Saturday, February 24, 2024

Hiromi Suter’s “Longing for Peace” mask at the Mobilia Gallery.

You may not want to wear these masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus – the cheapest is $200, and one is made of cedar bark – but the exhibits in Mobilia Gallery’s online “Ornamentation in the Age of Corona” succeed in its goal: bringing some joy during a difficult time.

The rules of the invited show, which went live Thursday, was to create a mask that could be worn – merging practicality with artistry. But the beauty and price (with proceeds benefiting the Massachusetts Covid-19 Relief Fund) may have buyers hesitating to subject the art to the cause of its creation.

The Huron Village gallery founded by JoAnne and Libby Cooper in 1978 is of course closed temporarily, but its transition to “online shopping, made beautiful” has been handled gracefully, with emails including thoughtful and stylish graphic highlights for its shows. In the latest, masks float on a cloudy, blue sky and artists get a chance to explain their work and pitch an unrelated work via an inset image. Polly Adam Suttons says she harvests her cedar in the spring in a way that may spark envy in the housebound: “This time of gathering allows me to spend days in the woods.” Hiromi Suter’s elegant “Longing for Peace” mask of silk, cotton and artificial flowers is “a marriage of neoclassical flourish and subtle feminine beauty.” Gerri Rachin’s wild gathering of buffalo teeth, guinea fowl feathers and golden pheasant feathers doesn’t need much explanation beyond its name: “Mask to Ward Off Evil Spirits.”

Because the art makes you think inevitably will I wear this? and how many masks will I wear? the exhibit might lead to some paradoxically ugly thoughts. To think our collective future will be defined by hiding our faces is depressing.

But this collection is an optimistic browse, explicitly and implicitly. From Andrea Yurevitch’s H.R. Giger-esque “Nature Mask” to Linda Dolack’s primary color, pop-art “Lifesaver Mask” with glam silver ear hooks, it suggests that the mask doesn’t have to lead to deindividuation, but can instead be as effective a way to express ourselves as any other kind of fashion – or the smiles or grimaces that might be beneath.

That makes the entire collection absorbing fun to shop, even if you never click to buy. The collection is here, and the gallery’s highlight graphic is reprinted below, including some masks that can’t be shopped.