THE ART FIVE with Curator, Becca Pelly-Fry
Updated: Sep 7
B P-F: The first Perfectionism exhibition took place in 2014, when I was running a contemporary art space inside the headquarters of international art materials manufacturer, Colart, called Griffin Gallery (now closed). I began noticing that there were a number of artists who seemed to be pushing against several decades of what one might refer to as ‘easy-do’, or concept-driven artwork, and instead were seeking an ultimate truth through commitment to materials and process. The second exhibition in the series took the idea a little further, and explored the results of repetition; artists in that show undertook repeated actions or replicated imagery in an attempt to get to the essence of that action or image. The third in the series, subtitled The Alchemy of Making, looked at the idea of transformation of materials, showing artists who take mundane materials and transform them into objects with status or symbolic power through a meticulous set of processes. A Trick of the Eye, the fourth iteration, looks at artists who employ visual trickery or illusion in their work; again, through highly skilled and fastidious working practices.
B P-F: As this was to be an ‘exhibition’ taking place entirely (and solely) in the virtual world, I thought it would be interesting to play with ideas of virtual and material, truth and illusion. The six artists in this show all use their extraordinary skills to create imagery that appears to be something it is not. This is not to say they are trying to pull the wool over the viewer’s eyes, as the ‘trick’ is fully revealed in all the accompanying documentation, but illusion is used as a way to explore the essence of something. Nicolas Feldmeyer has often quoted Albert Camus in reference to this, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth”. I think this sums up beautifully what this exhibition is all about; through explorations of illusion, the artists in Perfectionism IV are all seeking an authentic representation, or reflection, of the human condition.
B P-F: It’s been a bit of an experiment, but one that has taught me a lot about the differences between showing work online and in the ‘real world’. In order to give the audience as interesting and ‘real’ an experience of the work online as offline, it is necessary to add a lot more context and explanation than you would in a physical gallery space, for example. Whilst that might be a little counter-intuitive, it also reveals layers of meaning and exposes the process of making, which brings the audience closer to the work in some ways. Working with NY-based art advisory, OPENArt, has meant the exhibition (and therefor, the artists) has had a much wider audience than it would have had otherwise, and the bonus of doing it as an online experience is saving time and money that would have otherwise been spent on shipping and installing the physical works. The pandemic has forced the art world online in a way that the industry has largely been resisting for several decades; it’s proving that it can work and that it is accessible to everyone. I’m all for the democratisation of contemporary art; there is no reason it should be confined only to the academic elite, or to those with the millions needed to engage with the blue chip gallery system.
B P-F: Christine Lee, Founder of OPENArt, and I had been talking for around a year, with the intention of putting on a physical exhibition in London this year. With the global pandemic making that impossible, we decided to try our hands at an online showcase instead. I created the concept of the show in response to the idea of showing work in an online environment, and the feedback has been that the artworks do indeed occupy an interesting space within the new landscape of online presentations. The uncertainty of what you are looking at means there is a slippage between perception and understanding; but the information is made widely available for audiences to dig deeper and understand what they are looking at. We had some discussion early on about whether to put the works into a virtual ‘gallery’ space, as many other organisations have been doing, but that seemed to add a layer of visual experience that felt unnecessary in our particular case. Essentially, it’s just a website which you scroll and click through to see all the works, and to read about the artists; there is an element of mystery there, as it can seems as if the website is describing an exhibition that has also taken place physically but of course it hasn’t! Again, we’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes; presenting artwork online comes with all these challenges and we are learning as we go.
Life is a little more precarious as a freelancer and independent curator, and of course the coronavirus situation hasn’t really helped that. Not being attached to any particular organisation has its drawbacks, of course, but it also lends an enormous amount of personal and creative freedom to my career. I am free to choose what I do, with who and when, and that suits my personality perfectly. Alongside my curating work, I also work as a consultant with various arts organisations, and I am a Reiki healer too so being independent and freelance allows me to fit all these things together in a way I couldn’t when I was working full time for a single company. Over the past few months I have been thinking a lot about how the world is changing, and how the cultural sector can (and should) best respond to and serve these changes. I am keen to create a space for healing, bringing art, science, holistic practice and conversation together. I am interested in digital technology and where that might lead us as a species, so I’m keen to develop some ideas for the digital space. There may well be further collaborations with OPENArt; Christine and I are keen to work together again. I am really interested in what can happen through collaboration - as humans, we are infinitely stronger and more impactful when we cooperate.
Thank you Becca Pelly-Fry for participating in THE ART FIVE, issue 9.
To view the exhibition Perfectionism IV - A Trick of the Eye, visit https://www.openartadvisory.com/perfectionism
Artwork image captions, top to bottom:
Jonny Green, Orange Stanza, 2020, oil on linen
Jonny Green, Nautilus (detail), 2020, oil on linen
Olly Fathers, Species in Space, 2020, Oak, Jatoba, Dyed Tulip, Dyed Figured Sycamore, Fumed Oak, Birch, Dyed Sycamore, Figured Maple, American Walnut, Moabi, Dyed Birds Eye Maple, Walnut Burr on board with Sold Walnut Frame
Olly Fathers, Species in Space II, 2020, Purpleheart, Dyed Birds Eye Maple, Fumed Oak, Dyed Tulip, Oak, Walnut Burr, Walnut, Figured Sycamore, Koto on board with Sold Walnut Frame
Selma Parlour, Miniaturised Minimalism IV, 2019, oil on linen with laser engraved primed surface
Selma Parlour, Invented Vocabulary VII, 2018, oil on linen
Charley Peters, ..WYLEI..FIF.. (When You Least Expect It, Fuck I’m Funny), 2019, acrylic and spray paint on canvas
Charley Peters, SB\2M2H (Smiling Back, Too Much To Handle), 2020, acrylic and spray paint on canvas
Nicolas Feldmeyer, Even After All 7, 2017, Resin coated silver gelatin print mounted on Dibond, Edition of 5 + 2AP
Alastair Gordon, Vanity. Vanity. All is Vanity, 2017, oil and acrylic on wood
Alastair Gordon, He Dreams of Being an Honest Coward, 2017, oil and acrylic on wood
LIMITED; a collection of contemporary editions, curated by Becca Pelly-Fry and produced by King & McGaw (launch date TBC)
Art Gazette; a contemporary, curated catalogue of unique artworks providing elegant, creative environments for a range of public and private spaces
About Becca Pelly-Fry
Becca originally trained as a sculptor at Northumbria University and whilst practising worked with film, performance and installation art. Until October 2019 Becca was Head Curator for Elephant West, a contemporary art space in a converted petrol station in White City, west London. Previously Becca was Director and Curator of Griffin Gallery (inside the Head Office of art materials manufacturer, ColArt International) where she curated the majority of the exhibitions at the gallery between 2013 and 2018 and oversaw an artist residency programme and the annual Griffin Art Prize. Becca is now a freelance curator, developing exhibitions with emerging to mid-career artists, as well as undertaking a range of independent projects. Her curatorial practice encompasses an interest in materiality and the process of making, through to explorations of human/animal relationships, symbiosis with the natural world, healing and spirituality. Becca is also a Level 2 Reiki healer and is currently learning about Andean Shamanism, both of which bring a complementary set of practices to her professional and personal life.