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Plenitude, Abundance, and Muchness

Three area art shows keep us busy in late April

by Heather Joyner

Now that it's definitely spring, many of us are wallowing in sensory overload—particularly art lovers. Exhibits are plentiful and seem to end just when we've begun to notice they're here. UT's 53rd Annual Student Art Show is especially for only two more days (today and on Monday the 24th, the interim being holidays). Five days thereafter, the Unitarian Church work comes down, leaving us with a week to see Tim Massey's Dogmatic 2 at the Tomato Head. So put on your sandals, roll down the car windows, and pop a few antihistamines. It's time to get out and hit them all in one fell swoop.

Counted among the oldest ongoing student art competitions in the U.S., the Ewing Gallery's Quixotica presents us with the usual range of media. The latest work is drawn from approximately 563 entries, however; up 20 percent or so from previous seasons' submissions. And considering the more than $11,000 worth of donated prizes, that makes sense. Award packages like the "Rainy Day Award" are especially creative, including such things as free movie tickets, Edward McKay gift certificates, and free drinks at a bar on the Strip. They may not be the prestigious purchase awards, but hey, the artists get to keep their masterpieces.

I'm actually a tad disappointed by the inconsistency of this year's fare, and I don't necessarily agree with some of the super prize choices made by Fine Arts Juror Rusty Freeman, Associate Curator of Nashville's Cheekwood Museum. But when compared with last year's pesky Manhattan-based juror (who reportedly dug "shock value," and whose curatorial statement was, by numerous accounts, "I like f——-d-up shit."), Freeman is acknowledged as being particularly open-minded. Perhaps a bit too open-minded. Photography selections are either substantial and intriguing—Trisha Brady's "My Female" comes to mind—or bordering on piss-poor. Displayed paintings run the gamut from Robyn Winston's sensuously-executed "I Hope You Win" to muddy and unfinished-looking canvases. Ceramic pieces are alternately funky-delightful and boring. Only Freeman's sculpture choices seem strong as a group. Brian Green's wood, concrete, and steel fabrication took a major prize and leads the pack, its macho elements balanced by the graceful sweep of a chain. Other big winners are Jason Amos Oaks (whose watercolor is titled "Laws of Moses [Sex & Animals]"), graduate student Julie Peters (for her acrylic and oil painting "Sleepover"), Mark Hosford (for 20 drawings called "The New Suit"), and Sean Wilde (with a landscape titled "After Day").

In addition to fine art entries, Quixotica features graphic design pieces juried by Ohio University's Yoon Soo Lee, art history-related papers selected by Syracuse University's Dr. Patricia Waddy, and numerous films and videos shown continuously on a gallery monitor.

The Unitarian Church's Lost & Found show, consisting of assemblages by Joyce Gralak, Dayna Thacker, and Jennifer Willard, exemplifies the more mature artist's path. Whether we're taking in Gralak's wax pieces, Thacker's witty constructions, or Willard's unique "wall altars," we're aware of refined sensibilities. It seems each artist has followed her particular "thread" to the utmost extent...what's there, like poetry, cannot suffer the loss of a single component. That could explain why half of the works have already sold.

"[My] shrines celebrate the cyclical nature of life as represented by the cypress tree, and also explore human destiny and the element of chance," Willard says. Yet chance appears to be something her pieces have possibly moved through, not toward. Executive Director of The Community School of the Arts, Willard has an educational background in Musicology. But her art is imaginative and impeccably crafted. A touch cute at times, but essentially involving.

The assemblages of Gralak and Thacker evoke a similar—and some would say feminine—sense of microcosmic harmony, albeit via different forms. Whereas Gralak (who says her art "stems from a desire to order a messy world") obscures much of what she's created, Thacker leaves it all laid bare. Gralak's subtle color and layers—seen in works like her waxed-over board game tilted "Getting Home"—hint at clouded memory. Thacker's wordplay is equally clever, and she uses it in both titles and in pieces themselves to expand on visual narrative. Often populated by bones, hair, feathers, and/or teeth, Thacker's constructions are directly physical or once-physical, reminders that our powers are temporal.

A question that might come to mind when viewing Massey's Tomato Head exhibit is "Why dogs?" According to the artist, dogs are more than an interesting form in art. They represent what he calls "the fine line" between domestication and animal wildness. Like the manipulated natural environment, they reflect mankind's desire to control. And in that desire we glimpse a peculiarly human perspective and faith in that perspective. "Besides," expresses Massey, "...the nice thing about dogs [as a theme] is that they're not human. I'm tired of rendering the human eyeball."

Speaking of eyeballs, direct yours toward the above art. It, too, is a part of spring.

April 20, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 16
© 2000 Metro Pulse