‘ NO COST, NO CENSORSHIP, NO LIMITS’
HYGIENIC ART HITS THE BIG 3-0 IN ITS INIMITABLE FASHION
TTurning 30 can be hard for some, but the Hygienic Art exhibition isn’t giving into middle age. With its XXX title, it is taking on the anniversary in its usual anti-establishment style. Gregg Grippo, an artist who has been involved in the show in the past, appreciates the lack of censorship and freedom the show provides. Although the art is often political and sexual in nature, Grippo thinks it has become tamer in recent years since it has been in the gallery.
“We would like to bring back the bawdiness of the art for arts’ sake, not for the sake of selling art,” says Grippo, who is on the exhibition’s organizing committee this year.
“There are three great things about the show, there is no cost, no censorship and no limits,” he says. Art is available for purchase, and he says it is a great oppor- tunity to purchase thought-provoking work for a song. Each artist can submit one piece, and usually more than 400 artists are involved.
“Hygienic Art Exhibition XXX 1979-2009” opens Jan. 30 and runs through Feb. 14, 2009 this year. Because of its timing, it is popular with artists because it isn’t their usual busy summer season. It also provides a great excuse to get out and enjoy what downtown New London has to offer.
Allyson Holtz, one of the founders, was a waitress at the Hygienic when it was a restaurant in the 1970s. She now lives in Pittsburgh, but plans to have art in the show this year and also has one of her sculptures at the Lyman Allyn Museum.
“I was sad to leave New London, but it was great to be involved in the beginning and see it blossom into something better than I ever imagined,” says Holtz, who moved in 1990. “The development of the gallery and the sculpture garden has been phenomenal. The Hygienic has become such a vital force in New London’s arts revitalization.”
The show was modeled after the “Salon Des Independants,” a late 19thcentury art movement in Paris in which artists protested the aristocracy by exhibiting their works in cafes located in the seamy areas of the city. The artists in those exhibitions gave rise to the great French Impressionist movement.
For many years, the show had no permanent home. It was originally held in the restaurant in 1979, but when the restaurant closed in 1985, it was held at various locations in downtown New London. In 1996, the Hygienic building was scheduled to be demolished to become a parking lot. Hygienic Art, Inc., led a grassroots effort to save the building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. With fundraising, private donations and support from state and local officials, Hygienic Art Inc., purchased and renovated the building into a residential artists co-op and public art gallery. It opened in January 2000, for the 21st annual Hygienic Art Exhibition.
When it started the show was one night only, but then it became a weekend event. In recent years, it has been two weeks long. This year it will be at least two weeks at the gallery and may continue for another week at other venues. Other parts of the festival include Hygienic Cabaret, which features poetry, theater, comedy and belly dancing; Hygienic Rock Fix; Hygienic Poets, which has an open mic followed by a poetry slam; and a new fashion show.
This year there is a banner contest. Organizers hope to have 30 banners, one for each year. At the end of the show each will be auctioned off as a fundraiser.
“It really is a festival now, with the films, poetry and music,” Grippo says.
Steve Sigel, executive director of the Garde Arts Center, says it has been great to see a link between community development and high quality art.
“Hygienic as an organization has hung in there and proven representative of New London artists,” he says. “It was started by an itinerant group of creative, open-minded, serious artists who prided themselves on not being part of the establishment. The show brought a lot of excitement and attention to New London.”
He says adding housing for artists and the art park have helped make the downtown into a creative campus. It encourages younger artists to make New London a place to live and work.
“To their credit, they have maintained the original volunteer spirit they had from their inception to make the show a mix of visual and performing arts,” Sigel says.
Sigel has been involved for about 20 years, since he came to the Garde. Once again this year, the Garde will host the Children’s Hygienic for elementary and middle school students to display their art.
“This has been one of New London’s most successful community development projects,” says Vincent Scarano, president of Hygienic Art Inc., and one of the founders of the show. He says the new mantra of the show is “Roots, Revolution and Renaissance.” The first decade was about the roots, the second about revolution and now the third decade will be about a renaissance of the arts in New London.
To raise awareness of the show, Scarano says there will be a live Webcast, with cameras at each event. It will be broadcast online, as well as on a large screen at the Hygienic.
Mark Patnode, a teaching artist with the Connecticut Commission of Culture and Tourism, is on the programming committee of the Hygienic Galleries.
“It is one of the great unsung success stories in this region and in the state,” he says of the show.
“The Hygienic Art exhibition is one of the cultural treasures of New London, a mix of naughtiness and playfulness,” Sigel says.
For more information about the galleries and the exhibition, go to www. hygienic.org
LEFT, THE HYGIENIC ART SHOW HAS DRAWN A CROWD TO DOWNTOWN FOR DECADES; BELOW, THE LIGHTING AND SCULPTURE GARDEN ADD TO THE AMBIENCE. THE DAY DANA JENSEN /