‘Science Fairs’

Bemis Underground exhibits continue alt vibe of skepticism and experimentation

For those who enjoyed Science Fair, an alternative art DIY featuring 100 artists who displayed their wares at Urban Storage, the alt vibe continues across the street in the Bemis Underground with its current three-person solo exhibit. The Underground show, which continues through Feb.26, highlights the quirky, eclectic work of Kenneth Adkins, Victoria Hoyt and Dan Crane, which in the aggregate is largely a more mature and focused “science fair” in a venue where it can be argued that Omaha emerging art first became credible in the 21st century. Sculptor-painter Adkins offers New Works on Paper; Hoyt, an MFA candidate at UNL, becomes more contemporary with her miniature narratives in The Problems of Getting Together; and installation artist Crane welcomes you into his mondo bizzaro Dadz House. Too big for any of the units in Urban Storage, these three shows nevertheless enjoy a visionary and visual link to Science Fair that is more than coincidental. The connections are several. Science Fair was originally the art-in-a-can brainchild of entrepreneurs Josh Powell and Joel Damon, who have a history of hit-and-run, one-nighters that exhibit local emerging and pre-emerging artists, who otherwise wuld not get the opportunity, in unlikely places. This is the similar mission that jumpstarted the Underground six years ago by Bemis Director Mark Masuoka and BU’s first curator, Jeremy Stern. It’s also one that both Powell and Damon appreciated as artists, as their own art over time found its way into this venue. Not satisfied with that, they asked the logical questions: Where will the next generation come from? What sort of event will it take to make it happen? Where will they go next to show? Then a curious thing happened. The dynamic duo split up, sort of: Damon replaced Brigitte McQueen, an innovator of her own who hopes to soon open an arts center devoted primarily to elementary students, not unlike the Kent Bellows Studio and Center for Visual Art that serves high schoolers; and Powell carries on with the do-it-yourself tradition so popular in metropolitan areas all over America. It’s called evolution. Creative minds think alike and one good idea begets another and so on until the community not only survives but improves because it learns how to adapt and reinvent itself. Science Fair was to the Bemis Underground as the Containers of Art was to Art Basel Miami Beach. Each fed the other, nurturing and inspiring, mentors showing the way while making room for the next generation. Perhaps the biggest connection Adkins, Hoyt and Crane enjoy to Science Fair as well as each other is their stylistic variations on naïve, new media and site-specific art. Yet, though each demonstrates certain juvenile or outsider tendencies, the choice is deliberate, not indigenous, and the result, at least for one, is work quite sophisticated in form. Moving counter-clockwise in what appears to be a rather festive environment thanks largely to Crane’s colorful, sprawling installation looming ahead, you first encounter Adkins’ startlingly deceptive array of 13 ink and pencil drawings and collages on torn tablet paper with an occasional dab or smear of color. Adkins shares a certain socio-political theme with Hoyt and Crane but his tone is more abrasive and his POV more obscure. His show statement claims that “the artist communicates the depth of his emotions” in his two- and three-person scenarios. But, if his work is personal it is couched in juvenile, scribbled and scrambled imagery that resemble a child’s sketchbook hastily and dramatically drawn. It’s as if a person, however old, had been asked by a psychologist to express in pictures what one couldn’t describe in words. Only the titles, some evasive, others deliberately blunt, more than hint at a feeling or concept that belies the naïve and crude images. Nice try, You Stupid, Fat C*** and Let’s Share/You’re Going to Burn may get your attention with their inflammatory titles, but you will struggle a bit with their representations. On the other hand, the scatological and violent scenarios in You Bet and Let’s Do Lines respectively, speak for themselves. Either way, Adkins’ art effectively acts out bad social behavior that ironically risks further alienation with his audience. Adkins attempts to connect with the viewer in two interesting ways. First, in the majority of drawings, all his childlike figures face the audience to see if one is watching, showing off, desperate for attention. Second, a certain flopsy, mopsy figure, part victim, part perpetrator appears in much of the work as if it’s the artist’s alter ego. Most effectively in I’m Going to Choke You Now, a clever, familiar psychodrama where a child takes out his aggression on a dog, which then turns on his master or a favorite toy. Hoyt also explores a particular social dynamic in The Problems of Getting Together with her inkjet tableaux featuring painted beans and marshmallows in a dollhouse setting. Eschewing her earlier myth and folk, ethereal paintings, her new narratives are more contemporary, sophisticated and complex. There is still an element of fantasy, but it is measured by a droll sense of humor and a bit of slapstick. Big Boy Stones, Just like on TV and Not What She Hoped For may remind some of the low-brow settings and satire of Saturday Night Live’s crude animation series Mr. Bill, but Hoyt’s images are polished and formal. For example, despite the simplicity of both figures and the mise en scene, Hoyt has carefully staged and composed each scene in a cinematic manner that makes each appear as a cell animation still. Careful attention to expressionistic angles and lighting and asymmetrical balance, as in Are You Vegan? and Just Like on TV gives the image a 3-D quality and the viewer a seat at the table. Thematically, as with Adkins, Hoyt is a bit vague, but unlike the former her POV isn’t strident. She has something to say about the human condition in Still, where two black beans watch the film To Kill a Mockingbird, but the effect is often more ironic than satiric, such is the overall detachment and emotional distance. Not so with Crane’s overt Dadz House, a crowd favorite on opening night as the audience milled about his wall installation, Symmetricali and kinetic Wiggle Box featuring a lot of insinuating sausages. The exhibit’s impact may leave little to the imagination, but the intended sensual overload speaks volumes about personal past and present self-indulgences. Viewing Crane’s altar piece to junk food and pop culture is a rite of initiation and questionable maturation. If we are what we eat and worship, then we live in a “nirvana” created by corporate logos, advertising and professional sports while filling up on a communion of Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds and Old Milwaukee. And then there is the altar’s most blatant comment that we are in lockstep with a mainstream lifestyle built on propaganda and false gods: its centerpiece, a large Swastika made of Kraft macaroni and cheese boxes. Overall, the entire Underground exhibit, as well as Powell’s DIY effort, is the sort of “science fair” President Obama spoke of in his State of the Union address; an experiment in skepticism and provocation more in empathy with Middle East revolution than Super Bowls. The exhibit featuring the works of Kenneth Adkins, Dan Crane and Victoria Hoyt continues through Feb. 26 at the Bemis Underground, 724 S. 12th St. Call 341-7130 or visit bemiscenter.org for more details.

posted at 03:51 pm
on Wednesday, February 09th, 2011

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