The Nevada Museum of Art concentrates on bringing international and important national works to Reno, Nevada. They operate as a lighthouse and a flame, catching unique and fresh artists and their work, a brilliant mission with a sharp crew assembled by David Walker, the Director, which is enormous luck for Nevada.
However it has to be noticed that there are extreme talents in Nevada itself that need support from a museum such as this. Until recently these people have either been working almost undetected or are unbeknownst to us all, exhibiting in the major cities in the USA or internationally.
JoAnne Northrup is the Nevada Museum of Art Curatorial Director and Curator of Contemporary Art. With great insight (and we might say, bravery) she put together a group of 35 artists that she researched who are currently some of the “emerging genius” of this state, and together with Las Vegas based curator Michele Quinn, created the exhibition “Tilting the Basin.”
The exhibition aims at bridging the divide between Southern Nevada, Las Vegas and Northern Nevada, Reno, but for me the more important aspect is that the Museum is finally acknowledging the standard of work by a large number of artists actually working in the state of Nevada.
The museum’s recognition of Galen Brown as an outstanding multi disciplinary artist has been one of my greatest highlights of this exhibition. Brown works in a semi reclusive manner in his studio units in Carson City. His work is obsessive and time consuming, deeply thought out and sometimes difficult to fathom. He works in series over time spans of 20 years. He is one of the featured artists in this exhibition and justly so. Over the last 15 years Brown has carved what remains of old discarded Christmas trees, stripping them to naked trunks with stumpy protrusions, and adding a disturbing or amusing, (but still disturbing), human character to each.
The “trees” are then hung upside down in a forest sense. Questioning our humanity, our humour and our destructive wastefulness. The utterly beautiful but sometimes macabre trees pose serious questions to our thought processes and ways of being.
Another Nevadan artist working with obsessive passion is Katie Lewis. I first saw Katie’s work at the Courthouse in Carson City in 2015 at her “Divergence” exhibition supported by the Carson City Arts Initiative. Lewis’ works in this instance, are millions of pinpricks, to layers and layers of separate Kozo papers. The results are deep snow-drift-like patterns in intensely punctured layers of paper that is barely holding together (#it might just fall apart) and even begins to disintegrate while hung. The brutal process of puncturing the paper is so at odds with the softness and delicacy of the final works that again questions are posed about the balance of brutality and gentleness in the world.
A third artist and exciting new discovery for me is painter Matthew Couper, a New Zealander who has emmigrated to Las Vegas. His work in this instance deals with the water table in the Nevadan landscape, the fears of it disappearing and running out. As New Zealanders we grew up in a highly environmentally conscious society. Water, pollution and the invasion of external insects, animals and diseases have always been paramount in our culture. For a Kiwi to go and live in the desert in a huge apparently waterless basin is a large leap of faith. Not only that but the lack of abundance of precious water is even more apparent to Pacific Island transplants like us. The iconic and mythological quality of Couper’s work “Mother’s Milk Aquifer” struck a chord. He references Mexican retablo imagery, Maori Meeting Houses and symbolic entities which all interact over an enormous American $2016 dollar bill. After 3 visits to Tilting the Basin show I am still finding more and more meaning and messages densely layered in Couper’s giant painting.
The show closes on the 23rd October 2016 and I along with "Battleborn" Nevãdans and the many other transplants making Nevada home, will be very sad to see it go after such a short exhibition time.
Review by Frances Melhop