“Brand it, and they will come” is the new “build it, and they will come.” Tweet right, ’Gram right, align yourself with the right memes, and you will amass a following. Leaders of the scrappier, DIY parts of the art scene have used social media branding to build enthusiastic followings on small or nonexistent budgets—much to their credit.
Meanwhile, only a handful of visual arts venues in the region showcase the work of mid-career, late-career or academic artists, and few of them do a great job of keeping in touch with the broader public. That’s one of the reasons that the OXS Gallery is inadvertently one of the region’s best kept secrets. Located inconspicuously on the second floor of a strip mall between the Carson City Visitors Bureau and the Nevada State Museum, it’s a place that only art-world insiders know about, and it looks like it’s someone’s private office.
It is someone’s private office—the Nevada Arts Council’s. It’s OK to just walk on in, and art lovers might want to make a habit of it. OXS stands for “Office Exhibition Series,” and you’re likely to see the work of the state’s most practiced—if not most eagerly marketed—artists.
The current two-person show is called Environmental Perspectives, and while the title might seem to invite open-ended speculation, the artwork itself amounts to a clear, blunt admission of environmental devastation. It’s less of a youthful, rage-against-the-powers-that-be kind of message and more a bleak but certain sense of resignation, delivered by people who’ve been exploring the topic for a long time.
Scott Hinton, a photographic researcher at the University of Nevada, Reno, digitally stitched together groups of 20 or so snapshot-sized pictures to make yard-long vistas of wide-open spaces in the West. The perspectives are convincing—he conveys the experience of taking in an expansive view from a peak or across a sage-dotted valley as well as you possibly could in a 2-D format. But traces of human impact—tailing piles, vehicles and dirt roads—appear in every landscape, no matter how remote. Of course, it’s a message we’ve heard before in hundreds of ways: humans have impacted the Earth beyond repair. But Hinton uses his panoramic arrangements, which refer to the photographic surveys of the 1970s that helped kick off the long-lived “altered landscape” photography movement, to demonstrate his reverence for both his craft and for open spaces. He pulls off an alarming degree of gravity without being heavy-handed.
Paul Ford’s works have a size and aesthetic that appeal to the eye, but they also convey a dire message.
A decade ago, Ford was recently retired from being Carson High School’s art teacher. Back then, he used paints, collages and natural materials to explore the imposition of sprawl upon Carson Valley. He balanced an appreciation for planning and architecture with his critique of population growth. Now, he lives in coastal Sonoma, California, and while he still uses materials that look the desert—flat, cracked earth on a board in place of canvas, for example—his tone has shifted from objective to bluntly elegiac. And somehow, even though Ford wrapped a thick, black, fabric arm band of mourning around one piece, his work doesn’t come off heavy handed either. It’s so technically refined and aesthetically resolved that it simply commands attention—much like this gallery should.