When Megan Johnston became director of the Rochester Art Center last year, there was one local artist she was intent on featuring.
“I knew when I came here that one of the first shows I wanted to do was a show with Judy Onofrio,” Johnston says.
Her wish becomes reality Saturday with the opening of “Unearth,” an exhibition of both new and older work by Onofrio, a Rochester artist. The exhibition coincides with the 70th anniversary this year of the Rochester Art Center, a celebration that includes a day of free activities Saturday for the community.
“To me, it just made sense to have her exhibition for the anniversary,” Johnston says of Onofrio.
Johnston coordinated a show of Onofrio’s work in 2011 at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, N.D. “I was really proud of it,” Johnston says. “When I met Judy, she said, ‘This is all old work. I’m on to new work now’.”
The “old” work in that exhibition consisted of ceramic pieces with circus themes. But in recent years, Onofrio has gone through an artistic transition, and now creates pieces constructed of animal bones.
When she saw the new work, Johnston says she was “blown away.”
“‘Unearth’ is an exhibition about the spiritual idea of digging, finding, uncovering, and revealing the beauty of both life and death through earth and bone,” Johnston wrote in an introduction to the exhibition.
Onofrio, a native of Connecticut, has had a long association with the Rochester Art Center. “For us, Judy is part of the DNA here at the art center,” Johnston says. Onofrio was director for a time, founded the Total Arts Day Camp, and has been dedicated to developing new artists.
“She’s a solid regional artist, extremely well-known in Minnesota and the Midwest,” says Johnston. “But her work reaches far beyond.”
Onofrio’s art is found in permanent collections of museums and galleries across the U.S., and overseas in Munich, Helsinki and in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“Unearth” will give visitors a good look at the breadth of Onofrio’s work. The show includes three early circus pieces, as well as her pieces with bones that include other found items: plants and pieces of glass, for instance. The most recent pieces consist entirely of painted animal bones — jawbones, ribs, vertebrae, antlers. One large piece, painted gold, forms an arched entrance to the gallery.
One surprising aspect of Onofrio the artist, Johnston says, is that she’s self-taught – she did not attend an art school. “Her art school was the Rochester Art Center,” Johnston said.
“Unearth” continues through Aug. 28.
Art Center Turns 70
The Rochester Art Center is throwing a birthday party Saturday and everyone is invited.
“There will be a cake, a big cake,” says Megan Johnston, director of the art center.
The event, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 4, celebrates the art center’s 70th anniversary. Activities will be held indoors and outdoors at the art center and environs, starting with a bicycle ride, and including the unveiling of the Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative’s Art4Trails sculptures along Rochester bike trails. There will be live music, hands-on art, lawn games and other activities.
“It’s going to be a fun day that’s open for families,” Johnston said. The slogan for the day is “Be the art, join the party.”
The birthday party follows a concerted effort by the art center to throw out the welcome mat.
“Two words: We’re open,” says Johnston. “We’re open physically, despite the construction, we’re accessible, and we’re open to collaboration.”
Admission is free, but RSVP is requested on their website.