Jack Puglisi art
Jack Puglisi - "The Watcher"

Crosscurrents Art Exhibit Opens June 25th at Stifel Center

Oglebay Institute’s annual Crosscurrents exhibition will take place again this year at its Stifel Fine Arts Center. While no opening night reception will be held due to the COVID-19 crisis, the gallery will be open and the public can view the artwork in person.

Crosscurrents will be on display from Thursday, June 25, through Saturday, Aug. 22. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Patrons must practice social distancing, and wearing a mask is strongly encouraged when visiting the gallery. Admission is free.

Now in its 41st year, the multi-media exhibition is a staple of the Stifel Fine Arts Center’s season of changing art exhibitions and showcases outstanding artwork from artists in the tri-state area and beyond. A guest juror selects the works for the exhibit, and cash prizes are awarded to winning artists.

Nearly 200 pieces by 68 artists were submitted for entry into Crosscurrents 2020. The juror selected 94 pieces for the exhibition and chose first, second and third place along with two honorable mentions.  

The awards ceremony traditionally coincides with the opening reception. This year, the event will take place virtually, and will be broadcast at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, June 25 on the Oglebay Institute Facebook page.

Oglebay Institute curator of exhibitions Michael McKowen encourages art patrons to watch the ceremony and show support for the artists virtually.

“Obviously, the current state of the world has changed everything. It is uncertain when groups will be able to gather to celebrate the arts as we have known it in the past,” McKowen said. “Fortunately, we live in a time where technology is allowing us to connect and share without having to be in one space.”

McKowen added that while there is no way to capture or simulate “the experience of wandering through a gallery at your pace being affected by the artwork that surrounds you,” he will do his best to present a visual overview of the show during the virtual program.

Staff members will join McKowen at a distance and each will select a particular work to present. He will also announce the winning artists and read juror Rhonda Smith’s statements regarding why she selected those works.

A practicing printmaking artist, Smith was chair of the department of contemporary art and theater at Shepherd University for 30 years. She recently retired but continues to teach African art and printmaking as a member of the master faculty. Her work has been exhibited regionally and nationally.

OI staff members are also creating an online store that will have images of the works on display. When complete, the store can be accessed via this link.

“Works can be purchased online, which will allow artists an opportunity to continue to get their work out to their audiences. It is important to find ways for artists to show and sell their work, but it is probably more important to allow individuals who cannot go to a gallery or event, opportunities to view, learn and grow.”

  • Gerald Van Scyoc art
    Gerald Van Scyoc - "Master of Return"

Crosscurrents was originally scheduled to open in early May but was postponed because of the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. It was uncertain whether or not this annual exhibition would take place at all this year.

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“After much contemplation and examining the opportunities to present Crosscurrents online, I realized that we should do everything we can to present the show,” McKowen explained. “Holding onto traditions, like Crosscurrents, can provide entertainment, education, inspiration, distraction and most importantly … hope. The 41st annual Crosscurrents represents us as a culture at this time. We are challenged and uncertain, but we will survive and move forward.”

McKowen views the challenges produced by the pandemic as opportunities to adapt.

“For more than 40 years there has been a Crosscurrents exhibit at the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling, West Virginia. The show has not always been presented in the current format. It has adapted and changed over the years for a variety of reasons. When I thought about that, I recognized that is what we are doing as we develop this virtual version of the show. We are adapting to the times we are living in.”

McKowen said the Crosscurrents exhibition is an important regional show — a rare gathering of different artists and cultural influences. It’s a show that artists continue to take great pride in year after year, he said.  Also, curating the show is one of his favorite experiences each year.

“I love the history of the show and its relationship to the region. The Crosscurrents exhibition, as its name suggests, is a place where various artists working across all mediums gather to share their differing thoughts, beliefs and experiences,” he commented. “They come from large cities like Pittsburgh and small towns like Powhatan Point, Ohio. Each year, we welcome new artists to the show while embracing artists that have been a part of the show since its inception.”

Several pieces in this year’s show address the current pandemic and social distancing.

Michael McKowen
Oglebay Institute curator, Michael McKowen.

“I think the challenges that artists have faced during the pandemic are no different than the challenges everyone has faced — isolation, uncertainty, fear and doubt, a lack of opportunity to physically be able to explore life and share physical communication with others. I believe the psychological impact from this unprecedented experience will continue to impact our lives.”

McKowen encourages everyone to explore the arts as a positive outlet for expression and growth.

“The arts provide an opportunity to experience other human beings’ points of view. The arts are a safe environment to explore what it is to be human. America is once again in a precarious position. Racial tensions are literally ripping our country apart.  As human beings, what can we do to heal this? How do we create change? It comes down to education. The arts provide opportunities for people from all walks of life to have a voice. It does not matter what your gender, race, sexual orientation, social economic status or religious beliefs may be, all are welcome within the arts. The arts are about human experience. The arts provide opportunities for people to broaden their views of the world. If you can see things from another person’s point of view, it is extremely difficult to hate.”

Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center is located at 1330 National Road in Wheeling.