artbeat (2006-48)

Ewing’s newest, 26 , showcases artistic evolution

No Creationists Here

by Leslie Wylie

UT’s Art & Architecture Building is a vortex of evolution. It’s entertaining to imagine it playing in fast-motion, like a film sequence that took years to make but requires only a moment to view. Seasons change at lightning speed outside the windows, paintings fly on and off gallery walls, concepts are explored and then abandoned, students graduate and are replaced by new students, ad infinitum. Nothing remains constant except the building itself. And, to some extent, the faculty it contains.

The School of Art & Architecture currently employs 26 faculty members, hence the name of its current faculty exhibition, 26 . It’s gained and lost about four professors since its last faculty exhibition in 2002, but for the most part, it’s the same core group. So viewing 26 affords a rare chance, one that comes about only every three or four years, to evaluate the faculty’s own evolution—a creative trajectory that’s somewhat steadier and more predictable than the creative trajectories of their students. Whereas students are still searching for their own aesthetic voices, faculty members are seasoned artists who have already found their voices and are now merely fine-tuning what they have to say.

Walking into the bright expanses of Ewing Gallery’s 26 , I feel an immediate sensation of déjà vu. I reviewed the 2002 faculty exhibition as well, and there were elements of this incarnation I instinctually recognize—trademark color schemes, mediums, and textures. But while each faculty member’s work seems to be evolving from some deeply imbedded starting place, perhaps evident in previous exhibitions, the original impulses are clearly lurching forward in new, unfamiliar directions.

For instance, there are the two brightly hued, cone-shaped nylon tents in the center of the gallery that are unmistakably the work of Elizabeth Scofield and Jason Brown. I vividly remember meeting these artists at the preview reception of the faculty exhibition in 2002, when they were unveiling a previous version of the tents’ design.

When I introduced myself, Scofield put the two-way radio she was holding to her mouth and paged Brown, who was sitting inside one of the neon yellow tents, or “Aesthetic Survival Devices,” that comprised their contribution to the 2002 show. (He had been monitoring the gallery’s “pedestrian occupancy levels.”) After unzipping the tent’s translucent door, Brown emerged, wearing a biohazard suit and a construction helmet, and shook my hand.

What was said during our ensuing conversation escapes me now; what remains is my visual memory of him and of his tents, the designs of which have been revised since our last encounter. Where four years ago the pieces resembled those of a rather large camping tent sawed in two, for this year’s exhibition, the tents are tall and piercing, with no visible entrance.

Is theirs a successful evolution? If the tents’ purpose is functionality, perhaps so: Accompanying photographs show them street-side in various locations, serving various purposes and adapting according to site. They have, in a sense, evolved to suit the various outside environments that contain them.

Baldwin Lee’s photography is another, if somewhat grimmer, example of this concept. For 26 , Lee pieces together shards of photography to convey a panoramic view of post-hurricane destruction: the deformed trees, tangled wires, hillsides of trash that were left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. For the 2002 faculty exhibition, he’d done something similar with photographs taken at Ground Zero, webbing them into a brutally honest depiction of the World Trade Center site in the aftermath of 9/11.

Other examples of artistic evolution abound. There’s the multi-media work of Norman Magden, whose subconscious-probing films—each involving live modern dancers, video projections and sound art—seem to be reaching into deeper, more intricate parts of the psyche than ever before. There’s Whitney Leland’s increasingly bold acrylic abstractions, and David Wilson’s large-scale day-glo installation art. Some works are traditional; others whimsical. Some are functional; others are intended purely for the senses. 

The diversity of the faculty, as manifest in its art, remains striking, as it was during the 2002 faculty exhibit. In academia, it’s easy for the various aesthetics of those on staff to converge toward some central point, but the UT Art & Architecture School’s faculty is clearly evolving outward rather than inward. As Ewing Gallery director Sam Yates wrote in a summary of the exhibition, “[ 26 ] provides insight into the creative productivity of the faculty as a whole and the diversity of philosophies and approaches to art-making.”

We look forward to seeing where those philosophies and approaches go from here.

What: 26