Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Search Of...

The lovely and talented Rachel Frank, Dustin Dennis and Amanda Lechner at the opening of In Search Of...

With Amanda. I was so EXCITED to see this girl!

Full disclosure: I think my friends are the most talented and wonderful and brilliant and kind and amazing and fascinating and phenomenal and gorgeous people in the whole world. It may come as no surprise, then, that I might display just a tad bit of bias when I share the details of In Search Of..., a traveling exhibition organized by Dustin Dennis, Christopher Ulivo and Amanda Lechner. Dustin and Amanda are longtime friends, who I have known since my days as a student at the Kansas City Art Institute (and before, in the case of Dustin). I will share details about the exhibition without even attempting to give a strict analysis. I was too darn excited to see Dustin and Amanda, who were in town from New York, to wear my critic's hat. And believe me, Dustin and Amanda are just as wonderful and brilliant and kind and amazing and fascinating and phenomenal and gorgeous as I say they are. 


Mike Peter Smith, Untitled (Cyclops), 2012. Cast urethane, epoxy putty, brass, cyanoacrylate and paint. 9 in. x 6 in. x 5in.

In Search Of... is a speculative exploration of natural, and unnatural, history. Its take on how we explain and understand that which is beyond explanation or understanding runs the gamut from the frightening and weird to the idealized and fantastical. The world and the answers at which humans arrive are not fixed, or at least they don't have to be. In this exhibition, at least, creative inquiry is not only permitted, but encouraged. According to the curatorial statement, In Search Of... takes its title from the 1970s speculative documentary TV series of the same name, which was hosted by Leonard Nimoy and covered a wide range of strange phenomena. The statement goes on to say the "artists in this exhibition create images and abstract scenarios that engage transformative moments, look to alternate histories or imagine other realities, creatures and lands. They are not interested in finite possibilities but instead look to the strange, fictional, and unknown to emerge with material that posits new scenarios, alternate conclusions and yet more questions."

Overview of In Search Of... with work by Betsy Odom in the foreground. Betsy Odom, Bulldog 2 (Spacesuit), 2009. Mixed media, Gatorade coolers, tube socks, mesh, nylon. 60 in. x 30 in. x 28 in.

Overview of In Search Of... with work by Leah Beeferman in the foreground. Leah Beeferman, 1201.2280v1, 2012. Laser etched plexiglas, formica tabletops, speakers and audio. 96 in. x 24 in. x 30 in. Dimensions variable.

The exhibition opened on the first cold and icy day of the season. That didn't stop a crowd from gathering for the opening reception at the University of Kansas, Art and Design Gallery. I knew many of the visitors, as many old school pals showed up. KCAI is represented in the exhibition by Matt Bollinger, Rachel Frank, Ross Sawyers, and Frank Heath, in addition to Dustin and Amanda.

Here are few pieces by KCAI alumni:

Ross Sawyers' piece is a poetic vision of a phenomenological experience;

Ross Sawyers, Untitled, 2011. Archival print. 24 in. x 36 in.

I have always admired Matt Bollinger's drawing style, and Double is no exception - the texture and tones appeal to me, and the applied movement makes me feel a little queasy;

Matt Bollinger, Double, 2012. Graphite on paper. 30 in. x 22 in.

and Frank Heath's framed prints are two versions of the same thing, separated by nothing but time (and all that goes along with that).   

Frank Heath, Rerun TELEPHONE OPERATORS (Village Voice, June 2, 1987 / June 2, 2012), 2012. Classified ad. Pigment 2 prints. 13 3/4 in. x 12 1/2 in.

Rachel, who was in the same graduating class as Dustin, Amanda and I, was in town for the opening. Her piece is absolutely beautiful. Her cowhide beaded with a Rorschach test-like pattern makes me want to sit in a field and read stories from the flanks of cows. It also shows just how mindlessly we humans slaughter animals and use their body parts, including skin, for our own pleasure.

Rachel kindly let me photograph her with her piece.

Rachel Frank, Hide Stain, 2012. Glass beads, thread, cloth, wood and Holstein cowhide. 60 in. x 53 in. With detail.

Amanda's contributions to In Search Of... are two intimate narrative paintings. Lone figures enact scenes of (pseudo-) scientific research and discovery, seemingly with endless patience. Amanda has a deft hand and paints with skill and precision. 

Amanda with one of her highly detailed scenes.

At left: Amanda Lechner, Magnetron Plasma Ball, 2011. Egg tempera painting on panel. 14 in. x 11 in. At right: Amanda Lechner, Gaiter Pratt Delegates, 2011. Egg tempera painting on panel. 14 in. x 11 in.

Dustin presents a mysterious looping video featuring a man, a woman and an over-sized eye. This disturbing science fiction sequence is still on my mind. What is ethical? What are the limitations of human development? To what lengths would you go for scientific discovery?

Dustin striking his "serious" pose. Gotta love the beard, besides.

Dustin Dennis, Untitled, 2012. Digital video. 5 minutes (Stills). Do you recognize the actress? That's right, it's Rachel!

I spent at least two hours at the exhibition, and I could have stayed longer, even if I hadn't been chasing my friends around with my camera. Other pieces I was taken with include the following:

Jackie Hoving's highly patterned collages of people with what struck me as bionic add-ons;

Jackie Hoving, Vision, 2010. Mixed media collage. 30 in. x 22 in.

Ryan Mrozowski's sleek installation - with his visual punning, he's definitely a man after my own heart; 

Ryan Mrozowski, Illuminated Book page (#26), 2011. Single book page, light bulb, artist's frame. Dimensions variable.

and Christopher Ulivo's fanciful vision of Pete Seeger as the Robert Johnson of folk music. Do you see hints of Bosch, too? Plus glitter.

Christopher Ulivo, The Last Thing They'll Take From You Is Your Banjo, 2012. Egg tempera on panel. 13 in. x 10 in.

Overall, I found In Search Of... to inspire thought and the desire to make things. That's a powerful combination for any artist who is out viewing art. I highly recommend this exhibition. In Search Of... will be exhibited at the University of Kansas, Art & Design Gallery, until December 7, 2012. Be sure to check it out if you are in town! If you can't make it to Kansas City, some of the work will be on display at North Branch Projects in Chicago, Illinois, in January 2013.

Congratulations, Dustin, Amanda and Christopher!! 

Check out the exhibition, and tell me know what you think. Have you been to any exhibitions I should see? Let me know.

Alison :)

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