Lack of understanding

Our reviewer simply couldn’t understand understanding the plastic

The installation inside the Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery at the University of Nevada, Reno, is called understanding the plastic, by Chuck Moffit. After checking it out, I can say that I truly don’t understand the plastic.

This is troubling. I admit I am not the most schooled art aficionado on the planet, but I’ve seen a lot of art at many different and amazing museums, and it’s extremely rare for me to walk away from an exhibit going, “Huh?”

After walking around Sheppard for some 20 minutes, examining understanding the plastic from each and every angle that I comfortably could, I decided to check the gallery’s guest book to see if I was the only one who was confused by the exhibit, which was a site-specific installation. While one or two folks had expressed a lack of understanding, more had written positive comments. Therefore, take my criticisms with a grain of salt, and if you’re interested, check out the exhibit yourself.

Here is what the exhibit, through my baffled eyes, looks like.

The first thing you see when you walk in is a metallic frame, shaped something like the cockpit of a plane. At the bottom of the frame, where all of the various beams come together in a circle, is what appears to be a huge, multi-colored fabric flower, at least several feet across. The middle is green; the first layer of petals is blue with an orange outline. The second layer of petals is purple with a yellow outline, and the outer layer is blue with a gold outline. On top of the flower sits what looks like a gray vine, with a microphone-shaped flower at the end.

The vine leads out of the frame to what looks like a gray, deformed stuffed animal several feet away. This is connected to two other plush figures, which look like multi-colored octopi. Behind these figures sits another plush figure that looks like a small blue beanbag chair with buttons.

The metallic frame and the various colorful plush figures, which occupy the front part of the Sheppard Gallery, give a stark contrast to the rest of the installation, which takes up the majority of the gallery floor: a plastic grid of pure white blocks with what appears to be rounded, un-eroded mountains crafted into them. There are 72 squares in an eight-by-nine pattern, and each one has some sort of terrain—some squares have little more than bumps, while others have peaks several feet high. The lighting is balanced, making shadows almost nonexistent.

It’s interesting, yes. The stark contrast between the colorful plush figures and the white, barren peaks gives the mind something to think about. But it is also baffling. There appears to be no connection between the white landscape and the rest of the exhibit. I was also upset that I couldn’t walk around the white landscape to look at it from various angles, as there were only a few inches of space between the grid and the wall on three of the four sides. (I suppose I could have, although I would have felt uncomfortable doing so, fearing I’d kick the pieces of the grid.)

This seems to conflict with Moffit’s artist statement accompanying the exhibit: “Sculpture being made today seems less relevant to the space it occupies and is more a theoretical assertion,” he says. “It is important to me that the sculpture demands to coexist in the same space as the viewer. The relationship of the viewer’s body to the work while moving around the piece should be paramount to the visual perceptions. … I want to create a new space in which the body feels comfortable and the mind is free to shift around, possibly into a new relationship to the space that is occupied.”

I left understanding the plastic unmoved and uninspired. This is just one man’s opinion. But this is one man who, for whatever reason, didn’t understand.