Reclining in an Aeron chair behind his gallery’s front desk, the day before the exhibit Simply7 is slated to be installed, Peter Stremmel says, “There’s a video? I didn’t know there was going to be a video.”
He’s not usually out of the loop like that. He and his wife, Turkey, have been running the gallery since 1969, and they’ve always had control over their own exhibits. But Simply7 is an experiment.
Usually, commercial galleries show commercially viable artwork. “Academic” artwork, made by artists more interested in freedom of expression than sales, finds its home in non-profit spaces, such as museums or university galleries.
Stremmel has always opted for the former. But this month, the gallery is doing double duty, essentially playing the role of a museum by hosting an exhibit of the area’s “new-guard” artists.
These seven artists are younger (under 40 or so) than most of the prominent artists in town. They’re all instructors at area colleges. Russell Dudley and J. Damron teach at Sierra Nevada College; Dean Burton is from Truckee Meadows Community College; Joseph DeLappe, Tamara Scronce and Christine Karkow are art instructors at the University of Nevada, Reno; Philippe Mazaud teaches in UNR’s math department. All of them have solid reputations in the Reno art world and connections to the national one, but they don’t tend to show much in Reno, for one simple reason.
“We live in a small town, and there’re only so many venues to show your work,” says UNR art department chair Joseph DeLappe, who organized the exhibit.
Some artists deal with the dearth of venues by showing their work out of town. Most have shown at non-profit spaces, such as the Nevada Museum of Art or Sierra Arts.
DeLappe has pursued all of those avenues, but he and his colleagues produce more work than they can show in those few venues. Which is why, when he heard Turkey Stremmel mention on the radio a few years ago that she’d like to consider some experimental exhibits, perhaps some video work, he held her to her word.
The show does include video projections—autobiographical pieces by Scronce that also involve sculptural elements, like a giant metal bird’s nest. Also more experimental than Stremmel’s usual fare is DeLappe’s “The Mouse Mandala,” which is a large floor mandala made of computer mice, with a modest-sized Buddha made of track balls contemplating from a pedestal.
The group has avoided the common “academic art” pitfalls of being alienating or overly intellectualized. Instead, a sense of playfulness pervades, and styles run a continuum from fun to contemplative, with Delappe’s mice and Scronce’s safety-pin dress at one end, meditative nightscape photographs by Mazaud at the other end, and Karkow’s kitsch-fed but moody images in between.
The gallery staffers look a little nervous as they discuss the show. They’re not expecting many sales, and the following exhibit—oil paintings by Len Chmiel—is apparently timed to cushion a potential financial hit. Chmiel, a long-time Stremmel artist, makes well-crafted, accessible oil paintings. One is titled, “Comfort Zone.”
According to Turkey, though, it’s OK to step outside the comfort zone for the moment. She says, “It’s a challenge, but I figure we’ve been here for 35 years; there are some times that you work outside of the box a little bit and support the community that supports us.”