Every shade of brown
Bathed in Sunshine, Covered in Dust
What does it mean to be an artist in Reno?
That question is at the heart of Bathed in Sunshine, Covered in Dust: An Introduction to Contemporary Art in Reno, Nevada, a group exhibition at the Holland Project. The exhibition features a diversity of artists, including photographers, like Alisha Funkhouser and Emily Rogers, painters, like Jaxon Northon and Ahren Hertel, and sculptors, like Kyle Walker Akins and Michelle Laxalt.
The exhibition was co-curated by Sarah Lillegard, Holland’s arts and gallery director, and Jen Graham, an artist and the former curator of the Bibo Three Gallery.
“We wanted to capture the kind of art that was happening here,” says Graham. “There’s something really special and unique, a different sort of aesthetic than what you might see elsewhere. I was feeling like we had a lack of a web presence. … Originally, the idea was to make something that we could present outside of Reno to show what’s going on here.”
“This is not a ’best-of,’” says Lillegard. “This is not the only thing that exists in Reno. This is more like a jumping off point for a bigger conversation.”
The curators say they intend the exhibition, and its accompanying online publication with essays by artists Tanya Goyer, Megan Kay and Jay Damron, to serve two purposes: to introduce Reno’s art scene to outsiders, and to initiate discussion among locals. The exhibition presents a vision of local art that’s distinct from the casino culture and largely disconnected from local institutions like the Nevada Museum of Art and the University of Nevada, Reno. (Though it was funded, in part, with a grant from Nevada Humanities.) The curatorial vision also avoids representations of Burning Man-affiliated art.
“We specifically stayed away from that Burning Man idea, and I think that was because Reno is known for that, and it has received major national media coverage,” says Graham.
The exhibition features a representation of Reno artwork that’s more beholden to curatorial evaluation, rather than the all-inclusiveness of the Burner perspective. The curators’ opening essay describes Reno as a city “encased by mountains, bathed in sunshine, and covered in dust.”
“We noticed that was something that we really came across a lot—that kind of muted color palette, that desert-y feel where everything feels a little bit dried up, a little bit faded by the sun,” says Graham. “That’s something that will really come through when people outside of Reno see it.”
That color palette—pale blues, muddy reds, a variety of tans and browns—is present in everything from Megan Berner’s flags, emblems of exploration, discovery and marking territory, to Funkhouser’s photographs documenting Sun Valley.
“We weren’t saying everything needs to fit within these parameters,” says Lillegard. “We want it more to give a feeling, like you could look through, as a viewer, and start to make connections, maybe some of the connections we’re talking about, maybe totally separate ones. It’s like pairing it together and asking, what are you seeing here?”
Kaitlin Bryson’s multimedia piece “The Virtue of Dissolution,” involves paintings, a sculptural installation, and a performance that will include her literally washing off her paintings during the opening reception.
“I wanted it to fluctuate from order into disorder,” she says. “The end result is going to be complete disorder. … When things are in a state of disorder, there’s more potential for them to come together stronger.”
“We like the idea of that kind of obsessive work,” says Graham. “It’s definitely a struggle to be an artist in a city like Reno. You have to really work hard and you have to really want it.”