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11.Vanish Together, mixed media, 48 x 36 inches, 2024.jpg

Regina Hann: Coexistence and Consumption

by Jeanne Brasile, May 13, 2024

Image: Vanish Together? (detail), mixed media, 48” x 36”, 2024

There is an unintended but entirely appropriate significance to the location of Regina Hann’s solo exhibition, Coexistence, on view at New Jersey’s Riverside Gallery, located in The Shops at Riverside. The complex is an extravagant enterprise touting “World-class luxury shopping” on its website. You won’t find Claire’s, Hot Topic, Victoria’s Secret, or any of the usual anodyne retailers in this opulent den of conspicuous consumption. Hann’s exhibition is in proximity to Jimmy Choo, Tiffany and Co., and Ferragamo, placing the artwork at the source of contention in Hann’s bold and delicately rendered paintings which bring attention to the global coral reef crisis.

Though not expecting to encounter a gallery in a suburban mall, I was intrigued by this arrangement. Upon entering, I found the gallery surprisingly well-lit and spacious. The installation of Hann’s work is well-paced, leaving generous pauses between the works which are densely layered and replete with delicate details. 

Many of the pieces are large, such as Vanish Together?. The mixed media painting is an underwater seascape of bleached coral, a phenomenon exacerbated by human activities. The coral bed is seductively rendered in tints of pink, blue, and purple beneath an ominously dark blue waterline representing the division between the corals below and humanity above. The enticing pastel colors depict the reef in a mass die-off event despite the pleasing hues. The dead and dying coral are arranged in formations, like doomed soldiers marching to their deaths. Hann’s many painted layers hint narratively at the complex and multifarious causes for the loss of coral reefs. At four feet across, the eye has plenty of exploration along the horizontal axis as well as the implied depth of the subject as rendered by Hann. Installed at the beginning of the show, the viewer is immediately situated on the issue of disappearing coral reef habitats. 

One of those causes for the dying reefs is human consumption – hyperbolized by the sort of commerce taking place in the mall - and ironically, by the people who would purchase Hann’s art. That aside, Hann’s interest in coral reefs and how human activity is implicated in their demise is the unsettling subtext to these alluring mixed-media works. 

Other pieces speak to the same issue, though less ominously. Their color palettes are brighter and the compositions less concentrated leaving viewers feeling more emotionally elevated. One such work, Coral Flowerbed, a square format, oil and wax on panel, sits atop a bright blue ground with loosely rendered, highly expressionistic reef that looks akin to an Impressionist floral still-life. The impastoed surface is incised with delicate lines that reveal pink, orange, and purple paint beneath. The delicate corals undulate in the water, residing on the edge of abstraction in comparison to the more tightly rendered Vanish Together?.  

Hann’s works and her message function best in larger formats which are more immersive and provide a sense of entering the water. The horizontally oriented Let Me Live, at six feet across, presents a still life - though technically, a figure painting since corals are animals – with a background that channels Monet’s Waterlilies. However, the foreground is decidedly in Hann’s style with a variety of painted corals to convey the ecological diversity that is at risk of extinction. The corals are lovingly and lushly rendered in an array of colors, textures, linework, and varying opacities of paint. Here, Hann treats the surface with applications of glittery bits that refract the light as if underwater. The bejeweled painting surface seems perfect also in the context of this glitzy mall, prompting viewers to make connections to the human causes of the coral reef crisis. This narrative would be less pointed, if not entirely diluted, in a white-cube gallery.

Another not-so-subtle nod to commerce is the wall labels which include prices - and I mean that in the most refreshing way. Labeling art with a price tag like clothing is entirely appropriate and transparent. Art is a commodity just like the Jimmy Choo heels at the bottom of the nearby escalator. Maybe this gallery is the next phase of the art world. Just as many brick-and-mortar galleries yielded to the art fair, perhaps the art world can revive the vacant, derelict malls that dot the suburban American landscape now that we’ve all decided to shop on our phones and computers. We can even check a box in our digital shopping carts to offset our carbon footprint and save the coral reefs. 

Another point worth noting about Regina Hann’s solo exhibition is the intertwined notions of spectacle and consumption. Both activities occur in malls and galleries, as well as coral reefs, which are at risk due to ecotourism - concomitantly drawing attention to the plight of reefs while contributing to their demise. These human activities where we consume clothing, images, and travel destinations implicate us in the loss of the reefs. Seen from this vantage point, the corals become less of an aesthetic trope and more of a socio-political signifier. 

Hann’s show is a feast for the eyes, but there is something substantive in the choice of venue and those made in the display of the work. For those who might be incidental viewers, Hann provides plenty of eye candy. She has an excellent sense of color and composition and a penchant for playing with surface textures in a variety of engaging ways. If you want to go deeper to address the issues inherently tied to the cause of the coral reefs, Hann comes through in that capacity as well. I can’t afford to shop at The Shops at Riverside, but if Regina Hann’s exhibition is any indication of the quality of the artists that they exhibit, I might just become a regular.

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