Art: Out of many, mediocrity

E Pluribus Artis showcases a mixed bag

By Gregory Crosby

The atrium of the Clark County Government Center is one of those orphan art spaces where there’s not much you can show besides three-dimensional works, hence its role as the exhibit space for the county’s annual sculptural invitational, E Pluribus Artis, which is on view through Aug. 8. The center’s atrium functions as the public lobby, which means that the works here get tremendous foot traffic; how many of those feet stop while perusing the art is another matter. Unless you’ve got county business to transact, there’s not much reason to be there in the first place.

All of which means that exhibits here tend to be exactly the sort of inoffensive, middling sort of work you would expect in a public building, though there has been the occasional strong show here in the past. Though the county is ridiculously short on venues for visual art, it’s almost a shame that managers didn’t see fit to place a single, dynamic and permanent public sculpture here. The atrium’s design fairly calls out for it.

So, year after year, a smattering of artists at least can hope that one of their pieces catches the eye of some harried contractor as he storms toward the planning department. The current invitational is a practically scientifically mixed bag, as if some aesthetic chemist identified all the elements necessary to represent not just every sculptural material and media, but nearly ever sculptural cliché as well.

There’s the figurative: Roberta Baskin Shefrin’s small, expressively modeled bronze head, “Dulcina,” which shows a bust of woman who seems utterly surprised or bereft (perhaps both). There’s a short tower of brushed steel geometric shapes, Jean Pierre Tugnon’s “Right Angles,” done in a style so thoroughly appropriated by chi-chi restaurant décor as to render it now meaningless outside of that context. There’s whimsical bronze, Eve Liske’s “Metamorphosis,” which shows a prince emerging from the head of a kissed toad, but is so lacking in fluidity it seems like two mismatched plumbing pieces welded together. There’s skillfully crafted but inert glasswork and ceramics, trifling combinations of silver and copper and brass into more whimsy so drained of enchantment it could have come from some vast aesthetic Xerox machine.

And there’s a teapot. Ah, yes, the teapot. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Jared Jaffe’s well-crafted, fleshy “Double Teapot,” except for the fact that is, yes, a teapot. An entirely strange and completely non-utilitarian teapot, much like the hundreds–nay, thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands you’ve seen at every group show in every gallery in this town for the past 15 years. Had I world enough and time, and all the power of the tsars, I would forbid any ceramicist from making anything but the most normal and functioning teapot for the next hundred years. Belay that: I would forbid anyone from making any more teapots, ever. Especially clever, cute, whimsical, humorous or otherwise overdone and attenuated ones. Can I get a hosanna from the choir on this? NO MORE TEAPOTS, EVER. PLEASE.

So what caught my interest? Well, Dragan Milev’s anthropomorphic “Icon,” constructed from leather, an unfinished, embryonic head atop a realistic hand pointing into the distance, is creepy and attractive in its texture. Amy Klein Alley’s “Inside a Round,” a perforated carved stoneware form, has an engaging whiff of Celtic design without being Celtic. And Chet Eskey’s abstract slab of bronze, “Sea Form II,” is the same vaulting mass of curves and openings you’ve seen many times before, but for all that it still demands that you walk around it and view it from every angle.

Perhaps the most unexpected piece is Edward Martinez’ “Wedding Cake for Pat and Julie,” a constructed confection of paint and wood that the happy couple won’t have to leave in the freezer; just take it out of the attic and look at it on each anniversary. An eternal cake, right next to the purest and yet most irritating sculpture of all: David Seidner’s “Alpha Colony,” which consists of a handsome piece of “carved” fossilized coral on a slab of purple agate. It’s an assemblage made of two materials, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it still struck me, given the intense labor and craft the other artists had put into their works (even the boring ones), as something of a cheat. But the natural material, the color and intricacy of the coral, is indeed gorgeous.

No more teapots. Did I mention that?

Thursday, July 17, 2003
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