"Urban Decline" by Vernita Nemec is featured in the Ward...

"Urban Decline" by Vernita Nemec is featured in the Ward Melville Heritage Organization exhibit "Treasure That Trash." Credit: Vernita Nemec

Just more than 100 years ago, the French expatriate artist Marcel Duchamp submitted his iconic “Fountain” — a white porcelain urinal turned upside-down and signed “R. Mutt” — to a show sponsored by the Society of Independent Artists in New York. The seminal ready-made sculpture  was rejected by the Society and then photographed by American modernist Alfred Stieglitz and likely tossed in the garbage. So began a trend of fashioning art from detritus and castaways that today, in light of heightened concerns about the environment, has value-added impact.

In anticipation of Earth Day, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization is giving fresh meaning to the old saw “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” with the exhibition “Treasure That Trash!” at its Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook. “What would normally spend its days in a landfill is transformed into something that inspires wonder and evokes beauty,” center director Kristin Shea says of the multimedia wall works, sculpture and installations contributed by the show’s 10 participants.

“I want them to be amazed,” says artist Vernita Nemec of viewers’ anticipated response to her free-form canvasses of glued-together plastic packaging, the kind of clear casing that retains the shape of the object it is holding. “I also want to inspire consciousness about the problem, for people to say, ‘Wait a sec, I don’t have to throw this away. I can reuse it — make art or something else.’ I want to give the message that there are other ways to upcycle and recycle.”

Bellmore and Aquebogue resident Bergés Alvarez also believes that art can play an effective role in relating that message. “Art extends our outlook, thoughts and feelings, spilling into our everyday lives. It inspires us to move forward,” notes the artist, who, when not in his home studio making land- and seascapes from used bits and pieces of tissue paper, Bubble Wrap and manila envelopes, works at Mineola’s NYU Winthrop Hospital as a radiology technician.

“When they’ve exhausted their initial intent, I transform them,” he says of his chosen materials. “I couldn’t throw away packaging. I found this beauty in their reflections and began to build them up on a tabletop in different arrangements.” After photographing and printing the results of his tinkering, Alvarez uses more traditional art media to apply the finishing touches on his surprisingly painterly compositions.

Also featured in the show are mixed-media pieces by artist duo Josyph & Larkin. The works, from their ongoing “Lives of the Saints” series, are a way for the artists to canonize their own secular saints using “rescued” materials such as commercial signs, newspaper, twine, postcards, ceramics, hardware and even toys and electronics.

“That doesn't mean we've had to dive into dumpsters to find things,” notes Peter Josyph. “The unused, the idle, the ignored, the discarded and disregarded are everywhere in every home.”

Josyph understands some people might not even see the assemblages as art.

“That's OK,” he says. “If, for some viewers, they sing a little, or feel like a kind of odd-angle poetry, or somehow create a little magic — that's satisfaction enough.”


WHAT “Treasure That Trash!”

WHEN | WHERE Saturday, March 9, through Saturday, March 30, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97 Main St., Stony Brook

INFO $5, 631-751-2244, wmho.org

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