Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Inside the Blues

First Exhibitions Introduce BSU's New Art Galleries

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It was a long time coming. The expansive new Center for the Visual Arts that provides an all-encompassing, single building on Boise State's campus is a statement of both stature and promise for the university as a whole. An imposing, angular structure, it is eye-catching, as one would expect from an academic department that is in the business of aesthetics.

Particularly stunning is the shimmering presence of the "Blue Galleries" part of the complex. The name references the blue, stainless steel tiles that cover the exterior and lobby walls, plus the blue and white patio bricks drawing viewers into its broad entrance. There is a liquid quality to the tile work, suggesting the give and take of sunlight and shadows on a large body of water. It is constantly in flux.

Given the implied climate of the Blues, it is appropriate that the four exhibitions discussed here share a common subject: environments. This in itself suggests the direction the galleries will take, establishing the purpose and potential of the space collectively. It was underscored by the inaugural exhibitionions with which Director Kirsten Furlong officially opened the galleries on Aug. 29.

Each of the three galleries of the "Blues" is named after people whose substantial contributions, monetary and otherwise, helped make this all happen. The Hardy-Kaslo Gallery is the centerpiece. With its broad floor and high ceiling, it is designed to accommodate both group shows and extensive single-artist presentations. An opened-ended wall down the middle allows easy access to both halves while slowing the pace, giving patrons breathing space and time to linger. It is a smart, museum-class gallery, and the artists agreed.

Inaugurating the gallery was a group show entitled Edge and Mirror: Landscape in the Anthropocene, which examined the dire polar environmental consequences of "progress" in the age of humans. The nine artists included four who call themselves the Arctic Arts Project. All nine are 21st-century landscape artists, a different sort whose compellingly rendered portrayals reveal the damage done. There's no romanticizing here. In Susan Murrell's "Tipping Point," a watercolor and vinyl paint wall piece on polymer paper depicting earth and vegetation exposed by melting ice drew the viewer in. Then a simulated sand and sea-foam runoff poured onto the floor at one's feet like spilt milk, pushed you back. Other artists who have experienced Iceland made clear that in the not-too-distant future we may have to drop the "Ice" from its name.

The Dykman Family Project gallery is designed specifically for video, sound and experimental work. Here, artist Ted Apel's electronic sound project "Concomitant Variations" (through Wednesday, Oct. 30) inaugurates the opening of this separate installation space. Vertical rows of glass tubes serve as vessels collecting ambient sounds from visitors, the space and the other tubes, and broadcast their interaction. To use a musical metaphor, this is a "Variations on a Theme," the theme being transduction, i.e. morphing mundane audio into visual and sonic material. Apel is an electronic-acoustic magician, allowing the accumulative input to ignite a crescendo of interwoven sounds. People's very presence in the room contributes to the art with conversation, movement, even breathing. The underlying message is that whether intentionally or not, actions have consequences. The intimacy of the space invites visitors to pay attention to that.

The third gallery, a venue for undergraduate and graduate honor students, is named after the late artist and art professor Cheryl Shurtleff-Young. Within is third year Master of Fine Arts candidate Devin Kelly's exhibition entitled Living Room (through Oct. 30). This challenging work is both one installation and several. Collectively, it addresses a dilemma: Where do people's priorities lie in regard to their love of and connection to nature, versus the impulse to create structures that confine the environment? Organic components like plants in soil face off here against high-tech substitutes in thought-provoking situations.

Meanwhile a new tenant, Shane Darwent's Plaza Park has moved into the Blues, taking up residence in Hardy-Kaslo Gallery (through Tuesday, Dec. 17). Fifteen works examine "suburbia," that territory both real and imagined between the urban and the rural that so many cross as pedestrians and drivers, denizens and commuters. Not only is it something tangible that determines our routine—it's a state of mind, as well.

This artist of multiple disciplines reconsiders the landscape's commercial, autocentric environment that is, in Darwent's words, "pockmarked by parking lots, strip malls and multi-lane intersections." It comprises both a way of life and an aesthetic which he explores in depth through a marriage of media.

This is a daunting undertaking in my mind but Darwent pulls it off. His is not a cold analysis or agenda, but the product of critical insight tempered by an irrepressible sense of humor. The exhibition has the look and feel of an amusement park complete with multiple playful distractions, and like such a place is a mix of surrealism and a Pop Art sensibility. His piece titled Grand Opening captures this with its generic furniture store-like banner hinting at great deals within (which coincidently could be referring to the Blues opening as well.)

Darwent's pieces are a collage of photography, sculpture, architecture and painting. He researches his subject on foot, playing the pedestrian negotiating cross-walks and other obstacles, photographing and making mental notes of a daily routine that can induce a somnambulism of sorts. In the gallery, his art grabs viewers' attention by juxtaposing incongruous textures and materials, precariously posing out-of-context constructs and highlighting faux facades. Purposely mixing things up, he adds a quirky spirit to the inanimate.

There is an ambiguity to his imagery as well that can be less than lighthearted. In Behind the Gas Station, an imposing gas pump stands completely covered in plastic with a thick rope clinched around the middle. It is a dark image, one that evades definition. Is it a hostage, bound and hooded, its out-of-sight arms tied behind? Its silent bulk and immobility are disturbing. Or is it another monument to the cult of the automobile about to be revealed? Or is it a caricature of the same?

Two dramatic works that stand out are the freestanding "Basalt" and "Two for One," fabricated out of awning cloth of the sort used over neighborhood shops. They have a strong presence but also an Eastern feel and grace that belies their humble materials. Wafer-thin, airy, and precariously balanced on a single point, they look like they could float away, which is out of character in the company of aggregate concrete settings and leaden stairs to high-rise parking lots. Again, it is another example of the unexpected that Darwent obviously relishes in his art.

Darwent extended a compliment to the main gallery, saying it was a pleasure to work in a space with a museum-quality presence that enhances the art, saying he felt honored to be among the first artists to show there.

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