Traveling Art

Fifteen years ago, Bll Barrell came up with an idea for an art exhibition that traveled in a suitcase…..

Art in a Suitcase by Dominic Capobianco
by Dominic Capobianco

…. I had a gallery in Jersey City, New Jersey by the name of the Shoestring Gallery.  When it came time for a show to travel, it could be very problematic. Shipping was a big problem. I thought I could solve the problem by inviting artists to find a suitcase of medium size and asking them to construct an artwork that would either stay in the suitcase or come out of the suitcase onto the wall or floor. I mentioned this idea to a good friend, Ron Morosan, who I thought would like to be in the show and perhaps partner in it. He thought it was a great idea and knew of a few galleries we could approach.

The idea was to make it easy to transport. I wrote up the idea and sent out invitations to an assortment of artists. Most responded right away. I stipulated that the artists not make the work too heavy. They were to make it uncomplicated to install, include instructions and whatever they do, do not make it look like a bomb! The suitcases would be loaded onto planes.

We we had the show in Provincetown, one artist we invited from that region did exactly that, a bomb in a suitcase. I told him it was ok for the current exhibition but it could not travel to the next show in London. He was upset – said it was just art. I said,”would you like to go through Heathrow Airport with an object like this?” He didn’t get it. The suitcase did not go to London.

There were many works that I loved in the show.  There was a hat box that when opened had a hat on a coil. One could take the hat and run it twenty feet and hang it from a ceiling. It looked as if it had jumped out of the box.

But the one that intrigued me the most was a piece by Dominic Capobianco, a truly inspired artist. I have posted his piece here on my blog. It is an ingenious work. It is totally the artist capturing himself in a suitcase. The ideal situation for him. He could travel the world as a hobo in a suitcase. All of his symbols are present. When one lifts the lid off the suitcase it lifts a redand blue ladder that is attached to it, making it easier for the artist himself to climb out or for the viewer to descend into his life, his studio, his fertile mind.

There is the bowler hat and a pair of worn work gloves lying gently on top, a reproduction of a nude by the great Henry Matisse reclining on her side with nude drawings etched into the paint below, a skull sporting a red nose, a fried egg sunnyside up, a clock face buckled and bent telling us that Einstein was right about time being bent, a hand crafted band aid, unused, ready for an emergency, a game of tic-tac-toe in progress. A handful of dice are spread across the floor of the suitcase, is it a winning roll? An ancient looking key that opens doors to places never seen before. It is a beautifully painted piece over all with soothing pinks and impossible to imitate blues. A red rose is woven into the lid lending a feeling of love and warmth.

Dominic, who is from the midwest and is a product of the Depression, must have seen hobos and tramps moving across the country riding the rails and looking for handouts. Hobos had a system for marking houses that were either generous or measly people. Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline came out of that era also, an era that brought American artists to the forefront of the international art world. Capobianco brings that era back to us with a wry sense of humor and a great deal of panache. Go to his website, http://thetoonacularstore.net. Check out a painting “The Poets House”. You want to get to that house you are going to have to work at it, working your way through a world of beautiful obstacles and mysterious places.

On this suitcase is the word “Game”. Maybe life is one big game of winning and losing all turning on the roll of the dice.