by Maureen McMullen
It’s rare for a metro of Fargo-Moorhead’s size to be home to three college campuses, but Becky Dunham, curator at the Plains Art Museum credits them with laying the foundation for the area’s flourishing art community.
“The colleges have constantly been a part of the community, along with their art programs, so they grew up together,” said Dunham. “What that meant is that there were these three institutions that regularly had, on staff, really talented studio visual artists.”
In recognition of these universities’ artistic contributions, the Plains Art Museum is hosting its first Tri-College exhibition.
Art Boom: The Tri-College Art Faculty Show will feature work from 24 full-time art instructors at MSUM, Concordia and NDSU.
First Art Boom marks professor’s final year at MSUM
Among the artists in the exhibit is Carl Oltvedt, a visual arts professor whose career at MSUM has spanned three decades.
Art Boom will feature five paintings Otlvedt created last year of locations throughout Minnesota, including the North Shore and rose gardens near Lake Harriett.
Having taken sabbatical last year, Oltvedt also spent time in his hometown of Minneapolis, where he rented a studio in the warehouse district.
The building housed the working spaces of about 140 artists, including musicians, glass-blowers, woodcarvers and jewelers.
“I’ve shown in galleries in the Twin Cities since 1978, so I have a connection with the art community there,” said Oltvedt. “It was fun to be immersed in the arts culture down there. There was a great diversity, a lot of people in the arts. It was a really fun, energetic place.”
Through Art Boom, Oltvedt hopes audiences will not only get a sense of who he is, but also of “the uniqueness of being.”
“I’m very engaged by a balance between the subject I’m working from and how I’m translating that in abstract terms,” said Oltvedt. “Art is artificial; we can’t replicate life. What we do is, in one form or another, react to stimulus in the world, which could be natural, as is often the case with my work, it could be political — there are lots of things that happen that drive an artist to create their own work.”
Though Oltvedt will retire from teaching after this year, he plans to maintain his connections to the university and to his students.
“I have mixed feelings about retiring because of how much teaching has been a part of my life and how much I love teaching,” said Oltvedt. “I’ll miss the students and I feel fortunate to have had this opportunity. I will be excited to watch the growth of the students who’ve worked with me. I really love watching their work and their careers. It’s rich.”
Artists utilize unique methods
Though Art Boom may mark the final year for some professors at MSUM, the exhibition also celebrates the careers of professors who are fairly new to their full-time position.
Art Boom will feature the photography of Meghan Duda, assistant professor of media arts, who has taught full-time at MSUM for two years.
“I’m a photographer, but I’m very fascinated by the object nature of photography,” said Duda. “Right now we see the world on a computer screen mostly, that’s how we ingest images, but I like that object that you hold in your hand.”
Counteracting the tendency to view photos in a digital format, Duda built and used two pinhole cameras to create the photos featured in the exhibit.
The pinhole cameras record light that streams in through a hole punched into the sides of the boxes. The light beams are then absorbed onto a light-reactant paper to create a unique effect.
“The paper reacts to the light and becomes dark when there’s a lot of light and where there’s no light,” said Duda. “So, these pieces are recordings of the quality of light in this particular scene. The paper is the direct recording, so it’s not like a digital sensor and then you put it onto a computer and adjust it. Then, the paper is taken and mounted directly in the frame. So, what you’re seeing is the actual process.”
Duda said she especially looks forward to showcasing a photo she made while traveling with a not-so-portable mechanism.
“I did this project where I made a pinhole camera out of a shipping container and I shipped it to California,” said Duda. “I took a bunch of images of the ocean and the first image I took was the best one. That’s going to be in the show, and I’m very happy about that.”
Exhibit showcases wide variety of content
Art Boom will showcase works of artists in a variety of media, including paintings, photography, sculpture, and digital design. Printmaking professor Patrick Vincent hopes to offer attendees an engaged experience through his unique piece.
“I have a woodcarving that is kind of this interactive installation that people write down their dreams and desires and attach it to the installation,” said Vincent. “I’ve shown it a couple of times and it has this really interesting interaction where I think people are trying to be funny, ‘Oh, I had this dream that I had a piece of cake,’ and then other times they’re really sincere and heartfelt about it.”
Whether through the books of prints he creates or his interactive pieces, Vincent said he enjoys offering audiences a more immersive experience than framed artwork can provide.
“If you were to live in a house and you were took look through a window, you’re having an immersive intellectual experience,” said Vincent. “Looking at a painting or a print hanging on a wall, you’re looking through a window. But if you were to build part of that house, you’re connected to it. You’re still looking through a window, but you have this sort of physical investment. I hope there’s an attachment from being part of the creation.”
Along with interactive qualities, much of Vincent’s work examines human use of animal symbolism, particularly surrounding difficult topics such as death.
“It’s pretty common throughout art history and even in contemporary pieces, the use of animals as a proxy for that natural cycle because it’s a hard thing for humans to talk about if you’re talking about it too personally,” said Vincent.
Art instructors lead by example
One important purpose for the exhibit, Dunham said, is to showcase art faculty that are not just educators, but active artists.
“I think very often, because they are educators and because they are teachers, sometimes people forget that they are also working artists that continually make their own artwork,” said Dunham. “So, what I’m hoping people take away from it is a better sense of who they are as people and as artists.”
Don Clark, a professor of art and design at MSUM has similar hopes for what Art Boom’s audience takes away from the show.
“I think it’s important for us to show our work, to let students know that we are makers,” said Clark. “Really, that’s the main reason I show around here is that I want them to see I’m doing stuff; I’m not just talking about it, I’m doing it, too.”
Clark’s bodies of work featured in Art Boom include his photography and digital manipulations, such as an ongoing project depicting religious symbolism in unexpected contexts.
“The pieces deal with religious iconography juxtaposed by everyday things, humorous at times,” said Clark. “In terms of religion, I just have no need for it myself. But, I’m pretty intrigued by religious iconography. I kind of take this more satire approach, but people who are very religious look at it and see whatever they want. They typically like it, which kind of surprised me.”
Art Boom will also feature less symbolic works of photography and digital manipulation from Clark. The images, which were originally wide landscape shots of a rock quarry were condensed and layered into an elongated, vertical format.
“It’s just kind of about taking these ugly places and making them look surreal,” said Clark.
Art Boom programs commence
The Plains Art Museum will officially unveil the exhibition with a reception offering pizza, appetizers and a cash bar on Thursday, Oct. 9 from 5-7 p.m. The exhibition will run through until Jan. 4, 2015.
Along with the display of work, faculty members will host free discussion of their work in December. Dates include: Dec. 2, Paintings; Dec. 4, Photography; Dec. 9, Ceramics and Sculpture; and Dec. 11, Prints and Drawings.
“I think when you grow up in a city with colleges, you almost take it for granted and forget that those artists are living here amongst us,” said Dunham. “Some of these artists are very famous and well known around the nation and people might not necessarily know that, so we’re trying to draw attention to the fact that right around the corner, you might have one of these artists living next door to you and you won’t even know it.”