By: Grace Coughlan, Associate Editor
Illustration by Meghan Hudson/ The Towerlight
Towson University’s “All Night Party” and “All Decked Out” exhibitions followed this year’s COFAC Theme, “The ROARing Twenties,” highlighting similarities between the pandemic and racial struggles.
COFAC’s “The ROARing Twenties” theme explores the juxtaposition of youth and ingenuity and the maturity of becoming an adult. The work revolving around this theme is audacious while having the capability to reflect on different time periods with experience.
“The exhibitions began as celebrations on the theme of the “party,” said Erin Lehman, co-curator of “All Night Party,” Director of the Department of Art+Design, Art History, Art Education Galleries, and lecturer in Art History.
The idea of “All Night Party” was originally inspired by 1920s to 1980s party dresses in the Towson Historical Clothing Collection. With her co-curator, J. Susan Isaacs, Curator of the Department of Art+Design, Art History, Art Education Galleries, and professor of Art History, Lehman and Isaacs created the idea of adornments for “All Decked Out,” focusing more on the accessories that can be worn with party dresses.
“The concept of the party in the Center for the Arts Gallery, is represented by the historical clothing collection, which chronicles different historical decades,” Isaacs explained. “However, the party dresses also link to the idea of adornment in “All Decked Out.”
While “All Decked Out” was originally supposed to function as a companion exhibition to “All Night Party,” co-curators Lehman and Susan Isaacs quickly developed the exhibitions into two entirely separate exhibits.
Lehman explained how “All Night Party” evolved into more of a connection with the era rather than just the idea of “the party.” While the 1920s are known as the Roaring Twenties, Lehman indicated that the effects of WWI, the flu pandemic and racism during the 1920s left people desperate to find distractions from the terror.
“We again find ourselves mired in a collective trauma, and are left to wonder, in our own “after,” what the party will feel like,” Lehman said. “While each work stylistically evokes a bygone era, the works themselves are very much of the now, and speak to a contemporary audience thinking about the lessons and tumult of 2020.”
The art in “All Night Party” focuses around specific eras, past and present, while connecting with each other and the Historical Clothing Collection party dresses that are also featured in the exhibition. The exhibition is made up of work from six different artists: Dennis Beach, Bobby Coleman, Alex Ebstein, Tim McFarlane, Dominie Nash, and McKinley Wallace III.
“McKinley’s work, for example, incorporates images from the Civil Rights era, but also deals with BLM, intersectionality, etc., often using historical images to comments on contemporary events and feelings,” Lehman said. “Bobby Coleman’s installation recalls the interaction between street art and fine art that really energized the art world of the 1980s, but it is actually a direct response to the colors and shapes and sights that he sees around Baltimore every day.”
Nash, whose work revolves around fabric, fit into one of the exhibition themes of clothing and art.
“Susan Isaacs has known my work for many years through my participation in fiber art exhibition in the DC/Baltimore area (I actually showed some work in an exhibit at Towson a long time ago) and her connections in the fiber community,” Nash said. “… I really consider myself a collage artist, layering and overlapping fabric shapes and putting them together, but with stitching rather than glue.”
Co-curators of “All Decked Out,” Isaacs and Luci Jockel, a metalsmith & jewelry lecturer at TU, focused the theme of the exhibition around the idea of adornment and the process of dressing up while addressing the significance and culture in our lives.
“When wearing a necklace like Gina Denton’s “Community Spread,” it may match your outfit, but it also functions as a symbol, whether it is a symbol of identity, status, relationship, talisman, memorial, or in this case, a reflection and record of this pandemic we are facing,” Jockel said. “The works in this show vary greatly on what they represent and symbolize.”
“All Decked Out” features 21 different artists, including two TU students, Jackie Andrews and Chloe Doran.
Doran has one piece featured in the “All Decked Out” exhibition called “Paper Neckpiece,” constructed with jewelry catalog paper, adhesive, and thread.
“This piece is about creating within constraint. During the pandemic, I have no access to the tools of my trade, yet I still have a burning desire to create,” Doran said. “I found humor in creating a piece of jewelry out of pages from a jewelry tool catalogue, full of tools I can’t afford. Even in this time of scarcity and fear, there is always some way to transform the things you have around you into an object of beauty.”
Jockel explained how the pieces in “All Decked Out” share power and meaning through connection, strengthening the overall meaning.
“For instance, Sonya Clark’s piece, “Hair Craft Project with Jasmine and Jameika,” a print, is directly in conversation with Kalkidan Hoex’s, “TheNEWtribe:collection: REAL TALK” jewelry,” Jockel said. “Both are speaking to the importance of Black culture and identity. In relation to Clark’s print, the jewelry can be placed within a context of time and space; in relation to Hoex’s jewelry, the print can be read tangibly.”
With COVID-19 procedures still in place, both exhibitions are online with exceptions to appointments to see the exhibitions in the Center for the Arts Gallery and the Holtzman Gallery.
“An advantage to going online is that more will be able to experience this show who wouldn’t have been able to do so in person,” Jockel explained. “Students, faculty, and staff at TU can make an appointment to view the exhibition in the gallery with masks and social distancing.”
“All Night Party” and “All Decked Out” can be viewed virtually at https://www.tugalleries.com/ until Oct. 10.