Opening Night at WMG and a Conversation with Artist Constance DeMuth Berg

"After Adelita" Opening

This past Friday evening was an exciting one for Woman Made Gallery, where three shows were opening: “After Adelita” and its accompanying exhibition catalog, made possible with a grant from 3Arts, took center stage in the upper level gallery. In celebration of “The Year of Mexico in Chicago” and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution, After Adelita showcases work from eight Chicago-based women artists expressing “…ideas about myths, heroes, and revolutionaries…in diverse media, such as video, painting, photography, and printmaking”. The curator Amy Galpin goes on to write: “The Revolution resulted in the loss of more than one million lives and brought destruction to communities across Mexico. After Adelita examines how a century later, artists in Chicago create work that can relate both closely and loosely to the most iconic female figure to emerge from this turbulent time in Mexican history.” The mood was festive as the gallery filled up with artists, their family members, and friends, as well as a number of other visitors. Seeing the gallery so full of people engaging with the work and each other truly enhanced the quality of dialogue that already exists between the works in this exciting and well-curated show.

Kina (left) in conversation

In the lower level galleries the celebration continued with the unveiling of brand new paintings by artist Laura Kina in her solo show “Sugar. Drawing on oral history and family photographs, Kina’s haunting textile-influenced paintings “…recall obake ghost stories and feature Japanese and Okinawan picture brides turned machete carrying sugar cane plantation field laborers on the Big Island of Hawaii”. The gallery was full and lively with inquisitive visitors including Kina’s family as well as her students from DePaul University, where she is a professor of Art, Media, and Design.

"Seeing in a New Way" Opening, photo by Nina Corwin

In contrast to Kina’s newer work, the second lower-level gallery features a career-spanning show of sculptures by artist Constance DeMuth Berg, called “Seeing in a New Way”. Berg works in recycled and found objects to create sculptures ranging from just over one foot tall to almost six feet in height. Her pieces are incredible to me in that they achieve such a variety of effects depending on the angle from which you look at them, while always maintaining a quality of balance and elegance. The act of simply circling one of her pieces takes me through a range of experiences and references; sculptures go from inviting to imposing, from pagan to religious, and from human-like to machine-like.

Dark Vigil by Constance DeMuth Berg

As the space became packed with enthusiastic visitors, some of them old friends and some new fans, I was lucky enough to sit down with Berg and spend some time talking about her life and work. I was curious about how she came to sculpting and how long she has been at it. She told me that she did not begin until 1987, when she retired from teaching art. Before that, she had been mainly focused on watercolors. When I asked her whether she thought about making sculptures before this, she told me that in fact she had already started collecting materials that were interesting to her but did not have the time and space to use them until after her teaching career. For example, the wooden mold pieces in Dark Vigil, spent some time in storage before becoming part of the sculpture they are now. And as an undergraduate studying music, specifically the piano, Berg had in fact been drawn to sculpture and decided to take a class at Cranbrook Academy of Art when she graduated. On the first day the professor asked the students to make an armature. “I didn’t know what that was, and became intimidated, leaving the class”, said Berg. She instead focused on painting and drawing at Cranbrook, though she took from that experience an important lesson for her own teaching practice, “Never assume that a student knows something, or you risk intimidation”.

Berg at her opening, photo by Nina Corwin

What a pleasure it was to be with Connie Berg, as she is called, and listen to her speak. She pointed to the sharp angles and curves in the wooden mold that is part of her piece Indomitable Survival, explaining how for her they represent the hard turns in life that can lead to a balanced and joyful outcome, as depicted in the symmetrical metal top piece of the sculpture. I can see that her show’s title “Seeing in a New Way”, is really the core sentiment of her practice. She confirms this, writing of her found objects, “I take them as I find them, and am challenged and disciplined to work within the limitations of their design to assemble a sculpture in which each shape seems to belong to another by coming together (somewhat magically?) into a final harmonious composition.”

I find it intriguing that Berg did not come to her sculpture practice until later in life. It is almost as though it was incubating, waiting for the moment when she was ready to engage it with full force, as it is quite evident she was finally able to do. This rumination led me to a question about the objects she uses, as it would seem fitting that in addition to the “found” pieces Berg writes about, she would also incorporate more personal objects from her home and past. When I asked her about this she confirmed that indeed she has used objects close to her heart, and pointed to the base of Center Self, which is constructed from her mother’s sewing basket, turned upside down (not featured in linked photo). Similarly, her father’s watch is featured prominently in Dark Vigil, which she explained is a meditation on death and time. She said, “It just seemed to fit there”.

Berg’s work is truly awe-inspiring and thought-provoking, particularly in its fluidity and the ease with which she conjures up such visual satisfaction and emotion in each piece. I feel such gratitude to have had a chance to learn more about it from the source. Nina Corwin, Woman Made’s Poetry Curator and a friend of Berg’s sums up the experience perfectly: “I’ve never seen anything like this, but now I can’t imagine the world without it.”

-Ruby Thorkelson, Gallery Assistant

14 thoughts on “Opening Night at WMG and a Conversation with Artist Constance DeMuth Berg

  1. Joseph Sterling says:

    Connie Berg is such a special artist and I was absolutely overwhelmed when I first walked into her house and saw her work for the first time. She has a unique ability to put found objects together in both a sensitive and stimulating manner! She seems to create her pieces with such ease and I envy that in her! Joseph & Debbie Sterling

  2. Janine Cavicchia says:

    Congratulations, Connie! I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make it up for the Opening, but I’m hoping to get up there to see your exhibit (and the other two that look wonderful, as well) sometime in the next 6 weeks! We’re honored in the WIU Women’s Center to have your “Furious Flower” sculpture here in the Multicultural Center honoring Betty Kaspar for her work with women. Thank you for sharing your talents!

  3. Martha Klems says:

    What a wonderful review – the whole show looks so great! We Macombites have been lucky to see your work here over the years: now Chicagoans get their
    chance.

    Martha

  4. Patricia Hobbs says:

    This is a fantastic show of Connie’s work. It is wonderful to see a teacher finally have some time to create her own art pieces and be recognized by the art world.

    Congratulations, Connie.

    Patricia Hobbs

  5. Connie says:

    Donna and John,
    Thanks for your compliments! I really
    miss seeing you…and hope all is well with
    you both. I still remember your wonderful
    surprise gift when I returned from the
    hospital! That was real friendship.
    Connie

  6. Connie says:

    Dave and Sally,
    The review was a big surprise to me!
    Of course, you must realize that my feeling
    for you is mutual in regard to our friendship.
    Thanks for your kind words.
    Connie

  7. Connie says:

    Dear Joe,
    Thank you again for your kind, encouraging
    words. Coming from you as an artist makes them even more special to me.
    I hope you are feeling better.
    Keep in touch,
    Connie

  8. Connie says:

    Janine,
    It is an honor to have my work displayed
    at the Cultural Center, and to know that you
    value it. I was really pleased and surprised
    with the Chicago reception….but not anymore
    than the wonderful one that you gave Betty and
    me!
    Thanks again,Connie

  9. Connie says:

    Thank you, Martha, for your kind words.
    I’m so glad that we have MFN…and women like you who support each other in all our endeavors.
    Connie

  10. Connie says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Pat.
    Yes, I agree that teachers tend not to be recognized,
    and I’m glad that you, too, are finally being
    rewarded.
    Connie

  11. Jean Davenport says:

    Connie,

    How wonderful to read your interview and see the photos of your beautiful sculptures! Your work reflects wisdom and inspiration, and is deeply meaningful; artists aspire to represent life in any one of these ways, and you have succeeded in combining all three.

    I treasure the times spent at your home discussing anything and everything, and could sit for hours listening to stories about your life. You are an interesting and amazing person.

    With love,

    Jeanie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s