"Just take a risk!" says artist Joan Phares, explaining the philosophy of BAU, the Beacon Artist Union. Artist cooperatives have a reputation for celebrating mediocrity, but BAU is different. Members encourage one another to experiment with unfamiliar artforms. Twice a year, the gallery presents group shows, to which all the artists contribute new work. Offering assignments, inspiring risk, BAU is like a school without teachers. "It's the kind of interaction that keeps you growing, whether you like it or not," observes Phares. Their ethos has succeeded; BAU is now the oldest gallery in Beacon.
To celebrate the completion of their 13th year, the members chose "Lucky 13" as the theme of a group exhibition. Coincidentally, there are now 13 artists in the group—and the show opens January 13!
BAU is not an art movement; no one genre predominates. The artists range in age from 27 to 68. They take on a new member only when someone leaves. "I've been a member of a lot of different [artist] co-ops; this one is different," remarks mixed-media artist Carla Goldberg. "This one really makes you up your game."
There are three sections to the gallery. The front room is usually reserved for a solo show; behind that is the BAU Store, where all the member artists are represented. In the rear is the Beacon Room, which features a guest artist; this month it's Aine Gunn, a 15-year-old Beacon High School sophomore who creates wool animals on bendable wire frames, such as a smug-looking goat playing the banjo.
No one censors the solo shows. "The artists are really in charge of their own space," says founding member Gary Jacketti. "If they want it open 24/7 for 30 days and sell candy cigarettes, that's totally up to them." Generally, the artists are present during their exhibitions, spying on the patrons, who don't expect a sculptor to be sitting behind a desk in an art gallery. "You really learn a lot about your work, and how it's perceived, when you gallery-sit," remarks Phares.
"Lucky 13" means that an apparently ill omen is actually fortuitous. An optimist might say we live in a Lucky 13 moment, when the "bad news" of President Trump has sparked creative resistance in such unlikely quarters as the NFL, "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," and... Alabama. But such a theme is particularly tricky for artists. Luck is an elusive, immaterial force. How to depict it with pigment or clay? "The last couple of nights, that's been the last thing I've been thinking about as I'm going to sleep: 'Lucky 13! What am I going to do?'" admits Goldberg.
Phares often creates installations with disused doll parts. "For this 'Lucky 13' one, I just used a doll head that I've been saving for a long time, found a couple of arms, cut up a few dollar bills, stuck them in her head, and she's ready to rock 'n' roll!" she recounts. The dollars are not immediately recognizable—they resemble wiry hair. But once you look closely, the idea registers: Luck means money sprouting out of your head. The creature holds a stencil for the number 1 in her right hand, and the number 3 in her left. At the point I interviewed Phares, the piece's working title was Saint Trifecta.
Julie Jacobs and Melissa Schlobohm produced Haunt, a black-and-white photograph of a young woman wearing a nightgown and cradling a teddy bear. Behind her, in a twilit field, stands a man in a rabbit suit, paws raised to chest. Haunt could be the result of childhood trauma inflicted by the Easter Bunny.
As of press time, the rest of the artists were still thinking.
"Lucky 13" will appear at the BAU Gallery in Beacon from January 13-February 4. (845) 440-7584.