A question of balance in Torrington

Five Points Gallery’s show echoes mission of Nutmeg

Right: Ann Scoville’s ‘Moscow Circus

Ostensibly, Five Points Gallery’s newest show is about ballet.

It coincides with the 45th anniversary of the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory, a Torrington jewel located just across the street from the art gallery. 

But this splendid new show at Five Points is really about balance and juxtaposition. It’s about balance in the physical sense — how we stay afloat and even graceful in a world that can feel jumbled and crass. And it’s about the balance between the classic and the commercial — how we stumble about in a world of gross materialism that is also flush with unexpected beauty and elegance.

The artists that Five Points has assembled — Salvatore Gulino of Harwinton; Don Perdue, a nationally recognized photographer; and Ann Scoville, a sculptress who died earlier this year — all have a rough association with Nutmeg. But beyond that, their artwork, particularly that of Gulino and Scoville, aligns in fascinating ways that neither of them would likely have imagined, had Scoville lived to see this final iteration of her work. 

Scoville, a Norfolk native, who was studying with painter Guy Pne du Bois as a teenager, was drawn to the human figure from the start of her 83-year career as an artist. At some point her interest in painting, combined with a growing absorption with the ballet, led her to create welded steel figures that began in her garage and found their way into private collections, museums, gallery shows, and public spaces, from the American Embassy in Moscow to the walls of the Warner Theatre opposite the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory.

Why she did not show these splendid steel sculptures, the majority of which depict gender-neutral figures in ballet poses, is baffling. The sculptures are supple; they are kinetic; they bend and twist and fuse with an extraordinary suppleness that belies their material. Scoville made steel twist — coil, really, in a manner no human body could achieve but is suggestive of the gymnastic possibility of dancers, and, by extension, all of us. 

Most of Scoville’s pieces are welded steel, either steel wire, which is fused to create powerful silhouettes, or thicker pieces of steel, which corkscrew into what look like thick, black slices of ribbon candy. 

These kinetic figures, positioned as they are in front of Perdue’s splendid dance photographs, are deeply expressive and mysterious. They have no apparent gender. They hew to no particular pose, although in a few, Scoville references particular ballet positions. They are like black shadows that have been peeled off the floor and then posed in writhing, gestural contortions. Each figure incarnates its own physical elegance. 

Many clasp hands with other dancers. Or they balance at the end of long steel bars, seeking — and finding — equipoise. Her largest and most breathtaking piece — a round sculpture of the Moscow Circus, comprising 12 elements suspended on pedestals of differing heights, is a broad hint at the delicate balance Scoville sought throughout her artistic life. Tigers prowl on slender, curvilinear steel bars; trapeze artists suspend from their knees on swings; acrobats balance on a single column the size of their palm. 

All of this is about line and form, of course. Scoville knew how to play with negative space. But it’s also about the native harmony within us. 

Gulino’s works are about balance of a sort, as well. The artist, who taught at Wamogo Regional High School for more than 30 years, appropriates classic, recognizable works of art — Picasso, Lautrec, Fragonard, Rembrandt — and juxtaposes them either with other, similarly familiar works of art or with elements of popular culture. 

So Frans Hals’ “Laughing Cavalier” poses in front of a grocery store shelf stuffed with Contadina tomato paste, Smuckers strawberry preserves, Prego spaghetti sauce and Old El Paso taco shells. What is this emblem of 16thcentury excess doing in front of this concoction of 20thcentury commerce? For that matter, what is Ingres’ glorious society portrait “Princesse de Broglie,” with her cool satin dress and icy gaze, doing in front of a popcorn counter in a movie theater? 

For his part, Gulino says these juxtapositions are simply random. “There is no underlying message in the juxtaposition of images, and there is no attempt to criticize or satirize the works of art that are assimilated,” he writes in his artist’s statement. “When combined with contemporary images, my paintings are a bit startling, but remain as homages to the great artists that inspired them.” 

So, take him at his word or suggest he’s a bit disingenuous. Regardless, the combinations are often jarring, even destabilizing. To put the height of Ingres’ portraiture achievement in front of the quintessence of junk food diversion seems to deeply suggest a world that has vulgarized much of what is great about Western cultural achievement. 

So, whether it’s Fragonard’s “Young Girl Reading” in front of MacWorld magazine or Ghirlandaio’s Renaissance “Portrait of Giovanna Torabuoni” in front of an iPhone screen, it’s hard not to look at these contrasts as commentaries on an altered world. 

Beyond that, however, Gulino’s images are fun. Art history majors will have a good time trying to name the classic piece and ask themselves what contemporary image they would have chosen to contrast with it.