I got lucky on First Friday. I've been wanting to visit the Birdsell Project's inaugural art exhibit, but its announced events have been on busy calendar days. Thanks to a kind staffer, the site was quietly open on a February night when the rest of town was hopping.
I haven't enjoyed an art exhibit this much in a long time. While wandering around, through, and behind the art, I nearly had the place to myself as I briefly encountered only one other guest, a self-declared artist. All artwork and visitors are kept safely preserved in a cool dark place, for there is no heat in the dormant mansion. Judicious strings of lights amply highlighted the artwork without being obnoxious or wasteful. The decaying but elegant building contributes its own element to the exhibits. In the winter night, all I heard were occasional footsteps on hardwood without the intrusion of strangers chatting.
The collection ranges from standalone pieces to the walls themselves, and much of it drew me in vicerally. Artist Jack O'Hearn's nostalgic room, for example, invited me to sit down and immerse myself in its details. It also had a space heater. Vinyl was spinning soundlessly when I entered. I lifted the needle and started the Led Zeppelin from its first groove. The desk, the walls, the drawers--all of their contents and adornments were akin to thick strokes of well-applied paint by an artist's brush. Collectively the home office snippets from multiple original owners made a compelling time stamp of a singular imaginary resident. I was the privileged guest sitting in someone's den--rifling through their files, photos, and albums--waiting for that individual to walk in the door and talk about how great the new Led is. Even a framed poster with a Nixon quote made me smile.
I thank the artists and organizers who made this exhibit open to the public. I can't imagine the time some have put into their handiwork. I'm no artist, nor an art critic. I just know in hindsight what I like, and the Birdsell Project fit the bill. Evocative, unique, humorous, and sometimes requiring a reading of the artist's statement. Images below support the memory for me, but you have to visit in person to immerse yourself physically.
The closing reception is Friday, February 13, with tickets available through Facebook. Go. Help the Birdsell Project's guest log receive enough of a paying tally to bring more innovation to South Bend. With the music and celebratory crowd it won't compare to my private Friday visit. But you'll feel lucky that you made it.