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The Montana Triennial, a statewide survey of contemporary art now on view, won't be back in the museum that hosted and founded it for another nine years.

The Missoula Art Museum recently reached an agreement with two other museums to collaborate on and host the exhibition.

"It's not MAM's Triennial. It truly is Montana's Triennial," said Laura Millin, MAM's executive director.

The Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings is set to host in 2018 and the Holter Museum of Art will exhibit in 2021.

"Being in different locales geographically, it's likely to look different and feel different. That's a good thing," Millin said.

Caley Fey, executive director of the Holter, concurred.

"Different venues will add different flavor to the Triennial just by the physical spaces and what scales of work are able to be included," Fey said.

The project, which attracts hundreds of applications, pays for shipping of the work and results in a catalog, is also an expensive project for a single institution.

The MAM also believes that holding the event in Billings could attract more artists to apply, and could connect a broad and geographically disparate artistic community.

The YAM and the Holter also agreed with the basic framework. The exhibition is open to any artists making work and living in Montana, except for students. And it must be juried by an out-of-state curator.

Peter Held juried the Triennial this year. He's the former curator and director of the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, and has spent 11 years as curator of ceramics at Arizona State University Art Museum.

He culled the exhibition, which fills the MAM's largest gallery, from more than 200 artists.

He broke with tradition by including multiple works by some artists, including Willem Volkersz of Bozeman, Stephanie Frostad of Missoula, Dana Boussard of Arlee and Kristi Hager of Missoula.

In his catalog essay, Held notes that he has "always strived to champion emerging artists, artists from other cultures, and equal representation of women."

All told, the exhibition includes 38 artists, with 21 women and 17 men, and 92 works that include photography, drawing, painting, ceramics, multimedia works, installation and sculpture.

Held divided the MAM's largest gallery into four thematic sections, many of which were hung nearly salon style, with works from floor to ceiling.

"Mark-Making," comprises nonrepresentational drawing and painting.

"Expansive," includes black-and-white landscape photography and more symbolic works like Boussard's oil-stick and pencil drawings.

"Intimate," includes Carla Potter's small-scale ceramic figurative works, and Frostad's highly detailed figurative paintings.

"We the People," comprises reflections on the figure – specifically Montana figures. Photographer Larry Blackwood's "Patriot" is a black-and-white print of a man reclining in American flag shorts, a cigar clenched between his teeth, and illustrator Bayla Laks has a drawing of a woman swigging a beer and holding a gun in front of an American flag.


An outside curator always produces a different show than the MAM would, which is part of the beauty of it, Millin said.

For his part, Stephen Glueckert, MAM's curator, said Held's selections work against the stereotypes about who Montanans are and what art is made here.

As an example, he cited Volkersz, who produces found-art sculpture including neon signs. One piece, "Immigrant's Dream," is constructed from a stack of suitcases, topped by one featuring a paint-by-numbers rendering of the Statue of Liberty. The longtime artist, educator and collector came to the U.S. during World War II after escaping the Nazis – hardly the cliche of a cowboy painter.

"We have this incredible melting pot whose solution is art. And it shows how vital and how dynamic the arts are in the state," Glueckert said.

Fey has visited the exhibition in person, and will give a talk on contemporary trends Friday.

"It is such an interesting cross-section of artists who've been inspired by our region and the natural landscape and how they're reacting to it," Fey said. "Everything from Jon Lodge, who's doing a very scientific-based artistic approach, the way he's influenced by the ecology, to Shalene Valenzuela and her ceramic pieces that are very playful and very beautiful but deal with some fairly heavy topics of gender issues and gender identity."

Fey also complimented the range of artists, which includes newcomers as well as "tried-and-true, blue-chip Montana artists" like Monte Yellow Bird, a Wisall artist who produces contemporary Native ledger art; and Sandra Dal Poggetto of Helena, who paints large-scale abstract works that obliquely reference landscape.

There are newer artists, too, like Jesse Albrecht, a National Guard veteran who was deployed as a combat medic while pursuing his MFA, and delves into his war experiences in ceramics and drawing.

Another new artist Fey mentioned is Joanna Powell, "who's breaking all kinds of traditions about what being a Bray resident is supposed to be," said Fey.

Her piece, "A Simple Complicated Truth," takes up a small corner of the gallery, comprising installation, earthenware, painting and conceptual art. It renders a modern American living room, complete with a potted plastic plant and a portrait.

Part of the survey's point, too, is the juxtaposition.

"The conversations that are happening between the works in that space are really interesting," he said.

He pointed to the ceramic piece occupying the center of the gallery, "Sky Island," by Israeli-born Zemer Peled, another resident of the Bray. Two organic cylindrical forms rise out of a base of hundreds of porcelain shards, which Fey compared to sea urchins and leaf petals.

In the corner of the gallery, meanwhile, is Stephen Braun's "A Forest of Stacks," six raku forms, all smooth surfaced and colorful, that have whimsical shapes and drawing styles that contrast with their dire environmental message.

"This exhibition does a really good job of describing or talking about place," Fey said. "Not necessarily about this specific place ... but all the artists represented have a strong sense of their place in the world."

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.