Broken glass installations, ceramics about endangered species, and experimental photography, all with a conceptual heft, are on display at the University of Montana Faculty Exhibition.
The show, held once a year in the Gallery of Visual Art, is a chance to see established mid-to-late career artists at work, some of whom don't exhibit that frequently in Missoula.
You'll want to tread lightly around a new piece by Brad Allen, a sculptor and outgoing director of the School of Art.
"Reinstallation of a Sliding Glass Door," an installation floor piece, is made of actual broken glass. The materials and the emotional effect are raw.
Allen broke the door several years ago while he was renovating his home. Home ReSource didn't want it, and it was an odd thing to take to the landfill. He thought it would be a dramatic action and leave him with material for a sculpture. So he deliberately (and safely) shattered it and kept the material for a future art project.
To install the piece, he projected a map of his neighborhood in the South Hills onto the floor of the gallery at a dramatic, skewed angle. He shifted and piled the pieces of glass into stark white lines that mark the most frequent routes, all leading to his house at the center.
He recently went through a divorce, and thinks of it as a map of his separation from "that place that I know so well," like a "drawing of when that turned into a memory" more than daily presence in his life.
He's highlighted those routes with small squares of white correction tape. Lately he's been drawing with "materials that have meaning." Correction tape is something you use to "elicit a change," he said.
"Something happens, you want to change it, you want to start over. You make a mark and then begin anew," he said.
Allen created his new sculptural work while on a semester-long sabbatical. Part of his mission during the time away from teaching was to develop work that was more portable than the metal-casting and installation art that he's focused on.
The pieces contemplate perspectives of "scale, time and character," he said. While those are abstract concepts, the work itself lays them out clearly.
"Time and Place" merges drawing and sculpture. Two white metal trapezoid frames stand less than a foot apart. Atop each rests a diagonally situated, mixed media drawing. He included references to land and place, such as a print of a bird's-eye view of center-pivot irrigation system and a geological cross-section map. Red-ink-stamped words such as "RUSH" and the numbers of birth date refer to time. Allen, a former geology major, has a preference for maps and aerial views.
He said the piece "crosses time, geologic and location, place to equal some sort of here and now at the crux. A centered moment."
Another piece in the show uses an X-motif, which he says is a marker, a "signifier for being here."
As part of his separation from his wife, Allen moved into a new house and no longer has a studio space. He's been working in mediums that are more conducive to that environment than metal work.
One piece, titled "MMWW" or "Listen," invites viewers to refile through it. He thinks of it as an abstract book, inspired by his young children's interest in vinyl records. He made a record box and a set of sleeves with paper "records" that collectively tell a story, in sequence, of his time as director of the School of Art.
The sleeves have drawings and prints and quotes and real song titles and lyrics from songs by Modest Mouse and quotes from the television show, "The West Wing."
One Modest Mouse song quote is: "And I said you can't make everybody happy/He said you'd like to at least make yourself happy though."
There are Radiohead song titles and songs by the 1990s post-rock band Slint, who still sound contemporary thanks to bands' adoration of them. One piece of text reads, "You are this place," with "this" in italics. It's a phrase Allen told to a staff member who was worried that their job was going to be cut.
He said the pieces as a whole use "perspective to encourage these different ways of experiencing a story, but also utilize the perspective shift itself as verb and content."
The faculty exhibition, on view at the Gallery of Visual Arts in the Social Sciences Building, covers most of the major disciplines: painting, drawing, functional ceramics, installation and photography; and gives a window into the various faculty members' personal projects.
Allen said faculty have a two-fold mission. First is teaching. Secondly, they're required to develop and exhibit their work, whether in the form of art or lectures. Depending on the artist, they might show their work more frequently in larger art centers in order to maintain a connection to the broader art world outside of geographically isolated Montana.
Some of them show their work around Missoula frequently. Gallery director Jack Metcalf built a sculptural piece, "Choose your own topping," that consists of two boxes set atop one another. Each side has "tops" or "bottoms" of figures and symbols that you can rearrange by turning the box. Jason Clark contributed layered prints with images of fish set against a rich palette of color. MaryAnn Bonjourni, a longtime member of the local art community, has found-object constructions, some with allusions to her work with horses.
Trey Hill, a ceramics professor, included some of his most recent series that combines abstract clay forms with wire sculptures, which were on display at the Missoula Art Museum earlier this year.
Jin Zhou, a visiting scholar from China, showed technically skilled paintings in landscape and still life, in addition to several pieces about his time in the U.S.: He painted junk food like brownies and candy canes onto platters, set against the American flag.
Ceramic professor Julia Galloway's new series of ceramic pots draws attention to species that are on the brink. Each pot is decorated with a drawing of an animal on the Endangered Species List.
The project as a whole could take three to five years to complete. The pots are designed as urns, and the scale will reflect the volume of ash left behind if one of the animals had been cremated. (There is a minimum size, since some species on the list are quite small.) She wants to emphasize that it's a positive-minded project. "The urns are empty for a reason," she said, adding that the "optimism is in the emptiness."
Galloway hopes ultimately to show the pieces in a museum where she can include all of them, as a visual representation of the size of the problem. Her inspiration in part came from the AIDS Quilt project.
"There's something so powerful about making something unseen, seen," she said.
She said her project is still in the study phase, and she's learning the best techniques for drawing and painting on the surface and firing the pots.
She's working from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife list and the international Red List. The number is around 2,000, but changes as species are removed and added. She's consulting with Chad Bishop, director of UM's Wildlife Biology Program on the scientific aspects. She said it's "a wonderful project" to work across disciplines: art, science, conservation, water management and more.
Another piece also delves into the contemporary concerns. Matt Hamon, a photographer who's worked in documentary and art contexts, is displaying a picture he took at the Standing Rock protests. He said he uses the Faculty Exhibition as a chance to share something experimental.
"While I had shot the Standing Rock protest from a strictly 'documentary' mode, the image in the show is composited from about eight different frames shot from roughly the same perspective over the course of about an hour. The image combines people from all of these frames, though I don't think any person is repeated in this, now, fabricated scene," he said. He included several instances that make it obvious if you look closely.
Elizabeth Dove is exhibiting two large-scale pieces that further develop her dictionary-related pieces. Earlier this year, the Missoula Art Museum exhibited "It Starts With Aardvark," a series of prints that used every illustration in the dictionary in layered prints.
She converted photographs into a large number of single-tone pixels and printed them on squares of paper cut from the pages of dictionaries, a way of transitioning that interest into digital information systems.
One of the initial photographs is more utilitarian. It was a large pile, since that could "convey accumulation and quantity."
The other landscape image "is more personal, it's a photograph of the field and woods behind my childhood home. That kind of place that is so far away when you are young, so mysterious, forbidden and epic, a place that looms in your memory," she said.
"With this I was curious about translating such an emotional place, a sensory place, into bits of data: and then the resulting impossibility of its meaning being adequately conveyed. I’ve been interested in that failure before. I’m always looking for meaning and investigating structures that support and convey meaning, but then finding they fail, that they are incomplete and meaning remains elusive," she said.