obstacles. Art changes the way you see things and puts you in someone else’s shoes, so art can play a big role in making people understand each other.”

Founded in 1997, Studio Montclair is a nonprofit dedicated to exhibiting professional and emerging artists. “ViewPoints 2021” is its 24th annual open juried exhibition. Studio Montclair offers an array of opportunities for artists to not only bring their work to the public, but also network with other artists and critique groups. In 2019 the studio added an art academy for adults with disabilities.

“This is our one really big show, and we’ve kept it going for 24 years,” Baker said. “We hire a juror who is maybe more well known than in our normal shows, and we get an awful lot of entries from all over the world.”

The juror selected this year, Eleanna Anagnos, chose 46 works for the exhibit from over 800 submitted. “They reflect a vast range of mediums, materials, subject matter and themes, but above all they comment on the difficulties we have faced during this singular year,” according to the press release on the exhibit.

Anagnos is a New York-based curator, lecturer, critic, professor and artist who has been a co-director at Ortega y Gasset Projects, an artist-run gallery and curatorial collective located in Brooklyn since 2014. Her curatorial projects have been featured in publications such as The New York Times and Art in America, and her award-winning artwork has been exhibited nationally and internationally.  

“ViewPoints is not usually a themed show, it’s a survey of contemporary art. But a lot of the art in this year’s show is very ‘of the moment,’” Baker said.

According to Anagnos, while many of the submitted works “were executed with the skill and sensitivity of trained eyes and hands, these were not always the works I chose. I chose artwork that either spoke to the difficulties we are facing right now with social distancing, loneliness, home life or the inequities and discriminatory practices of racial profiling which have become increasingly more evident.”

Two Montclair-based artists, Ann Kraus and Meaghan Bates, had pieces chosen for the show.

Kraus’ painting, “The Apex,” depicts a moody sunrise over the Hudson River. She said she painted it when medical tents were in Central Park and a naval hospital ship was in the harbor. 

“It was a beautiful sunscape when we were at the worst of the pandemic in New York City,” Kraus said. “Every day I would mark my time by watching [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo’s presentation on what was going on, how many people had died, and he said ‘We’re approaching the apex,’ and I wanted to paint that.” Kraus tries to convey an emotion with her paintings and “wants people to feel what she feels” when looking at her subject, which is most often the sky. “Skies and clouds, sunrise and sunset, they are such a source of joy,” she said. “They bring you to another place.”

The sky she painted in “The Apex,” she said, “captured that feeling of, I wouldn’t say panic, but heightened awareness of everything that was going on. There are reds and vibrant colors there, but it’s a sunrise, so there is hope.”

Kraus has lived in Montclair for over 30 years and was a commuter to the city before retiring from her corporate job and dedicating herself more fully to art. 

Bates’ piece, “Blueprint: America,” won third place in the show. She said she created it during the first several months of the coronavirus lockdown and the Black Lives Matter protests. 

“I was spending a lot of time thinking about how our idea of order and structure in society was unraveling and showing it’s ugly underbelly,” she said. “I think that the piece carries some of that story with it, the story of things falling apart and being put together in a new and disorienting way.”

“Blueprint: America” is a collage of drawings done in sumi ink — a type of ink made mainly from soot of burnt lamp oil or pinewood, animal glue and perfume.

In an audio recording on Studio Montclair’s website where residents can take a virtual tour of all the pieces, Bates says of her art: “It came out of a desire to take some of these sumi ink drawings that I’ve been making for many years and cut them apart and create sort of a collage, patchwork piece out of many other pieces. 

“And the idea behind this had to do with thinking a lot about what it means to be a member of society, what it means to make things work together, how things work and don’t work, what it means to be a person who is not white in America and sort of the fun and violence, and joy and beauty, the symphony of being American.”

The audio components of Studio Montclair’s virtual exhibition offer an innovative solution to the need for social distancing. People can also see the exhibition in person until May 28. 

“We only allow six to eight people in the gallery at a time, but you can set up appointments through the website. It works out really well,” Baker said.