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Published in Columbia Daily Tribune, 29 January 2006

Taking Risks

As I write this, I have the onset of the latest cold/flu bug going around.  And I'm pretty sure where I got it:  at the opening for the Winter Exhibition 2006 show at Poppy Fine Art last Thursday.  I figured that this time of year there was a fair chance I'd catch something, being in a crowded space, shaking hands with a lot of people, et cetera.  But since I love good art I figured it was a worth the risk.

Art is all about taking risks.  The artist faces the creative risk of making something from nothing, the emotional risk of rejection, and the financial risk of not selling work.  The gallery takes the risk of investing lots of money in opening their doors, in selecting artists they hope the public will support with their purchases.  The art patron takes the risk of putting out hard-earned money for a piece to grace their home or office.

Let me take some additional risks as well, in giving my reaction to the gallery, the opening, the artwork, and the attending public during the time I was at the reception.

Poppy Fine Art has dared to open a commercial gallery space dedicated to selling original works of art in a town which has seen more than it's share of similar galleries come and go.  On the several occasions I've been in the gallery, their staff has been knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly.  Their renovations to the storefront they occupy resulted in an appropriately minimalist decor, suitable for showing art.  Lighting, always absolutely critical in showing art to its best advantage, is pretty good, though they have so many works on display that there are some pieces which go begging.  The space is typical of many downtown retail establishments, being long and narrow, which isn't too much of a problem most of the time, but made for difficult viewing of the artwork during a well attended opening reception.

But at least people attended the opening, and seemed genuinely interested in the art rather than just socializing or scarfing down the excellent refreshments provided by Village Wine & Cheese.  There were some sales, as evidenced by red dots appearing on the tags for some of the work.  If the public makes the connection between supporting an artist/gallery with actual purchases, and the continued availability of said art or gallery, this will be a good thing.  So often people like to attend openings or art shows, and think that this means they're "supporting the arts."  No, supporting the arts means actually buying art.

And there is a lot of good art to buy in this show.  Chris Teeter's metal sculptures were very popular, and for good reason.  Paintings by Joel Sager (recently profiled in the Tribune as one of the three winning artists in the Les Bourgeois Vineyards Wine Collector's Series) are excellent.  Pastels by northern Missouri artist Nora Othic are significantly under priced.  Dana Brown has intimate domestic still life paintings done in casein - an ancient and unusual painting medium - which are haunting.  And those are just four of the artists featured.  Depending on whether you trust the Poppy website, the listing in the Tribune, or the presence of artists at the reception, the participants in the exhibit range from 8 to 15 artists.  In fact, this would be my only real complaint about the "show:"  there is no clearly defined theme or focus.

That is understandable, because to focus on one artist or around a theme means taking a bigger risk for the gallery.  That artist's work might not appeal at all to the public, or the theme might fail to attract attention.  Poppy Fine Art can be forgiven wanting to minimize their risks this early on, to hedge their bets a bit by offering a wide selection of works for this show and in their gallery generally.  Perhaps, if they see the support from the public they deserve, they'll decided that it is possible to gamble on more focused shows in the future.  But for now, you should play the hand dealt, and be sure to check out the Winter Exhibition 2006 at Poppy Fine Art in downtown Columbia.

It's even worth this (sniff) (cough) damned cold...

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