There are so many settings in which you can find art exhibitions: Cafes, restaurants, hospitals, hotels, and of course college campuses. UMass Amherst, as a matter of fact, has four galleries under the auspices of the Fine Arts Center. The Student Union Gallery, Augusta Savage at New Africa House, Herter Gallery and Hampden Gallery.
Hamden Gallery is the only gallery on campus that is housed in a student residential area, and depending on what business you have at UMass, it’s easy to forget this institution is home to a population of people who have barely cleared adolescence. When you see the handwritten block letters on the windows announcing you’ve arrived at the holding pen for university freshmen and sophomores, which is Southwest, you’re instantly reminded of what college is all about.
Sally Clegg’s exhibition, Bundle, is the current solo exhibition at Hampden Gallery. Clegg is the most recent recipient of the prestigious Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Artist Fellowship. She was selected as a 2018 Drawing & Printmaking Fellow and was awarded $12,000 to support her artistic endeavors. A Northampton native, Clegg’s work has been on display in New York City, Atlanta, the UK (where she spent a semester abroad, Painting/Printmaking, Glasgow School of Art) and the Pioneer Valley.
The first order of business when you visit Hampden Gallery is parking. If you park at Southwest, make sure you have ample change; parking in a non-meter spot may result in an $80 fine.
Once you’ve secured your car, you will probably enter the building on the Southwest Circle side. It’s a bit of maze when you get inside; the deafening hum of industry fills the air. The UMass Bake Shop, after all, is housed in the building, and you’ll have to pass through an industrial kitchen supply storeroom to find Hampden Gallery.
When you emerge, you’re steps away from the gallery. It’s an uninspired open expanse that is used as a throughway for students traversing the interconnected buildings of the residential block. In a small enclosed space on the left is Sally Clegg’s exhibition, Bundle.
Art can be a curious expression of an inner vision; a unique manifestation that may elude the viewer. Sally Clegg’s exhibit is both curious and unique. And it’s necessarily mysterious because Clegg says of her work: “My goal as an artist is to bear witness to private, protected, or otherwise invisible experiences or forces. My work integrates information from observation with invented content to create and manipulate narrative.”
The result is a show of both framed prints and three dimensional installation pieces that are open less for interpretation and more for debate.
The installation pieces are odd soft sculptures made of regular nylon stockings. The stockings are contorted, tied off, and stuffed with a dense but soft material. The sculptures look like entrails or worse, for Clegg says of her soft sculptures, “they are made as stand-ins for bodies or parts of bodies.” But only Clegg knows what they are for sure.
The bundles are attached and draped to the walls and bulge forward. Some are trapped in framed boxes covered in nylon stockings. Curiously distressing and arresting at the same time, it’s up to the viewer to make order out of Clegg’s interpretations of what she perceives as “private” and “protected.”
Clegg’s printmaking and drawing skills are unquestionably sound. Having earned her degree in Studio Arts at Goucher College, her etchings with colorful splashes of aquatint are more accessible but still a bit disquieting.
Clegg’s prints use women as their subjects; her ubiquitous bundles become extensions of their bodies. Whether standing or lying prone, these women seem somehow burdened with the bulbous tinted bundles. Clegg explains in her statement, “bundle refers to “of joy” and “of nerves,” but it’s hard to determine which feeling the bundles represent in any given print; there’s no expression of emotion from her subjects.
Overall, there’s a voyeuristic quality to these works, and perhaps that’s Clegg’s intention since she’s “curious about how individuals answer the realities of aloneness through versions of intimacy, connection, and comfort.” The question becomes whether or not you’re up for the challenge of being a voyeur.
As for Hampden Gallery, it’s heroic for the FAC to expose its youngest students to the world of art; having a gallery in the midst of this massive residential block is admirable. However, it would behoove the university to do some sprucing up. Part of the mystery of Clegg’s exhibition was due to missing title tags for her pieces. The adhesive had failed on some of them and they were lying on the floor.
The walls need to be repaired and repainted and it would help if the Hampden Gallery “guard” served as a docent who could answer questions. There is another space for artwork which is better designed for exhibitions, but could still use an overhaul.
Frankly, it’s not too much to ask; when an artist has the opportunity to exhibit their work at a gallery, it should be an honor for both parties. Just as the artwork boosts the prestige of the gallery, the gallery becomes an integral and important part of the show. It sets the mood and serves as the frame, if you will. If the gallery isn’t up for the challenge, the exhibition suffers which, of course, isn’t fair to either party.
Sally Clegg’s Bundle will be on display at Hampden Gallery at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst until March 22. Hampden Gallery, 131 Southwest Circle, Amherst. 413 545-3394.
Gina Beavers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.