Gothic exhibition raises lively questions

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Halloween may be long over, but the Lehman College Art Gallery is bringing gothic culture to the forefront.

The gallery, housed on Lehman’s campus at 250 Bedford Park Blvd., presents “Dark and Stormy Night: Gothic Influence in Contemporary Art,” an exhibition dedicated to new artistic takes on medieval gothic architecture and gothic literature. 

The idea was the brainchild of gallery director Bartholomew Bland after joining the Lehman team last year. The gothic architecture of some buildings on campus — from their slender towers to pointed arches — fascinated him.

So when it came time to put a new exhibit together, Bland asked the gallery’s curatorial assistant Laura De Riggi, “How can we tap into this? Can we do something really great about it?”

From there, the gallery acquired work from 34 artists whose pieces range from stained glass artwork within a light box that can be turned on and off, to a painting of Edgar Allan Poe crossing the street on Grand Concourse. 

Picking a favorite is tough for De Riggi, but there are two that stand out to her.

One is “Death Portrait of Kelly York,” an oil painting by Zane York, the husband of the woman featured. In the piece, York’s wife is dead and surrounded by honeybees, inspired by the fact Kelly switched careers to involve bees despite being deathly allergic to them.

De Riggi is captivated by the concept because she said it makes one reevaluate their life. And it’s made her think about what she would do if she were in the same predicament.

“If I was allergic to paint, how would I come to work every day if I knew I was going to die?” De Riggi said. “Would I still do what I do if I was going to die or if there was a chance I was going to die?” 

The other piece is a series of death portraits made by Heide Hatry — except they aren’t paintings. Instead, they’re made from the ashes of the deceased subjects, with permission from the families.

“Commemorating them in this way is such a modern thing,” De Riggi said.

Since the gallery is accessible to students on campus, plenty of English, art and continuing education classes have been drawn toward Hatry’s death portraits. Many of the younger students seemed to be “shocked and impressed” that the gallery was able to bring them to campus, De Riggi said, and “can’t believe it’s legal” to make use of someone’s ashes for art. 

The overall response to the exhibition has been the most positive De Riggi has seen in her year of working at the gallery.

“It makes people think about death, and I think a lot of times it’s not talked about,” she said. “And I think this is bringing it up in a pretty way, and making gothic popular again.” 

Although there might be a lot of doom and gloom in the exhibit’s subject matter, De Riggi still sees an upside. 

“Even though there’s so much death in gothic (work), there’s also so much life,” she said. “We still have so much life.”

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