Can buy me love

Invited From the Heart

Leah Ruby used sugar, candy and packing tape to make “Nest,” for the Sheppard Gallery’s Valentine’s exhibit and auction.

Leah Ruby used sugar, candy and packing tape to make “Nest,” for the Sheppard Gallery’s Valentine’s exhibit and auction.

Photo By David Robert

So what could possibly be exciting about another sprawling group exhibit, especially one timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day, the holiday that has spawned some of the worst, most trite imagery ever? Surely this is just a bumper crop of theme-dependent schmaltz, right?

Prepare to stop that thinking in its tracks with Sheppard Gallery’s Invited from the Heart exhibit at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Upon walking in the doorway, you’re immediately faced with Leah Ruby’s nest-shaped construction, “Nest,” made of packing tape and amber-colored strings of candy. It’s indulgently gloppy. It’s intriguingly drippy. It’s glistening and seductive, yet cozy. And, since it’s made of sugar, it’s temporal. By some calculations, that’s a right-on sculptural manifestation of love.

The rest of the exhibit follows suit. Invited from the Heart does what big, sprawling group exhibits always claim but hardly ever do. It shows a range of work by a cross-section of artists from a particular community (those affiliated with UNR, whether professors, art-department grads or artists who’ve shown at the gallery in recent years) and makes it accessible without being bland. In this case, framing the show around the concept of love does the trick. Each artist gets to examine something that concerns us all.

Nobody cops out by stopping at the Hallmark-card borders of love. These artists crusade right on through to the creamy middle of the subject—sometimes literally, as in Nancy Peppin’s “I (Heart) Twinkies” made partially of dissected Twinkies). References to desire, lust and abandonment are rendered in paint, leather and barbed wire. Notions of domesticity and body image are translated to assemblages of wood, ceramic and pills.

Several artists seized the opportunity to veer away from their signature styles. Philippe Mazaud took pause from his typically serious, meticulously presented photographs to experiment with images of foliage and skin, backed by hot-pink plexiglass.

Some adhered to their usual styles and adapted their formats to the “valentine” requirement. Michael Sarich condensed the sardonic, saccharine flourish of his large ceramics and paintings into a delicate (but still plenty sardonic) little pastel drawing.

A few who are best known to the public as art-world administrators took advantage of the chance to communicate as artists instead of artists’ representatives, pulling out work that is delightfully undiplomatic and dark. Loren Staley (of Stremmel Gallery) appropriated a mid-20th-century advertisement for a miracle pharmaceutical targeting “weak-feeling” women. Sharon Rosse (of Capital City Arts Initiative) probed behind the wholesome, archetypical, high-school-yearbook smile to question whether anyone is really lucky in love.

Invited from the Heart manages to incorporate almost 100 pieces without getting tiresome. From recent grads (Sue Kay Lee, Erin Burns) to the graying generation of renowned thinkers (Ingrid Evans, Walter McNamara), to those who came of age in Reno and flew the nest to launch their careers in other locales (Natalie Rishe, Sidne Teske), this group comprises a near-comprehensive survey of the recent history of visual arts in Northern Nevada.

The exhibit, held biannually, culminates in an auction. The 2004 sale drew more than 400 people, and friendly competition over some pieces escalated, in a few cases, to heated arguments.

Will passionate fights break out at this year’s auction? You never know.

It is, after all, art about you-know-what.