A view from the downstairs gallery at BEKI. Pictured below is part of her series From the Venetian Glass Pen. Jacquelyn Gleisner Photos; all artwork by Anna Bresnick.
A blurry chandelier dissolves into the flimsy outline of a staircase against a backdrop of swirls of rich brown. This ink drawing—one of many similar works lining a narrow hallway inside Beth El–Keser Israel—depicts details from artist Anna Bresnick’s trip to Venice and Murano, a neighboring island known for its glassmaking.
The artist’s travels inform many of the works in this series, and throughout the solo exhibition, Anna Bresnick: Four Stops Along an Artistic Path,which closes on Sunday, Sept. 3. The show includes examples from four distinct bodies of work, highlighting key moments in Bresnick’s artistic development.
Bresnick’s series From the Venetian Glass Pen began during a trip abroad. She recorded her memories of the day each evening using glass pens. Her untitled drawings allude to architectural details, fragments of art, and other glimpses of the city’s character.
The loose quality of this series recalls another aspect of Venice: its disappearance. The “Floating City” was established on top of a swamp, and today, Venice is slowly sinking back into the lagoon. In many of Bresnick’s drawings, the areas of crisp detail seep into pools on the paper’s surface.
Curator Cynthia Beth Rubin first encountered sculptures from Bresnick’s Vertical Landscapes series during the mid-1980s, when Bresnick and Rubin both occupied studios inside a building on Chapel Street (now the site of a luxury condominium). To Rubin, these energetic sculptures were breaking the boundaries between painting and sculpture. The wall-mounted sculptures contain painterly elements that protrude into space in dramatic ways, conveying the energy of an explosion.
Three works from this series are hung on the lower level of BEKI, each relating to a different location. As with the From the Venetian Glass Pen series, Bresnick based these works on buildings and architectural features she discovered in Eastern Europe during the 1970s and 80s.
In From the Boca Kotorska (1985),a spray of curved pieces of wood painted in a range of dark turquoise juts off a compressed rectangular volume. The sculpture feels heavy and almost frantic, as if the elements assembled themselves through some mysterious force.
Another work, Piatra Neamț, takes inspiration from a city in northeastern Romania, and the city’s large wooden synagogue, now a historic monument, is the reference for this sculpture. A nest of smaller strips of wood crowns a slim central form.
Across the room, nests appear in a different form. Three large mixed media pieces from Bresnick’s Waldszenen series feature birds and their dwellings on the opposite wall. Here, Bresnick’s focus turns from her personal travels to the migratory nature of birds.
Anna Bresnick, Lost Paradise.
Bresnick’s birds—often a looming silhouette of a winged creature, occasionally a more identifiable species—roam through unknown spaces. They fill their nests with rotting fruits and bits of plastic. The title of the series comes from Robert Schumann’s set of nine solo piano pieces, and her drawings are composed, yet haunting.
Continuing on the first floor, where a singular and extremely bizarre sculpture called Tacky Micky represents another series, Bresnick’s Waldszenen is the most recent and most compelling body of work in this exhibition.
In Feathering the Nest, a bird holds a small yellow feather in its beak while hovering over a nest. Inside, a pixelated image of a bright red tomato has begun to rot on the right side. Within the body of the bird, multiple white specs glint like eyes or holes.
Throughout this body of work, Bresnick often leaves large passages of the white surface of the paper untouched. The effect of the negative spaces is eerie. Her birds seem to exist in a realm with an otherworldly sense of light and gravity. They are often solitary animals, constructing their nests for other birds that may never appear.
While other pieces in this show mirror fragments of foreign places, Bresnick’s birds show our world as an alien environment. They pick and assemble their nests amid flames and within loose plastic cages. In this final stop along Bresnick’s artistic arc, she begins to comment on the degradation of our world, rather than repackaging it.
Anna Bresnick: Four Stops along an Artistic Path runs through September 3, 2023 at the BEKI Art Gallery, 53 Harrison St. in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood.