VACI’s take on ‘Romeo & Juliet’: Couples who live, work, exhibit together

paige cooperstein

Brian Smith | Staff PhotographerColin Shaffer, the assistant to the galleries director for Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, hangs a piece of sculpture in the main gallery of the Strohl Art Center on Tuesday. The piece will be part of the exhibition “Contemporary Couples: A Creative Life Together,” opening today.

Brian Smith | Staff Photographer

Colin Shaffer, the assistant to the galleries director for Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, hangs a piece of sculpture in the main gallery of the Strohl Art Center on Tuesday. The piece will be part of the exhibition “Contemporary Couples: A Creative Life Together,” opening today.

As watercolorist Ann Provan remembers, it was Nov. 1, 1986, when she and her husband, David, a sculptor, first met at a gallery opening in New York City. They were both artists from California who had migrated east.

“We’ve always been very excited by each other’s work,” Ann said. “We trust each other’s knowledge to provide support for the other person.”

Judy Barie, galleries director at Chautauqua Institution, came across the couple’s work in a small gallery in Cold Spring, N.Y. Barie was interested in the way David’s sculpture and Ann’s watercolor showed together. She immediately thought of their work for the exhibition “Contemporary Couples: A Creative Life Together,” which opens at 3 p.m. today in Strohl Art Center.

“They couldn’t be two more separate media,” Barie said of the couple’s work. “Watercolors are so soft, meticulous and feminine, to a certain degree — the hand has to be that way — while the sculpture is very masculine and heavy.”

Although the Provans worked in different media, Barie saw a subtle link in the pieces of each artist.

“We have similar worldviews,” David said. “I think that’s what it comes down to — our shared political, cultural and spiritual thread.”

David described his work as wireframe sculptures that allow viewers to see the interplay between the front and back of the piece.

One of the pieces currently displayed at Strohl Art Center is from his “Theory of the Sacred” series. The piece uses a combination of bent and straight metal tubes, suggesting the chaos of the universe actually supports its order.

Ann paints overlapping geometric forms, informed by a childhood spent watching her father, a psychologist, develop visual illusion tests.

“Our work is similar enough that we can encourage each other,” David said, “but we have our own territories staked out, visually.”

Seeing the Provans’ work reminded Barie of a show concept she had kept in the back of her mind for a couple years: exhibiting professional artists whose partners are also artists.

Barie wasn’t interested in couples who collaborate on single pieces of art; she wanted to curate “Contemporary Couples” around artists who worked separately but lived together. When Chautauqua Institution’s inter-arts collaboration The Romeo & Juliet Project was announced, Barie knew the timing was perfect to launch “Contemporary Couples” at the gallery. The visual arts don’t have a direct contribution to The Romeo & Juliet Project in the same way other arts programs do, but this is a way for the department to still be involved.

With “Contemporary Couples,” Barie focused on representing a variety of media. Eight artists, forming four couples, are participating in the show. After the Provans agreed to participate, Barie found two realistic painters; an abstract painter coupled with an abstract ceramist; and a Western painter with a woman who experiments with wood and frottage, among other things.

Barie most looks forward to the mix of art styles in the show.

“It will be dramatic,” she said.