Rowan Art Gallery’s Latest Exhibit, “What’s Going on Here?” by Jeanne Silverthorne

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Feminism, artistic vision and cast rubber sculptures come together to form Rowan University Art Gallery’s newest exhibition, “What’s Going on Here?” by Jeanne Silverthorne. 

When Silverthorne began creating art in 1986, the art world was much different from the one we experience today. Women were demoted to flower paintings, while men sat in their studios and imagined the concept of the isolated male genius while experimenting with all forms of art. Silverthorne tried to stick to her subservient role but painting, she found, was too quick for her. 

The paint would dry and the piece would be done within the week. She wanted something she could really invest herself in. So she turned her attention to rubber casting. It took time to form the idea, create the mold, cast the mold, unwrap the casting, paint the casting and display it. It was just right for her and so she began to think about what her art could become. 

She knew the previous construct of the artist studio as a space of true artistic male expression was outdated. With that thought, she became inspired by the idea of an old decaying studio. It heavily features vines, flowers and insects, such as ants and flies.

Top of the World, 2014 – Two skeletal figures lie together on top of a white globe scattered with life-sized black flies. This simplifies activity on Earth down to pleasure and decay. / Photo via Chelsea Valcourt
Pink Bulb & White Bulb, 2016 & 2021- The bulb being cast in silicone rubber removes its functionality, mirroring the non-functionality of an old studio bulb. / Photo via Chelsea Valcourt

“The flies came first and they came first because… one of my major concerns is the studio itself which for me is in this state of ruin or collapse,” Silverthorne said. “So, if at a certain point, if things are ruined enough, the walls fall in and nature comes up through the cracks. And the very first sign of that was flies because they’re a sign of disillusionment, right? Because when the flies get in there’s garbage…”

Many of her pieces also showcase lightbulbs, which are plugged into nothing or end in large hooks, showing their uselessness. The idea behind this is to emphasize the reduction of the functionality of this technology once the studio falls into disrepair. However, many of the bulbs also include a phosphorous pigment which grants it a luminescent quality signifying the life and soul of the studio. 

On the flip side of functionality, she has created an ingenious system of organizing and storing her art. Throughout the exhibit, there are various rubber-casted crates on which her art pieces rest. Those crates have more purpose than just a display case; they are also used to store and ship the art on them. That’s right, each crate opens and the castings on top of them are safely placed inside to send out to galleries. 

Venus Flytrap, Xeres Blue (Extinct), with Two Crates 2009-2019. / Photo via Chelsea Valcourt

“This is the first year that students are back since Covid since last year we were closed,” said Mary Salvante, curator for Rowan University’s Art Gallery. “I felt… that all the news had been so negative and people were just unhappy and struggling and [had] so many challenges… I thought it might be good to do a series of exhibitions that were more uplifting. That viewers could feel somewhat of a relief.”

Need a break from studying for finals? Check out “What Is Going On Here?” by Jeanne Silverthorne at Rowan’s Art Gallery on display until Jan. 8.

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