Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Did You Know :: Jamie Brunson

Jamie Brunson :

  • Studied at the California College of the Arts (BFA, 1978), and at Mills College (MFA, 1983).
  • Produced pattern-based paintings from 1995-2004 that were inspired by ornamental motifs she had seen in her travels to ancient historic and religious sites around the world, and by her kundalini meditation practice.
  • Teaches painting at the San Francisco Art Institute and at San Francisco State University.
  • Works also as a writer and critic, and has published essays in Artweek, Art Issues, and Artspace.
  • Works also as a curator, having organized exhibitions of West Coast pattern-based painting that opened at the Mills College Art Museum in Oakland, CA, in 2001.
  • Fascinated by global religious traditions. In fact, the title of her work in our collection, Krishna Lila, refers to the devotional music of Hindu India. The Sanskrit word for Krishna, krsna, means “black,” “dark,” or “dark blue”—the color of the piece.
  • Encourages contemplation and spiritual reflection. She is interested in both the spiritual implications of patterns as well as the role they play in cultural transmission.
Of special note:
Nevada Museum of Art Volunteer Meg Watson made the Brunson acquisition possible, in memory of her mother.

Did You Know :: Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell:
• Born February 12, 1925, in Chicago, Illinois.
• Considered a “second generation” Abstract Expressionist, along with Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler.
• Studied at Smith College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia University, and in the studio of Hans Hofmann (as did Lee Krasner). However, despite her interest in Hofmann’s teaching, she was put off by his brusque manner, which included such practices as erasing and re-drawing students’ drawings while they worked.
• Influenced by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and Henri Matisse. In fact, much of her career was spent living in France, and for a time in a house and studio adjacent to where Monet himself painted in Giverny.
• Married briefly to Barney Rosset, an American publisher, before beginning a long and tumultuous relationship with Jean-Paul Riopelle, an Abstract Expressionist painter and sculptor from Quebec.
• Split her time between New York City, the heart of the American-born Abstract Expressionist movement, and France.
• Included landscapes and bridges as common abstracted elements in her paintings, reflecting her interest in the beautiful French landscapes she loved, and the Brooklyn Bridge, below which her American studio and home was located.
• Worked in extremely large scale—and multi-panel paintings became very common in her work, all of which relied on stylistic elements that included the use of long, curvilinear strokes and broad stains of color, often on unprimed canvas.
• Died in 1992, leaving in her estate support for future artists through the Joan Mitchell Foundation, which awarded Reno artist Michael Sarich an “emerging artist” award in 2008.

Did You Know :: Lee Krasner

Lee Krasner was:
• Born October 27, 1908, to a Russian Jewish immigrant family.
• Studied at the Cooper Union, the Art Students League of New York, and the National Academy of Design.
• Employed by the Public Works of Art Project in 1934, the first New Deal art program, and relied upon the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project until the program ended in 1943.
• Studied in the studio of renowned “first generation” Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann from 1937-1940. This experience profoundly altered her art: from a figurative, representational style to a geometrically-inspired, Cubist-influenced, expression. In one of his critiques of her work, Hofmann reportedly exclaimed “this painting is so good it could have been painted by a man.” She never forgot the experience.
• Met her more famous husband, Jackson Pollock, in 1941, though they had an informal encounter years earlier, in 1936, at a Federal Art Project party.
• Deeply appreciated the work of Mondrian and Matisse.
• Worked in collage, and also cut her paintings and studies into pieces to create them. Partly because of this working style, scholars believe that only 599 of her paintings exist today.
• In 1956, returned to a style that included figurative elements, though now more abstract than in her early career, in which human, animal, and especially plant forms are prominent.
• Vision and Revision are two constant themes in her work, connecting to cycles of life in nature.
• Died in 1984, shortly before the first full retrospective exhibition of her work opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In MoMA’s history, she is still one of just four women to have a solo retrospective exhibition ever.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Katie Holten Review in Circa

Another Katie Holten exhibition similar to our Atlas of Memory exhibition has been recently reviewed in the magazine Circa. Clicking on the image of the article above will open the article up at a readable size in a new window.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tour and Workshop Needs

We're experiencing a bit of a pinch with some docent tours and workshops this week that I hope some of you might be able to help us with.
We've had a couple of docents who've had to remove themselves from tours and workshops this week due to health concerns or work conflicts. If anyone can step in to help with the following on short notice, I'd appreciate it.
1) We have one tour and two workshops that need to be covered on Wednesday, November 5 for a mixed group of Florence Drake Elementary School 4th/5th graders (tour at 10:15, workshops at 11:15).
2) We have need for one tour at 10:15 on Thursday, November 6 for a group of Bud Beasley Elementary School 1st graders
3) We need two workshops for a group of Gardnerville Elementary School 6th graders at 11:30 am (please note the 11:30 workshop time, rather than 11:15, due to their long drive).
4) Public tours on Saturday and Sunday, November 8th and 9th are all still in need of a docent's adoption.
Let me or Rosalind (who will be back in the office on Election Day) know if you can help with any of these impending needs.
Many thanks,

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Long May She Wave: A Graphic History of the American Flag, October 25, 2008-February 22, 2009

The catalog accompanying the exhibition Long May She Wave: A Graphic History of the American Flag is a beautiful book, containing images of most of the objects that will be displayed in the Nevada Museum of Art exhibition of the same name. It does, however, contain little in the form of text--historical information, for example, is limited to names and dates.

Flag: An American Biography sits at the other end of the spectrum: little in the form of images, even for illustration purposes, but rich in historical information and context regarding the development of the American flag as on object of national significance over the last two centuries plus.

If not in the museum store, they're to be easily found online at www.amazon.com and through Sundance Books, Barnes & Noble, or Borders.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Docent Training Canceled

Please note that I need to cancel Docent Training for Monday, October 13, 2008. Training for Long May She Wave: A Graphic History of the American Flag will begin with Kit Hinrichs' walk-through of the exhibition on Friday morning, October 24, beginning at 10:00 a.m., and continuing with tour and workshop training following the walk-through. Thank you--apologies for the inconvenience.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Chris Drury: Mushrooms | Clouds Tour Blueprint

August 9 – October 5, 2008


The exhibition Chris Drury: Mushrooms | Clouds consists of three major sculpture installations, five video works, three mixed media installation pieces, and several photographs. The exhibition is easily one of the most ambitious in the museum’s history—the majority of the works included in it are original commissions for the exhibition itself, never seen anywhere before. Additionally, as the first major museum exhibition of artist Chris Drury’s work, what people see in the gallery over the next two months represents a major commitment to a mid-career artist’s work, and a major investment in the ideas underlying the museum’s art and environment mission. The exhibition is presented as part of the NMA’s Art + Environment exhibition series, and will serve as the backdrop to the Art + Environment Conference in October.

The exhibition is supported by the Nevada Commission on Tourism and the FOR-SITE Foundation in Nevada City, California, directly, as well as by the founder of FOR-SITE, Cheryl Haines. A beautiful book documenting the exhibition and artwork will be co-published by the Nevada Museum of Art and the Center for American Places, with international distribution by the University of Chicago Press, in summer 2009.

Wall Texts

One of Great Britain’s most prolific and respected Conceptual artists, Chris Drury investigates themes related to the environment, emphasizing cycles of destruction and regeneration in nature—and the ways that humans affect these processes. In all of his creative pursuits, Drury embraces metaphor and analogy as tools for layering multiple meanings within the objects he creates. From mushroom spore prints to a sculpture in the form of a nuclear mushroom cloud, and videos that explore the cloud-like properties of water and smoke, Drury makes visible the subtle connections between the realms of science, culture, history, and politics.

For over four decades, the American West has been a destination for countless artists seeking direct interaction with the environment. Drury, who was born in Sri Lanka and now lives in Great Britain, brings international perspective to topics ranging from land and water appropriation to nuclear testing in the American West. Devoted to a creative methodology that is driven by experimentation, communication, and physical interaction with place, Drury’s research into the unique geography and environments of our region offer significant insights into issues that also have global relevance.

Mushrooms | Clouds, Drury’s first major museum exhibition in the United States, includes artworks drawn from the artist’s ongoing Mushrooms and Clouds series, as well as multiple new artworks commissioned in collaboration with organizations based throughout Nevada and California—including the Desert Research Institute, the FOR-SITE Foundation, and the Pyramid Lake Museum/Visitors’ Center. The development of this burgeoning interdisciplinary network—an ongoing initiative of the Nevada Museum of Art—provides resources and tools to artists for the development of new works that engage audiences in contemporary discourse on issues related to the environment that are both timely and timeless.

Cloud Pool Chamber

Humans have relied upon natural materials and environmental resources to sustain and shelter themselves for millennia. With this in mind, Chris Drury began construction of Cloud Pool Chamber in the Sierra Nevada foothills in May 2008—a project supported by the Nevada Museum of Art and the FOR-SITE Foundation, an artist residency program based in Nevada City, California. Drury designed the structure, giving special attention to the historical and cultural significance of the site where it would be placed, as well as the materials from which it would be built.

Made from diseased logs felled at Donner Memorial State Park near Truckee, Cloud Pool Chamber was first installed in a wooded ravine adjacent to granite boulders and towering oak trees in Nevada City, California. Located nearby were numerous Native American mortar stones used by indigenous Maidu peoples to grind acorns into flour. Recognizing that humans have long made marks on the Earth in an ongoing effort to survive—whether in the form of grinding stones used for daily sustenance or nuclear craters resultant from military defense testing—Drury hand-carved a crater in a large granite stone and placed it beneath the opening of the Cloud Pool Chamber. He then filled it daily with a tea made from acorns that reflected passing clouds overhead. Drury’s videos, based on the cratered granite stone and the indigenous mortar stones, are on view in the nearby video gallery.

In June 2008, Cloud Pool Chamber was transported to its current site on the roof of the Nevada Museum of Art, where a hand-carved granite stone is filled daily with ink-colored water that reflects the dramatic cloud formations passing over the Museum.

Winnemucca Whirlwind

In May 2008, Chris Drury began the labor-intensive process of etching a large-scale whirlwind drawing onto the alkali surface of Winnemucca Dry Lake, near the border of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, 35 miles northeast of Reno. Drury worked for over fifteen hours by the light of a full moon to complete the drawing, whose spiraling whirlwind form—a symbol used for centuries by cultures to denote vital energy—is nearly 300 feet in diameter. Winnemucca Whirlwind refers to the complex history of land and water appropriation in the American West, as well as to the historical and enduring impulse of human cultures to use symbolic markings to convey meaning.

Archaeological evidence reveals that Native Americans inhabited the Winnemucca Lake region as far back as 8-10,000 years ago. Once a lush, marshy wetlands area and an important ecological and recreational resource (see image below), Winnemucca Lake became less accessible when the boundaries of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation were enforced by the U.S. Government in 1858—exactly 150 years ago. Further drastic impacts to Winnemucca Lake began in 1903, when it dried up due to the Newlands Reclamation Project that diverted Truckee River waters away for agricultural uses. In essence, these actions destroyed the lake’s natural function, and transformed a thriving ecosystem into a vast and seemingly-empty expanse. Given the possibility that cultural or human remains might be unearthed near the surface of the “empty” lake during Drury’s art-making process, an archaeological observer representing the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe was present for the duration of the project.

Although Drury had obtained permission to create Winnemucca Whirlwind within the boundaries of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation, he chose instead to undertake the installation on restricted BLM land in an effort to “symbolically re-claim” the land for Native Americans and to metaphorically convey the political and cultural whirlwind Native Americans have been embroiled in over the past century. Drury purposely designed the piece so that it is best viewed from land located on the Reservation, while it is nearly invisible from the nearby public highway. Winnemucca Whirlwind was never intended to be a permanent sculpture, and due to recent rains, the cycle of nature has again re-claimed the surface of the alkali lakebed.

This artwork was commissioned in collaboration with the Pyramid Lake Museum/Visitors Center, Nixon, NV.

Destroying Angel

Chris Drury’s Destroying Angel sculpture encourages viewers to thoughtfully consider the similarities and differences between natural flow processes in plants, animals, and other scientific phenomena. As the shape of Drury’s sculpture suggests, the form of a three-dimensional living mushroom echoes the flow patterns of liquids and gasses as they might appear in streams, clouds, ocean currents, and smoke. Similar vortex-like flow patterns are present in biological structures such as the heart, the fibers of the eye’s retina, fingerprints, and the bony structure of the nose. All of these forms are echoed in Drury’s Destroying Angel mushroom sculpture that slowly unfurls into the shape of a nuclear mushroom cloud.

Drury created this large-sale sculpture using sagebrush collected from the Great Basin. The hardy ubiquitous plant—found throughout the American West—has long been associated with cleansing and purification rituals of many Native American cultures. When burned, the plant releases a distinct and intense odor that travels through the air as smoke. All columns of rising smoke—whether produced during a sage burning ritual or a nuclear explosion—exhibit similar patterns of flow. Drury’s video titled Shattered Peace, Broken Promises, on view in a nearby gallery, reveals the violent impact of an explosion on a peaceful stream of smoke that rises from a burning sage bundle.

By titling this sculpture Destroying Angel, which refers to a deadly mushroom Amanita virosa, Drury suggests that beauty and death are intimately connected.

Touching the Eye of the Storm

This interactive community artwork is presented in conjunction with British artist Chris Drury’s feature exhibition Mushrooms|Clouds, now on view in the third floor Feature Gallery. Touching the Eye of the Storm was inspired by a large-scale drawing, called Winnemucca Whirlwind, that Drury recently completed on the alkali surface of Winnemucca Dry Lake, 35 miles northeast of Reno. It is also closely related to many of the other artworks on view in the exhibition upstairs.

Using soil pigments collected from the Great Basin, Nevada Museum of Art guests are invited to add their thumbprints to this large community artwork designed by Drury in the shape of a spiraling whirlwind. The symbolic spiral marking—often associated with a flow of vital energy—has been re-interpreted for centuries by various cultures. The spiral also appears in the natural flow of liquids and gasses in streams, clouds, ocean currents, and smoke, as well as in biological structures such as the heart, the eye’s retina, and fingerprints.

In all of his creative pursuits, Drury embraces metaphor and analogy as tools for layering interpreting multiple meanings layered within the plants, animals, and objects he encounters—and the artworks that he makes. By leaving your mark on the wall of the Museum, you are now an integral part of this creative process.

Life in the Field of Death II and 559 Shelter Stones

These two major artworks relate directly to the legacy of nuclear testing in the American West and its impact on the desert landscape and ecosystems of the Nevada Test Site, located just one hour north of Las Vegas. With cooperation from scientists at the Desert Research Institute, Drury translated the genetic code of a living organism known as Microcoleus Vaginata that was found living in the irradiated soil of the Nevada Test Site—one of the most abused nuclear landscapes in the world. In the artwork titled Life in the Field of Death, Drury stenciled 559 letters from the organism’s partial DNA gene sequence onto the gallery wall using soil pigments gathered at the Test Site. The rectangular letter-block forms are intended to mimic the shapes of gravestones, reminding viewers that life continues to subsist in places that are often considered lifeless.

In a second large-scale sculpture, 559 Shelter Stones, Drury used stones gathered near Pyramid Lake, Nevada to create a shelter made from 559 pieces of shale—echoing the number of genes in the Microcoleus Vaginatus gene sequence found at the Test Site. Throughout his career, Drury has constructed hundreds of shelters, suggesting the ongoing human impulse to seek safety and protection using natural resources and materials. An image below depicts a rarely-seen indigenous Paiute log structure that still exists within the boundaries of the Test Site, even though indigenous peoples are no longer permitted on the land.

In each of these large-scale artworks, Drury reminds viewers that life persists, even in unlikely or seemingly impossible environments.

Life in the Field of Death was commissioned in collaboration with the Desert Research Institute.


You’ll find most of the exhibition in the third floor feature gallery, where two of the three major sculpture installations can be found, along with all of the video and installation works, save for Cloud Pool Chamber (Rooftop) and Touching the Eye of the Storm (Admission Desk).

Relevant Vocabulary

Land Art beginning in the 1960s, any of a number of movements away from “establishment” art in the gallery world and toward a radical revision of how and where art gets made, exhibited, and viewed; landscape and the art object are inextricably linked in most land artists’ work.

Zen a distinct school of Buddhist practice marked by meditative focus on dharma practice and experiential wisdom rather than religious texts or theoretical knowledge.

Amanita virosa (Destroying Angel) one of several species of poisonous mushrooms in a family of mushrooms called Amanita, frequently occurring in Europe, and which resembles a variety of edible mushrooms. Can be deadly.

Microcoleus vaginatus an organism found in irradiated soil on the Nevada Test Site—basically a terrestrial algae.

Trinity (nuclear test) the first nuclear test, July 16, 1945, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The test preceded the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, respectively, in August 1945.

Mushroom Spore Print mushrooms reproduce by means of spores, an evolutionarily ancient strategy for survival. Every species of mushroom yields a unique pattern of its spores. Scientists collect the “print” of the spores on glass slides for study.

Gene sequence the sequence of genes containing the genetic material for an organism.

Big Ideas Central to
Chris Drury: Mushrooms | Clouds

Metaphors lie at the heart of every one of Chris Drury’s works, based on the idea that an implied or direct comparison of one thing to another yields multiple new meanings. So, for example, metaphors help us understand Destroying Angel Trinity in multiple ways: 1) as a representational object, Destroying Angel is a specific kind of poisonous mushroom; the name Destroying Angel offers a religious connotation; the word Trinity in the title yields another religious connotation; the shape of a mushroom spore print suggests traditional Hindu, Buddhist, and Mesoamerican mandalas; mushrooms connote nuclear imagery; the word Trinity also refers directly to the name of the first nuclear test ever.

Life | Death | Regeneration | Recycling

the cycles of life and death, destruction and regeneration are central to natural processes, one of the main areas of Drury’s interests; mushrooms, a subject that he has focused on for thirty years, are among the world’s best recyclers

Nuclear | Mushrooms | Clouds | Life

Drury’s fascination with natural processes also yields his interest in the relationship of mushrooms to death and to life—they can be poisonous agents of death, as well as life sustaining food sources for people; clouds, likewise, are lifegiving sources of water, except in the case of nuclear mushroom clouds.

Life in a Lifeless Place | Microcosm <--> Macrocosm Drury began wondering about this when he worked in the British Antarctic Survey’s Artists and Writers program, but the interest continued when the opportunity to work in a nuclear landscape presented itself. Can life exist in a lifeless place?, Drury wonders.

Local Issues | Places | History as Drury’s works are made of local materials, they are also references to local issues: 559 Shelter Stones, for example, refers to the issues tied up in Nevada’s nuclear legacy; Winnemucca Whirlwind references more directly land and water use in Nevada, and the effects this history has had on members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

Open Installation | Community Involvement because of his interest in natural processes, Drury wanted to reveal the process of installation of the exhibition to make the exhibition’s inner workings visible in much the same way that he attempts to “reveal” the nature of nature, the nature of community and collaboration.

Tour Framework

Invite guests to the museum and to the exhibition, being sure to thank them for coming.

Explain that artist Chris Drury is British, and that he comes from Sussex, in southeastern England.

Ask guests whether they think art might be able to help them better understand the histories of the places in which they live or those they visit. What kinds of responses do you get? Be sure to acknowledge the response by repeating it back to the person offering it, and so others can hear.

Ask guests whether they have previously seen Cloud Pool Chamber on the NMA rooftop.

Explain that if time permits, the tour will include a visit to see it, but if time is short, that people should be sure to see the sculpture on the rooftop.

Explain that Chris Drury is considered a Conceptual artist and a Land or Earth artist, and that this means, first, that Drury’s artwork is as much about the many ideas that the objects represent as the objects themselves. For example, Cloud Pool Chamber, depicted in the large photo mural near the gallery’s entrance, is as much about the place in which it was built near Nevada City and the history of the Maidu people who inhabited the area there as it is about the sculpture itself. This is a hard point to understand, but for Drury, the “art” is not in the final object that we see installed on the rooftop, but that the “art” lies in the process through which the object was produced, the idea that lead to the project, and the collaboration that was required of a number of people to produce the object. His works are also considered to be a type of Land Art, because of the their site-specific nature and their use of natural materials. For example, Cloud Pool Chamber is made from diseased Lodgepole logs at Donner Memorial State Park and a granite boulder from the northern Sierra Nevada range near there, and it was originally conceived for a specific site on the grounds of the FOR-SITE Foundation, near Nevada City, California, which he chose specifically because of its proximity to water and to several ancient grinding rocks created by Maidu people for crushing acorns into flour.

Explain that Drury sees his works as art on multiple levels. Take Cloud Pool Chamber as an example. First, there is the object itself. In the case of Cloud Pool Chamber, the object was a site-specific sculptural installation at the FOR-SITE Foundation near Nevada City, California. There is then a photograph documenting the site-specific installation of it there. For Cloud Pool Chamber, then, there is another layer, because it is a site-specific sculptural installation on the NMA rooftop, where it is very different from what it had been at FOR-SITE. Lastly, as an installation piece that can be physically entered, each individual person’s experience is different, and the experience of each individual is its own artwork in Drury’s view.

Explain that Drury is very interested in local issues and places, which is partly why he created the landscape-sized drawing called Winnemucca Whirlwind on the Winnemucca Dry Lake bed.

Explain that before 1858, and more generally before the Gold Rush, Indian people in Nevada lived very differently. After 1858, reservation boundaries were enforced, effectively reducing the lands available to Indian people. After the turn of the twentieth century, the Newlands Project redirected waters bound for Pyramid and Winnemucca Lakes to Fallon and Fernley agricultural uses. Within 20 years, Winnemucca Lake dried up to the basin we know today.
Explain that the whirlwind pattern of Winnemucca Whirlwind is an ancient pattern representing life, energy, power, and positive energy, and that it is also similar to the mandalas of Hindu, Buddhist, and Mesoamerican cultural traditions.

Explain that Drury is interested in the history of the Paiutes’ use of Winnemucca Lake: prior to 1905, it was a rich fishing and hunting area. Drury’s drawing references the appropriation of Native American lands, the human destruction of ecosystems such as Winnemucca Lake, and the rich history of the whirlwind pattern.

Ask guests about what a metaphor is.

Explain that a metaphor is often a tool shared by artists of all kinds, writers, painters, and so on, to make direct or implied comparisons between to unrelated objects or ideas. Whereas a simile usually contains the words like or as, as in “My love is like a red, red rose,” metaphors often rely on direct comparisons, as in Pablo Picasso’s statement that “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” When he says this, he doesn’t mean that art literally washes dust away, does he? No. But he means it metaphorically. In Drury’s works, some of the pieces do represent literal objects: Destroying Angel Trinity and Destroying Angel both represent real, recognizable things, for example. But the works also convey meaning metaphorically: at one and the same time, Destroying Angel conveys metaphorical meanings about death and life, nuclear mushroom clouds, religious traditions, Native American cultural traditions, and much more. So at the same time, the sculpture is “about” nuclear mushroom clouds (because it resembles them) and the cleansing spiritual power of sage burning during a Native American smudge ceremony (because it is made from sage bundles).

Ask guests what other kinds of metaphors they perceive in Destroying Angel.

Ask guests to look at the grid of spore prints near the entrance wall.

Explain that Drury has been working with mushrooms as a subject for more than thirty years.

Explain that a spore print is a scientific tool used to identify different species of mushrooms. When you remove the stem from a mushroom cap, and leave the cap to sit overnight on a sheet of paper or a glass slide, the cap will drop its spores onto the paper or slide in a unique pattern. Each spore print is unique to a specific species of mushroom. Drury has worked with spore prints for a long time because they are capable of representing multiple levels of information. For example, not only do the spore prints directly represent a specific species of mushroom recognizable to trained eyes (that is, they are representational), but they also connote many other kinds of ideas through metaphor: the spore prints suggest ideas about mushrooms as recyclers of soil, ideas about mushrooms as both food and poison, about mushrooms as the image that comes to mind when people think of nuclear, etc. They also resemble the subsidence craters on the Nevada Test Site, and, specifically, spores are reproductive structures designed for dispersal and extended survival in unfavorable conditions, a lá the Nevada Test Site.

Ask guests to consider Life in a Field of Death I and II.

Explain that these works connect Drury’s interest in the relationship between microcosm and macrocosm, and are related to Drury’s question regarding the possibility of life in a lifeless place.

Explain that, with the assistance of the Desert Research Institute, Drury learned of an organism called Microcoleus vaginatus—one of the few organisms known to survive in the irradiated soils of the Nevada Test Site. The organism’s DNA has been partially gene sequenced—a list of letters representing this sequence is stenciled on the west wall of the feature gallery using decontaminated soil-based pigment—Life in a Field of Death II.

Explain that another piece, 559 Shelter Stones, is an additional reference to the Nevada Test Site. The piece references this place and ideas about it through metaphors of shelter. In an ironic reference the piece recalls the significance of nuclear fallout shelters in the mid-twentieth century. Yet it also references life, in the sense that shelter is one of the universal human necessities for survival.

Explain that Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes refers to the same kinds of metaphors that the other spore prints reference. Additionally, however, its form is directly related to the mushroom metaphors of recycling and regeneration.

Explain that the pigment used in the coloration of D2D, A2A is two-layered. The first layer consists of dust recycled from the NMA’s ventilation ducts, which is essentially lint, skin cells, and the other detritus of the community of visitors who visit the museum. The next layer of color is made from charcoal made from the burned off-cuts of the Lodgepole logs used to construct Cloud Pool Chamber. Thus, Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes is both metaphorically and actually about the idea that mushrooms are agents of recycling and regeneration.

Explain that Drury also makes video works that pertain to the same metaphorical ideas, many of which are directly connected to the physical objects in the gallery.

Explain that Shattered Peace, Broken Promises, for example, is a video capturing the image of a rising wisp of smoke. The video captures the smoke rising from a burning bundle of sage (suggesting the spiritual, cleansing properties of the Native American smudge ceremony). Suddenly, a violent sound (caused by a sledge hammer hitting the outside of the metal container in which the filming took place), disrupts the gently rising wisp of smoke. The reference is to the history of treaties being broken between Anglos and Indians in the nineteenth century in particular.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Chris Drury's "Cloud Pool Chamber"

Humans have relied upon natural materials and environmental resources to sustain and shelter themselves for millennia. With this in mind, Chris Drury began construction of Cloud Pool Chamber in the Sierra Nevada foothills in May 2008—a project supported by the Nevada Museum of Art and the FOR-SITE Foundation, an artist residency program based in Nevada City, California. Drury designed the structure, giving special attention to the historical and cultural significance of the site where it would be placed, as well as the materials from which it would be built.
Made from diseased logs felled at Donner Memorial State Park near Truckee, Cloud Pool Chamber was first installed in a wooded ravine adjacent to granite boulders and towering oak trees in Nevada City, California. Located nearby were numerous Native American mortar stones used by indigenous Maidu peoples to grind acorns into flour. Recognizing that humans have long made marks on the Earth in an ongoing effort to survive—whether in the form of grinding stones used for daily sustenance or nuclear craters resultant from military defense testing—Drury hand-carved a crater in a large granite stone and placed it beneath the opening of the Cloud Pool Chamber. He then filled it daily with a tea made from acorns that reflected passing clouds overhead. Drury’s videos, based on the cratered granite stone and the indigenous mortar stones, are on view in the nearby video gallery.
In June 2008, Cloud Pool Chamber was transported to its current site on the roof of the Nevada Museum of Art, where a hand-carved granite stone is filled daily with ink-colored water that reflects the dramatic cloud formations passing over the Museum.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Camas Lillies

Dear docents,
For all of you who love Monet and who enjoy hiking in the Sierra, there is a spectacular place to visit--Sagehen Creek Meadows. Thanks to all the rain we have had lately, the Camas Lillies are in full bloom in the Sierra. Camas Lily flowers are such a deep blue-purple, and they grow in such masses on a wet meadow, that they look like a pond or lake. A hike toward that meadow is so enchanting that you feel like being in a Monet painting.
Take I-80 west to Truckee. Follow Hwy 89 north for approximately 7.5. miles. You will see some cars parked in the valley next to a creek on the right side. This is the trailhead for the Sagehen creek hike. Follow the trail (about 45 minutes) until you see a body of water. The trail will bend to the right and you will find a 'bridge' to cross the creek. To your right you will see the meadow of Camas lillies.
Let me know if you need more directions, Erika

Friday, May 23, 2008

Love Letters

Dear Docents--

A fresh batch of love letters to you all has arrived--they're now living in the volunteer room, if you'd like to read them. Double Diamond Elementary School was very pleased with their visit!!


A + E Conference :: Fritz Haeg

For those of you interested in the upcoming Art + Environment Conference, to be held here at NMA October 2-4, 2008, you might find these two short video pieces about the work of artist Fritz Haeg interesting. Haeg is an artist and architect based in Los Angeles who will be presenting at the conference--his most recent work at the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial is the focus of the two pieces included here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Phyllis Shafer :: Hope Valley Morning

Hope Valley Morning, 2007
Oil on Canvas
Collection of the NMA; Gift of Friends and Family of Phil Miller

Hope Valley, located south of Lake Tahoe off State Route 88, is the setting for this plein air landscape painting painted by Phyllis Shafer. But Shafer doesn’t just paint the landscape as it appears to most of us; she paints an arrangement of swirls and squiggles in a rainbow of colors that nearly jump off the canvas. She states that she is especially interested in doing compositional arrangements that juxtapose high altitude vistas with the intimate microcosm of the flora and fauna—for her, the ‘rhythms of nature.’

Phyllis Shafer has lived in several places but each move has brought her closer to nature and farther from the urban setting. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, studied at Empire State College and State University of New York. Shafer received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and exhibited her work and taught part-time in the Bay Area. She now lives and teaches at Lake Tahoe.

Shafer states: “I’m definitely interested in the high desert and the alpine, high-altitude landscapes. I really want to capture the feeling of the space. I want to feel it. I want to smell it. I want to have the sun moving while I’m trying to catch it.”

Research note prepared by Kathleen Durham and Lois Smalley.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Just for Fun

Just because I think the jellyfish are amazing, and so beautiful. I thought some of you might be interested, too.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Hope Valley Morning, 2007
oil on canvas
(c) Phyllis Shafer

Of her commission to do a painting of Yosemite in the Fall of 2004 for the Yosemite show at the Autry the NMA, artist Phyllis Shafer has said, "I felt Bierstadt on my back, but I was honored, and felt very positive, that it was a challenge." She adds that as busy as Yosemite Valley is, you can’t diminish the grandeur, the sense of being enveloped, cradled. She describes the fronds in the foreground of the painting, drooping from the snow. "I love the gesture of these things in the foreground. I’m a foreground fanatic. I luxuriate in the textures and colors of the foreground."

When asked if her work is meant to proselytize for conservation, Shafer explains that she would rather volunteer to help directly in conservation, and just enjoy her painting for itself. Her initial response to the gesture of the land is to dance. She says the rhythm and movement and vibrations affect her style. "I'm looking at landscapes emotionally – I crank them up, the colors also."

She starts very broadly, very loosely. She ends up with about twenty layers of paint. After seeing the size of some of the paintings in the Yosemite show Shafer explained that she would like to learn to paint bigger, and "lose those tiny brushes."

She often torques the perspective so you can feel the periphery. When you're actually there you're aware of everything. Your eye connects colors in their saturated and muted forms.
She mixes burnt sienna and ultramarine to make a dark paint for her background. She takes a rag and spreads it out on the canvas. Since she paints outdoors she wants to do away with the glare from a white canvas. She does a 'take-away' drawing with stiff brushes and then she extends her palette. She says she creates a cartoonish flattening of forms, but she really wants that rhythm. She says she can’t make a horizontal line (contrast that with Maynard Dixon across from her!). "You develop your own language to tell your story." She says it's all there in the field--probably 2/3 of her time on a painting, and then in her studio she does the other third focusing in. At one point she said, "I never want to put a structure in."

Research note prepared by Kathleen Durham and Lois Smalley.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Docent Note :: Jenga in Frank Lloyd Wright

Submitted by Merry Mathers:

Terry Boyd and I were talking about kid tours through FLW; she suggested utilizing blocks to build a structure. The only blocks I have are Jenga -- a game that starts with a stack of blocks (layers of three blocks placed perpendicularly to the next three to create a tower about 18 tiers high). The object of the game is to remove one block at a time to see how many can be removed, yet leave the tower standing. Before entering the exhibit the kids and I sat outside the title wall and started deconstructing blocks instead of building with them. Serendipitously, cantilevered terraces appeared by pulling blocks out partially; windows of light opened; walls were partially removed without effecting the soundness of the tower. Lots of dialogue ensued: extending living space outward, allowing light and nature inside. Once inside the exhibit a child noted that our tower looked a lot like FLW's floor lamp. Jenga is on Colin's desk if anyone wants to try it; there should be enough blocks to split them two or even three ways.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Frank Lloyd Wright and the House Beautiful Tour Blueprint

through July 20, 2008

Frank Lloyd Wright and the House Beautiful is primarily an exhibition of Wright’s interior, furniture, and textile designs, as well as some of his drawings of architectural plans and elevations, custom and production furniture, and interior views of his houses. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Virginia Terry Boyd, Professor of Design Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Brooks Pfieffer, Director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives was also deeply involved in the project. The exhibition is circulated by International Arts & Artists, and comes to the NMA by way of the Naples Museum of Art (Florida), Boise Art Museum (Idaho), Columbia Museum of Art (South Carolina), and the Philbrook Museum of Art (Oklahoma), among others.

Among other objects in the exhibition, you’ll find chairs, lamps, tables, drawings, screens, windows, and textiles spanning a remarkably long architectural career of seventy + years, most of which are couched in the idea of the House Beautiful--a concept about architecture and, more importantly, about how to live—that was central to Wright’s work, although he did not coin the phrase. Its philosophical roots lay in nineteenth-century housing and social reform in an era of tenements and slums in rapidly industrializing cities following the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution. The basic idea, foundational to the aesthetic philosophy of John Ruskin and William Morris’s Arts and Crafts Movement, was that the “quality of life could be improved by reshaping the material physical environment”—that the nature of the environment had a profound effect on the individual’s social, moral, and cultural values.

This exhibition is presented as part of the NMA’s Art + Environment exhibition series, an initiative that brings community, artists, and scholars together to explore the interactions between people and their environments.

Wall Texts
The phrase “House Beautiful” came into use at the end of the nineteenth century as part of a design and social reform movement. The philosophy reflected a belief that quality of life could be improved through the design of material environments—from cities to houses to table settings. With respect to the home, “House Beautiful” implied not simply artistic goals, but a broader moral connotation that the home was a source of cultural and ethical values, a place where individuals became productive citizens contributing to the betterment of a democratic society.

Throughout his life, Frank Lloyd Wright was guided by a central motivating force: that architecture was about creating a way to live. He once said, “A building is not just a place to be. It is a way to be.” Wright’s residential architecture, in particular, was the laboratory for realizing—in form—a uniquely American “way to be,” which, over time, would become a “lifestyle.”

This exhibition presents three ways in which Wright translated his ideas about how to live into the design of houses. First, he introduced a new approach to the allocation of space, emphasizing a main living area. Second, he developed a style to express the modern era. Last, he worked to make his ideas and designs available to average Americans. Whether creating tables or textiles, Frank Lloyd Wright considered it his mission to provide a “House Beautiful” for every American.

Frank Lloyd Wright believed that Americans deserved a unique style of architecture, not one based on European precedents. He felt that design should reflect individual freedom and the increasingly informal, modern American lifestyle of the early twentieth century. Consistent with America’s vision of a democratic society, Wright imagined a house that liberated, rather than constrained, those who lived in it.

Wright proposed innovations such as removing attics and basements, and reducing the size of less frequently used rooms in order to focus and expand the common living area of the home. This meant removing walls deemed unnecessary in order to open up interior spaces—thereby creating one, continuous room that served multiple functions and changed throughout the course of the day and life of the family. Floor-to-ceiling walls of glass and exterior terracing diminished the visual and physical barriers between interior space and the surrounding landscape. These innovative changes created a house with a single, expansive “space for living.”

Creating a “House Beautiful” required establishing an underlying unity and order in the material environment. Frank Lloyd Wright described this sense of harmony as an organic approach to the design and use of houses. He gave physical form to this idea by emphasizing the inherent character of materials—their linear quality, texture, and natural patterns. Wright’s notion of organic ornamentation did not simply adapt natural images; rather, it expressed his sense of the relationship between the fundamental structure and visual appearance of forms in nature.

All of Wright’s work—from drawings to completed buildings to furnishings—shows a consistent visual character based on ruler-straight lines that move the eye through the object or space. Resulting patterns convey the Modern world through abstract geometric motifs and compositions. Regardless of scale, the consistency of Wright’s approach assured that a single, integrated vision governed the entire project.

Frank Lloyd Wright is most well-known for his custom-designed houses for wealthy or adventurous clients. Yet throughout his career he also remained committed to designing housing for the average person of “Usonia”—the term he used for the United States. Wright experimented with several ways to extend his ideas about organic architecture to mass audiences; the Usonian house was one such attempt. He developed plans and a construction process that, ideally, clients could implement themselves. Furthermore, he introduced and promoted his ideas through the popular press, built exhibition houses, and designed manufactured, prefabricated homes. Wright also understood that the closest most people would come to obtaining an organic “House Beautiful” was by outfitting an existing home with his furniture, textiles, wallpapers, carpets, and paints. All such products were coordinated so that a consumer could customize a space according to Wright’s principles for creating a unified, organic whole.

Like all accomplished architects, Frank Lloyd Wright knew that success was as much dependent upon vigorous promotion of his work as it was on the work itself. To firmly establish his approach to residential architecture, Wright needed to address potential clients using a means of communication with which they were familiar.

The popular press was one avenue Wright used to deliver his products to a mass audience. In the early twentieth century, women’s and lifestyle magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal, House Beautiful and Life were widely read. They often included articles describing current issues of the day that affected the middle class—such as trends in home design. Frank Lloyd Wright entered numerous architectural design competitions sponsored by these magazines, and his ideas were frequently featured in their pages.

Every house that Frank Lloyd Wright built was a way to publicize his work. However, only a limited number of people had access to these private homes. Therefore, Wright used a range of methods to expose larger numbers of people to his principles of organic architecture. One approach was to create prefabricated structures—such as the American System-Built Houses—intended to reduce the cost of expensive skilled labor, yet control the quality of the design and construction. Another means of disseminating his ideas was the production of a series of exhibition houses that provided access to hundreds of visitors. Although temporary, these houses made it possible for people to imagine the experience of living in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

In 1954, Frank Lloyd Wright submitted a number of textile and wallpaper design ideas to F. Schumacher and Company, a production firm that had previous experience collaborating with designers. Several of Wright’s ideas were selected and adapted for production—supplemented by additional colors and designs that filled out the product line. Over time the line evolved, with the last new fabrics added in 1960 and all of the products gradually phasing out by 1972. In 1986, the company introduced a second line called “The Frank Lloyd Wright Collection,” which remains in production today.

Fabrics were important to Wright’s vision of a “House Beautiful.” When large-scale textiles were hung to cover entire walls, their patterns created an illusion of “opening up” the confining walls in the room. The complex designs and fabric colors also conveyed the visual richness of Wright’s custom houses, echoing the lush materials, light screens, and the unique carpets used in these structures.

Frank Lloyd Wright recognized that not all people could build their own homes, so he designed “organic ornaments” to improve already-existing houses. These objects represented a fundamental change in the way Wright approached furnishings: rather than serve as integral components of a custom-designed home, these mass-produced pieces were freestanding objects that created an organic space on their own. Wright submitted designs for three furniture lines to the Heritage-Henredon company, elements of which were integrated into the company’s final “Taliesin Line.” This group of 66 pieces included a dining set, side tables, chairs, upholstered seats, and modular cabinets. The modular pieces, a new idea at the time, gave Wright the means to develop standardized furnishings that could be personalized through unique configurations for different situations.

Lackluster sales of this furniture might have been due, in part, to the uniqueness of the products at the time. Additionally, the modular pieces required considerable skill to combine effectively, and the individual objects were virtually impossible to coordinate with other furnishings. Nonetheless, these products foreshadowed the modular furniture systems that were still to come.

You’ll find the exhibition installed in the third floor Feature Gallery South. The exhibition is roughly chronological in its layout, and it invites you to meander through the gallery, looking at the evolution of Wright’s work over the course of his remarkable seventy-year career as an architect and designer. A clear delineation occurs midway through the exhibition that represents a shift in Wright’s work—one in which he moved away from more formal, expensive, and individually unique designs of everything from landscapes to tableware, and towards well-designed objects for production on a much wider, and therefore affordable, scale.

Wright Houses
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park, Illinois (1889-1898)
Edward C. Waller House, River Forest, Illinois (1899)
B. Harley Bradley House, Kankakee, Illinois (1900)
Hillside Home School, Spring Green, Wisconsin (1902)
Susan Lawrence Dana House, Springfield, Illinois (1902)
Edward C. Waller House, River Forest, Wisconsin (1902)
Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, New York (1905)
William R. Heath House, Buffalo, New York (1905)
C. Thaxter Shaw House, Montreal, Quebec, Canada (1906)
J. Kibben Ingalls House, River Forest, Illinois (1908)
Frederick Robie House, Chicago, Illinois (1909)
Taliesin I, Spring Green, Wisconsin (1911-1914)
Avery Coonley Kindergarten, Riverside, Illinois (1912)
Taliesin II, Spring Green, Wisconsin (1915-1925)
Henry Allen House, Wichita, Kansas (1915)
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan (1915)
Mabel & Charles Ennis House, Los Angeles, California (1923)
Taliesin III, Spring Green, Wisconsin (1925-1937)
Broadacre City (unrealized, 1935)
Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona (1937-1950s)
Lloyd Lewis House, Libertyville, Illinois (1939)
Bernard Schwartz House, Two Rivers, Wisconsin (1939)
David Wright House, Phoenix, Arizona (1950)
Guggenheim Museum, New York City, New York (1953)

Perspective Drawing – a drawing that uses one- or two points on a line to convey the illusion of three dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface
Plan – a “bird’s eye” view of the layout of a house; a map of the rooms of a house as seen from above
Section – a “cutaway” or “dollhouse” view of the layout of a house; a map of a house plan illustrating the view through the walls at how space is organized.
Elevation – an architectural drawing of a building that depicts an exterior view of the side of the structure, e.g., the north elevation or the southeast elevation.

Tour Framework

  • Ask guests to look closely at the title wall of the exhibition, and to describe what kind of ideas, feelings, or senses of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work it conveys. Craftsmanship? Japanese influences? Warmth? What else? Why? What comes to mind when you think “Frank Lloyd Wright”? Why?
  • Explain that the House Beautiful is a concept with historical roots in the nineteenth century that strongly influenced Wright’s design philosophy over most of his life. Following the rapid industrialization and mechanization of large cities around the western world in the nineteenth century, large numbers of poor, working, and middle class people were more or less forced to live in squalid conditions in tenement projects and slums. First in England, and later in the U.S., opposition to these living conditions increased as a result of treatises by Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin. As Boyd explains: “For them the improvement of the aesthetic and cultural milieu was an essential part of broader social reform. Ruskin discussed the relation between architecture and the moral good, even suggesting that particular architectural features such as hearths, overhanging roofs and steep gables represented Christian moral values such as trust and devotion. As leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris emphasized a relationship between the aesthetic environment and an individual’s quality of life; a supportive environment could inspire the initiative and educational activity necessary to achieve a better life.” (41)
  • Explain to guests that there are many ways to understand the historical trajectory of Wright’s development as a designer, but that in many ways, it can best be understood by the eras of his architectural designs for his own family’s life: Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois (1889-1909); Taliesin I (1911-1914); Taliesin II (1915-1925); Talisein III (1925-1937+); and Taliesin West (1937-1959). Be sure to emphasize, however, that this is not an exhibition about his architecture, per se, but an exhibition about his concept for the house beautiful.
  • Point guests’ attention to the window from the Darwin D. Martin House (Buffalo, NY: 1905) mounted in the title wall. Explain that early in his career, during the Oak Park era, Wright was learning architecture from two mentors, and designing homes that were moving out of the staid Victorian traditions of the time. This window illustrates Wright’s lifelong interest in the patterns underlying nature, and the quality of the colored and leaded glass illustrates Wright’s concern for craftsmanship. Additionally, the window shows Wright’s interest in Universal design, as he designed not only the home’s structure, but also its windows.
  • Invite guests to look at the Dining and Living Area drawings of the C. Thaxter Shaw House (Montreal, Quebec: 1906).
  • Explain that the drawings are interior architectural views of the Shaw House that convey the illusion of three dimensions through the use of two-point perspective. This common drawing style allows architects to help clients understand their plans for a given space.
  • Invite guests to examine the group of furniture objects, including two pieces from the Oak Park, Illinois, Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio, and one each from the Avery Coonley Kindergarten and Hillside Home School.
  • Ask guests to describe the shapes, materials, and styles of the chairs. What kinds of shapes and forms does Wright use to craft the chairs? Do these chairs seem more formal or more informal? Why?
  • Explain that Wright’s work evolved throughout his career. His early home and furniture designs were not traditional—they often raised eyebrows, actually—but to our eyes today they do seem much more “traditional.” Look closely at the Frank Lloyd Wright Studio Side Chair (Oak Park, IL.: 1895), for example. Yet it also conveys some of his revolutionary ideas in its form: he was most famous for removing walls from the interior spaces of homes, and instead relying on furniture to help convey a sense of space. He often used high back chairs to do this. So, while this might be a very traditional-looking chair, it also represents the seed of revolutionary thoughts by a young architect.
  • Ask guests to look at the Enclosed Chair from the FLW Studio on the higher pedestal nearby (Oak Park, IL.:1895). If the chair were a purely three-dimensional form, what would it be? Essentially, the enclosed chair is an experiment in reductive sculpture. What has he removed from the cube to create this chair?
  • Ask guests how many of them have or, more importantly, use a formal dining room in their own homes. How about a library? The nearby Edward C. Waller House Library Table and Susan Lawrence Dana House Hanging Lamp (1902) reflect a time of a still-very-traditional turn of the century. The library table was designed for a very specified use in a very specified room—before the advent of more common spaces in his house designs. Likewise, the lamp was designed for a formal dining room in the Dana House, which Wright moved away from after the 1930s.
  • Point guests’ attention to the Japanese Print Table nearby. Here again we see a piece from early in Wright’s career (1898) that represents a custom design, a formal purpose (the display of a single Japanese print at a time), and clients of means. And yet the table also indicates some of FLW’s interest in modularity: the table has hinges and can be completely closed for storage, taking up a fraction of the space it does when open.
  • Explain that Wright’s nearby designs for side and coffee tables (1943) and for the David Wright House armchair (1950) illustrate some of the shifts in culture that FLW used his design savvy to meet. The tables and armchair are much less formal, much simpler, and they reflect a significant shift in the way people were living their lives from just two or three decades before. The small tables could be moved and grouped for the user’s needs, and even the fact of the upholstery on the David Wright chair suggests a less formal sitting area than was customary in the early part of FLW’s career.
  • Explain to guests that the J. Kibben Ingalls House light screen mounted in the nearby wall (River Forest, IL.: 1908) begins to illustrate some of the concerns that would preoccupy FLW for the remainder of his career: how to blur the boundaries between inside and out, and how to make a home’s design organic, of its place, not on its place. Note the details of small pieces of colored glass in the design, and the strictly geometric and quite linear components of this particular design.
  • Ask guests to consider again FLW’s sculptural and geometric design work by looking at the Taliesin Barrel Chair (1936). Like the earlier Enclosed Chair, the Taliesin Barrel Chair is an experiment in reductive, geometric design: a cylinder that has been cut away by the designer’s hand to reveal a more beautiful form.
  • Explain to guests that one of the great tragedies of our American architectural heritage is that many of FLW’s buildings have been demolished, both here at home, and abroad. The silver tureen on display was a design for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan (1915). Sadly, like others of FLW’s designs, the Imperial Hotel was demolished in 1968--this after it had survived the 1923 Tokyo earthquake when not much else did. Note the specific and formal use of the tureen, and the geometric decoration in the handles.
  • Explain to guests the basic principle of universal design. When he could, FLW designed not only the plans, sections, and elevations of his houses, but also the ways in which the houses fit into the landscape, all the way down to the linens on the tables, the windows in the walls, the carpets on the floor, and the utensils on the counter—epitomizing the idea of custom home design. Nearby, several windows and light screens indicate FLW’s continued interest in breaking down the barriers between inside and outside, and in the geometry of design. The Francis W. Little House (Deep Haven, MN.: 1912) is very much in a lush setting, and FLW wanted to emphasize this with the windows. The nearby Avery Coonley Kindergarten windows (Riverside, IL.: 1912) illustrate FLW’s interest in another geometry—that of the circle. In his later work FLW created designs based on a single geometric shape that became the underlying design principle for the whole project—the David Wright House, like the Guggenheim Museum, was based on the circle, for example.
  • Explain that the B. Harley Bradley House Dining Chair (Kankakee, IL.: 1900) reiterates FLW’s interest in furniture-as-architecture. The high back of these chairs at a formal dining table within a large, open Wright-designed space helped to create a sense of a room-within-a-room in his design for the home. The open floor plans that he favored left large amounts of open space; the design of the chairs helped to create the feeling of a smaller space around the group of seated diners.
  • Explain that the designs for the Frederick Robie House (Chicago, IL.: 1908) Wall Sconce and Chest of Drawers, along with the William R. Heath House (Buffalo, NY.: 1905) Hanging Lamp nearby are again examples of fine, hand-crafted, custom-made pieces for the well-to-do clients who commissioned FLW to design their homes. The pieces are made from high quality quarter-sawn solid oak; in comparison, some of the furniture around the corner is made with plywood—a new material in the 1930s—and FLW begins to experiment with furniture designs that met the changing needs of contemporary American families, e.g., moveable coffee tables functioning as alternative dining tables for the increasingly informal lifestyles of Americans at mid-century.
  • Explain that Taliesin, FLW’s cherished home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin, burned almost entirely to the ground on two different occasions. Taliesien I (1911-1914) was lit afire by a disgruntled employee, who killed FLW’s mistress and four others. Taliesin II (1915-1925) caught fire in a 1925 lightning storm, and burned the house, but not FLW’s studio. He began work on the third iteration of Taliesin “III” in 1925, for which he created the nearby designs for the Taliesin III Lamp (1949) and Low-Back Music Chair (1943). Wright began construction on Taliesin West (Scottsdale, AZ.) in 1937.
  • Explain to guests that these pieces allowed FLW to experiment with simpler, more modular, and more affordable designs for Americans, especially following World War II.
  • Explain that as a result of the strong influence of the social reform tendencies of the Arts and Crafts Movement, FLW always believed in the democracy of design—the idea that everyone deserved good design, a well-built and well-designed home, and that such environments had a profound impact on the strength and qualities of peoples’ character. However, this was at odds with his chosen career path, as only the wealthy, generally, could afford architecturally unique homes or furniture. As FLW grew older and more well-established, he began to design for the middle and working classes, in addition to his wealthier clients.
  • Ask guests to look at the Bernard Schwartz House (Two Rivers, WI.: 1939). How is it different from some of the other windows or screens they have seen in the exhibition?
  • Explain that, as plywood was invented and becoming widely used, FLW used it to frame his windows, making the patterns in his screens not with expensive lead, but with punctuated holes cut into the plywood. His use of clear and translucent glass as opposed to colored glass made them more affordable as well.
  • Encourage guests to look closely at the Heritage-Henredon Taliesin Line drawings of furniture on the west (curved) wall of the gallery, and at the Scott Radio Cabinet Project drawing (1941).
  • Ask guests what they think the drawings might illustrate about Americans’ changing needs for furniture in the middle of the twentieth century.
  • Explain that the rapid technological changes in America, which included the advent of in-home radios and then television sets, required new furniture designs, and increasingly informal lifestyles added to the need for revolutionary new designs, of which FLW’s of the 1940s are examples.
  • Encourage guests to note the draftsmanship of the drawings in comparison to the sketchier drawings of the figures and forms with which he was experimenting.
  • Encourage guests to look closely at the images of FLW’s carpet designs for the David Wright House (Phoenix, AZ.: 1950) and for the Gillin House (1950).
  • Explain that FLW’s overall designs for these two projects began with one primary geometric shape: the circle and the triangle, respectively. Every component of the design of each structure was couched in the principles of the shape. For example, the circular carpet pattern echoed the forms of the David Wright House, which was circular in plan, and which shares traits with the much larger design of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, which was constructed just three years later.
  • Explain that, beginning in the 1950s, FLW began to design furniture, textiles, and even pre-fabricated “System-Built” houses that could be mass-produced and made widely available to a much larger audience.
  • Explain that FLW, like many talented artists and architects, was an inveterate self-promoter. It was said that “he could smell a potential client” at some distance, and he worked very hard to promote his design work by entering competitions hosted by such popular magazines of the day as House Beautiful and Ladies’ Home Journal. This was also how word about his Usonian and System-Built houses could be promoted to millions of people.
  • Explain that commissions from the F. Schumacher Co., for example, led FLW to design a variety of textile designs—some less expensive printed cotton and linen, for example, and some more expensive woven boucle damask and silk fabrics as well.
  • Explain that while FLW was working to plan the Guggenheim in New York, FLW constructed a model home of his System-Built Usonian house on the very site where the Guggenheim now stands, so that a wide audience could see what he was designing “for the masses.”
  • Explain that Usonian was the name FLW gave to the houses he designed with the hopes of providing more affordable, yet still-well-designed, housing to a large portion of Americans. It was an abbreviation of what he thought the country ought to be called—the United States of North America.
  • Ask guests if they think well-designed objects are important to them. Why? Would they be more important if they were more affordable?
Frank Lloyd Wright and the House Beautiful will, we hope, lead people to understand a number of things. First, that FLW had an extraordinarily wide reach as a designer and architect across seven decades of the twentieth century. Second, that the importance that FLW placed on design for everyone, not just the wealthy, is part of the design history of the U.S., which is often overlooked. Third, that companies like Target, which tout their affordable, well-designed objects for everyday use are not the first to do so. Fourth, that FLW was in many ways a visionary practitioner of architecture and design, predicting by half a century some of the conversations taking place to day about the need for affordable, beautiful, well-designed, and well-constructed housing. And perhaps most importantly, that FLW, one of the most important architects of the twentieth century, was a person concerned with not only the buildings in which we live and how they should fit in and not on the landscape, but how to live well within their walls.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Chuck Forsman

Feather River, 1992
Oil on panel
Collection of the NMA, Gift of Volunteers in Art

Feather River
, a frequently exhibited piece in the Sierra Nevada | Great Basin Collection, seems to be a favorite of museum visitors. Perhaps it is the unique way that Forsman has painted the river in golden colors with contrasting grey rocks, or the way he has allowed the composition to “spill over” and become part of the frame of the painting.

Chuck Forsman was born in Nampa, Idaho, in 1944, and received his BA and his MFA in 1971 at the University of California. He has studied at Pasadena College and at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. He has had more than forty solo exhibitions since 1971, and his work is in the permanent collections of many museums throughout the western United States as well as New York. His most well known project is Arrested Rivers (1994), which focused on the subject of dams and water control in the west. Our painting, Feather River, is a part of that project; it depicts the Feather River Dam, built in 1961. The wall text notes that local Native American tribes criticized the dam project because the proposed spillway would submerge a number of pre-historic Maidu burial sites.

Forsman has also done a book of photography, Western Rider, published in 2004. Based in the Denver, Colorado area, Forsman is Professor of Fine Arts and Painting at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Research note prepared by Kathleen Durham and Lois Smalley.

Albert Sheldon Pennoyer

Bucking Snow in the Sierras
c. 1940’s
Oil on canvas
Collection of the NMA, Gift of Ella Savitt

Born in Oakland, California in 1888, Albert Sheldon Pennoyer was raised in nearby Berkeley, where he studied at the University of California for a year, before moving to Paris to study architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. There he realized that his true interest lay in painting. He gave up his studies and returned to the U.S. when WWI began. He had homes on the East Coast in New York City and Litchfield, Connecticut, but spent almost equal time in California. He had a small studio cabin at his brother’s home at Lake Tahoe, and ventured forth from there to explore the Sierra, Virginia City, and Pyramid Lake. He is especially well known for his winter scenes, as well as his railroad images. He was the author/illustrator of two books, This Was California (1938), and Locomotives in our Lives (1954). He was equally proficient in oils, gouache, and pastels. Pennoyer died in an automobile accident in Madrid in 1957.

The NMA’s painting, Bucking Snow in the Sierras, shows steam engines clearing snow from the tracks near Donner Pass. More recently trains have been equipped with rotary plows that shoot the snow off to the sides. From what we have learned, this painting depicts the old method of bucking snow, which involved a steam locomotive with a wedge plow. The engine would get a running start and slam through the snow. The train also carried men who would jump out and shovel snow. Some of the snow was melted to produce more steam power for the locomotives. There appear to be four engines in the painting, and it always yields a great conversation with guests. Someday a docent will be lucky enough to have an old railroad man on a tour to tell us how it was firsthand!

Research note prepared by Kathleen Durham and Lois Smalley.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Like, Love, Lust: Michael Sarich Tour Blueprint

Like, Love, Lust: Michael Sarich consists of more than one hundred paintings, prints, ceramic sculptures, drawings, and mixed media assemblages created by University of Nevada, Reno Associate Professor of Art Michael Sarich over the last twenty-five years. The NMA originated this exhibition, and Ann Wolfe curated all of the works in the exhibition, which come from public and private collections from around the world. The beautiful catalogue accompanying the exhibition is an entirely original production published by the NMA. It contains essays by Robert Sill, Kirk Robertson, and Ann Wolfe, as well as full-color plates of much of Mike’s work included in this exhibition. It’s available at the Museum Store, and represents the work of many NMA staff.

In addition to the rich visual characteristics of Michael’s work, the exhibition lends itself to conversation topics such as Post War American culture, Pop Culture, symbolism, science, religion, and personal histories. Finally, the exhibition provides a rich opportunity to emphasize the depths to which the NMA supports local artists. A feature exhibition of this size represents an extraordinary investment—financially, intellectually, and artistically—in the work of a local artist.

Wall Texts
The letter L appears in triplicate on Michael Sarich’s heavily tattooed left forearm—indelible marks representing the words like, love, and lust. “I like you. I love you. I lust after you,” the artist stated as he proposed marriage to the woman who is now his wife. For Sarich, the function of a mark—whether on canvas, clay, wood, or his own body—is to communicate with those around him. An Associate Professor of Art at the University of Nevada, Reno since 1989, Sarich has instilled in hundreds of students the importance of cultivating one’s own creative voice. This exhibition critically examines the evolution of Sarich’s personal language of mark-making, while celebrating the important contributions he has made—and will continue to make—both in our community and beyond.
Over the course of his career, Sarich’s art has shifted from deeply personal expressions to broadly social commentaries. From the late seventies to the early nineties, his works overflowed with graffiti-like marks that are scribbled and scrawled on paper, wood, and recycled objects—much like the art produced by Chicago’s Hairy Who artists and those affiliated with Art Brut and Outsider Art. As Sarich’s mark-making continued to shift, he became drawn to an assortment of popular and religious symbols, such as Mickey Mouse and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Even today, he combines such recognizable icons with layers of densely-packed, lyrical marks. This technique places him within a loosely-affiliated, largely West Coast group of artists dubbed Pop Surrealists, who are known for incorporating—and personalizing—an eclectic range of visual source materials.
In 2000, Sarich was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and although it has already had a drastic impact on his speech and motor skills, he continues to pursue his work with unfailing passion and commitment. To view Sarich’s artwork is to trace the path he has navigated thus far; it is to know his family and his friends, his secrets and his wounds. It is to deconstruct a lifetime of experiences in hopes that from his story we gain but an ounce of his unfailing courage and honesty, and learn that it is only by taking risks that we might live without fear of regret.

Bruised and Tattooed: The Early Work
Sarich was a Chicago boy. Born in 1955, he grew up in a two-bedroom rambler in the West Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows. His father was a hard-nosed, barrel-chested man of Croatian stock with a wry sense of humor and a thick Chicago accent. His mother, small in stature, was Irish Catholic and loving. To Sarich, Chicago meant “family:” a locus of pleasure and pain. A place where fond memories collided with nightmares of a Catholic upbringing and overly stern punishments meted out for the slightest infraction fomented deep-seated anger and frustration.
Sarich’s early works are akin to visual diaries overflowing with unrefined, graffiti-like marks that are scribbled and scrawled across paper or carved into wood. Many of these works refer to his childhood, some are love letters to past girlfriends, and others are snapshots of late nights spent at the bar. “I was taking a daily experience and putting it into a visual story on a nightly basis,” Sarich has said of these early works.

The Social Underbelly: Working Outside the Mainstream
As an undergraduate art student at the Northern Illinois University in DeKalb (1973-80), and then a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma in Norman (1982-83), Michael Sarich was surely aware of the trends ongoing in the mainstream art world. Sarich chose, however, to eschew the Minimalist and Conceptualist tendencies he witnessed, and instead produced works that were intensely personal and autobiographical.
Sarich looked to the work of H.C. Westermann and Chicago’s Hairy Who artists, as well as Jean Dubuffet and others affiliated with Art Brut, whose raw, aggressive, and unrefined sensibilities were often tuned to the social underbelly—a world seemingly more in line with what Sarich has described as his “blue-collar sensibility.”

La Cathédrale de Michele

In 1999, Sarich undertook a major installation that re-examined his Catholic upbringing. La Cathédrale de Michel questioned the ritualized traditions of the Catholic Church by modifying a traditional altar and the iconography associated with it. Mounted at the Nevada Museum of Art, La Cathédrale was a mock-Catholic altar adorned with ceramic skulls, black-and-white gambling dice, hundreds of dotted dominoes, and a kitschy sculpture of Venus de Milo (the Greek Goddess of love and beauty) in place of the traditional Virgin Mary shrine.
Created just two years after the death of his father, Sarich once called La Cathédrale a shrine to his dad, who, as Sarich explains, “used to play dice in the streets.” The installation seemed to cynically assert that religion is just a game to help people come to terms with their mortality. Sarich’s reconsideration of the symbols he was once taught to revere as sacred would prove crucial to the development of his future body of work.

Looking Inside: The Body Parts
Michael Sarich has spent considerable time investigating the intricacies of the human body. From anatomical renderings of internal organs to ceramic sculptures depicting cellular processes, Sarich’s works invite us beneath the skin’s surface to search for meaningful answers to life’s complex questions.
The organs and appendages Sarich depicts are often detached from the human body, and as such, their fragility is exposed to the exterior world. Having suffered from a collapsed lung as a child and unexplained heart problems in 1993, Sarich has long been aware of the vulnerability of the human body—an awareness that has become even more poignant, given his recent diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease.

All Mashed Up: Pop Surrealism
Michael Sarich’s most recent paintings and sculptures combine popular icons with recurring personal references. Often a large centralized icon—such as the Virgin of Guadalupe or Mickey Mouse—is surrounded or overlaid with densely packed, lyrical drawings; a combination of marks whose lines and shapes ebb and flow like varying musical tempos. This eclectic layering and combination of influences, often imbued with a dose of political inflection, places Sarich within a loosely-affiliated, largely West Coast group of artists dubbed Pop Surrealists by Kirsten Anderson in 2004.
According to Anderson, Pop Surrealism is:
"an amalgamation of so many things: tattoo, graffiti, retro culture, cartoons, etc., all mashed up and used to create something that transcended its mere visual appeal. Something that spoke profoundly...about using pop culture’s castoff detritus to create something meaningful and beautiful. And if it wasn’t beautiful, well, it was exciting. It delighted the eye and shocked the sensibilities, and was a welcome change from the increasing boorishness of the recycled ideas and stale conceptualism found in most contemporary art."

I used to scream at the viewer. Now I talk to them.
Over the course of Michael Sarich’s life, his relationship to mark-making has become increasingly complex, while his iconography has evolved from the deeply personal to the broadly social by way of symbolic and popular references. “In my early work I was wearing my heart on my sleeve, real gushy,” Sarich recollects.
In the early nineties, shortly after accepting a teaching position at the University of Nevada, Reno, Sarich began to regularly incorporate popular symbols and icons into his art. “Crying in your beer is okay, but you have to get over it,” he surmised. “So I shifted to social imagery as a visual hook: something to draw the viewer in first. I used to scream at the viewer, now I talk to them.” Although his art remains deeply personal, Sarich prefers that viewers derive their own meanings from his paintings and sculptures. “Art,” Sarich asserts, “is a communication that has dialogue with the viewer.”

What the Hell’s going on here? A Postmodern Puzzle
Michael Sarich hopes that his art will elicit multiple interpretations and a range of responses. “What the Hell’s going on here?” he wants us to ask. “Why did this person do this?” Sometimes the symbols he depicts are so dense with historical, social, and political meanings that they seem to become empty—or meaningless.
Within the cacophonous visual stew that Sarich assembles, the definitions of symbols and icons shift freely depending on the sensibilities of the viewer. Mickey Mouse may or may not represent the happiest place on earth, swastika symbols are free to assume the positive energy of their ancient roots, and that perpetual smiley face seen on the side of Wal-Mart bags across the nation does not necessarily represent happiness.
In the end, one’s attempt to explain these paintings and sculptures might be best described as an absurdist game—one haunted, simultaneously, by the attempt to discover meaning and by the lingering suspicion that there is no meaning at all. Postmodern puzzles, they are indeed.

Mike’s Office, University of Nevada, Reno
Since 1989, Sarich has occupied Office #201 in the Church Fine Arts Building on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. Although Sarich is rarely in his office (he prefers to meet with students in the painting studio), it is a treasure trove of postcards, mementos, and newspaper clippings that provides insight into his creative process. This re-creation of Sarich’s office attempts to capture the spirit and energy of one of UNR’s most legendary places.

You’ll find Like, Love, Lust installed in the Feature Gallery East and Feature Gallery South on the third floor. The exhibition is largely chronological and organized into three broad categories—“Early Work,” “Body Parts,” and “Late Work,” with spotlight attention on a reconstruction of Mike’s “office” and La Cathedrele de Michel, an installation piece that has been previously exhibited at the NMA. While we don’t intend to dictate how people should experience the exhibition, the exhibition is laid out with a narrative in mind, which is to say that there is a story to be told about Michael’s work as it has evolved and matured over the years.

Relevant Vocabulary
Pop Art is a visual art movement that emerged in the mid-1950s in Britain and in parallel in the late-1950s in the United States. The coinage of the term Pop Art is often credited to British art critic/curator, Lawrence Alloway in an essay titled The Arts and the Mass Media, although the term he uses is “popular mass culture.” Nevertheless, Alloway was one of the leading critics to defend mass culture and Pop Art as a legitimate art form. Pop Art is one of the major art movements of the twentieth century. Characterized by themes and techniques drawn from popular mass culture, such as advertising and comic books, pop art is widely interpreted as either a reaction to the then-dominant ideas of abstract expressionism or an expansion upon them. Pop Art, like pop music, aimed to employ images of popular, as opposed to elitist, culture in art, emphasizing the banal or kitschy elements of any given culture. It has also been defined by the artists’ use of mechanical means of reproduction or rendering techniques that downplay the expressive hand of the artist. Pop Art at times targeted a broad audience, and often claimed to do so. Much of Pop Art is considered very academic, as the unconventional organizational practices used often make it difficult for some to comprehend. Pop Art and Minimalism are considered to be the last modern art movements and thus the precursors to postmodern art, or some of the earliest examples of postmodern art themselves.

Pop Surrealism (also Lowbrow, or lowbrow art) describes an underground visual art movement that arose in the Los Angeles, California, area in the late 1970s. Lowbrow is a widespread populist art movement with origins in the underground comics world, punk music, hot-rod street culture, and other California subcultures. It is also often known by the name pop surrealism. Lowbrow was born of underground culture. Lowbrow art has a sense of humor. Sometimes the humor is gleeful, sometimes impish and sometimes it's of sarcastic comment, but it is always present.
Most lowbrow artworks are paintings, but there are also toys, digital art, and sculpture.
In an article in the February 2006 issue of his magazine Juxtapoz, Robert Williams took credit for originating the term “lowbrow art.” He stated that, in 1979, Gilbert Shelton of the publisher Rip-Off Press decided to produce a book featuring Willams's paintings. Williams said that he decided to give the book the self-deprecating title, “The Lowbrow Art of Robt. Williams,” since no authorized art institution would recognize his type of art. “Lowbrow” was thus used by Williams in opposition to highbrow. He said the name then stuck, even though he feels that it is inappropriate.
Lowbrow is also commonly referred to as pop surrealism. Kirsten Anderson, who edited the book Pop Surrealism, considers lowbrow and pop surrealism to be related but distinct movements. She defined Pop Surrealism thus: “an amalgamation of so many things: tattoo, graffiti, retro culture, cartoons, etc., all mashed up and used to create something that transcended its mere visual appeal. Something that spoke profoundly…about using pop culture’s castoff detritus to create something meaningful and beautiful. And if it wasn’t beautiful, well, it was exciting. It delighted the eye and shocked the sensibilities, and was a welcome change from the increasing boorishness of the recycled ideas and stale conceptualism found in most contemporary art.” However, Matt Dukes Jordan, author of Weirdo Deluxe, views the terms as interchangeable.

Chicago Imagists were a group of representational artists associated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who exhibited at the Hyde Park Art Center in the late 1960s. Their work was known for grotesquerie, surrealism, and complete uninvolvement with New York art world trends. One remarkable thing about them was the high proportion of female artists among them. There are three distinct groups that, outside of Chicago, are indiscriminately bundled together as Imagists: The Monster Roster, the Hairy Who, and the Chicago Imagists.

The Hairy Who was a subgroup of the Chicago Imagists (see above). Don Baum curated three “Hairy Who” exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center in 1966, 1967, and 1968. The name is meant to sound like a rock group. The Hairy Who included: Don Baum, James Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, Karl Wirsum

The Monster Roster was a subgroup of Chicago artists within the larger group of Chicago Imagists (see above), several of whom served in World War II and were able to go to art school thanks to the G.I. Bill. They were given their name in 1959 by critic Franz Schulze, based on their existential, sometimes gruesome, semi-mystical figurative work. The Monster Roster included: Don Baum, Carlo Campoli, George Cohen, Dominic Di Meo, Leon Golub, Theodore Halkin, June Leaf, Seymour Rosofsky, Nancy Spero, H. C. Westermann, Karl Wirsum

Outsider Art as a term was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for Art Brut (which literally translates as “Raw Art” or “Rough Art”), a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture. Dubuffet focused particularly on art by insane asylum inmates. While Dubuffet's term is quite specific, the English term “Outsider Art” is often applied more broadly, to include certain self-taught or Naïve art makers who were never institutionalized. Typically, those labeled as Outsider Artists have little or no contact with the institutions of the mainstream art world; in many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths. Much Outsider Art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds. Outsider Art has emerged as a successful art marketing category (an annual Outsider Art Fair has taken place in New York since 1992); thus the term is sometimes misapplied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people outside the "art world" mainstream, regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work.

Art Brut see above.

Prominent Sarich Symbols

  • Turtle considered by essayist Robert Sill to be Michael Sarich’s alter ego, this symbol first appeared in his early work after he was invited to join a group of turtle hunters on one of his fishing trips. The symbol has many meanings, but is connected to the idea of inner and outer, inside/outside, and self reliance.
  • Fish a symbol of personal significance, Sarich was an avid sport fisherman. You’ll see fish symbols in much of Sarich’s work, but also fishing-related symbols such as nets, floats, and eggs.
  • Virgin of Guadalupe a symbol of Catholicism, particularly important in Latino traditions. She is considered an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and is Mexico’s most beloved religious and cultural image. Sarich finds it interesting, in part, because of the vast commercialization of her image.
  • Mickey Mouse like the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mickey Mouse is a vastly commercialized figure, which is the reason for Sarich’s interest.
  • Beach Ball this symbol carries deep personal significance for Sarich. As a boy, Sarich’s father, who was at times abusive, jumped into a lake to “save” a family beachball from disappearing, despite his inability to swim. The effort had a lasting impact on Sarich.
  • Swasktika derived from the Sankskrit word svasktika, meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. It is composed of su-, meaning “good, well,” and asti, a verbal abract to the root as “to be;” svasti thus means “well-being.” The suffix –ka forms a diminutive, and svastika might thusbe ranslated literally as “little thing associated with well-being,” corresponding to “lucky charm” or “thing that is auspicious.” Probably first used inNeolithic India
  • Birds particularly finches, are prominent symbols in Sarich’s work signifying Darwinian science, in particular. The direct relationship is that Darwin studied finches in the Galapagos Islands noting the peculiarly unique shapes of the beaks of thirteen related species.
  • Nests in addition to the relationship to birds (see above), nests also signify an important sense of home and security in Sarich’s art.
  • Buoys related to fish (see above).
  • Skull Sarich is fascinated by the history of skull imagery, particularly in the traditions of the imagery of Tibetan monastics, Dia de los Muertos, motorcycle culture, and tattoo flash.
  • Smiley Face the Wal-Mart smiley face signifies all kinds of tensions and uncertainties in Sarich’s work, especially in the relationships between “happiness” and “consumerism” and “commercialization.”
  • Body parts are prominent in Sarich’s art, and signify much related to his interest in inner/outer, internal/external, science, and systems (skeletal, reproductive, digestive, neurological, etc.). Of course, this interest is cast into a different light considering his diagnosis in 2000 with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Prop this image figures prominently in much of Sarich’s more recent work. Remember that he claims no definition for it; however, it does signify notions of the prop (fishing, fishing boats, power); proposition (e.g., suggestion, question, proposal); as well as an effort to reclaim the meaning of an ancient and powerful symbol from its having been corrupted by the forces of the third reich.

Tour Framework
  • Ask guests to think about any symbols, images, or icons that hold some significance for them. What are the symbols and images that they find significant, and why?
  • Explain that, as an artist, Mike Sarich has spent his whole career exploring the significance of personal and cultural symbols and icons, and that it is on his exploration of these symbols that part of the tour will be based.
  • Explain that “Like, Love, Lust” is a reference to the tattoo on Mike’s left hand and wrist, a mark that he had made on his arm in honor of his proposal of marriage to his wife, Valerie.
  • Explain that the three Ls are referents for Like, Love, and Lust, and that he had the word Life tattooed on his arm after Valerie accepted his marriage proposal—signifying his the commitment he was making to her.
  • Explain to guests that the exhibition is laid out more or less chronologically, beginning with his earliest work as a graduate student.
  • Convey the story about when Mike, on a fishing trip as a young art student, was invited by a group of turtle hunters to join them in their hunt. The experience had a significant impact on Mike as a young man and as an artist, and images of turtles remain in his work today.
  • Ask guests to compare the qualities of the turtle drawings on the north wall of the East Gallery with the adjacent drawings called “Stop” and “Cocaine” on the east wall of the gallery. What words could be used to describe each group of drawings? Hints: the turtle drawings are highly detailed, with a very fine draftsmanship quality to them; conversely, “Stop” and “Cocaine” are purposely rough, almost unfinished, and child-like.
  • Explain that Mike Sarich is a highly trained artist: he completed his MFA degree at the University of Oklahoma in 1983. The highly refined style of the turtle drawings is a result, in part, of this academic training. Compared or contrasted to the “Cocaine” and “Stop” drawings on the east wall of the East Gallery, we can see a much less refined style—this is on purpose, and is the result of experimentations with the influence of artists in the groups known as Chicago Imagists, The Monster Roster, and, especially, The Hairy Who.
  • Explain to guests that Sarich was raised on the west side of Chicago, and that as a young man, he was very interested in the work of The Hairy Who artists, including Don Baum, James Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and especially Karl Wirsum.
  • Ask guests to consider Sarich’s sculptures hanging on the west wall of the East Gallery. What kinds of words might be used to describe them? Hints: folk, folk art, found object, handmade, natural materials, etc.
  • Explain that as a result of the influence of the Chicago Imagists and especially The Hairy Who artists, Sarich took an early and strong interest in found object, folk-art-inspired sculpture. Yet the work is extraordinarily personal: Sarich loves to fish, for example, and the piece titled “Hope” was created by Sarich for a pregnant friend.
  • Ask guests to consider what kinds of messages Sarich’s early work in the East Gallery seems to convey.
  • Explain that Sarich sees in his early work (all of which is in the East Gallery) an effort on his part to “wear his emotions on his sleeves” and that he seems to be “screaming at the viewer.”
  • Explain to guests that as he matured as an artist, Sarich felt that he moved away from a heart-on-his-sleeve, scream-at-you style, to a more subtle style that engages the viewers where they are at, asking them to think about things such as American consumer culture, Darwinian science, symbols and their meanings, and so on.
  • Explain to guests that the NMA has re-created Sarich’s office at UNR in the gallery for guests to see the creative “melting pot” that is part of his inspiration.
  • Ask guests to consider the artwork in the Body Parts section of the gallery. What do they see as Sarich’s interest in this part of his work? At first, guests might see little or nothing that Sarich might be getting at, but ask them to consider what kinds of body parts that are represented: a heart, a stomach, a penis, and a brain in “Fishin’ in the Dark,” for example.
  • Encourage guests to extrapolate from this information further…e.g., that not only are these individual body parts, but they are the organs that are central to specific bodily systems—circulatory, digestive, reproductive, and nervous, respectively, in this example.
  • Explain that as Sarich’s interest turned to making his work less personal and more widely culturally-oriented, he heard a radio story while fishing on a boat that the cat had become the most popular American pet, surpassing the dog for the first time. As a result, Sarich began to incorporate cat images in his artwork, beginning with “Stewart’s Cat,” and then the “Dice” woodblock prints. The images are an effort on the artist’s part to engage viewers in his art on a broader, cultural level, rather than on the significance of his personal imagery and symbols. As a result of this experimentation with culturally relevant imagery and symbols, Sarich spent more time exploring images--symbols such as birds (symbols of Darwinian science, and Darwin’s famous examination of the beaks of finches), Wal-Mart smiley faces (symbols of low prices or mass consumerism, depending on your perspective), images of the Virgin of Guadalupe (symbols of fervent religious belief or commercialization of religion, again, depending on your perspective), and images of skulls, cathedrals, Mickey Mouse, props, and swastikas.
  • Ask guests to look at one of the “Primary Prop” paintings. Ask what kinds of meanings they can associate with the image of the prop: boat props, propellers, BMWs, propositions, questions, deals, offers, inquiries, motions, power, etc.
  • Explain that Sarich is very interested in the meanings of symbols, and how they come to mean what they do. For example, the image of the swastika is one that has ancient roots in Native American and Hindu cultural activities, but which has a particular, and very bad, meaning for twentieth-century westerners. He is interested in the ways in which the symbol’s meaning came to change, and how to reclaim, or appropriate, the symbol’s meaning from its relatively recent history.
  • Ask guests about what they might have thought about Sarich’s artwork as they entered the gallery. Has any of their thinking shifted as a result of seeing it in the light of the information about Sarich’s personal life, interests, and some of the meanings of his work?
  • Finally, thank guests for their time and attention, and for their interest in, and support of, the Nevada Museum of Art.