Review: Shining a Light on Local Art Exhibition
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Chronic boredom is so pervasive among local teens it seems like a sickness. Sighs can be heard in the NHS halls, bold statements of “there’s never anything to do in Neenah” are plastered across social media, and it seems the most exciting place for teens to hang out on the evenings is Applebee’s. A cure for this extensive boredom has found its home in Neenah, and it is the Bending Brilliance: Neon and Plasma Sculpture exhibit. Often referred to as “Art After Dark,” the exhibit features futuristic, glowing glass tubes bent into miraculous shapes. It will surely provide an electrifying experience for not only teens, but those of all ages looking to find something to do on wintry nights.
The second you step into the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass you feel as if you are transported to another dimension. Local actors dressed in the theme of the month (December was ugly sweater) wander through the rooms providing information on the artwork. You are instantly submersed into a welcoming atmosphere as the actors greet and interact with you. Beverages are also provided at the event, so you can sip a soda or beer as you gaze at the sculptures. The first thing you see when you stride through the doors is a plasma ball. Though you cannot touch the artwork, you can touch the plasma ball. A man behind me promoting a local craft beer quickly chimed in, “If you touch the ball then touch your friend, you should feel a shock.” Instantly, I place my hand on it and zap my friend with a tiny shock, but the plasma ball is just the beginning of wonder.
When you step into the first room you are greeted with neon brilliance. A fan favorite seemed to be a vivid, red cherry created by Ed Kirshner and Mitch LaPlante. Something as simple as a cherry typically is not worthy of praise, but when done with glass and gas plasma the almost cartoon shape of the cherry is enchanting. Traveling upstairs, you will be welcomed by more illuminating sculptures. A personal favorite was a piece titled “Mr. Sluggyfuss” by Bradley Corso. It features a giant metal barrel fashioned into a face. A gaping mouth is cut into the side of the metal barrel and fashioned with teeth. Metal eyes peer at you from the top of the barrel with exaggerated eyelashes framing the small eyes. The neon comes into play with a red tube inside the sculpture’s mouth, and fuchsia tubes encircle the bottom of the sculpture. Mr. Sluggyfuss brings a childlike wonder to the exhibit with his comical expression.
Though Mr. Sluggyfuss and the crimson cherry were superb, the most jaw-dropping part of the exhibit features massive neon signs. The largest room in the museum houses some of the most popular sculptures among the museum goers. One sign simply states: “it is what it is” by Jacob Fishman. A simple yet profound message done with a multitude of colors. The “it is” is done in a crisp white, but the letters are filled in with bars of blue, green, purple and yellow. The “what” is significantly smaller than the “it is” but stands out in red. An eye-catching piece by Bruce Nauman stands alone on a small wall, but the sculpture is so large it seems to take up the entirety of the wall. A soft red spiral encompasses the words, “The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.” The words are bent into a graceful cursive script and glow blue. The True Artist almost looks like a raindrop falling into a puddle and creating mesmerizing circular patterns. By gazing upon this piece you feel as if the artist who made it indeed accomplished his task as an artist to reveal an unknown mystic truth to the world. Another piece titled “The Lingering Kiss” baths the room in a turquoise light. It features the imprint of a kiss, and if you gaze at it long enough, then look away, a red after image continues to fill your eyesight. The artist, John E. Bannon, wanted to illustrate the thought of a lingering kiss in your mind, and he accomplished this. Another intriguing part of Art After Dark lies beyond the light-filled rooms.
Traveling downstairs to the basement proved to be a worthwhile journey. A crowd was tightly packed into a room and at the front was a practicing neon artist, Jed Schleisner. One downside was the room being a bit small, so some people had to sit on the floor, and protective eye wear is necessary. In the end it was worth sitting on the floor as you could watch Schleisner pass a delicate glass tube through an open flame. After a few moments of heating, he was able to bend the glass into a right angle as if it was a pipe cleaner. Shaped tubing in the form of the word “eat” was passed around and was a nice touch as you could then see the bends in the glass up close.
Art After Dark is a thrilling visual and tactile experience for all. I would highly recommend attending the Bending Brilliance: Neon and Plasma Sculpture exhibit before it closes. According to the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum website, the exhibit will be open from 5-7 p.m. on Jan. 19 and Feb. 16. Another perk is that entry is free. To view modern and exciting art locally in Neenah is truly thrilling and well worth anyone’s time.