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Arts & Culture

Don't stress out: 'Worry' art exhibition in Allentown inspired by pandemic, Homer's 'Odyssey'

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Soft Machine Gallery
Renny Molenaar’s "A Lighter Cross" is part of a new show at the Soft Machine Gallery in Allentown. The exhibition opens on May 27.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Feeling anxious or stressed out? A new art exhibition aims to help.

"Worry: Our Anxious Age" opens Saturday, May 27 at theSoft Machine Gallery, 105 Ridge Ave. in Allentown, and features the work of 22 artists from the Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia, New York City and New Jersey.

  • "Worry: Our Anxious Age" features the work of 22 regional artists
  • The new exhibition runs from Saturday, May 27 to July 1 at the Soft Machine Gallery, 105 Ridge Ave. in Allentown
  • The show is loosely modeled on Homer's "Odyssey"

The exhibition showcases colorful embroidery, cardboard and wire sculptures, large wall installations, paper-mâché, street photography and interactive designs.

'Odyssey' in modern art

Local art curator Elizabeth Johnson came up with the idea for the show during the pandemic as a way to showcase how art can relieve anxiety during troubled times.

She modeled parts of the show after the strong and complex characteristics of Penelope, Odysseus and Athena from Homer’s "Odyssey."

The artwork on display is divided into three categories.

To represent Penelope, who was known for weaving a shroud every day to avoid choosing a husband, the first artists demonstrate "hand skills and patience" and "Penelope's many suitors," Johnson said.

"It is illustrated by Rocio Cabello’s wire sculpture, Duwenavue, Santé Johnson’s classically-based embroidery, Elizabeth Keithline’s wire-animal vehicle, Jill Odegaard’s handmade ladder-like structures and Tenesh Webber’s print and photograms that feature weaving as method and subject," she said.

To represent Odysseus in the show, Johnson commissioned a group of five street photographers, who used their “wandering eye” to capture people during intimate moments.

Matthew Crain's work shows equal parts delight and disgust across neighborhoods; Tom McGlynn extracts street photos that echo his studio paintings; Paul Rider finds individuals in private moments, and Charles Stonewall takes telling portraits of African American, Johnson notes.

"They are like Odysseus because he wanders and enjoys travel," she said.

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Soft Machine Gallery
Duwenavue Santé Johnson’s “Age”, Jill Odegaard’s “Woven Structures” and Emily Steinberg’s drawing are part of a new exhibit at the Soft Machine Gallery in Allentown.

The works from the third group of artists, modeled after Athena, are located in the gallery's rear rooms.

Morgan Hobbs’s installation "Fountain" uses mirrors, fountains, monuments, fossils and fists made from paper and found cardboard and Bruce Wall’s "Color Wheels" celebrates the supernatural by transforming plastic takeout containers, metal bowls and pitchers into rainbow mandalas.

Modern-day concerns

Along with mythical themes, there is also a section dedicated to controversial topics such as book bans in the U.S. and gun control.

It is where you'll find Renny Molenaar’s repurposed black American flag and book-burning installations; Frederick Wright Jones’ cardboard gun and chainsaw; and Anthony Smith Jr.’s animated monsters on rice paper.

Network with the artists

The show kicks off with an opening reception from 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Soft Machine Gallery
Elizabeth Johnson's “Attamaroov” and Bruce Wall's "Spectra Space" are part of the "Worry" a new exhibit at the Soft Machine gallery in Allentown. Johnson is the curator of the show.

Gallery owners Eva Di Orio and John Mortensen will be on site with Johnson and several artists.

There will also be light refreshments.

Soft Machine opened in 2012 on 15th Street in Allentown before moving to 105 Ridge Ave. about a year later.

Di Orio emphasized the "contemporary, cutting-edge feel" of the show, which runs through July 1.

"This area needs that a bit right now and it is really good for the Lehigh Valley because people are coming from larger cities to see the show and maybe even explore the three [areas] here," she said.

"It is also good for the artists because they connect to people in larger cities and other galleries."

For more information visit the Soft Machine Gallery's Facebood page.