One of these things is not like the other

Exhibition pinpoints what's same to emphasize what's different in artworks

David Cateforis and James Schaefer considered calling the upcoming Signs of Life gallery exhibition "Apples to Apples."

You know, like the antithesis of the adage "apples to oranges," the ubiquitous cliche we whip out when people insist on comparing two completely dissimilar circumstances.

But they thought that might be too obscure. So they settled on "Making Connections," which gets right to the point of the show.

Think of it as a sophisticated game in which you, as the gallerygoer, encounter groupings of artworks and face the challenge of pinpointing what they share in common.

(Here's a hint: One of the clusters bears fruit of the red, delicious variety.)

The real object of the game, though, is reflecting on what separates the paintings.

"What I'm really interested in is juxtaposing works with some commonalities ... but then through these juxtapositions also encouraging the discernment of differences and the appreciation of what makes each work unique," says Cateforis, an associate professor of art history at Kansas University who curated the show in cooperation with Schaefer, Signs of Life gallery director.

The exhibition, which opens Friday at the gallery, 722 Mass., brings together more than 40 works by local, national and international artists in a variety of media, including oil, acrylic, charcoal and encaustic.

From scratch

Cateforis started the curatorial process knowing next to nothing about the 14 artists represented by the gallery. Schaefer provided a CD with images of the gallery's varied holdings, which Cateforis began organizing into broad categories, such as still lifes, landscapes, interiors and figures.

Then he went a step further, scouring the images for more acute similarities, which will determine which works hang together in the show -- an unusual way to arrange a gallery exhibition.

  • Friday, Aug. 20 through Oct. 16"Making Connections"
  • Signs of Life, 722 Massachusetts, Lawrence
  • Special events ::
  • Aug. 20, Special opening reception, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with live music from jazz ensemble "Not Yet Quartet."
  • Aug. 21, Gallery talk and discussion with curator David Cateforis, 5 p.m.

"James has tended to hang things, grouping three or four works by one artists and then three or four works by another artist," Cateforis explains. "I've broken that up, and instead you'll see several works by the same artists, but they'll be dispersed in these different groupings. So really it's a way of laying the cards down on the table in a very different way than they have been before.

"I don't consider it particularly innovative as a curatorial practice, but it's something I've never done before and James and I both enjoyed doing."

It's a bit deceiving to say this is a totally new experience for Cateforis, however. As an art history professor, he utilizes a similar method -- slide comparison -- as a teaching tool on a regular basis, placing two images on a projector and asking students to compare and contrast them.

In this case, Schaefer says he's been something of a student.

"It's a little bit hard to explain the experience, but ... basically you're eye sees fresh what was kind of obvious because it's relating it to something new yet something that's similar," he says. "Some of the pieces that I've liked I really love now because they have this different voice or resonance next to something else."

New fruit

A handful of Lawrence artist Heather Smith Jones' mixed media works are among those Cateforis selected for the show. She's anxious to see her work -- which has become very familiar to her -- through the unfamiliar eyes of an outsider, in this case Cateforis.

"It always brings something new to how you think about what you're painting," she says. "I think it's always positive to have new outlooks.

"I think it's going to be refreshing."

So does Cateforis. And, more importantly, he hopes the show's categorical theme will make it more accessible to gallerygoers of any ilk.

What's most important is that people experience art.

"If you look at a painting of apples by Cezanne, I think you'll understand something about apples that you maybe didn't understand before. You'll look at the apples on your kitchen counter differently the next time you see them," he says. "In other words, art helps to enhance our perception and understanding of the world."


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