by Lynn Alexander
The VARGA Gallery of Woodstock, New York, recently concluded the annual Women’s Show–an event showcasing more than thirty artists of diverse styles and themes. The show featured a solo exhibition by surrealist visionary Cristine Cambrea and Corinne Dolle, (a.k.a. Coco), whose pin-ups have appeared in The Village Voice and The New York Times. In addition the show also featured workshops and opportunities for audience participation, all elements that make the Women’s Show and the VARGA Gallery must-see features of Woodstock.
Cristine Cambrea is a Vermont-based artist and self-described surrealist visionary. In 2007 she sold-out a six-week solo show in NYC’s Meatpacking District. She has upcoming exhibits in New York City and London, and opened The Cambrea Stone Gallery in Vermont with her husband, independent filmmaker Drew Stone. Her paintings are “a map of experiences, feelings and energy and the relationship between their physical, emotional and energetic environments.
VARGA, owned by Christina Varga, is not your mother’s gallery. In addition to providing a creative outlet for emerging artists, Christina’s vision includes representation of “outsider” artists, self taught artists, and artists who are often overlooked by the so-called mainstream art establishment because they lack the credentials or formal training often seen as necessary to the successful execution of creative work. Of equal concern to Varga is the rather exclusive nature of the art world and the traditional lack of female representation. Angered by what she describes as “disdain” for such artists, she became committed to an inclusive vision for her own gallery.
“There is certainly a greater respect for outsider and self-taught artists now than 10 years ago, but I was turned off from approaching galleries from a few experiences…and being treated with disdain. It’s the disdain that chaps my ass. I can’t stand it. So when I opened my gallery I knew that I did not have the “credentials” to decide which art was acceptable in the art world’s eyes and which art was credible and salable. I never had aspirations to be exclusive, as in to exclude people. Obviously I make some decisions as to what I find aesthetic, but more important to me is nurturing the creative spirit in artists, especially self-taught, outsider and visionary artists. These kinds of artists are VISIONARIES.”
Her desire to create an outlet for showcasing female artists remains a driving force behind the highly successful Women’s Show, which has enjoyed tremendous popularity for more than five years. Yet Varga maintains that she is not interested in propagating separation along gender lines, but rather in working together to find common ground while cultivating shared creative spaces. In her support of self taught and outsider artists, Varga expresses a specific interest in the work of those she refers to as “visionary” individuals, whose contributions she feels are necessary to achieve societal transformation and transcendence of cultural barriers. She believes that every major leap in understanding has been accompanied by creative work, and that the nurturing of this work is an essential part of what it means to support art as an aspect of social change.
“I believe we are in a transformative period in our consciousness,” says Varga, “ and the growing pangs of evolution come through most readily in the creative processes of humankind. Every major leap in understanding and consciousness is accompanied by art and creativity and I seek to support the conscious leap from dark and churlish war-ridden fear mongering to an acceptance and understanding that each and every one of us are connected, speak a universal language and that art transcends all communication barriers. Upon seeing, or in the case of blind or visually impaired people, feeling, we are communicating with others. Specifically, I feel a need to support women artists because I know through the years it has not been easy for them to come up through the oppressively male dominated art world.”
The Women’s Show featured selections from the travelling art exhibit called “1 in 8: The Torso Project” founded by Pam Roberts.
In selecting work for the Women’s Show at VARGA, the goal was to include work with a message, but also to allow the exhibits to stand on their own, imparting the artist’s intentions. While many do center on a particular issue, such as selections from the “1 in 8 Torso Project” about survivors of breast cancer, Varga refrains from trying to characterize women’s art as limited in scope or content. She does not try to define what women’s art “should be,” but rather aims to support expression as it is and as defined by the artists themselves. (Interview Questions, Christina Varga)
“I don’t think women’s art should be anything in particular. I am often surprised by the work women create, and a lot of it can be quite dark. But on an intuitive level I think that women are very sensitive to emotional context; their works are packed with feeling and they stand on their own.”
This emphasis on the voice of the artist, whether established or emerging, is an aspect of Varga’s vision that resonates with many women, who are tired of the obligatory characterizations or defiance of notions about what women’s art is “supposed” to focus on. Many women might also respond to her message about the validity of the self-taught artist, and the convergence of our history with grassroots communities in response to creative and political marginalization. While it is true that acceptance for outsider art has grown tremendously and that the participation of women in the arts has increased, there is still an aspect of rebellion and self determination to these movements that form a part of an honored legacy for which galleries like VARGA continue to pay tribute.