Barbara Garber's exhibit in final week

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BRATTLEBORO — The exhibit of Barbara Garber's paintings is in its final week at the Brattleboro Museum. It is work of quiet intensity and remarkable originality.

When I walk into the gallery where her works are displayed, I feel the atmosphere in the museum change. I shift gears. These pictures seem to have been breathed onto the walls. To try to name that particular quality, I think of being touched by a song. A song has its word content, its tune, a singer clear and on pitch but what pulls at the heartstrings above all is that slight hesitation, that catch in the voice of that one special singer.

Garber's art feels like the visual equivalent of that. There is a sense of being admitted into her private thoughts.

Thoughts about what? Ahhhh nothing much? Everything? Perhaps about the sensation of being a state endlessly rich, but so fragile. The anomaly in this show is the one purely abstract work, a "scatter" piece on four adjacent walls, which may serve as an introduction to the sensation of balancing on an edge between existence and non-existence that characterizes Garber's art. To see this as a traditional composition is impossible. Its organization is attenuated, hidden around corners, to be experienced in the mind, but not in the eye.

The rest of the show, small format pictures, are unmistakably based on looking at stuff ... or perhaps on a reverie on the experience of looking at stuff. She seems to play with the basic idea of art making.

"Play" is such a multi-function word: One uses it in the sense of playing the piano, serious business. Then there is the play of children, free, imaginative, unfettered. There is "my car's steering has some play in it." here meaning "not well fixed, in a loose relationship." Hold all three in your head at once and you may get a foothold on Garber's sense of play; tongue-in-cheek and serious at the same time.

This is not minimalist art ... she dives into the marvelous conventions handed down to us from the Renaissance, deftly using the tools of depicting objects in space — overlap, perspective, pattern, light and shade — with grace, and even glee. They are pictures, in the sense that something is going on, something "other" is being illustrated. What that might be remains her secret.

The point of it all is not in what she says, but the way that she says it. The meaning is in the gaps.

The exhibit will remain up through Sunday, Oct. 8, at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, 10 Vernon St., Brattleboro.


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