The light of the arts at UA Little Rock is no longer hidden under a bushel — or scattered between three buildings on a campus with zero parking. The new Windgate Center for Art and Design, the sleek, steel-clad building accented with narrow slices of windows at the corner of 28th Street and the UALR Campus Drive, contains the whole of the Department of Art and Design in one 64,000-square-foot facility. The union allows for “cross-pollination” of creativity among the department’s visual, 3D and applied arts students in classrooms making state-of-the-art technology, professors and administrators say. And it has free public parking. Don’t tell the students.
UALR is celebrating its collection in print as well with a doozy of a
Gallery Director Brad Cushman — the voice of the “Picture This” short art talks on KUAR-FM, 89.1 — gave this writer a tour of “Building a Collection” in the main, second-floor gallery, which happens to be named the Brad Cushman Gallery. (Cushman’s name is
The show features contemporary craft in ceramics, wood and metal as well as sculpture, paintings, screenprints and photographs. A standout in the exhibition, literally and figuratively, is Connecticut artist Sylvie Rosenthal’s “Beacon,” an 8-foot-tall lighthouse fashioned of long narrow basswood slats and supporting a
A couple of knockout two-dimensional works in “Building a Collection” are former Arkansas artist Delita Martin’s 69 inch-by-15 ¼ inch “Standing in the Night,” a mixed-media portrait of an African-American woman, and San Diego artist Marianela de la Hoz’s “Your Reflection Into Mine,” an adept egg tempera painting that explores gender fluidity. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville was so taken with Martin’s work that it borrowed “Standing in the Night” from UALR for its 2015 “State of the Art” exhibition of rising contemporary artists from around the country.
Much of the work in “Building a Collection” was bought at auction at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. Penland and UA Little Rock have a sort of shuttle going: Penland artists have shown at UALR (“The Penland Experience” in 2015); the university just lost its furniture and former art department chair Mia Hall to the craft school, where she is now executive director; Hall’s husband, metalworker David Clemons, an artist in residence at UALR through the semester, has taught at Penland; and the Windgate Foundation is a supporter of both Penland and the UA’s applied design division, created in 2006. That symbiosis has been a good thing for the university, both in the building, the collection and arts education.
“Bringing the applied design into our program,” Cushman said, “has raised the level of craftsmanship across the board. … You see these students doing these amazing metal pieces and wood pieces and start to talk about craft, and I can see that permeate into other areas,” into the 2D disciplines.
Among the several lovely, often clever, works of contemporary craft in “Building a Collection” are Andrew Hays’ “Cary,” a twisted book encased in steel; Susan Dewsnap’s beautifully painted ceramic piece “Inset Lid Jar”; Christopher Berti’s “Archetype Series,” a teapot atop a pedestal carved from a single vintage brick paver; Elizabeth Brim’s “Gothic Pillow” made of inflated steel, a technique she has demonstrated at UALR; and Jennifer Anderson’s “Mud Series: Eames Study No. 1, LCW Chair,” which is exactly as described in its title: an Eames chair made of adobe mud and steel.
A 38 ¾”-by-29″cyanotype, “Rest,” of a dead thrush lying in
The exhibit also features work from artists who’ve been in residence at UALR, including Heidi Hogden, whose “Resurgence” is a stunning image of burning leaves drawn in liquid and powdered graphite; and metalwork artist-in-residence Clemons’ fabricated elegant wood and metal utensils with pig heads, “Chitlin Service.”
One of Cushman’s goals in acquiring works for UALR’s collection has been to “add diverse voices”; hence, the purchase of the Serie Project Portfolio, silkscreens created over 17 years by artists in residence at the multiracial, multicultural Serie Project in Austin, Texas. The portfolio includes numerous works by Hispanic artists; on view is Ester Hernandez’ “Sun Raid,” a stinging comment on the treatment of farmworkers in which the figure of a grinning skeleton replaces the smiling girl on the Sun-Maid raisin box.
Only a tiny percentage of the 1,600 works in UALR’s permanent collection are on view in “Building.” The “Highlights from the Permanent Collection” catalog, in which canny pairings of like works by different artists provide little lessons in art, reminds us of UALR’s other fine holdings, many by Arkansas artists, such as a 1927 Adrian Brewer painting, paintings and drawings by Elsie and Louis Freund and the late UALR professor Al Allen, and the Commonwealth College murals of Joe Jones. Works by some of the world’s greatest artists are at UALR, too: a 1919 Kathe Kollwitz woodcut, etchings by
The Steichen photograph is put to use in “Discovering Kate Freeman Clark,” in the
Clark worked on canvases large — some life-sized full-length portraits a la Whistler as well as big landscapes — and small, on cigar box lids. Her 47″-by-29 ½” “Work out in Mississippi Grove” is a painting of a small figure in
Cushman added the Steichen photograph as a way of showing what New York looked like when Clark was working and what the aesthetic of the time was.
He wonders if Clark quit painting when impressionism was no longer a la mode, supplanted by modernism after the 1913 Armory show in New York. There is an intriguing little work by Clark of the New York skyline that visitors to the John Marin show at the Arkansas Arts Center and fans of Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Radiator Building” at Crystal Bridges will want to see: It’s a nighttime cityscape, skyscrapers illuminated with
Both exhibitions close March 11.