Whole Fantasmagoria Duality
An exhibit at Sierra Arts features nine artists who teach at the region’s colleges. The quality of their work is top-notch, but the curatorial strategy that tries to buttress its meaning doesn’t acknowledge the already-well-thought intentions of the artists, nor does it shed any light for viewers.
This is the wording from the (unsigned) curatorial statement: “Each of the invited artists provided three individual words of their choosing which were then placed into a ’hat.’ … The three words drawn: Whole Phantasmagoria Duality.” That became the exhibit’s title and theme.
Clever? Sure. But these are mature artists who’ve been refining their reasons for making art for years or decades, so the added cleverness doesn’t help anything. And for viewers, trying to parse out what’s so “Whole Fantasmagoria Duality” about the artwork is a confusing job with zero payoff. “Phantasmagoria” means “a shifting series of illusions” or a confounding, dream-like situation. Think visual cacophony. Think Alice needing a mental break from trippy Wonderland. None of these artists’ work is about that.
Drawing words from a hat is a legitimately helpful exercise if you’re an Art 101 student who needs to learn how to proceed from concept to finished piece. It’s a great idea for those with an affinity for Dadaist experimentation. (The Dadaists threw meaning into a blender by, say, cutting words from books and remixing them into nonsensical poems.) But for artists who aren’t Dadaists or beginners, the process comes off as gimmicky for gimmick’s sake. Here, instead, are a few examples of how you could frame this work:
Candace Garlock, gallery director and printmaking instructor at Truckee Meadows Community College, had already been making multimedia prints and collages questioning how we sensationalize and sexualize human bodies. Then she contracted multiple sclerosis and folded her thoughts about dealing with disease into the already rich mix. The work she makes today is elegant, nuanced, hard-hitting and honest.
Sheri Leigh O’Connor, chair of fine arts at Sierra Nevada College, uses ceramics to wrap her head around the role of guns in American culture. This exhibit shows a glossy, sushi-roll gun and a “Kentucky fried” gun, coated with realistic, crispy breading. Her work always packs a socially relevant punch, especially so this week, in light of the shooting in Orlando. (For maximum effect, check out the KFC-style buckets of fried guns on her website: www.sherileighceramics.com.)
Dean Burton, photography instructor at TMCC, has long paid homage to traditional and new forms of imagemaking. He takes a careful, meditative look at mundane things—the insides of film cameras; the negative spaces between clouds—asking us always to dig deeper into what’s right in front of our noses. Here, he shows a grid of calotypes, a type of photography from the 1840s that yields a luscious, rich surface. His pictures are extremely meta without being cloying or coy, and, as always with Burton’s work, figuring out what they’re pictures of is a delightful game—not to be plot-spoiled here—of discovering beauty where we may not have thought to look for it.
Figuring out Burton’s imagery game is not the only reason to see this show. Even though none of these artists’ work needed the external justification, all of the work outshines the made-up “phantasmagoria” concept.
There’s just a tiny sample of each artist’s work here. If that seems like a tasty appetizer, there’s a second course coming up in August, when artwork by college instructors Russell Dudley, Megan Berner and Jeff Erickson will appear in an exhibit of Nevada artwork at the Nevada Museum of Art.