So let’s face it, artists looking for a place to show their work in Reno have fairly limited options. I mean, who wouldn’t love to show at Nevada Museum of Art? But museums are tough to get into—and it helps to have an exhibition history. On the commercial high end, there’s Stremmel Gallery, but it’s essentially the only game in town, and it tends to hew to a particular type of aesthetic. Then there’s the University of Nevada, Reno, Truckee Meadows Community College, Sierra Arts, all sporting fine galleries of their own, but always with an eye toward appealing to (or appeasing?) “the community.” Lesser known spaces round out the mix—certainly including some I don’t know about—but after that artists are largely left with bars and coffee shops; not the most heartening of venues.
Enter Wonder Well, a little space off the corner of Wonder Street and South Wells Avenue. The former home of Sound and Fury Records turned Great Basin Community Food Co-op turned local artist’s studio was opened as a gallery in August 2010 by UNR art students John Grinde and Ana Leyva. The two conceived of it as a place that could be made accessible to younger, less established artists, recognizing a dearth of such spaces around town. What resulted is a model found in many larger cities: plate glass store front enclosing a blank slate, white-washed to accommodate whatever contents might tumble in.
Some new work by Sarah Lillegard showed in November in the exhibition Shelter, which ends on Nov. 25. It was her first show since she completed her degree four years ago in fine art and graphic design. Since then she says she’s mostly been working on embroidery projects and zines. (Regular readers of News & Review may recall A DIY Guide to Reno.) Last year, she took over as art director at Reno’s Holland Project, another art and music venue.
Shelter collects materials created, found, and bought secondhand to represent places Lillegard has inhabited. Six pieces along the wall are of the assemblage tradition, incorporating scraps of canvas, cardboard, wood, nails, thread and more—with a picture plane thrown in, too. The canvas scraps here serve as frames for the pictures, tacked to the wall and surrounding drawing surfaces of cardboard. There are marks on these surfaces, but that’s really just the prep work Lillegard has done for the drawings she’s made of thread, sited parallel to the surfaces, pulled taut around nails. These renditions are necessarily hard-edged and schematic, simplified versions of the artist’s past homes, but simultaneously delicate, given the delicacy of the medium. It’s an interesting way to draw, and probably the greatest pleasure when approaching these works.
Obscuring each little drawing is the rest of the assemblage—a dream catcher of twigs, twine, feathers, whatever. One has an old gear. Viewers are forced to look around or through the dream catcher to the barely there home, as though reality is giving way to unconscious memory.
Overall, I’m encouraged by what’s come together at Wonder Well, even though there’s a bit of a sense of an inside game with one gallery showing the work of the director of another gallery, especially when there aren’t many galleries in town. But the inside game is critical to art these days. Art begets art, after all, so I’m more than happy to see more young artists running more young art spaces.