TILTING THE BASIN: CONTEMPORARY ART OF NEVADA - KRISTEN PETERSON REPORTS BETWEEN NORTH AND SOUTH
Settlers + Nomads is honored to welcome Las Vegas-based arts writer Kristen Peterson as a blog contributor. Thanks to Peterson for her article about the current exhibition of contemporary art from Nevada at the NMA in Reno and the implications of its planned 2017 reprisal in Las Vegas.
Reno, Nevada- It's Saturday morning in early August and a panel of artists and co-curators have squeezed onto a couch inside the Nevada Museum of Art's Wayne and Miriam Prim Theater to discuss Tilting the Basin: Contemporary Art of Nevada. The conversation inevitably turns (and returns) to place. On display in the museum's John Hawley Olds LaGatta Gallery, Tilting features work by more than 30 contemporary artists living and working in Nevada and was designed not only to highlight the sophistication of work coming out of the state, but has operated under the rallying cry, "bridging the divide" -- a reference to the physical and sometimes cultural separation between Reno and Las Vegas, two cities, islands unto their own and easily distinguishable from one another, often disconnected (or rivals) yet sharing territory. And far apart. LA (a quick four-hour sprint on a freeway system) is closer than Reno, a 7-hour, uniquely scenic drive from Vegas that cuts through desert landscapes where the ancient past is still visible in rock formations.
In curating Tilting, Michele Quinn and JoAnne Northrup met with more than 50 artists north and south. Quinn, having just returned from Switzerland's Art Basel, applied Basel standards in these studio visits. Could this work hold up to a global audience?
The answer for Quinn, a Las Vegas art advisor was "yes." She and Northrup, NMA's curatorial director and curator of contemporary art, handpicked 17 artists from Las Vegas and 17 from the Reno / Carson City area, an unintended perfect balance for the 6,500-square-foot space.
A group exhibition of contemporary art from Nevada at this scale and level of professionalism hadn't been done in recent memory. The museum's promotional materials reference Dave Hickey's Diaspora, presented at the Las Vegas Art Museum in 2007, a show featuring the work of artists who'd studied with the famous writer and art critic while he was teaching at UNLV in the 1990s.
This is broader, and the connections being made here extend far beyond a visual unification of works. Nevada Museum of Art representatives have been intricately involved with the Las Vegas community, having co-produced with Art Production Fund the installation of Swiss-born artist Ugo Rondinone's "Seven Magic Mountains" just outside of Las Vegas. The seven giant totems made of boulders and painted Day-glo colors in the desert off I-15 near Jean Dry Lake sit 10 miles from St. Rose Parkway. The non-profit Art Production Fund, dedicated to producing artists' works for public spaces, is also responsible for the Cosmopolitan's P3Studio that for five years rotated in artists-in-residence at the Las Vegas casino. Upcoming: NMA's touring show, Edward Burtynsky: Oil, featuring the Canadian photographer's work, opens September 23 at the Marjorie Barrick Museum at UNLV.
Moreover, NMA officials have also extended their help in going forward with the Art Museum at Symphony Park project (the working title for the nonprofit aiming to build a downtown Las Vegas art museum). At a meeting with that organization's board and community members last November at the Smith Center, David Walker, NMA's executive director and CEO, offered to help in any way that the museum can. They've since been talking with board members of the Art Museum at Symphony Park, including Michele Quinn, who are fundraising for the planned museum." We have a great interest in being a museum engaged with the entire state," Walker said at the meeting last November. "We would very much like to be a part of this project here …We are here to do what we can to make this dream happen." Together, they're bringing Tilting to Las Vegas in the spring for an eight-week run, with the Art Museum at Symphony Park hosting the show at a yet-to-be-determined location.
In Reno, artists from Tilting will be involved in workshops, discussions and other events at the museum relating to the work in the exhibit. Nevada Museum of Art engaged 150,000 visitors last year. The Art Museum at Symphony Park's chair, Katie O'Neill (who refers to the board's relationship with NMA as "friendly and supportive of each other"), says that presenting Tilting in Las Vegas serves as a great entry point to other possible partnerships and to make itself more visible in the Las Vegas community.
This helps put visual arts in a new platform in Las Vegas where the bulk of donors who've given mightily to the performing arts, including the Las Vegas Philharmonic, Nevada Ballet Theater and the Smith Center, have been somewhat absent in writing enormous checks for visual arts organizations, particularly given the histories of their struggles.
A few years ago, Quinn and other community members, including Aurore Giguet, the Barrick Museum's former director, and Tarissa Tiberti, executive director of the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts, attempted to raise high-dollar donations as executive board members of Contemporary Arts Center. The question from potential donors was that of infrastructure (a then nomadic struggling nonprofit didn't have much).
NMA's Tilting the Basin exudes professionalism from an accredited and respected institution in a way that potential benefactors could notice. The private non-profit institution, founded in 1931, has permanent collections and brings in exhibits of modern and contemporary art. It's currently showing Ai Wei Wei's Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads: Gold down the hall (and past an exhibition of American Impressionists) from Tilting, and downstairs visitors encounter Andrea Zittel's installation Wallsprawl. Tilting's artists are not unfamiliar here and elsewhere. The show includes works by David Ryan and Sush Machida Gaikotsu (also in LVAM's Diaspora exhibit), JK Russ, Wendy Kveck, Justin Favela and David Sanchez Burr along with that by Mark Brandvik, Rachel Stiff and Brent Sommerhauser in a space filled with the work of Galen Brown, Katie Lewis and other Northern Nevada artists.
Gaikotsu's acrylic on wood panel painting, titled Not! greets visitors with its hyperrealist multi-grain wood fence and isolated vertical segments of layered (and vividly colored) Japanese graffiti, a pop-art aesthetic that leads into Katie Lewis' exquisitely chaotic topographical map-based works, in communication with Galen Brown's Sine Cere (#2 pencil on 4-ply museum board), a circular work about density and presence that resembles tree rings and swallows viewers, returning for multiple contemplations.
At Tilting's August 4 opening, visitors moved through the gallery mesmerized by Rachel Stiff's landscape-inspired mixed-media abstractions, fluid and layered, and artist Matthew Couper's striking large-scale, Spanish Colonial-inspired painting, Mother's Milk Aquifer, which comments on the Southwest water shortage. They examine artist Krystal Ramirez' Paradigm, a scroll of handwritten words and phrases (repeated meditatively and reflecting identity), stitched together into an intricately patched piece, suspended from the ceiling and pouring to the floor. Sculptural works include Brent Sommerhauser's impossibly refined and curvilinear rendering of a bell mouth spillway in tongue-in-groove flooring and the artist's glass-blown frosted buckets, appearing scattered and in various forms of repose, some tilted and seemingly submerged into the ground.
Near Justin Favela's paper and glue wall painting, an homage to 19th century Mexican painter Jose Maria Velasco in traditional Mexican craft materials, are sculptures of colorful crocheted covers fitted onto household objects, a collaboration with Favela and his grandmother whose yarn covers at home protect domestic items.
Tilting the Basin is on view at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno through October 23, 2016 and features Chris Bauder, Megan Berner, Rebekah Bogard, Mark Brandvik, Galen Brown, Erik Burke, JW Caldwell, Nate Clark, Timothy Conder, Matthew Couper, Joseph DeLappe and Pete Froslie, Gig Depio, Russell Dudley, Jeffrey Erickson, Justin Favela, Jen Graham, Sush Machida Gaikotsu, Ahren Hertel, Brent Holmes, Katty Hoover, Shawn Hummel, Eunkang Koh, Wendy Kveck, Nick Larson, Katie Lewis, Sarah Lillegard, Omar Pierce, Krystal Ramirez, JK Russ, David Ryan, David Sanchez Burr, Sean Slattery, Brent Sommerhauser, Rachel Stiff.
For more images and thoughts on the exhibition, read JK Russ' post Tilting the Basin Realigns Contemporary Art in Nevada here.
Kristen Peterson is an award-winning writer living in Las Vegas, Nevada, covering art in Las Vegas for more than 15 years at the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly while freelancing for publications such as Desert Companion,Vegas magazine and The Guardian.
Title image: Mark Brandvik's "West Falia" in foreground with David Ryan paintings in view. (Photo Wendy Kveck)
Posted by Wendy Kveck