Buddha, Moa and curiosity: Williams art faculty show bright whimsy

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WILLIAMSTOWN -- When you walk into Aida Laleian and Steve Levin's room at the Williams College Museum of Art, you are drawn directly to the back, where a mural hangs freely.

Laleian's rectanglular canvas appears symmetrical, with unclothed women stretching and performing exercises. On the left, one does a routine on an exercise ball. Below, a dress with an Asian feel is laid out on the ground above two more women.

Both Levin and Laleian are faculty in art at Williams College, and Laleian, who was born in Romania, has had work exhibited at the DeCordova Museum and the Photographic Resource Center in Boston. Levin has exhibited work in Philadelphia and Chicago and has a piece on display at the Roswell Museum in New Mexico. The WCMA exhibit, which is free to the public, runs until Sunday.

In many of Laleian's works, birds are scattered about -- four alive and one that seems to be dead.

What draws these images together?

"It's intuitive," Laleian said. "The pictures have internal logic. Certain things act upon other things. With my work, you should trust yourself to see what you see and not be told what to look for. I like it when there are multiple interpretations."

The birds and dresses are stitched in, while the women are digital photos that have been placed on. Laleian fused these techniques to come up with a visually stimulating piece that can light up a room.

"I just wanted to try something new," she said.

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In this technique, she has branched out from her earlier works, which she said involved montages and pictures of her head on animal bodies, among other abstract ideas.

Another of Laleian's pieces, "Flight of the Moa," centers on a photograph of an 18th-century Buddha, which is holding a string that connects two fall-colored birds and a man on an exercise ball. The bird, a moa, cannot fly, and neither does Buddha.

"It's a pun," Laleian said. "Extinct birds can't take off."

Laleian's "Joan of Arc at the Battle of New Orleans" is an interesting piece that uses the same technique of meshing digital photography and embroidery.

Joan's face is covered by the pink hat she has in her hand. For a border, Laleian stitched in horses with jousters aboard. At the top is a face shown in the sun, while Joan, with jewelry on her left hand, stands above two gargoyle scultpures.

Levin paints in oils, and his work highlight objects from everyday life. "Burton's Curiosities" looks like a collector's dream, with all sorts of toys, figures, tools and even toothpaste scattered about in a wooden frame. There's a tiny staircase leading to the top shelf.

His other works, "Ace in the Hole," "Watch What Happens," Feather Merchant," "Nica's Dream" and "Moonlight Becomes You" all continue similar themes. Some showcase knick-nacks, while one crowds images like a Where's Waldo? puzzle.

These paintings conjure up memories from different parts of life, Levin said. He wanted to show a self-centered universe where the viewer can relate to everything on the canvas.


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