The approaching holiday season means reuniting with family from far and wide — with aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, or grandchildren coming into town for a visit, the months of November and December are a perfect opportunity to catch up and connect.
However, sometimes it can be difficult to bridge the gap between generations. Because let’s be real: How does a high-schooler relate to somebody who was alive before the invention of the microwave? And as somebody who’s lived through the Dust Bowl, how do you connect with a teenager who doesn’t even know how to write in cursive?
Boulder is playing host to two exciting age-focused exhibitions, both of which will remind us of one of the great unifiers in this world: art.
“Aging Bodies, Myths and Heroines” at East Window Gallery and “Younger Generation” at the Bus Stop Gallery — both open now — showcase works that span the spectrum of life’s stages, highlighting the diverse and rich paths of different generations while offering viewers a unique opportunity to contemplate the breadth of the human experience as conveyed through the lens of different life stages.
For East Window Gallery founder, director and curator Todd Edward Herman, “Aging Bodies, Myths and Heroines” was inspired by his late parents.
“The day after East Window’s opening of ‘Aging Bodies’ would have been my mother’s 96th birthday,” Herman said. “She died only two years ago. With both parents having passed away now, this exhibit is a bit of a quiet gift to them. Transience, legacy, loss and mourning have been on my mind. Much of my curatorial work, as well as my own photographic and film work, deals with these themes in some capacity.”
The exhibit, featuring work from 12 artists, delves deep into the social and ethical implications of aging in contemporary Western societies. Through a thoughtful collection of observational photographs and artifacts, “Aging Bodies, Myths and Heroines” challenges common myths and misunderstandings about the aging and elderly.
“One of the many impactful experiences that elderly people face, that’s foregrounded by the selection of images in this show, is the representational biases that our society holds up against them,” Herman said. “In consumer culture, elders are most commonly shown through the lens of the extremes of either pity or adulation; either you’ve been consumed by aging or you have heroically overcome it in some way. With ‘Aging Bodies’ I hope to direct viewers back to the lived body, to a more nuanced view of elders, unmasked and not limited by such stereotypes.”
On one wall in the exhibit, a striking black-and-white portrait of an older woman peers out at the viewer. Her hair is white and wispy, her eyes intense and her smile kind. This portrait, titled “Lillie Bell Gregory” is the work of artist Marissa Stewart — the subject, her late grandmother.
“My grandmother never really liked having her photograph taken and there are few photographs of her while young,” Stewart said. “I started a project back in 2016-17 focusing on the women in my family and on a whim asked my grandmother if I could photograph her, she shyly agreed.
“From that point on I took great care when photographing her, making sure she was a part of the process the whole time. It forced me to see my grandmother as a person, an individual apart from her relation to me. To understand she had a whole life unique to her and that did not stop when I was born. I had to earn my grandmother’s trust in a way completely different than our relationship in order to make the work I did of her. I will forever be grateful.”
On an adjacent wall in the gallery, a multimedia collage displays old-school pictures, a funeral service pamphlet, birth announcements, a newspaper clipping of an obituary, a thank you note, family photos and a piece of paper covered in a child’s scribbles. This display, “We Existed, We Lived,” is Stewart’s iteration of a family tree, with most pieces plucked from her family’s albums and archives.
“I wanted to investigate how we keep treasured items, mementos tucked away and often hidden from view — compared to what it means to have them prominently displayed, and in conversation with each other,” Stewart said. “What other meanings can be explored or what history can be uncovered?”
Other images in the gallery range from playful — a self-portrait of artist Mitchell Squire, posed naked on a forest floor, his body wrapped with strands of white and gold tinsel; To empowering — artist James Hosking’s portrait of drag queen Donna Personna in “Donna Backstage at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge”.
The result is a thorough examination of how photography can both illuminate and celebrate the truths of aging, while also preserving and reshaping personal and collective memories.
Across town, the “Younger Generation” exhibit at the Bus Stop Gallery serves as a vibrant testament to the creativity and fresh perspectives of youth. Featuring an array of unique pieces by middle- and high-school students from the Boulder area, this exhibition shines a spotlight on the burgeoning talents and innovative visions of a new wave of first-class artists.
According to Leah Brenner Clack, interim director at NoBo Art District, the exhibition serves as a way to celebrate the young artists in the community and provide them with an opportunity to exhibit their work in a professional setting.
“These artists are bringing not only their undeniable talent to the table, but their ideas and perspectives about themselves, the world, and our community,” Clack said. “I’ve found that today’s young people hold so much compassion and empathy and that shows within their work. It’s our duty to support the youth so they can feel seen and heard, and then lead their generations and be confident that art has the power to change and shape community.”
The exhibit features the work of 19 young people, plus a group project created by the entire 4th-grade art class at Boulder’s Columbine Elementary School. The selection process for the exhibit was an open invitation, and all student submissions received were accepted.
“We want to foster an environment of support and inclusion so that the students feel confident and empowered to show their work,” Clack said.
Moose Cain-Rodenfels, 20, has been making art for as long as he can remember. From his humble beginnings doodling in the kitchen with crayons and markers, Cain-Rodenfels now works with ink and digital tools to produce abstract works — starting with an ink sketch that he then takes into Photoshop/Illustrator/Lightroom and goes “absolutely feral” until it looks right.
Cain-Rodenfels is one of the featured artists in this year’s “Younger Generation” exhibit. His piece, titled “Vertigo”, is a circular abstract made of ink and white oak that looks like it would be right at home in the Guggenheim. In his list of artistic influences, he names Wassily, Kandinsky, James Turrell, Jean-Micheal Basquiat and Mark Rothko, to name a few.
“Thematically, a lot of my work is focused on the representation of vision or perspective,” Cain-Rodenfels said. “My ongoing series titled ‘Sjón,’ is an exploration into representing different visual conditions and impairments as planets/celestial bodies in a solar system of vision a viewer can walk through and explore worlds of vision, possibly outside their own. I find that how people see the world around them (literally in this case) is an incredible source of inspiration as well as representing how they see the world to the best of my ability.”
For Cain-Rodenfels, being included in the “Younger Generation” exhibition is an honor.
“It’s very creatively fulfilling and humbling to get any sort of recognition for art especially in a gallery setting. This series of work has really surprised me…I’m super grateful for the opportunity to showcase this work and especially grateful to do it alongside folks my age and younger,” he added.
Aging Bodies, Myths and Heroines is open at the East Window Gallery at 4550 Broadway Suite C-3B2 in Boulder, and will close in late Feb. 2024. For more information, visit https://eastwindow.org/2023#block-yui_3_17_2_1_1680389554347_35239.
“Younger Generation” exhibit is open at the Bus Stop Gallery at 4895 Broadway in Boulder, and will close on Jan. 7, 2024. To learn more, visit noboartdistrict.org.