SAVANNAH'S tight-knit art community has suffered through quarantine.
Without weekly receptions and other assorted art events to attend, the artists and art lovers in this town have been relegated to seeing each other through Instagram and Zoom.
But there ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby, and seeing each other through a screen only takes the edge off for a little while. Our art community wants to be together again, but the pandemic makes gatherings fairly difficult.
So when Carmen Aguirre, gallery director of the Grand Bohemian Gallery at the Mansion on Forsyth Park, was presented with an opportunity to have an exhibition after a months-long hiatus, she knew just what she wanted to show.
“I always felt that if we were able to open up again, that I would open the doors to Savannah, which meant our artists and our locals who have always been so supportive of us,” says Aguirre. “It just seemed the right thing to do, to open our doors for our people.”
That’s what’s special about “New Moon,” the first exhibition held by the Mansion after the pandemic. The reception on Sept. 17 will open the doors for not just the art community but for the rest of Savannah as well.
During the reception, the front of the Mansion will be closed off to allow for more space to see the artwork. Several pieces will be placed outside, and the flow of people into the gallery will be closely monitored to keep participants as safe as possible.
This is the first time the hotel has been this involved with a reception, and that’s certainly by design. The Mansion’s new general manager approached Aguirre with an idea to close the front of the hotel and run the valet on the side of the hotel instead. Aguirre had already been thinking of ways to host an opening, so the ideas flowed from there.
“Everyone’s really excited about it because just about every department is involved, so you can put a face to the property,” says Aguirre. “This is away from the more touristic place: we’re in the middle of a residential area and the park. You do feel like this is home.”
This outreach effort comes on the heels of a big moment for the Mansion’s owner Richard Kessler: his newest property, Plant Riverside District, recently opened on River Street. But for Aguirre, it doesn’t feel like a moment so much as it does a continuation of momentum.
“Every property has its own identity, its own way of functioning,” she says. “The three of them are completely different, and they attract different people.”
Now, this effort asserts the Mansion as a destination for locals.
The nine artists in the show—Bede Van Dyke, Stacie Jean Albano, Heather L. Young, Julia Christian, Joan Simmons, Kristen Baird, Christopher Carpentino, José Ray and Paul Alico—are all Savannah locals.
“The artwork is going to be very diverse,” says Aguirre. “Perhaps some of the subject matter will be similar—you can’t help but not get away from nature here, so you’ll see some of that.”
Aguirre makes a solid point here: the silver lining of quarantine is that all the free time allowed people to break away from their normal routines and get out of a rut.
“I think it’s interesting to see what came out of people’s quarantine,” she says. “I think that the beginning was a bit of a jolt. We’re so programmed and geared to always be kept in motion and busy or else you just felt like you’re not taking advantage of life—and maybe we weren’t.”
Getting out of that rut, Aguirre thinks, led people to create some great artwork.
“It was concentrating and reexamining without a deadline,” says Aguirre. “Now you have all the time to really go through a process of thinking and letting it melt, and then creating. Time really had no significance in terms of, ‘I’ve got to get up at 7.’ I think you’re going to see a lot of it come out in a very positive way in the art.”
Also, now that there’s a chance to show work together again, Aguirre says the artists’ excitement is palpable.
“Everybody was feeling the distancing and not being able to see people,” she says. “When the opportunity came to get together and put something on, there’s excitement.”
“New Moon” also marks the first time Aguirre has Joan Simmons in her roster.
“I remember the first time I met Miss Joan,” says Aguirre. “She is just a presence when she walks in—you can’t miss her.”
After meeting several times at openings, Aguirre and Simmons ran into each other at Kroger, of all places. Simmons noted that this partnership must have been meant to be, and Aguirre agreed. Now, Simmons will show her dolls, which are quite unique.
“They’re all little Joans,” says Aguirre of the dolls. “They’re all aspects of her.”
The exhibition will be a great collection of local artists and interesting work, as well as a great opportunity to socialize with each other again. But be mindful of the guidelines, which are put into place to allow in-person events to happen at all.
“By doing this and being strict with how we handle it, it’s to let people know that we have this, and there are guidelines we have to follow,” says Aguirre. “There are things we can still do in a modified way, but we can still do them.”