Pawtucket, RI: Machines With Magnets+World's Fair


“The Conditions Were Just Right” curated by Willa Van Nostrand

Machines with Magnets (MWM) is by no means a conventional gallery space. Located in the heart of Pawtucket, with an entrance squeezed somewhere between a church and a parking lot, the space maintains a rewarding ulteriority. This notion is only heightened by the fact that, frankly, MWM is not a gallery at all. It is a recording studio and venue that is home to a newly renovated full bar and, for the time being, curator Willa Van Nostrand's exhibition project, World's Fair.  The conditions are notable here – such a socially active space lends itself well to visual art, and Van Nostrand is well aware of this.

“The Conditions Were Just Right” features three artists hailing from New York City, Pittsburgh, and of course, our very own Providence, RI. That's (in order): Tanya Merrill, Justin Coleman, and Elizabeth Potenza. Let's have a look at just what the conditions are at this World's Fair exhibition.

Tanya Merrill, NYC-based painter, brings a matured style to the show. Her stoic, desaturated compositions provide a contemplative and pastoral ground that is somber, yet confident. Standing alone as a two-dimensional artist, Merrill situates the show in the world of traditional exhibition. This allows her work to recede and situate, providing an important tone to the grouping–specifically as a balance to Justin Coleman's ceramics.

 These are certainly the most playful works of the show. Arranged on pedestals, Coleman's work separates into two distinct categories. Larger, standalone forms are reminiscent of Seussian rocks, falling somewhere in between natural formation and psychosomatic geometry. Alongside, and some separate from these forms are micro-installations of slip-cast animals alive and beheaded, skulls, owls–all symbols of something, Americanabilia interacting in one way or another, and each individually finished and colored in pseudo-psychedelic glaze patterns.

But the tours de force are without doubt Elizabeth Potenza's gorgeous glass and steel structures. These works beautifully merge conceptual stability and practiced craftsmanship. Just two of these sculptural installations hang in the show across from one another, literally and metaphorically anchored into the structure of the room. Each work grew out of Potenza's astute attention to intimate relationships between salvaged industrial materials she's collected and unplanned aesthetics born out of the process of making them fit together. Angle of Repose, while reading first as a  a re-arranged mill window, an altered homage to the industrial age–is in actuality an rectilinear, concentric play between what was the steel chassis of a rolling cart, and a movable grid of carefully re-arranged and fused, tropical glass blinds. In Geometry Rose, discarded borosilicate glass tubing, cut and polished by Potenza, eminates a translucent amber hue that meshes beautifully and seemlessly into that of the gaskets holding them in place. The warm glow of the glass was not an intentional formal choice, but rather the result of the polishing process. According to the artist, “the conditions were just right” for these works to coalesce into cohesive and emotionally responsive sculptures.

Curator, Van Nostrand seems to have successfully agreed with this sentiment, both as it pertains Potenza's sculpture, and to the show at large. The work of these three artists, and the curatorial work of Willa Van Nostrand are something to keep an eye on. There's wind of a whole slew of projects she's got her hands in, ready to blossom over the course of the next year.