What Are They Doing In There?

Recent Work by the Department of Art
(October 21 through December 9, 2010)

Artist Gallery Talks, Friday, October 22, 1-2 p.m.
Opening Reception, Thursday, October 28, 5-7 p.m.

Marking the first Department of Art exhibition at Vanderbilt in over five years, What Are They Doing in There? Recent Work by the Department of Art provides a window into the art practice of twelve accomplished artists working today in a broad range of media. Unique to this exhibition is that, for the first time, it will include art by the department’s staff in addition to that of the faculty. The twelve artists include Diane Acree, Michael Aurbach, Susan DeMay, Thomas Lowell Edwards, Don Evans, Mark Hosford, Adrienne Miller, Marilyn Murphy, Vesna Pavlović, Ron Porter, Amelia Winger-Bearskin, and Mel Ziegler.

Diane Acree’s contribution to the exhibition—a photograph of a street scene in a Japanese village as preparations are being made for their New Year’s celebration—draws on her professional experience as a photojournalist. Michael Aurbach’s ongoing scathing critique of critical theory is evident in two Plexiglas constructions, one of which incorporates a lock one might find on a safe, and containing virtually nothing. For Aurbach, art historians that “utilize [this] ‘methodology’ dismiss the significance of the object, the artistic processes associated with the making of objects, and what the artist has to say about his/her work.” A sculptural approach to ceramic production by Susan DeMay departs from the functional pottery that she is usually associated with, albeit still with her innovative use of glazes and color. Here, DeMay employs techniques of the potter’s wheel along with hand-building construction methods. Thomas Lowell Edwards creates hand-thrown, high-fired utilitarian stoneware and porcelain components arranged and stacked in various ways to create sculptural objects, challenging the viewer’s preconceived notions of an individual object’s use by placing the objects in new, fresh settings. Documentary photographs and a section of a Mexican-style fireworks tower reflect Don Evans’ ongoing pyrotechnical experiments, all which rely on a collaborative group effort to produce. With aspects of the graphic novel in play, Mark Hosford’s prints and animations expose the dark side of the human experience, one that in the words of the artist, “draw[s] from [his] early influences of fantastic, imaginative worlds and lucid dreams.” Adrienne Miller manipulates found paper objects to create serial-based narratives that explore the role memory plays in our lives. Using old snapshots as source material, these works often contain one or more central characters with overlapping text fragments. Informed by magazines and advertisements from the 1940s and early 1950s, along with an appreciation for the traditions of surrealism, Marilyn Murphy’s two drawings are imbued with a sense of mystery not unlike a heavily cropped vintage movie still in which the action and the players are equally enigmatic. Murphy observes in her artist’s statement that “many of the pieces in this series comment upon the act of seeing, the creative process or some aspect of human experience.” Vesna Pavlović’s work, in many instances taking the form of photographs and installations, mines anthropological practices in order to examine human behavior. As noted by the artist, “[i]ssues of taste, desire and expectation, the friction of performance, set in different contexts, are prevailing themes in my work,” and, in the case of her two photographs included in the exhibition, do so by examining the complexities of stage performance. Often depicting paintings within paintings and drawing on a variety of art historical genres in a surreal, wry manner, Ron Porter’s art is self-referential, in many instances containing elements that function as visual puzzles. Porter tells us in his artist’s statement “the settings [in my paintings] are psychologically open ended. The meaning can be slippery. The ideas present clarity and ambiguity as one. Irony often prevails. It is a state of mind.” Using a series of abstract drawings as visual source material and original lyrics and music sung and performed by the artist, Amelia Winger-Bearskin has created a video work that is her response to events surrounding Lyncoya, the Creek Indian boy who was orphaned on the battlefield and subsequently adopted by Andrew Jackson. This work, not unlike others by the artist, draws on her background as a classically trained opera singer and her interest in performance art and other time-based mediums. Rooted in a tradition of public art that often has taken the form of community-based interventions and social activism, Mel Ziegler, the chair of Vanderbilt’s Department of Art, is also captivated by iconic symbols and, as noted in his artist’s statement, “the question of the hidden historical and social-political manifestations of representation.”

What Are They Doing in There? Recent Work by the Department of Art was organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and is curated by Joseph S. Mella, director.