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The VivaVine: Volume #4, No. 4; Sept./Oct., 1995

What (pray tell) could be meant by... a "vegetarian," art show ?

Well, if you allowed them, the artists of this cutting edge show most poetically would have given you answers to your curious queries. And surely, after you gazed upon the many beautiful pieces of art at The Sunnen Gallery where the show took place from May 6 to the 25th, and, after you read the many passionate statements from the artists, you would have found the logic of it all to be most clear.

From over nearly 3 dozen applicants who each painstakingly sent slides, newspaper stories and professional histories, the show was eventually whittled down to 16 artists who put vegetarian art on display for hundreds to see at the Lower Manhattan gallery.

Alas, the opening of The Vegetarian Art Show on May 6 brought vegetarians out of the woodwork. It became a place of many reunions creating, for just a little while a mini critical mass of gentleness. Part of the scene was vegetarian and local musical instrument inventor Leon Gruenbaum bringing the curious sounds of his patented Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Chee Pee (basically a computer, qwerty keyboard and all) to the sidewalk outside the show. One was likely to think that this was an event which was indeed ahead of its time. And it was.

Though much of the art came from a pro-vegetable vegetarian point of view, there was some gore and a reality check here and there on the animal front if you looked closely.

Pro-vegetable for sure was a piece by Irene Fiedel. It depicted a luscious still life of tubers and greens. Her artist's statement was an outpouring of love for growing things wherever they may be. "From a block away, the produce is reduced to its simplest elements: bold colors, in varying shapes and sizes. Up close, the inspiration to express my personal vision in paint is an immediate response. At times there is a strong desire to whip out a brush and capture the produce at the market before me."

One of the most beautiful, as well as poignant paintings was the one by Josh Dorman. His "Before the Twister" was difficult to walk away from once you stood before it. The colors, the composition, and the bits of painted burlap exuded the necessary earthiness for the full experience. But more than this, the piece surely represents an idyllic image for vegetarians in particular -- with deep political implications. His glorious image of a farm (or, more accurately, a large garden) full of various edible plants neatly planted in rows, belies today's horrible reality of miles and miles of grain crops, planted this way necessarily to feed animals to be eaten. Further significance of the painting came from the fact that this depiction of a farm was plopped in the middle of what appeared to be miles of hillside. Causing almost no intrusion upon the living things surrounding it, this farm integrated itself with its environment. This is a farm which could only be a reality in a vegetarian world.

On the darker side were Werner Brenner's "Slaughtered Pig," a Christ figure like abstract in bold strokes of orange, green and red, with little mounds of swirled slathered paint along the vertical abdominal slash. Warner's statement showed the sympathy that all vegetarians feel for other living, breathing beings. "Pigs have no opportunity to consent, because no one ever asks them. The farmer, the slaughterer, the butcher, the waiter, the cook, the eater all conspire to splatter every apron with bacon and to fill every fork with pork."

Also very powerful was local painter Linda Dempsy's exhibit. Set before a mural of bucolic images of cows on an old fashioned farm, Linda set a picnic table covered with plates upon which were plastic models of steak and chicken. On a platform nearby was a VCR which repeatedly played graphic videos of slaughter and meat processing plants.

Also on the platform were glasses filled up with colored liquids. The glasses were labeled with the names of deadly chemicals and drugs a person finds today in commercial meats.

"The videotapes are very depressing," commented Neal Teeman about Linda's exhibits at the opening. "It's too bad more people can't see footage like this; they might think twice about sitting down and having some chicken wings."

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