Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Urban at Boise Art Museum

Art Review


When a group of artists gets together to present their perspectives on a city, the expectation is there would be as many distinct visions of that environment as there are artists. To its detriment, the Urban exhibition at Boise Art Museum, which opened May 18, presented four artists--Charles Gill, Karen Woods, Michael Miller and Jan Boles--who delivered what amounted to a single vision of Boise as part of the Boise 150 celebration.

The stated purpose of the exhibition is to "explore the expansive nature of Boise's streetscapes," but the repeated use of panoramic formats, in particular, gave Urban a constructed, fabricated feel--as though the artists had prearranged how they would portray Boise. Having more than a subject in common gave the whole exhibition a homogenous and stilted feel.

Gill's "Four Snapshots of a Landscape" comprises several painted mock-photos of Table Rock from the Harris Ranch area to simulate a scrapbook panorama. Karen Woods' "Trail 1," a clever series depicting cars driving down a rainy highway as seen from the inside of a car, used essentially the same panoramic form. In fact, all four artists whose works were on display had included at least one panoramic piece.

Urban's vitality springs from where its artists diverge. Michael Miller's "Hyde Park West" is a luscious painted panorama that, while suggesting the expansiveness of the scene, stresses Hyde Park's limits in the forms of heavy foliage and a wall of shop fronts. Jan Boles' "700 Block of West Idaho Street, Boise, Idaho, September 1989" presages Boise's identity conflict between small town and urban environment through a four-photo montage.

Woods' view of Fairview Avenue, "Better Up Ahead," delivers a sophisticated interplay of light and shade, capturing Boise's distinctive luminousness when the sun peeks out from behind storm clouds. Miller's "Club 44" explores the namesake club's dusty, dingy surroundings with loving intimacy.

Despite these and other gems, the exhibition feels excessively curated, luring the museum-goer away from appreciating the works individually and steering them toward heavily constructed notions of what the pieces have in common. Taken singularly, many of the works have merit, but taken together, they highlight the artifice behind the exhibit. Boise is neither urban nor rural, but has a character somewhere in between. In trying to simultaneously portray Boise as panoramically expansive and intimate, Urban achieves neither, making the show somehow less than the sum of its parts.