Group exhibits highlight individual artists in harmony with each other

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 131 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — Curatorially speaking, group shows — especially those consisting of a wide variety of mediums — can sometimes feel visually disjointed.

This was definitely a hurdle for the curator of the faculty exhibition at the University of Arkansas Fine Arts Center. The challenge was to reflect each department in its own best light, yet still maintain a sense of overall visual and thematic cohesion.

The first piece one encounters in the fine arts gallery is a small collaborative video installation by Sam King and Matthew Henriksen titled "Carry Your Burden to Your Brain." A monitor plays cropped and skewed film images that give glimpses into a banal inhabited living space and flash memories or moments out of time. The only sound is that of a poem being read in the background, which serves to frame the disorienting sequence of images into a quasi-narrative.

Kristin Musgnug’s large scale oil painting "Japanese Honeysuckle in Wardian Case" depicts a once-contained invasive honeysuckle plant and touches on the poignant theme of nature slowly and aggressively reclaiming the manmade structure that once enclosed it. Her chosen palette and use of atmospheric light bring an all-too-familiar air of humidity to the landscape. Stephanie Pierce’s untitled painting — with its crisp, hard-edged fragmented and lush painterly surface — employs a process of segmenting bits of color and light that take form to reveal the exterior landscape reflected in a small window pane. The piece walks a fine line between representational and non-representational abstraction.

Installing a show of this size and scale in a gallery with such a limited amount of wall space poses some tricky issues. Since the gallery’s wall space has an overabundance of windows, every effort was made to equally accommodate everyone involved. Jeannie Hulen’s piece "Teletubbies, The Apocalypse, and the Search for Beauty & Truth" finds a way to capitalize on this window space by installing a small grassy knoll of Astroturf that hangs from the ceiling, accompanied by artificial flowers that seem to sprout from above.

This particular installation is placed adjacent to one of the large windows overlooking the outer courtyard and leads one to a playful questioning of our expectations of how we encounter and relate physically to a new work. What is outside is now inside, what is up is actually down. Suspended from the knoll are pieces of glazed and fired clay, resembling bits of bone or structural ruins. These hang in circular patterns, as if projecting out and away from the landscape.

Viewing "Acustica di Italia," a photo installation piece by Angela La Porte, is a similar experience. A large scale ink jet photo of a picturesque landscape containing Greek ruins hangs above an pile of limestone blocks carefully arranged on the floor to house a small discrete speaker that quietly echoes Gregorian chants. This particular piece, with its meditative chant juxtaposed against a backdrop of postmodern practices, sets the tone for the entire exhibit, representing a coalescing of the traditions of the past with the tools of the present that have been used to redefine them.

Hosts of uncertainties abound before a show of this magnitude is fully realized and displayed as a whole. But when themes start to converge despite aesthetical differences of medium, the group exhibition can be thematically and visually successful. This is certainly the case for the faculty showing at the UA. Each piece maintains its singularity, while achieving an overall sense of visual harmony.

The exhibit will be up one more week, through June 29. Summer gallery hours noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. A closing reception is scheduled for 4-5:30 p.m. Thursday (June 28).

Structuring Nature
Panoramic vistas, topographical terrains, fantastical dilapidated structures and the evident force of nature abound in the group exhibition Structuring Nature at Walton Art Center.

Even before stepping through the glass double doors into Joy Pratt Markham Gallery, one is presented with panoramic views of a decaying suburbia in Andrew Moore’s large digital chromogenic prints. Moore, a professor of photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York, has been showing his work nationally since the mid-80s. But his most recent notable undertakings were serving as both producer and cinematographer for How to Draw a Bunny, a 2002 documentary feature on artist Ray Johnson, and publishing a book of photography entitled Detroit Disassembled in 2010. This exhibition at Walton Arts Center features a selection of photos from Detroit Dissembled.
Scanned from film negatives, these photos reveal a Detroit that has fallen into an unbelievable state of dilapidation since the decline of the auto industry and stands in stark contradiction to the opulence of the old bygone Motor City of yesterday. The photos are largely devoid of any people, giving them an eerie feeling as if gazing into a post apocalyptic war zone.
One of the strongest examples of this is a photo of the Detroit Schools Book Depository. The collapsed roof serves as a skylight to the open-plan room, illuminating a hidden underworld of birch trees and undergrowth that have taken up residency in this once-bustling city post office. Remnants of decaying books litter the forest floor below. But this is much more than documentation of decay, there’s an inherent beauty in the slow process of nature reinvesting itself.

Randall Exon’s intimately photogenic and luminous landscape paintings are displayed directly across the room from Moore and serves to contrast Moore’s darker pieces.

Exon is a representational painter born and reared in South Dakota, Kansas and Oregon. Evidence of this can be seen in his exquisitely detailed paintings that celebrate the beauty of the sprawling prairielands of the midwestern American landscape. Views of front porches, weathered facades, windows, screen doors and homesteads void of people serve to both frame the infinitely deep perspective and pull the viewer into the landscape. There’s a grasp and understanding of art history that underlies and empowers this approach to painting. While Exon definitely falls into the realist category, his paintings are fictions made up entirely from memory and collected sources.

Around the corner, one is instantly confronted by two massive wood block prints by Orit Hofshi. She has focused her work on paper, installations and woodcutting as her primary choice of materials. Hofshi’s works are monumental in both scale and imagery. When standing in front of a piece of this size, one cannot help but be drawn into the evidence of working methods employed to carve and engrave the mammoth wood planks used in the printing process.

Wood-grain and natural patterns create deep sienna-colored topographical lines that echo across the surface of the paper and serve as backdrops to the aging buildings, fence posts, and piles of rubble that exist as part of the barren landscape.

Displayed in the same space as Hofshi are the fantastical and architecturally impossible ink drawings created by Ben Peterson. His drawings bring to mind the clean, precise line work found in architectural blue prints and layouts but with a comical twist.These are the structures and habitats that will never be: houses and foundations standing on spindly wooden stick legs reinforced by scaffolding, city blocks that resemble brightly colored game boards, suitcases bound and tied together to form a giant totem. Nature has been confined, controlled, packed up and displayed like a theme park. The more time spent looking into these imaginary spaces, the more fully realized they become.

Alongside Peterson’s work hangs a series of pieces by Serena Perrone. This is a visually successful teaming of two artists that shares in a dialogue of inventiveness, states of possibility and contingency.

Perrone received her master’s in fine art in printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2006. Her process combines painting with woodcut, drawing, silkscreen and intaglio methods to build imagery that combines literal, or believable, places with her own invented landscapes, blurring the lines between fact and fiction and oftentimes touching on themes of historical narrative.

One particular example of this is “Settlements”, a large seven-color Japanese woodcut combined with etching and chine colle. In this image, a large ominous volcano smolders on the distant coastline, bellowing clouds of smoke into the sky. The red orange glow of the atmosphere is reflected on the surface of the water, transforming the ocean into a virtual sea of lava. Tiny houses and buildings float aboard chunks of earth that serve as life rafts to these now displaced settlements. Like messages in a bottle, these travelers drift along the tides until washed up and reestablished in some other far away land. 

Structuring Nature is one of the most effective group showings to be exhibited at the Walton Arts Center in quite some time. The visual exchange of discourse among these five internationally recognized artists is something that must be experienced in person.

The exhibit opened in May and continues through Saturday (June 23).