Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Adventures at the Wichita Art Museum #2

Steven Graber, Pelayo, charcoal and watercolor (really) on paper. Image found here. A Graber seascape similar to this appeared in the Emprise exhibit.

Though a simple student of the humanities, even my limited math skills are sufficient to help me determine that this will not come to pass this coming weekend. Ah well. I will find some other way to amuse myself. As a consolation prize of sorts, then, I went to the Wichita Art Museum this past Saturday to see what there was to see, since I had not been in a month or so. I am here to tell you that I'm very glad I went, and all 2 or so of my local readers should get over there soon, too.

Three really fine exhibits are mounted there as we speak: The Art of Emprise, which will end on March 23; an exhibit of prints by two former instructors in printmaking at Wichita State, John Boyd and David Bernard, that will end April 20th; and, in the Living Room (an interactive space where kids can make their own art), mobiles and kinetic art.

Details below the fold.

First of all, I'm ashamed to say that it'd been quite a while since I had visited the museum's website because it had been so impoverished. I'm very pleased to say, though, that that's no longer the case: the homepage is snazzier, and the Collections page offers the curious much more to see than had been the case in the past. Go and see.

As the promotional material for the Emprise exhibit notes, corporate art collections are noteworthy chiefly in their lack of variety and their desire not to offend potential/current clients. Though no one would call anything on exhibit in this show "edgy" (except, perhaps, for Laurent Guérin's large-format photograph Danseuses Etoiles, which shows three young teenage girls in spangled ballerina outfits standing in a restaurant that, aside from the girls' broad, genuine smiles, strongly evoked for me Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergere--another visitor there, who happened to know people involved in buying pieces for the collection, said some people have said that the girls look "exposed"), there's no questioning the variety here. Emprise, being a Kansas-based bank, has as its basic collecting principle the buying of works by artists "with a Kansas connection"; thus, the works here range across time and media and genre, from photorealism and abstract expressionism to mixed media of various sorts and sculptures and constructions in/of various materials. The show provides the viewer with a crash course in mainstream movements in American art from Modernism to the present, not to mention (for me, at least), a fine introduction to the work of some very talented contemporary artists.

Highlights of the show include a large self-portrait by Patrick Duegaw, whose work I've posted on before; by Richard Slimon, a large abstract called Ruins (very similar in style to these and evocative of, though less overtly structured than, Richard Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series of paintings); a study for a mural painted for the 1942 Wisconsin State Fair by John Steuart Curry (best known for this painting); photographs (conventional and digital) by the above-mentioned Laurent Guérin (examples of his work here; more photographs by Michael Eastman (who does for photographs of cacti and succulents what Georgia O'Keeffe did for paintings of flowers) and Gordon Parks (best known as a prominent photographer for Life and as the director of Shaft; some samples of his work here); and Albert Bloch (examples here).

Boyd and Bernard, the exhibit by retiring WSU faculty member John Boyd and recently-deceased instructor David Bernard, mixes the very different print-making styles of these two men. Boyd's work, as he notes here, draws inspiration from his rural Arkansas roots and seeks to achieve a flat, "primitive" style. There is much humor in his work, too: my favorite work in the show, Western Gothic, depicts a parlor with a man, wearing jeans but no shirt and one boot off, being shot by a woman, another man standing in a darkened doorway, and by a figure in a portrait hanging on the far wall of the parlor. It's Beavis and Butthead meets Deadwood in its feel. Bernard's work, of whichEarth Cruiser (image found here) is one example, emphasizes geometric form but clearly located in the realm of the representational.

And finally, there is the exhibit of mobiles and kinetic art, some of which are pictured here, in the Living Room. If you're like me, your knowledge of mobiles-as-Art pretty much begins and ends with Alexander Calder, and some of the mobiles on display there definitely owe their look to Calder's more famous constructions. But the highlight for me was the kinetic art. Several large, very different pieces will hold your attention: a motorized stylus tracing patterns in a large pit of colored sand; two large screens whose kaleidescope-like images one can manipulate with buttons in front of the screen; Drum Tower by Tom McGuire (16 found objects of various sizes with remote-controlled mallets wired to them, arranged in a tower, that will play various pre-programmed rhythms when you step on a small pedal in in front of it; and two wall-length installations you can see in the picture linked to above. Great fun to watch.

The rest of the year promises to be a good one for visitors to the WAM: Upcoming exhibitions include Arthur Drooker's photographs of ruined buildings, an exhibition of Inuit art from the Heard Museum, prints by David C. Driskell, an exhibition of Goya's print series Los Caprichos, a set of which the museum owns (you see one here, "El sueño de la razón produce monstruos" ("The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters")), and an overlapping exhibition of textiles from Central America and photographs of Frida Kahlo by Nickolas Muray. Good stuff, as they say.

Some house-keeping now: we're in the midst of the mid-semester grading period, so this will be the last post for a few days. I'll see you on the other side of the coming weekend.


Winston said...

Best wishes to you as you embark on the long and perilous journey of grading. Keep your back to the wall... We'll be right here awaiting your safe return...

That Graber piece in charcoal and watercolor is amazing. Even at high magnification, it looks like a photo.

Ted said...

Beautiful blog. Just discovered you through Imani. I'll be back.