Saturday, January 28, 2006

Hygienic Art Festival XXVII 

This is the second or third time I've been to the Hygienic since it's reinvigoration in 2000. Each time, it has lived up to its spirited subtitle as a Salon Des Ind├ępendants with "No Judge - No Jury - No Fee$ - No Censorship" and this year is no exception, with a dazzlingly eclectic array of amateur art.

The Hygienic Gallery is on Bank street in New London, CT and as long as you show up at the designated time, they will hang any one piece per artist. With such liberal acceptance criteria, the show ends up with hundreds of pieces of varying quality, from ritualistic worship objects to fine photography, high school art class to robots welded out of auto parts. Every year, there are a lot of bad paintings of nude women. Every year, there are a few pieces that turn your head.

Initially chartered through a state grant program and saved from dissolution by a community uprising centered around a historic building, the Hygienic has come to symbolize New London's struggle for resurrection. Economic downturns in the last twenty years have hit the city hard, leaving many storefronts empty along both of the main streets. Since the return of the Hygienic, New London has sought to remake itself as a center of art with historic chic, not unlike Mystic just a few miles up the coast. Reconstruction is a popular issue here, especally considering a recent landmark US Supreme Court decision in a local eminent domain case.

As a sign of the city's resurgence, the festival is closely monitored by the media. Not only were there photographers from the local newspaper taking pictures of the crowd waiting to enter the gallery but at a nearby nightclub, there were two print reporters and several serious photographers working the crowd while a series of bands took the stage. And quite a crowd it was - New London is growing a class of bohemians. The art hippies who have held on to the festival for years are being joined by a young, hip crowd of twentysomethings. They're bringing a lively, loud color to the city.

The show runs until February 11th.

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