Sweet Meat Co.
Hungerford Building #2
Rochester, New York
January 25–February 1, 2010
In the early twentieth century, the Hungerford Building on Main Street in downtown Rochester, New York, was the hub of the J. Hungerford Smith Company known for making “True Fruit” flavored syrups. So when Erich Lehman, owner and curator of 1975—a gallery living in a semi-permanent space within a salon in the South Wedge district of Rochester—put together a group of artists to comprise his latest collective project, the name Sweet Meat Co. seemed to hit the nail on the proverbial head.
Sweet Meat Co. consists of five local visual artists working in various genres. Lea Rizzo and Sarah Rutherford (also responsible for bringing the artists together) employed painted canvases, photography, and found objects in new and exciting ways, creating a unique installation experience. Rutherford discussed with me the process in which the collective used the waste that surrounded them—the broken gears of ancient syrupy machinations, loose bricks meant for the dumpster, and wallpaper that was in the basement of the building—to assist in creating a new, collective experience. Mr. Prvrt, a well-known local stencil artist, covered the walls of the space with his original designs. St. Monci (Michael Moncibiaz) used street art as his artistic discourse, and Lehman rounded out the group with his excitingly erratic paintings. For the initial show, Lehman invited photographer Anjolee Wolfe and former Rochester Institute of Technology film student Jordan Greenhalgh to assist with the space. Wolfe posted portraits of herself and the other six participants in the entry way, giving viewers a chance to “meet” the artists while Greenhalgh set up the music and much of the lighting.
At the installation’s closing night party, I passed through the entryway to observe Buster Keaton’s 1937 film, The General, projected on the back wall of the 2,500-square-foot space. Considering most of the film was shot in or around a train, the Hungerford Building—surrounded by train tracks—created a nice transition from outside to inside space. Along with the film, guests could play with different interactive media, such as a lens with a Kodachrome still placed behind it, mounted on an old, rusty vice. As the vice tightened, the image enlarged. This device speaks to the installation as a whole: the closer one can get to a piece of art, the “bigger” it seems. It not only takes up your peripheral vision, but the periphery of all senses—placing you within the work.
Rizzo’s pieces were another strong example of this notion. One is a portrait of the legendary graffiti artist Lady Pink, who adorned with flowing, angelic garb, resembled the Immaculate Virgin Mary. But instead of holding baby Jesus, she tightly grasps a can of spray paint. Next to this huge piece, a walk-in meat locker was constructed. Viewers anticipated a chill on the back of their necks as they interacted with the life size, nude portraits, of a woman upside-down and bound, hanging from hooks like gorgeous cattle carcasses.
This idea of cross-pollination of artistic styles was evident in small corners of the installation, and one could easily decipher the different approaches apparent within the collective. Mr. Prvrt and his stencils shared a wall with St. Monci’s graffiti, while Lehman’s paintings were scattered throughout the entire space. There were small crumbs of Rizzo’s work left throughout the space, but viewers could still tell the difference between the forced placement of pieces and true, collaborative art.
All the artists were excited at the fantastic turnout at the space and the buzz that has been created around this new collective. Sweet Meat Co. is a group of Rochester artists, each with their own unique spice note, who together, are creating tasty new dishes into which local art lovers can sink their teeth. Despite the ostensible sections of art throughout the space, Sweet Meat Co. will, in future exhibits, try to combine their efforts on a larger scale—aiming to become a “nomadic clan of artists,” seeking different galleries, new spaces to work with and in.
David Yockel Jr. is a graduate student in Creative Writing at The College at Brockport and an editorial intern for Afterimage.