Art of the Silver State
A giant, pale, plastic corncob lies in the middle of the hallway. It’s the first clue that the spacious corridor at Western Nevada Community College in Carson City is also the Bristlecone Gallery, complete with museum-style bench for visitors’ comfort and contemplation.
The rest of Nevada Now lines either side of the hallway gallery on walls and pedestals. It’s a diverse selection of photos, paintings, sculpture and video by artists who’ve won Nevada Arts Council Visual Artists Fellowship Awards between 1988 and 2003. The line-up reads a lot like a comprehensive list of the state’s most prominent artists.
After a few seconds, the botanic illusion wears off, and it becomes obvious that Joe DeLappe’s sculpture, “Corncob Mice,” is a 100-inch-long assemblage of Microsoft computer mice with tails dragging behind in a bundle. The sculpture’s dynamic shape and fresh use of materials make it a hit with WNCC art history students, and the “please do not touch” signs don’t deter the occasional passerby from standing the corncob up on its end, thinking it has fallen over.
“Corncob Mice” is one of the artworks that’s been transported from the artist’s studio to this “sampler” exhibit with the artist’s ideas and intentions still intact. That’s also the case with some other works, including Michael Sarich’s “Tumors 3,” a 3-foot-high, vertically distorted, ceramic Mickey Mouse head with an assertively scratched, grayscale base and smiley-face-adorned, bright yellow ears.
Some of the artwork in Nevada Now, however, seems homesick, out of place. Artists working at a fellowship-winning level tend to have big, complex, interesting ideas, but some of the work is selected and presented in a way that gives viewers less a sample and more of a tease.
For example, Russell Dudley’s “Primer Gray #1 Aubrey, Carrie, and Nate,” is a large, color photograph—set in an appealing, welded-steel frame—of teenagers in motion and a vintage car, not in motion. It’s dark and cinematic and not entirely in focus. It has elements of mystery, youth, sex and darkness. But the artist’s specific observations on those subjects are hard to grasp from a single image, and the exhibit offers nothing to help us connect the dots. The situation could be helped by one or two more images, a quote from the artist, or a few words of explanatory text.
The curator’s statement reads, “The artists were selected to represent geographical diversity, as well as artistic diversity in terms of media, style and subject matter.” It’s a sound premise, but unfortunately, there’s also diversity in the amount of attention given to the presentation needs of each piece of artwork.
While some of the artwork stands well on its own, some could use contextualizing. A blurb of text on the wall isn’t a necessity in every art exhibition, but here, viewers and artists alike would benefit from a little extra information.
The exhibit feels like a work in progress. Still, it provides a rare opportunity to sample the wares of some of Nevada’s biggest contemporary artists. The whole show will travel to the Nevada Museum of Art in April, and to the Mesquite Fine Arts Center in Mesquite in August, as part of the Nevada Touring Initiative. Perhaps by the time Nevada Now arrives in town, organizers will have an opportunity to adjust the fine-tuning and prepare the show as the delicious appetizer it almost is.